Monthly Archives: August 2020

Finishing Demo and Staycation Goals

We’re just over four weeks into having this Airstream trailer project. We have set what we think are realistic goals for the work – ultimately, this will be ready for regular use by Spring, and it may be able to do some “backyard tests” in late Fall. To keep on that schedule, we have some high-level milestones. The first was that by the end of July we would have the interior “skins” (inside aluminum panels) and the floor removed. By the end of August we would like to have new flooring in, with a stretch goal of having some interior skins back on. I mentioned previously we’re not the first people to do this – there are a lot of great resources, other blogs chronicling their work, and YouTube videos documenting key processes out there. We’ve done a lot of reading and watching to know what to expect and what we should be doing.

Work on a project of this nature is like building yourself a small house – there’s lots of little details you have to keep up with along the way and they all have to come together successfully and in order to keep you on track. You don’t want to put the interior skins back on only to realize you forgot critical wiring that should have been done first. I have a Word document filled with all sorts of things to purchase with an attempt to keep those items organized together to when they are needed. In the last week I began purchasing lots of items from various places – so many that our credit card company put a fraud alert on our card and I had to call in to confirm that, yes, I was in fact making lots of purchases all over the Internet.

In the previous post, we had gutted the interior space and disposed of it. We saved the bits that were needed for the rebuild – metal fasteners, bent aluminum channels that match the wall curvature to re-use with new walls, etc. The next task was to get done what was the most disgusting part of the job – taking down the interior skins and removing the rodent nested insulation.

Taking down the interior skins was pretty straightforward – after removing everything attached to the walls, we carefully drill out the pop rivets holding it in, starting at the top. There are several very large pieces, and a number of small pieces for spots between window frames, etc. After getting these down we took a pressure washer to them and gave them a good, thorough cleaning and then rolled them up to be stored for the next month or so. Oh, this turtle also walked across our lawn while I was working on things, too.

That left the insulation. There is no way to get around it – it was gross and smelled terrible. But it was expected. We cleaned all of the insulation out and disposed of it as well, leaving the walls reasonably clean. You can see in the picture the wiring – all of this was tested and is in good shape. I plan to retain the 12V wiring (the majority that is pictured) and replace the 120V wiring with new stranded marine wire which is better suited to an application like a trailer where things are bouncing around.

The next step was to get out the flooring. The fastest way to do this is to set a circular saw to just below the depth of the plywood and make cuts around the fasteners in the frame. You lift the plywood off, chip off the remaining chunk around the bolt head and use a pipe wrench to grab the head and back it out. That process worked great. You can see in the pictures that as well picked up the flooring there was very little underneath. That was because rodents had taken all of that insulation over the years, cleaning it out.

The last step is to get the frame prepared. Our frame was in excellent condition – no metal is rusted to the point of needing replacement, and all is structurally sound. A basic wire brush treatment to clean things off and knock back any surface contaminants is all that is needed, then applying a rust converting primer followed by a priming protectant. My brother in law came over and helped wire brush a good chunk of the trailer, and some of the kids helped – here is a picture of my brother in law and Stephen doing that work.

That brings us up to today. Because of the pandemic, we’re not really going anywhere for vacations this year as we had planned, so I’m taking some time off work to use up accrued vacation and use the time to work on the Airstream. So, this week we have set ourselves some goals:

  • Finish removal remaining wood floor bits – the area around the wheel wells is all that remains.
  • Finish the trailer preparation and have it ready for flooring – finish wire brushing, paint with primer, then paint with rust inhibiting paint.
  • Rebuild the replacement picture window – the 30×30 fixed window next to the door had a broken outside pane and I got a used replacement from Out of Doors Mart and a rebuild kit from Vintage Trailer Gaskets. Because it is dual-pane and it has to be riveted in, now is the time to rebuild it so the inside panes are dry and clear. The other windows will be rebuilt over time, probably next year. Stretch goal is to have the window fully installed.
  • Clean the exterior back to metal – removing the elastomeric white paint on the roof, clearing any exterior bits (lights, etc), removing the blue stripe, and test some first-pass polishes. We won’t finish polish now, but want the exterior to be finished with paint strippers and nasty chemicals before we put the exterior bits like lights on, which we want to do before we put all of the interior skins back on.

So – that’s our next 8-9 days of work – we’ll see how far we get!

Awnings and Demo

Now that we’ve had this Airstream for a few weeks, we’re really getting moving on the work that is needed. When we first picked it up, I spent the first few days going through the various components and testing what did and didn’t work – did the 12V lighting work when a battery was in? If we plugged into utility power did the outlets work? Could you put water in the drain and have it come out of the tank?

Fortunately, these tests all generally had good results. The wiring inside was working without issue and the other basic components, such as the gray and black water tanks, seemed to hold water and empty without a problem. It was my understanding from the purchaser that the previous owners (who had it for 15+ years) had winterized it before it mostly sat, so it was expected those would work.

One of the other things I tested on the outside were all of the awnings. Turns out they are in amazingly good condition. The only issue was the large patio awning did not want to open. A little research revealed that this was because the steel tube was bowed. ZipDee (the maker, who is still in business) has instructions on how to fix it yourself. So one evening Mary and I took apart the awning and gradually bent the bow out of the tube, fixing the awning. I gave them a quick cleaning and now we have three working awnings. Huzzah!

However, as mentioned in the previous post, this travel trailer is a ultimately a gut renovation – everything on the inside is going to go. That includes all of the insulation packed between the inner and outer “skins” that make up the trailer. But before we could get there, we had to tear out things like the walls, fixtures and flooring. That process took about two weeks. Here are some photos of the progress. You’ll notice that there is a shot of the rear floor, which is basically completely rotted out. This is a well known issue in vintage Airstreams because of how the rear bumper is designed – it essentially lets water flow into the edge of the wood floor, leading to rot. We’ll be fixing that as part of the renovation. Also, the boys wanted to help out a bit.

Next up is taking out the interior skins to remove the insulation that we know will be really nasty since there has clearly been colonies of mice in here.