Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Trial and Error and Success

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.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Franks Trailer Works Is Awesome

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 ( ) 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.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Laying Down Wood

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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Steppin' Up

Well, after taking the kids fishing this morning, then Laurie and I going to watch our daughter's dance recital this afternoon, I was finally able to get out and do some work on the trailer after dinner. I applied the final coats of wood preservative to the sub-floor plywood. It'll be dry tomorrow, and ready to lay down inside the trailer the next time I have a chance to work on it.

The winds finally died down enough for me to be able to get my steps welded in. They are solid as a rock, and work exactly as they should. It's a pleasure to be able to step on them and not feel like they are on the verge of collapse.

I chased all the elevator bolt holes with a 1/4 inch bit, and it's a good thing I did. All of the paint and rust converter I applied made them just a hair too small. It would have been a pain to have to do that from below. There will be enough crawling around on my back in the dirt in the next few days.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting Floored

The steps are all painted and ready to we welded in. I use a little 110v mig welder, and it's tough to use outside if the wind is blowing since the shielding gas gets blown away and the weld left is very weak. I was going to get them welded in today, but of course it was too windy. Maybe tomorrow...

I've spent the last few days cleaning up the frame and getting it ready to paint. Flapper wheel on the angle grinder, wire brush on the drill, and a good old fashioned hand weld wire brush took care of any loose rust. What a dirty, nasty job. Then I coated the frame with a Rustoleum brand rust converter. What's nice about this stuff is that you can get it in spray can, which makes getting into all the corners much easier than with a brush. I have used POR-15 in the past, with good results. I decided to use the Rustoleum product, as I used it on an old Land Rover frame years ago and it's still holding up great. Plus, it's about 1/3 the cost of POR-15. Finally, I top coated with flat chassis paint.

Since I couldn't do any welding today, I took my daughter to Lowes and bought some 19/32 plywood for the subfloor. I cut it to size while my girl slept, and she woke up disappointed that she wasn't able to "help" me use the power saws. Maybe next time. By the way, 19/32 is the exact thickness of the plywood that was in the Airstream originally. When I did the back half of the trailer, I was at first concerned that it was too thin. Once the shell, frame, and floor were all riveted back together everything was as solid as a rock. I understand that Airstream used different thicknesses through the years, but 1961 Ambassadors used 19/32. Tonight I'm going to treat the plywood with Thompsons Water Seal to help ward off any future rot.