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Slamming on the brakes!!

Our epilogue on Airstream Renovations

Or I tried something new!!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????Last fall, I received a request to renovate n Airstream to a chemical free status and having never worked on an Airstream, I expressed my doubts, and also saw some positive points to consider.

  • We know about building chemical free tiny houses
  • Jim has 50 years of building experience
  • The crew has 75 years of experience in construction
  • We do build tiny houses
  • We could learn if Airstream renovation had potential as a new business opportunity
  • We would learn about space management from a RV perspective

Things that we learned from renovating an Airstream

  • The aluminum frame and skin flex ALOT!
  • Windows and doors are rounded because the shells flex
  • They all leak
  • Belly pans are an ugly nasty stinky place
  • Our skill set and knowledge base of Airstream units is limited
  • They are extremely light weight
  • Trailer Frames can rust out badly and compromise its integrity
  • Very little aftermarket products
  • Parts are expensive and ordering is confusing
  • A shell off is time consuming and expensive
  • Appliances MUST be sized correctly
  • How to do copper end caps

I am not going to spend a lot of time on the reasons for considering, but more so on what I learned.

1. The aluminum frame and skin flex ALOT!
The shell of the airstream is built with light weight aluminum sheets and ribs. These are flexible and move as stresses  exert pressure on the shell.

2. Windows and doors are rounded because the shells flex
Since the shells and frame flex quite a bit while moving, walls are curved with the hooped ribs as well as curving around from side to front and rear The windows are then also curved to avoid any sharp corners so that the aluminum does not tear from metal fatigue.

3. They all leak
There are approximately 5000 rivets in an Airstream and some will loosen up from movement. The rivets are “buck”/ “solid” rivets and “pop” or “blind” rivets, and each one is used differently.  Buck rivets are used to attach the exterior aluminum skin to the ribs of the trailer. They are also used to fasten windows and parts to the exterior of the trailer. Pop rivets are used in the interior to attach the inner skin and other parts to the interior side of the ribs. For added protection against leaks, they smear caulk on all the seams and rivets that penetrate the exterior skin. Over time, some of these buck rivets leak and the shell allows water to enter. Most of the water runs down the inner skin and collects at the bottom and trailer frame.

Riveters Class  A side note on the buck rivets, they are all installed by trained workforce that spend countless hours learning the skill.  They even hold contests between the pros and DIY visitors at the Ohio plant.

To do this requires a team of two people working together like dance partners.

How to buck a rivetThe outside installer holds an air-powered rivet tool, which is sort of a miniature jackhammer that pounds on the mushroom head of the rivet.

The inside installer holds a shaped metal tool called a “bucking bar” that is pressed against the tail (or stem) of the rivet. The rivet gun very quickly hammers the rivet, pushing it inward and squashing the tail against the bucking bar, which causes the tail to get shorter and wider. This fills the hole and locks the two pieces of aluminum together very strongly. Under normal circumstances, this rivet is in place forever, and it seals so tightly to the body panel that sealant is not needed for the rivet to be waterproof.

Timing is critical. Stopping too early means the rivet won’t fully deform and thus it won’t fill the hole for maximum holding power. Hammering too long will flatten the rivet too much, which also lowers its strength and can look cosmetically awful on the exterior.

The difference between “too short” and “too long” is less than a second, so the riveters rely on their experience and the tone of the hammering to know exactly when to stop. Then, as a pair, they move to the next rivet without delay. Good teams can put in a perfect rivet every three or four seconds.

4. Belly Pans are a nasty ugly stinky place
There is no way to say this, you will find rusted parts, mouse droppings, mouse nests, mouse carcasses, and insulation that is moldy and stinks.018 The underbelly often has small holes from wires  entering and mice find these entry points by following drafts from heat escaping. All a mouse needs is a hole the size of your small finger, and in it goes. The underbelly skin is thin, so a mouse can also chew his way in by enlarging an existing small hole. Over time, the inside of the trailer frame of the Airstream starts stinking badly and reeks of mold. If you are mold sensitive, the floor has to come out along with the fiberglass insulation.

5. Our skill set and knowledge base of Airstream units is limited

Moving Windows

Moving Windows

When we said ‘yes’ to renovating out 1st Airstream, we knew nothing about all the parts, wiring, plumbing, curving walls, and how it all worked. Since everything flexes it becomes difficult to build custom cabinets, partitions and placement of all the parts. let alone changing the layout and moving windows and door opening. Windows had to be ordered and in one case, we had to create a custom operating window for a bath.  Since windows were moved, it meant cutting out skins and replacing with new skins, so it did not look like a patch hack-job.

6. They are extremely light weight
A typical shell weighs in around 2lb per sqft. and that may amount to 600lbs for the skins. However, the trailer frame is steel and that would weigh in around 2-3000 lbs. The Air Force and Nasa loved the Airstream trailers because of their weight and size. It was easy to fly state of the art centers and living quarters around the world in their cargo jets.

7. Trailer Frames can rust out badly and compromise its integrity
As a result of leaks – the frames often start rusting and outriggers welds start breaking. They also may have what is called as separation, which is when the tail of the Airstream trailer breaks away from the frame in the area of the axles. At times, the trailer is compromised and must be repaired or replaced and this will require lots of work or a shell off. If it requires a shell off, the process adds significant costs to a renovation.
Unlike the rest of the Airstream that is all aluminum, the frame is steel, so we found issues where aluminum met the trailer frame. We found rivets that corroded from the steel aluminum reaction of metals, so keeping mice out becomes a challenge.

8. Very little aftermarket products
Sometimes, the only way one can find parts is to find them in another badly compromised trailer. Airstream does not keep a stock of parts of past years, even though they seldom change the designs. The curve of walls has been a constant as well as windows parts and curves.

9. Parts are expensive and ordering is confusing
I am used to ordering a window for a tiny house that includes all the parts. Not so, for an Airstream. If you can find a used window, it usually just includes the glass and aluminum sash around the glass. It does not include the frame, the turn buckle locks, arms, gaskets, and related parts for attaching the arms to. You can find glass and parts online from Vintage Trailer Parts, out-of-doors mart, and air stream supply.

10. Appliances MUST be sized correctly
The standard door opening of an Airstream is only 26″ wide with the door removed. Unless you frame and fabricate a larger curved door, or add framing a conventional opening such as a 32″ door and frame, one is limited to only using an appliance that is 24″ in width or smaller.

 

Dead End streets and cul-de-sac’s

In business, one learns about avoiding dead end streets and cul’de’sacs – which are one of the same. They take ones focus off of the core business model while one focuses on something new. We had no idea, that the Airstream we took on that was to be a 3-4 month project would require 4 months to get thru the fabricator and into our shop where it would take another 5 months to out the door.  As a result, it severely affected our tiny house production as we did not have enough staff to do both. The project grew from a 75k project to a 200k project which meant a lot of changes and more time to invest.  The people we did hire, decided they did not like working with metal, aluminum, curved walls and all the other things involved in an Airstream.

In summary, Jim has decided that while he learned a lot about Airstreams, his knowledge base and skill set is lacking and we are choosing to re-focus on tiny houses and smaller crafty projects.

Anyone want to buy some birch mason jar lights?

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Below is a collage of the project

Collage Sneaky Pete

 

The “Sneaky Pete” Airstream

Or otherwise known as the “shiny tiny” part 2

A new trend is emerging among interior design minded road fanatics. The Airstream trailer is a very popular design. And everyone recognizes them!

Based on a 1954 Airstream Flying Cloud Trailer that once served as a hunting and fishing lodge in Oregon, this completely restored and reimagined trailer (Orvis Timeless Airstream) features a hand-polished exterior, a lush interior that makes liberal use of wood, copper, and leather, all-new running gear to ensure a safe ride, and all the creature comforts you’d expect from a modern tow-behind in a classic package. (Source: uncrate.com)

Based on a 1954 Airstream Flying Cloud Trailer that once served as a hunting and fishing lodge in Oregon, this completely restored and reimagined trailer (Orvis Timeless Airstream) features a hand-polished exterior, a lush interior that makes liberal use of wood, copper, and leather, all-new running gear to ensure a safe ride, and all the creature comforts you’d expect from a modern tow-behind in a classic package. (Source: uncrate.com)

Inspired by innovative airplane designs, the first Airstream trailer was introduced back in 1931. They were built out of aluminum and intended for only the mightiest

of road warriors. Their aerodynamic, rounded metallic designs gave them their badass futuristic demeanor. They’ve since diminished in popularity, but a creative Airstream uprising is just on the horizon.

Lately we’ve been seeing more and more people converting these old-fashioned, outdated contraptions into lavish, comfortable collage1-161road wagons complete with beds, kitchens and even bathrooms. In fact, they’re becoming so popular that even Hollywood star Matthew McConaughey has his very own Airstream trailer that he invested over 200k in.

Here are the benefits of owning an Airstream trailer:

  1. They’re handcrafted in America and built to last a lifetime.
  2. They handle well on the road
  3. They make a great instant hotel room
  4. They are easily recognized as an RV and accepted in RV Parks and campgounds
  5. They can be used for guests at home
  6. They are customizable to ones needs
  7. Their retro look and sleek, aerodynamic design makes for good gas mileage
  8. They put you in an elite community of dedicated Airstream owners

 

We are moving several windows and instead of doing a patch at the old location, we chose to cut out a large section of alumimum.

We are moving several windows and instead of doing a patch at the old location, we chose to cut out a large section of aluminum sheathing to blend the old with the new.

A little catch-up.

The new trailer was built to be the same as the old trailer with few modifications. One being we used a heavier gauge steel to minimize bounce in the frame. We salvaged old parts such as the axles, custom rigging for the axles that allowed for drop pans for the water and waste tank, and the trailer tongue/hitch steel.

Jim is routing out the edge of the plywood as the wall frame require 5/8" sheathing and the Purebond hardwood plywood is only available in 3/4"

Jim is routing out the edge of the plywood as the wall frame require 5/8″ sheathing and the Purebond hardwood plywood is only available in 3/4″

After it was all welded back together, the frame went to the paint booth and painted with a Low VOC primer and paint before it was moved into place to be pushed under the shell. We also ripped Purebond hardwood plywood for the perimeter, front bow, and rear bow. We attached the bow plywood to the shell for rigidity. Since the original floor was 5/8 plywood and we were using ¾”, we had to plane down the edges to fit into the wall channels of the frame.

We used 2 forklifts to lift the shell while we pushed the frame under the shell.

Airstream Lift

Airstream Lift

After lowering it, we pulled the temporary steel supports and bolted the shell to the frame. We then installed the perimeter plywood and screwed that to the trailer frame.

The next step was insulating the floor perimeter with John Mansville foam board followed by installation of the rounded skirt aluminum. The drop pan housing followed shortly after with insulating the water and grey tank before lowering them into place.

In floor Heat

In floor Heat

 

Since we are doing a heated floor system, we installed a false floor for laying the mats and heat cables on. The heat tapes are under the floor so we used the reflective foil to bounce the heat to the flooring of the Airstream . One of the requirements was not to install the heat tape under cabinets and another was do not cut, knick, or damage the heat wires. Once they were installed, we poured a light weigh concrete over the wires and temporarily installed the plywood flooring, followed by building the toe kicks boxes of the cabinets.

 

We now have a list of what will be going into this airstream, that I am calling

“The Sneaky Pete”

  • New Trailer
  • Custom layout
  • Relocate 3 windows
  • Relocate door
  • Add window to bath
  • Add 2 skylights
  • Move rear bath to center of Airstream
  • Natures Head composting toilet
  • Move water tank and grey water tank top between axles
  • DC Lighting
  • AC Appliances
  • Electric in-floor heat
  • Insulate airstream with Johns Manville Foam board
  • Subflooring to be Purebond Hardwood plywood
  • Character grade hickory paneling
  • Maple cabinets
  • Quartz countertops
  • Antique copper end caps
  • Ceramic floor and ceramic bath
  • Custom lift bed frame/mattress
  • Built in benches
  • New stove and microwave
  • LG Washer Dryer Combo
  • Electric fireplace
  • Flat screen TV
  • LED Lighting
  • Panasonic Whisper Quiet Air Exchanger
  • Dakien Heat Exchanger
  • New canvas at awnings
  • Polished Exterior
  • New Underbelly and side pan wraps

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