Monday, April 6, 2009

What Needs To Be Done

Did I mention how great the trailer handled with trucks trying to blow us off the curves in construction zones? Concrete barriers squeezing two lanes into 1.5 and still a semi needs to pass on a ramp. I really thought I might get to see my maker ahead of schedule that night.

Yep, it handled like a dream on original 40 year old axles and tires of unknown age, looking original on their split rims. No load leveling. No sway control. What a great towing trailer!

What I'd like to do in the immediate future:

1) Install better safety chains. The chains now on the trailer aren't suitable for my niece's swing set.

2) Check Brake "Break-Away" switch.

3) Look into a better hitch system. I like the Draw-tite combo with built in load leveling and sway control. Pricey though, and I need to know the weight of the completed trailer to properly match the control bars or cam set-up.

4) Test all systems. I've purposely put this off. I do have a 30a receptacle left from the previous owner. I've confirmed proper wiring/polarity of it. I'll give my dad credit for an over cautious nature which I've adopted as I've gotten older. He has always been afraid of fire due to wiring and explosions due to gas leaks. He has rarely done his own work in these areas whereas I used to dive in with reckless abandon. Now older, wiser and slower to risk life limb and home, these tasks which have the possibility of both has put this task off my list until now.

First nice day I'll park the trailer outside and test the electrical including lights, outlets, converter, AC and refrigerator. A couple large fire extinguishers will be nearby. The hot water heater and fridge are electric only from my trailer's days as a summer cottage. Both are planned for replacement as is the ancient AC system.

As for the furnace and range, I may take it to my local RV repairman. Let those who know mess with the fun stuff.

5) Plumbing. I already spotted a burst in one supply line. This may be better left for the tear down which won't happen until after the Rally in June. The good news is I spotted no rot or leakage when checking the nooks and cranny's, except for the rear trunk area which is notorious for this.

6) Replace rear vent and possibly center vent with a fantastic fan model. Not sure if I want auto temp or rain closure control. They'll be at the Madison rally. It sure is tempting to have them do the install for the reasonable prices they charge.

7) The First rally I attend I plan to grab as many veterans of the restoration wars as possible to go over my trailer. I'll take notes and listen closely to those who have gone before me. You can never learn enough. So please, if you see me at a rally, don't be afraid to offer your guidance.

Looks like I'll be staying in an aluminum tent until further notice.

What I've Done So Far

I did a foolish thing. Well, I probably did more than one but this one is worth noting. I drove home on ancient tires which held air until they sat in my driveway for a few days. Cracked tires on Split rims, driving through down-town Chicago in December at midnight. Truckers don't think Airstreams driven slowly are neat or cute. They'd just as soon blow you off the road.

After storing it in my driveway for a couple months, the new place "up north" allowed us to store it inside. Here she is in her new digs looking dwarfed by the previous owner's gigantic RV. No it's not a Bounder and it's not mine. Mine's the "little" 30 footer on the right.

Second foolish move: bought new rims & tires. That way it can sit in one place, waiting to be restored on fresh tires I didn't really need to purchase until much later. I must remember, hind-sight is always 20/20. Cut yourself some slack or the hobby will turn into a J.O.B.

Don't believe the tires and rims are "ready to travel" unless you have confirmed it with someone you trust. I should have had a new set with me or at least a spare, a jack, a lug wrench, penetrating oil and some plywood for under the jack. Luckily, I didn't need them.

Helpful hint about rims. Throw out the old split rims. Few will work on them and most consider them unsafe. Balance your rims and tires. Check rims for run-out. This means check them to make sure they are "true" and don't wobble when spun. I tried 14 rims from a major manufacturer before I found 5 that were "true." Make sure they are designed for the weight of the load to be carried. All the aftermarket custom manufacturers I contacted that make chromed and painted rims designed to accept baby moon style hubcaps had rims that were not rated to carry the weight of my trailer. Check also to make sure your axles grease hub doesn't protrude so far out to prevent the use of moon hubcaps or center caps on your rims.

Helpful hints on tires: I found an off brand that was supposedly rated the same as a major brand like Goodyear Marathons at 1/2 to 2/3rds the price. After balancing the wheel/tire assemblies I found them more "out of balance" than I would have liked. They required heavier wheel weights. This may have been due to the manufacturing process. You get what you pay for. After hauling heavy equipment trailers: 12,000-20,000 lb capacity and never having balanced a rim or felt a bad tire bounce or vibrate I was surprised to find blogs mentioning the importance of balancing wheels. Some even specify balancing them on the trailer. Bottom line, do the best you can to save unnecessary vibration from affecting your trailer.

My new wheels and tires have looked great sitting on my trailer the last 2 years. Again, what a waste. I have taken the trailer out on the road enough to keep them from flat spotting. I've also been told by tire manufacturers that running a tire keeps them more pliable and flexes the sidewalls to keep the chemicals active, thereby reducing the aging process, including checking. They've also been indoors which has kept UV degradation to a minimum. The bottom line is, most people will never wear out a tire before it should be replaced due to age, which depending on who you believe, could be around 5 years.

If I did it again, I'd probably skip directly to a supplier of wheels and tires and skip the nostalgic look. Companies like: send you the balanced wheel assemblies ready to bolt to your trailer.

Checked bearings, they'd just been repacked. Brakes work great. While towing the axle hubs, rims and tires remained cool to the touch. This is a sign they were in good shape with no unwanted friction adding heat to the parts.

The axles are not drooped but given the age, they'll be replaced during the restoration. All independent torsion rubber or "Dexter" type axles have an arm that holds the hub assembly and rotates as the inner rubber cords, inside the actual axle compress or flex. This arm is normally horizontal or pointing down at an angle away from the axle. They have different angles depending on trailer ground clearance requirements, trailer weights or in my case age. The older axles have a tendency to "sag" just like we do.

Whether from use or just sitting with weight on them, they all begin to deteriorate and sag. The rubber cords lose their flexibility and result in increased bounce and worse control going down the road. Folks have said replacing their worn axles resulted in a much smoother ride with less of their trailer's interior contents getting bounced around or bounce out of cabinets as a result. Airstream also uses a shock setup on the axles to further smooth the ride, saving wear and tear on the trailer, fewer loosened rivets and less damage to the trailer's cargo.

Going back to my days with a trailer manufacturer I found these axles were an interesting alternative to the old leaf spring design. It really does provide independent suspension to each axle. Over rough roads or job-sites this meant the tire could move more easily without affecting the tire on the other end of the axle. Keeping the tires in contact with the road and not bouncing is especially beneficial during handling or braking. I also appreciated the lower deck height especially when loading slippery asphalt rollers. Check out the step-in height of trailers equipped with these axles vs leaf springs. Fewer steps equals less climbing and safer entry & exit.

In addition to lowering the deck height of the trailer I was interested to learn how torsion axles were built. In order to shove a square axle with four rubber cords into a square tube the various assemblies are frozen in sub-zero temperatures. Once they shrink due to cold they slide right in and expand once returned to ambient temperatures. There is no adhesive or mechanical fastener used. Just good old tension. And my 44 year old trailer is proof these axles work...and last.

Here's a link for a better understanding of rubber torsion axle construction:

Cleaned exterior of all salt and road grime immediately after trip. Neighbors probably got a good laugh about this as it was December in Wisconsin!

Cleaned interior with Greased Lightning. Careful with this. You need ventilation. This is nasty stuff! It isn't for use on bare aluminum as it contains acid. Try to keep it off the wood too as it may discolor the finish. But boy did it get years of accumulated cooking grease and general brown gunk off the painted interior. Prepare to get dirty! Save your rags and drop cloths, you'll need lots of them.

Replaced Solar Dome. After comparing what's available, I chose Vintage Trailer Supply. It's worth noting that many who have succumb to the Aluminitus bug have willingly let it take over their lives and livelihoods. Thank goodness for the rest of us as this is a great side-effect.

Steve Hingtgen is one of those people. From what I've learned, Steve is an exceptionally creative guy. When he doesn't find something available on the market or what he finds isn't the quality he wants, he finds a way to produce it. Over the past few years his list of items grew into the company he has now. Many of the items Steve has on his Vintage Trailer Supply website are unique and cannot be found elsewhere. Other sites may list similar products which may not equal the quality or "fit" needed for easy installation. Items that can be found elsewhere are often not as competitively priced. Steve also is a wealth of knowledge, willing to share his time and experience with those of us just getting started. If you're into old trailers, give Vintage Trailer Supply a look.

Click here to visit Vintage Trailer Supply

I'm not sure how I made it home with it still on the roof. When I took it off the trailer it crumbled in my hands. Lucky for me, it held out the water. The VAP (Vintage Airstream Podcast site-see links at right) has a nice pictorial with instructions for this. Vintage Trailer Supply has instructions also.

One thing I noticed was my vent jacks loosened during the trip. I made safety wires out of heavy coat hangers which prevents the lid cranks from turning and allowing lid to raise, preventing the lid from raising and blowing off while traveling. I'd be interested to know if others have had this problem and how they solved it.

I ordered additional parts from Vintage Trailer Supply: wiring harness to tow vehicle, exterior marker and back-up lights, door latch, Worthington aluminum propane tanks.
Chose to replace old steel tanks due to needed upgrade to ODP valves and God help me...they're aluminum that can be polished!

I know I'm repeating myself BUT I highly recommend Vintage Trailer Supply. They carry parts you can't find elsewhere as well as those you will. Nice thing is they are they have the best prices, on the web or in-store, on many of the items I've compared.

Click here to visit Vintage Trailer Supply

Aluminitus Symptom #5: Specific to Airstream "Users." Needing to always be ready to matter how much work you've got in front of you.

No Reasons, Just Excuses

Do you ever find yourself trying to calculate where all your time goes and why you never seem to get enough done? If you really want something, you make time. I read about others restoring a trailer sucessfully. They have families, jobs, chores. They still manage to make it happen.

I've broken down three things I never seem to have all at the same time:
1) Time
2) Money
3) Space

While I'm now still short on time, money and space, I've probably never been in a position to have some of all three as I do now. Plus, I've seen plenty of others do more with less of each. This includes me. Time to put away the excuses and make this thing happen.

Change Happens

So this time I don't nod and change the subject when my wife reads the property listings as we've done throughout our lives together. I take in to account what we've been through the past few years. She asks for so little. If I can give her something she wants I'll do it. Hopefully it will simplify our lives.

I agree to go take a look at the property she finds that must be too good to be true. Seven Acres of Pines and Oaks. 1600 square foot newer home. Well, septic, drive are all in. Two huge garage/storage buildings which everyone says is why I liked it. They're wrong. I can build garages. What I couldn't get over were the trees, the silence, the peace I felt the first time I stood on this the middle of absolutely no-where! Hence the unbelievable price...compared to the Southeastern Wisconsin area.

Long story short. We find new jobs. We move ourselves, our belongings, our lives to the middle of Wisconsin and the middle of nowhere. This forces us to sell our home in the worst market we've ever seen. Call it a break-even with the deal we got on the new place.

I won't get in to how long the move took or being laid-off just as we finished. I won't give details about how making two house payments while the market, and our investment nest eggs continued to sour. It was the scariest thing I've ever been through.

Some days I wake up asking myself what the heck I did. Others I wake up, walk outside and just smile. If I can make this work, it will be the best thing I've ever done. If I can't...well I guess we can always go back to "the city." Life Happens...Change Happens.

Next Step?

My plans: Build on the lot we purchased in 1998. We chose not to build immediately because we knew a job change was coming so we wanted the security of a home before my income was interrupted. This was in 1999. Loans were still difficult to qualify for. Funny how things come around. In all it was the right move.
We planned on this being our "starter home". A 3-5 year proposition at best. Then we build.
File this under Life Happens. Relatives get old, need someone, we don't look the other way.

Two relatives later, many years later, we were spent. Especially my wife. She did all of the round-the-clock care giving. We went from two incomes to one. These were taxing but life enhancing opportunities.

So now it's time to build, right? Hey, I can use the Airstream as week-end temporary housing while working on the house. Right? Honey, are you listening? You still want to build, right? I've drawn 400 renditions of house plans, surely there's one that you agree with?

Long story short, next time the wife reads an ad in the paper about a property for sale...nod respectfully and change the subject. Actually, this was a fun thing we used to do. Sort of a dream of ours. Get out of the city, get some land, plant a garden, live more simply. Yeah right.
Next: Change Happens

Now What Do I Do With It?

Funny thing about Aluminitus symptom #4: Spacial assumption disorder.

Oh sure, I can fit that in the problem.
A statement made by many optimisitc Aluminitus sufferers.

Here's an artsy photo of my driveway looking from my garage to the street. Our house is on the right. The beige stuff to the left is my neighbors house, which I can touch with my toes still on my driveway. This is going to be fun...

Looking back, I don't know where or how I thought I'd work on it there. Something about knocking down the old garage and somehow getting the city to allow me to build a monster garage replacement in my back yard. The wife was understandably dismayed about the purchase and more so about the Goliath sitting in the driveway blocking the view out her kitchen & living room windows. Blotting out the sun, so to speak.

Here she sat...waiting.

Bringing you up to date

So, what have I done so far?
First: scanned the Internet for 3 years. Learned everything I could about trailers including Airstreams. What would meet my needs? What did they cost? Checked the blogs, sites, E-Bay, local ads. Finally, I've got some money.

This is when I realized my first symptoms of Aluminitus.

Definition of Aluminitus: Cannot think about anything rationally due to preoccupation with Aluminum constructed objects.

Most likely subject is the classic American Icon: the See More, Do More, Live More...Airstream Trailer.

Advanced stages include endless tracking of trailers for sale via newspapers, Internet and any available source of advertising.

Symptoms are compounded by epidemics like The New Millennium Nostalgia Fever strain. This occurred between 1998 and 2003 when people decided that traveling as they did when they were kids would be a fun thing to do. It spread at lightening speed due to lack of "cure" vaccines, i.e. not enough trailers to meet needs.

Symptoms worsen until the afflicted purchases the object of his or her obsession. In my case it was a 1965 30' Airstream Sovereign International Travel Trailer. Say that 3 times fast!

Warning: Single trailer purchases may not completely cure the affliction. Victims often find themselves unable to stop looking for an additional aluminum "fix", scanning websites or having friends or "enablers" find them for them. Additional trailers may add to the collection of person affected, thereby compounding Aluminitus infection.

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be a complete cure with most experiencing relapse. A 12 step program with sponsors is the only prevention.

Aluninitus Symptom #1: Obsessive Compulsive Aluminum Addiction. These symptoms manifested into the first of many on my way to getting "my first fix."

Finally, I found what was advertised as a "stored indoors, everything worked when stored, very straight aluminum, just a few dings, interior pretty much original, original windows, no leaks."

OK, show me the pictures. Hey, looks good. Called and asked many questions. All answered reasonably. And, its ONLY 390 miles away instead of clear across the country. And, it's listed at less than 1/2 what maniacs were bidding on them.

OK...I hit the BUY-IT-NOW button. First time ever.

Hind-sight: There must be a better way to buy something other than E-Bay. Not sure I'd do it again.

Bringing home the new toy:
After hitting the buy-it-now button December 2, 2005.
Wow, was it that long ago?

Quick: I need a brake controller! My trusty hitch installer source was tied up so I enlisted the help of a co-worker, in a snow storm. We pulled it into his garage and between dripping slush, installed a new controller in my 2000 Chevy van. This required running the spare wires back to the hitch, unlike today's vehicles that make installation a much simpler plug-and-play.

12-4-05: 4:30AM. Take off from Milwaukee, WI with my Mapquest notes in hand to pick up my trailer in Milan, OH. Simple route, right? Just head south on I94 and east on I80 to Ohio. After a slight detour, which I'll claim was due to construction, I arrived a little later than anticipated. Where did my side trip take me? All I'll say is I remember seeing signs for Canada.

I went from being the guy who can find due-north in the pitch black during a snow storm to unsuccessfully navigating through a construction zone, ending up in East-Central Michigan for...some time.

Aluminitus Symptom #2: Direction Impulse Disorder due to Aluminum Distraction.

When I finally arrived at the trailer what I found will be familiar to most who have gone this direction. The trailer was "not quite" as advertised. I won't go in to details.

Aluminitus symptom #3: Driven to Score the Fix. Subject finds themselves unable to walk away from anything that resembles anything other than a total train wreck. Can't go home empty handed. If it rolls, I'll fix the rest.

Next: Now What do I do with it?

Entry One

After reading many blogs on different subjects and finding them helpful as a learning tool and motivation I thought I'd start my own. Who knows, someone else may benefit from it. And, if no-one else reads it this blog will act as my own report card of progress. Sort of a work partner to keep me going and making headway.

I'll start with the basics and history. As I see how this goes, I'll add detail to the restoration projects, if others find them helpful. Wherever I can, I'll add links to other blogs, passing along the great information I've utilized so far.

Hopefully, I'll be making my 1965 Airstream Sovereign International trailer more usable for the 2009 Madison, WI rally. More usable means: safe to tow, operational with lights and if possible, cooking and HVAC. Less than 3 months and counting. I know, nothing like waiting until the last minute. Well, sometimes life gets in the way.

So here goes. Entry number one....Now What?