Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Announcing Our New Website!

After getting lots of requests for easier to find resources, I decided it was time to redesign the blog. If you are reading this post, point your browser to the new home of Tales of the Toaster:


I will no longer be posting here on Blogger, so you will have to go to the new site to see coming developments!

As the new site grows, I'll broaden the content. Please also add your comments and link your blog to the new site!

Thank you for joining us so far on the journey of this restoration. Things are really moving ahead, so please go to the new site and keep reading!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Easy Days in the Big Easy

We arrived down here in New Orleans several days ago, a little early to enjoy a little taste of the city before starting work at the rebuilding effort we're signed up for the rest of this week. The past few days have been pure indulgence. We're staying at a wonderful B&B (the gorgeous and hospitable 1896 O'Malley House) located in the mid-town area, we sleep in (though for us, waking late is at 7:30), we enjoy touristy things like walking tours and riverboat cruises, and we spend our afternoons enjoying the breezes on the veranda reading books. We've also had the wonderful opportunity to get to know local Airstreamer Rick Olivier, his wife, Tania and his daughter Marsalla. It's been just about the perfect vacation, which we've truly enjoyed.

Rick is a portrait photographer, a musician and a dad with a deep love for the traditions and heritage that makes New Orleans such a special place. His photographs of the local celebrities are magic. You can feel the music coming right off the paper. Tania is a free spirit, too. She works here as a teacher--and has a true passion for exploration. She can't wait until Rick finishes their Safari and they hit the road. I hope their path comes North. I'd love to show Marsalla around Richmond and Washington DC.

Three years on and Hurricane Katrina still is a deep presence in this city. Coming down, I wondered if it would be treated as somewhat taboo. It isn't: the people here are legitimately proud of their resilience and eager to share their stories, which are truly inspiring. However, this is an area that has transformed. Certainly, the leading industry is tourism, which is hardly surprising. The other major industry is higher education--and that has given the neighborhood we're staying in a dominant college town feel. Small funky restaurants. A vibrant arts scene. I don't know if this was as deeply characteristic before the flooding, but it makes the environment truly enjoyable, even as the area rebuilds.

Much waits to be done, though. The city is filled with empty houses waiting for reconstruction and occupancy. In this mid city area, almost all the historic homes have survived, but so many are in need of attention. There is concern about owners who have procrastinated rebuilding for so long, choosing to remain in trailers. However, the vibe here is distinctly upbeat: the optimism is infectious here.

Yesterday local Rick Olivier hosted a little Airstreaming get-together. To our surprise, Airstream Life editor Rich Luhr and his family happened to be in the area. They brought their companions, Adam and Susan from Maine. It was great catching up with Rick and Eleanor, whom I hadn't seen for three years, since our whole restoration effort started. Rick invited over neighbors and Jim and Donna Clark. Earlier this winter Rick shot photos of Jim and Donna's 2005 Airstream at a local marina which will appear in the summer's issue of Airstream Life. What I learned from Donna was that the article won't tell the truly epic back story: after the shoot, it took an hour to extricate their trailer from the tricky parking spot. Then on the way home, Jim took a turn a little tight and their son heard a noise. A few yards later they realized they had a flat tire. Jim changed the tire, looked up and realized something more: the axle had bent! Somehow they limped home...and ordered a new axle.

Drinking ice cold sprites out on the porch, snacking on veggies, talking with the girls and watching the palms was just about heaven. Later, Rick gave us tours of his Airstream: again, we got to view an amazing bathroom renovation. We are postponing that part of our own effort because it is the least critical repair ahead. However, seeing what Rick...and Frank and Rob have done is downright inspiring. I can't wait to get there now either!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cherry Blossom Rally, Wrapped up

Well, it's been a busy week since leaving the CBR, but how to describe such an incredible 24 hours?

The rally was like going home. Most old friends were there, others were missed, new friends felt like old. We ate, we talked, we dreamed, we celebrated. Kids played, dancing with kites and remote control aircraft. It rained, as it always does at every CBR--and amazingly, our trailer did not leak, though we know there are holes that can seep. Funny stories were shared and challenges levied.

After a day of beautiful sunsets and warm breezes, we headed home, excited for our next rally.

Then we got to work. Many mundane responsibilities were left to hang for us to work on the trailer--and we had to get things in relative order before heading off for vacation.

Now we are in New Orleans, enjoying a few days of indulgent laziness before getting to work on rebuilding. But more on that later...it's vacation now and we are enjoying it!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Scenes from the Washington DC Unit's 2008 Cherry Blossom Rally

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Airstreams Look Better When They are Moving

Yes, our trailer hit the road! It took a couple more days than we anticipated...involving a whole lot of clearing out and a fair amount of work, but we managed to get her moving on Saturday morning, just in time for the last day of the Cherry Blossom Rally.

Getting to that point was laborious. It took a whole evening to just clear out the tools and parts that we'd accumulated in there. I cut and installed several belly pan patches, finished packing insulation while Rick wired up the electric system. Rick fabricated a more stable steel channel reinforcement for the doorway. We did lots of structural riveting, removed the handing gas lines and put repair rivets on the bottom of the belly pan. The tires were re-pressurized, we tested electric, wired in the jack and hit the road.

Two efforts did not lead to success, mostly because we lacked of the right tools and fasteners. After taking on a very laborious task of cutting the bottom of the front wall down 2/16" to match our now slightly higher floor, we tried to reinstall it. However, lacking the correct clecos, we could not make the holes in the old wall match up. We left a few rivets in and decided to wait to get the right ones later. Our second problem was re-attaching the front banana wrap--ie, the lateral aluminum strip on the exterior separating the belly pan from the upper skin. Our problem there was that we quickly realized that this would require longer rivets than those available from our local big box store. A drive to our local Fastenal distributor revealed that these would be a special order item. So, that, too, would have to wait.

We finished at 10:30 pm Friday night. Realizing it was too late, we crashed and slept very soundly. First thing in the morning, we hitched her up, sucked in our breath and watched the trailer finally roll.

So, all in all, we managed to accomplish what we felt was a critical milestone: we got our trailer to this year's Cherry Blossom Rally. Riding behind it in a passenger car, I could observe that it rode with a noticeable degree less bounciness than it had in 2005.

That accomplishment, however, is fairly subtle. It's not showy, but it is significant. During open house, I could see that some folks who had seen it before were a little surprised by our pride in taking our trailer from this state:
To this:
However, what we have now is solid...and eventually we'll reinstall all the pretty stuff once again! Nobody will call it a polished turd!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sealing Things Up

First: a little background on this weekend's efforts: A week ago Saturday, I managed to get myself working fairly late, put in a big effort, then pretty much passed out. The effort kept me down all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, I met a friend for lunch, barely keeping myself from falling over. Afterwards, I collapsed into a chair in my doctor's waiting room. The verdict came and it was surprising: tetanus. A week earlier, I'd had a tetanus shot, in preparation for our upcoming relief trip to New Orleans. Apparently, I had a reaction against the shot. Verdict: I would have to wait for it to pass--and I should look with extreme caution on taking a booster of that vaccine ever again. By Friday, I was on the mend and yesterday I put in a full day of work again (though I still have a sizeable lump in my arm) .

So, with little time ahead, we swung into action this weekend. My first order of action was finishing up the panel to seal up the old furnace hole. Over the week, I'd taken a file (properly called, to my endless amusement, a bastard file) to smooth off the edges and round the corners off. It's funny how rounding off the corners really transformed it from a crude piece of metal into something that looked like a real panel. I measured in a half inch and marked hole points every 3". With that, I slept--something I did a lot of in my fevered state.

Saturday, knowing my tendency to skate a drill on smooth aluminum, I decided to work slowly to guard against error. I started by drilling small holes in my marked spots with a very small drill bit. Then I took a #20 drill bit (one the size of Olympic rivets) and widened the outermost top holes to full size. Then Rick held it up to the hole while I looked for visual fit. When it looked right, I took a Sharpie pen and marked the holes on the skin of the trailer. I drilled in those holes, gooped the back of the panel with vulkem caulk and set my first rivets. Then I continued drilling out holes, gooping rivets with vulkem and cranking them in place. By far, the hardest part was the bottom, which curved over the belly pan. We tried bending the edge with a broomstick and a pvc pipe--with little result. Finally, by working together, one person forcing the panel to curve while the other riveted, we managed decent success. Completion was a cooperative result and we were both pleased with the result (moreover, today it rained all day and the panel never leaked!).

Today, we focused on completion. Rick finalized wiring while I attended to insulation. I put Reflectix insulation under all of the exposed exterior panels, sealed it with aluminum tape and filled in the gap with fiberglass batting. Most of the panels are done--but we ran out of batting, so I will have to finish up tomorrow. Overall, it was an exceptionally tedious job. There are few ways to make endless hours of taping and cutting sound exciting. However, the notion of gaining some decent warmth made it worthwhile.

After replacement of a couple of interior rivets gone awry, we quit for the evening. Tomorrow we reattach the inside wall. Then getting this trailer back on the road will start to become a real possibility...

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!