It's been nearly five years. Five years that I've had my Airstream trailer sit idle while I accomplished other things in my life. Oh, I would putter around with it now and then. I replaced one of the vents on top with a cheap unit from VTS. I put in three new panes of tempered glass to replace the three that had broken over the years. Mostly I just ignored this project. I painted my house. I dedicated more time to my business. I started riding my bicycle again. Out behind the garage, the Airstream waited. I'm not sure where the motivation to start working on it again has come from, but I've got it back.
One thing that I had been dreading since towing it home from Cape Cod back in 2008 was getting it registered. Every time I had to tow it someplace, either to have someone do some work on it or to go to a local campsite, I would borrow a dealer plate from a friend of mine. Today, I decided to bite the bullet and go to my local DMV office and see what hoops I was going to have to jump through in order to get a plate. You see, when I bought this Airstream, it had been sitting in a permanent camp site for years. When the family decided to sell it, they hooked on and towed it home. It was the first time it had moved in fifteen years. Since they never towed it, they never bothered to get it registered and over the years the transferrable registration was lost. The only paperwork I had was a notarized bill of sale from the owner. In 2008, I didn't care. I had my Airstream. I would deal with the anticipated nightmare of getting it registered later. Later came today.
Armed with nothing other than that bill of sale from 2008, I drove to the DMV. I presented said bill of sale to the lady behind the counter, and explained what I was trying to do. She handed me three forms to fill out, and told me that the only other thing I would need was a pencil etching of the VIN. Could it really be this easy? I was about to find out.
I drove back home, got the etching of the VIN and headed back to the DMV office. I was hoping that I would get the same clerk who was so helpful before. As I stood in line, I prayed that when my turn came up it would be with her. I soon found myself at the front of the queue, and when the next clerk was available, it wasn't the one I hoped for. I let the guy behind me go ahead, and I waited. Five minutes later, the next clerk was not my chosen clerk, so again, I let the guy behind me go ahead. It was ten minutes before the next clerk was available, and still it wasn't "my" clerk. Screw it, I'm not waiting anymore. I walked up to the new clerk, showed her my paperwork, she examined my etching, I paid a fee, and I got my plate. I was stunned. I had read so much about having to use a title service in Vermont. I had been prepared to look for a wrecked Airstream with that all important transferable registration to buy for cheap, willing to have a registration that did not match the VIN on my trailer. All of the things I had read. All of the horror stories of not being able to register a trailer. None of that applied to me. Thank you Chenango County Department of Motor Vehicles! I can now legally tow my trailer down to Baltimore to see Frank at Franks Trailer works to get new axles. The sky is now the limit.
Today I finished the street side belly pan curves and still had some daylight, so I decided to get working on the furnace hole cover. Since I'm not going to be re-installing a furnace, I needed to cover the hole where the furnace vent was. I used the original trim pieces and a piece of .040 aluminum to plug the hole. To this I will mounting the original furnace chimney for an original look. I'm not one who goes for non-functional decoration (you won't find spinner hub caps or under body neon lighting on any of my cars), but I think this is a better option than just riveting a new piece of sheet aluminum over the hole and hoping it's not very noticable.
I would have had this piece all riveted together and the furnace chimney mounted today, but I'm all out of Vulkem, that magic caulk which will seal the cover to the hole and still be pliable and working in another 50 years when the next guy takes my trailer apart. I could use a few more kleckos, too. Mine are all being used right now. Hey, Father's Day is coming up....maybe I should start leaving hints around the house.
When I replaced the front crossmember, I was planning to leave it exposed and paint it whatever color I end up using for the tongue. After looking at it for a while, I decided it need to look more finished. I wire brushed and painted it with rust converter, then got down to business.I used .040 aluminum and cut the piece I would use to cover the crossmember. This would then be slid between the exterior skin and the metal support plate.The lower support undeneath the front window was in the way, and since.040 doesn't bend all that easily, I drilled out the rivets holding the support and took it off. Plenty of room now. I'll just rivet it back on when I do the rest of the riveting. An extra 4 rivets is not a problem when I'll be doing a few hundred.
The sheet in place and held with kleckos. It hung down underneath the cross member about 2 and 1/2 or 3 inches. Just enough to bend back up underneath the trailer. A rubber mallet and patience is all it took to get it to bend the way I wanted to.
The finished product. Aluminum looks so much nicer than steel. I don't know if the trailer originally had aluminum there or not. I know that newer Airstreams did, I like the look. The best part is not having to wonder, when everything is all done and I'm camping, if I should have covered it.
It feels so good to be getting my trailer closer and closer to being able to take back out on the road. A few weeks ago, I was pretty nervous that I would not have my trailer ready in time for the Birthday Bash at Rob Baker's farm at the end of June. Well, these past few weeks I have been spending lots of time making sure I'll be ready. Today I riveted one piece of belly pan material to the trailer. I say "material" since it's only the curved piece that goes up underneath the trailer. A previous owner had cut the belly pan away, but left about 8 inches of the curved piece. When I'm done, I'll bridge the underneath of the Airstream with a sheet of aluminum so that I have an entire belly pan.
This is a new piece of belly pan material that I made. The original was just too banged up and coroded to use. I think it looks pretty good. I also used rivets from Rivetsinstock.com. These are solid aluminum rivets with plain heads, as opposed to some rivets which have numbers stamped into the head. The heads are just a fraction larger than the originals, but not so much as to be noticeable without it being pointed out.
You may have notice that I am bloging pretty regularly lately. You might think that it's because I am making lots of progress and wish to document it here. The true reason is that I am trying to make up for all of the other Airstream restoration blogs that I enjoy reading. I am blogging about actual Airstream restoration here to counter-act all those other blogs that like to document boat rides, farm animals, and auctions. Anyway, on with the blog...
This post is intended to help those who will be doing a shell on floor replacement on the front half of their trailer. One of the problems I encountered last year was that once I drilled out all of the rivets holding the exterior skin to the old j-channel, the door would no longer close. In fact, the only way I could make it close was by pulling on the grab handle on the outside of the trailer, hard, while simultaneously pushing the door towards the back of he trailer, hard. I solved the problem with a piece of string to keep the door semi-closed for the past 8 months or so.
The first thing I did was to install the new j-channel just to the rear of the door. This part of the trailer did not move much when I drilled out the rivets last year since it's only about 3 or 4 feet away from some good solid rivets. I positioned the j-channel, screwed it down, then klecko'd the skin the the j-channel. So far, so good.
A peek inside the trailer to see where we're at.
Next I repeated the process on the side forward of the door. Again, I screwed the j-channel in place, then I pulled on the door frame to get clearance for the door to close, drilled through the j-channel from the outside, and klecko'd everything solid. I stepped out of the trailer, closed the door, and THUNK. The door still was no where close to being able to close. I was a good 3/8 of an inch off. Great. OK. Time to try something different.
All I had to do was unscrew the j-channel from the floor while leaving it klecko'd into place. Then I shut the door from the inside (I had to kind of push and shove and shift the skin to get it to the point where it would close) and, with a little more pushing and shoving and shifting to get things into position, I screwed the j-channel to the floor. I finished putting the rest of the screws into the j-channel to hold it solid, and I opened the door to test the fit.
Success! One fingered door closing sweetness! What was actually a pretty simple process took about 2 frustrating hours. I hope when some of you guys finally get around to making the front end of your trailers as solid as the back end (I'm talking to you, Marcus and Whiskers), you'll remember this post.
J-Channel, or as some like to call it, C-Channel, is one of those things that you will need to replace if you're restoring an Airstream. There is no way around it. Sure, some of your sections will be salvagable. Most will simply need to be replaced. I'm at the point in my restoration where I need to do just that. My curved piece was (thankfully) in good shape, but all of my straight sections had deteriorated to the point that there was just no saving them.
I was talking to Frank at Frank's Trailer Works ( http://www.frankstrailerworks.com/ ) about the situation, and he said to send him the dimensions of what I needed. I sent the dimensions on a Thursday, and Monday morning I had a package delivered with a Frank's Trailer Works return address.
Tonight I pulled out some of my old pieces of J-Channel. I wanted to get a few images of what the originals looked like for posterity. Not good.
Now I'm all set to get these things fitted to the trailer and start riveting the exterior skin back into place. Frank, you saved me the headache of buying the tools and materials to make these myself. Thanks a million, my friend.
This looks so much better than the ground and frame that I've been looking at ever since last summer when I got home from the Baker's Acres Family Camping event at Rob Baker's place and starting tearing into the front half of the trailer. I still have some crawling around in the dirt to do in order to install the rest of the elevator bolts, but psychologically this is a huge step for me.
Nice new waterproof plywood, rustproofed and re-enforced frame members, and a nice solid step hanging down there in the background. It was a good weekend for working on the Airstream.