Saturday, March 29, 2008


This is a view we've wanted to see for two years!

We still have a zillion bolts and screws to drive down (isn't that what Sundays are for?), we have lots of other things to attend to (including the very dead battery in our tow vehicle) but our front end floor is in.

Ironically, it wasn't until Wednesday that we realized why we've been having such a hard time getting this stuff in...the 3/4" ply we used (we think it was that thickness, but remember--we bought it two years ago) was a little thicker than the old flooring material. If you notice, we've started planing edges to match. Well, we are still learning...

Our approach to installing the flooring was by partial sheet. Full sheets are a stronger option--but not always most practical for installation. For us, partial sheets were a necessary compromise: I cannot handle full sheets of plywood by myself--in this marine grade, it's just too heavy--and finally, smaller pieces are just easier to fit.

We solidified the joints by battens, strips of wood screwed underneath, mating up the new pieces to the old flooring. It's a technique we learned from other members of our unit of the Airstream club--and it seems to work. It has involved a whole lot of screw setting (and we still have a lot more to do). However, now that the new floor is down, it's feeling really solid. That's very, very nice.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Slicing Aluminum Like Butter

Rick was out tonight, at a late business meeting, so I was on my own. My assignment: prepare a replacement panel to cover the hole left when we took the furnace out two years ago. Since then, we've covered the hole up with plastic--which isn't really a roadworthy solution.

Today, I used a new tool (electric metal shears from Harbor Freight) and cut out a panel to fit. The job wasn't tough, but I was working with new, expensive materials (T3 aluminum) and an unfamiliar power tool. My earlier experiences with fabricating aluminum wasn't positive--using tin snips I got jagged edges and had trouble manipulating the metal on inward curves. I had none of that trouble today--I just followed the line and the shears just plowed into the metal. Pretty darn cool!

This aluminum is a lot thicker than I thought, but it cuts up nice. I achieved fairly smooth cuts, but I want to sand it to remove a little waviness in my line and to possibly round off the edges. I'm going to need a new sanding belt to do that, though. This task is pretty easy and fun! I may just get hooked on fabrication after all!

Monday, March 24, 2008

One More Portion Down

Today after work, we attended to the right side of the front panel. I drilled in an access hole (so Rick can pass wiring through to the tongue after it is welded), drilled in pilot holes for self-tapping screws.Then, after considerable pounding, the board slid in. It has a slight gap towards the front, but once screwed in and bolted down, the front ended up solid.

Whew. Fortunately tonight we set up a lamp, since we finished well after dark.

In accomplishing this, we made one last use of a very useful tool...our cardboard template of the front curve. Rick drafted this from a tracing of the old rotted floorboards, then marked it with the location of the frame members and the outriggers. It served as a cutting guide and as a drilling guide. It worked, but now we will retire it to the basement.

Now, I have one problem. A new writer left a comment last night. I approved it in the moderation screen (sorry, a necessary evil since spammers started entering advertisements there) and then could not see it online. Ergh. I regret I must have clicked wrong. Phooey.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Getting Floored for Easter

Two years ago, we started this job by cutting out flooring sections. Today--after putting down insulation and trimming--we set in our first flooring section back in.

But I must digress here. Insulation. Easy to cut. Annoying as all heck. Despite wearing full coverage clothing, a respirator and gloves, it left me feeling so itchy I had to jump right into the bath immediately after laying the stuff down. Ick. Thank goodness that stuff didn't go into my lungs! On the plus side, the Airstream now has a well-insulated front section (a welcome alternative to rodent poop and nut shells). Hopefully the effort will make cold nights a little warmer from here on in.

Bolting the flooring down was surprisingly laborious, but not particularly difficult. We needed to trim to get the piece to fit in, then we had to mark the location of the outriggers. Not having the access to use elevator bolts, we used self-tapping screws, setting them 3" apart (since we couldn't use the elevator bolts, we decided to set them fairly close. That means drilling lots of pilot holes and countersinking, which we took turns at. We found the countersink a slightly fiddly, since there was no effective way to gauge how deeply it went in. Rick (who drills with far more force than I do) felt he'd drilled some of his holes too deeply--but the screws still seemed to set fine. Getting the self-tapping screws to screw in--even with pilot holes--was also difficult. They were extremely wobbly. I couldn't handle this at all, but Rick managed--though that came with a few curses and retries.

There will be more bolts to set at the periphery, but we turned to attaching a batten (more screws!) and setting in the second half of the front section. Using a large sheet of cardboard to refine fit and map out the position of frame members, we raced to finalize the fit as dark fell.

Alongside that, we spent time on littler projects. Rick positioned the two new AGM batteries he purchased last week, set in the boxes and did small modifications to the trailer wiring. I scraped off old vulkem caulking and drilled out the broken rivets to clean up the old furnace hole (which we'd had covered by plastic). I don't quite know what to do there, but I will be covering it up with a new piece of aluminum. I may try placing the old radiator cover over it to disguise the patch, but that depends on whether I can pound the poor old dented piece into a reasonable shape.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Restoring Front End Stabilization

Rick's fall ended up being a blessing.

We came to realize that we attempted too much without providing compensating structural support. The upper shell was attached to the chassis by a couple of clecos--but we'd left the belly pan detatched. But as we pulled out wood, critical points of support got removed. It seemed manageable as we removed more and more rotted areas, until the cross-wise support of the belly pan got removed. Then we realized it had started to sink off the frame. Slowly the aluminum was dipping past the steel of the chassis frame where it was unsupported--causing it to rise elsewhere. The twist became clear when the door wouldn't shut easily.

So, this weekend has been a reconstruction effort.

First--we had errands to accomplish. For some odd reason, the little package containing the necessary hardware (except the hitch screws, which aren't included) and assembly instructions missing from our new power jack. Fortunately, our preferred parts supplier (Restless Wheels) is extremely reputable. They took a packet from an unsold jack and called Barker for a replacement for the missing one. So, we picked that up and picked up hitch screws (I had a chopped off piece of the old screws to match). While in Manassas, we went to Lowes (which doesn't have any closer stores) for a supply of insulation and aluminum tape. For some odd reason, our local orange big box store doesn't sell either Reflectix (reflective bubble wrap insulation) or aluminum tape. Once stocked up, we headed back home.

Since we had more exposed frame, we got cracking on getting it sealed. To be honest, we spent a good bit of time looking in on the hole, trying to figure out what went wrong. It quickly became clear that the problem was that by opening up so much of the floor, we lost stability in the upper shell. Cracking open the belly pan may have been a bit of a blessing. However, we still couldn't shut the door effectively.

So, taking a page from Frank's bathroom repair, we installed a jack to support the upper shell. However, since we hadn't completely opened the belly pan, we couldn't stabilize it against the ground. Instead, we used the frame as our base. That helped, but not quite enough. Our next thought was to put the lost rivets back in on the belly pan, but Rick felt we needed more space to get underneath. So, we started cranking on the new jack. Watching the frame, it became quickly clear it was still unattached, so we cranked it back down. However, as I uncranked, Rick let the door swing...and it shut. We stopped cranking, went up, went down. We shut the door again. It's never closed this well before. Result? The upper shell has been set at its best location. Both of us breathed much, much easier.

Based on that, we pulled out the clecos in the front, pulled the belly pan up and placed new rivets in. This required a bit of drilling (the holes were too small), but the aluminum went right up and the holes lined up perfectly. That was a good thing. There are more rivets to go up higher, on the belly pan and along the banana wrap line (the horizontal wrap at the base--you can see its shadow running laterally above the tongue in the photo above), but the process of stabilizing is in force. Rick squared and we cut out a new replacement panel for the floor.

So, now we're in reconstruction mode, which is a really good place to get to.

Opportunity Drops in (on our Belly Pan)

It was a dark, dark Friday night. The wind blew through the trees. Lonely dogs howled at the moon. It was, as they say, an ominous moment.

After supper, Rick and I continued discussing our heater paradox (we are having a tough time finding a solution), so we went out to examine the logistics of the interior. Standing in the doorway, Rick rocked on his feet and slipped. He fell right into the hole he had cut into the flooring to remove rotted wood only a few weeks early. His foot went through the crack at the center of the belly pan, where the two panels met.

Oh, no.

This morning we checked out the damage. Some rivets sheared in the bottom (replaceable). Fortunately, no metal was bent. However, trouble with the door showed that we altered a critical structural connection with the upper body. We pushed the belly pan as close as we could to its original position and that relieved the door stress.

Well, there are different ways to look at this. Riveting more of the belly pan back together, patching the places where it sheared will be a pain. However, the access gave us a good chance to look further back and to treat more of the frame. I quickly cleaned up the area, mixed up some rust converter and applied it to the frame.

So, our mission is to get the work in the front done as quickly as possible and to seal up the belly pan. Luckily, there isn't too much to do on that. We're in good shape, but the next few weeks will be busy ones.

On a related side note: A few months ago, I installed Google Analytics on this page. That's a service that gives information on traffic a site generates. It's a useful tool for understanding who an audience is and how to improve. To my surprise, there's a decent degree of traffic here, even though I've done little to promote this blog. Apparently, a couple of other sites link back here. A significant degree of traffic come from a link on Wow, I am so honored by this! Then I looked at the description given to my blog:
The Nightmare known as finding out just what a vintage trailer can hide...
I love your website, but I beg to to differ, RJ! I'm enjoying myself way too much to consider this a nightmare. Certainly, there have been challenges with fixing this vintage pile of metal--but we've been able to face them. We repaired the front end relatively fast--we chose to do more, and then let the project fall into a hiatus. For me, I'm really enjoying learning more about the trailer and figuring out how to fix it. Both of us also feel that the result is worth it. When we are done, we'll know our trailer will be up to decades of serviceable miles on the road. We'll know how to do field repairs. But ultimately, we've learned repair is mostly a matter of attitude.

So, Rick slipped. Things like that are liable to happen. Yes, we do have an extra job ahead. But we also have access to places in our under-body that we've never previously had access to. We got to inspect a significantly larger amount of the frame (and found it's in pretty good shape. We get to replace more insulation. No significant damage was made.

And all of that is pretty excellent. I just hope our future mistakes are as productive!

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Grandmother's Century

It's hard to say goodbye, but sweet to appreciate all the joy that came from a long friendship and a deep love. Yesterday, my grandmother passed away peacefully after living more than a hundred years of wit and adventure. Short stature never stopped her from being an avid sportswoman. Born to a small rural town, she was a bright, spirited young girl who longed for bigger horizons. A nursing scholarship proved the ticket to life in the big city of Boston, the love of her life and eventually to achieve professional success that inwardly she desired but couldn't acknowledge until she was much older and retired. I got to know her as an adult while assisting her with caring for my grandfather as he died of cancer. I rediscovered her as a deep friend, someone with hidden inner strength, determination and tolerance. I can't say how lucky I feel to have had her in my life.

So, I'm skipping a week off from Airstream repairs. It's a delay that just has to be managed. As some readers may know, I spent most of this winter working in the Capitol of Virginia, during the legislative session. Before that, progress on the trailer slowed as I was pretty fairly overwhelmed in the fall during the reelection campaign. Now, I am back home in Northern Virginia, looking forward to repossessing my after work hours, but preparing to go to Boston. Fortunately, I was able to go up earlier this week and say goodbye while she was still alive and aware. Now I get to wish her off to her bigger journey. Looking at the shot above (incidently, she was almost my age when it was taken), it's pretty easy to see her reunited with my grandfather, taking on new off-road cycling adventures once again.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Maybe I Do Know Jack...

There is a deep satisfaction from recognizing that I have gained an atypical skill...that I am becoming proficient in something that isn't retiring and girly.

For me, that seems to be grinding. After cutting bolts, bar stock and flat steel...I don't feel much hesitation at all in putting on the goggles, whipping out the grinder (my trustworthy one is a cheap Harborfreight model) and letting it rip.

I can wear nail polish, ladylike suits and heels--heck, do it all the time! Inwardly, I know that I am the master of cold steel--well, that's just cool!

This weekend's mission was cleaning up the hitch. I am so appreciative of the comment to my last post, questioning bringing the bottles forward on the hitch. In fact, this really won't shift the location of the bottles much at all--they were fairly far forward, due to the (now removed) battery box. Even after removing the bottle box, they remained stable, despite the "aft forward" placement. However, we had to remove the holder to allow access to the front panel when we repaired the frame. Now we are just looking at replacing it. My half baked idea was to put the spare tire behind it.

To this end, I started drawing out template pieces for the tire carrier. Trouble is--I can't seem to find a way to position it so it doesn't interfere with the sway bar clamps. It's a bit maddening, since right now that darn tire is just a royal PITA (don't get me started ranting, it might never end).

My schematics got interupted by a bit of an emergency. I came in and found my kitty's face full of pollen in the early afternoon. A websearch and examination of the offending plant made me realize worst fears: she seemed to have ingested parts of lillies, a plant that will induce renal failure in cats within 16 hours. After a confirmation call to animal poison control, we rushed her off to the local emergency animal hospital for 48 hours of purgitives, fluids and observation. Morning blood tests showed we got her in time: she is miserable, but healthy, despite her near brush with death. We breathed easier today and I got serious about cleaning up that hitch.

Removing the deadman switch was easy. This original switch was a critical safetly element--if the trailer should become accidentially unhitched, the brakes would bring it to an immediate stop. Dutifully, past owners would connect the battery cables to the deadman switch. It was a ritual, confirmed even when we got the trailer in for its state inspection. Trouble is, nobody thought of how this original bit of engineering worked: just what would cause the brakes to engage? When I found an original schematic for this system, it suddenly made sense:

The circuit was obstructed by a clip, that connects by cable to the tow vehicle. If it's pulled out, the circuit complete and engages the trailer brakes. Getting a new one cost less than $20, offered greater reliability plus a lower profile. Excellent deal.

I ground on that and the bolts for the jack. We have a brand new Barker power hitch--maddenly missing its hardware, but we'll get that by next week. So, after ensuring the trailer weight was supported, I turned my grinder to that. I managed to free the jack, but two of the treaded bolts look like they will need specialty tools and more persistence. Still, I am overall, happy with the results.