Replacing parts and making improvements don't stop in RV life
12:39 AM CDT on Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Being a newbie isn't easy.
But as you read this, my wife and I are happily camping away, enjoying the Lifestyle of the Neither Rich nor Famous.
Since we bought our 1971 Safari model Airstream in November, we have had many lessons.
We have learned, for instance, that plastic may last forever if you find it on a beach, but its lifetime as a functioning trailer part is well short of eternity.
JAKE SCHOELLKOPF / Special Contributor
Scott Burns enjoys the view from the door of his Airstream more than the view of working under its sink.
I am still reading manuals and buying tools.
I continue to hope that if I read enough, the tools will somehow know what to do.
For better or worse, I have learned once again that the best tool in my toolbox is a well-worn checkbook.
It can do amazing things.
Here are some of the lessons we have learned – and attendant costs.
Parts wear out
Most of us are in denial about this. We like to think that nothing we own will ever need a replacement part.
But although the beautiful aluminum shell of an Airstream may be virtually immortal, you would be stunned at the number of parts that can need replacement.
Basically, it's anything a house might need, only smaller and harder to reach.
In our case, the pre-purchase assessment was pretty good.
We knew, for instance, that the waste valve had a small leak. Since the waste valve sits under the water holding tank, which, in turn, sits under the toilet, the fact that the leak was "small" didn't matter.
The valve had to be replaced.
Ditto the running tires and spare and a variety of gas valves, faucet valves and plastic slide handles.
We spent $2,600 (beyond our original $5,900 purchase price) to get most of the basics back to working order.
We have a furnace, refrigerator, stove and water heater that work nicely.
Our vent fans and electrical connections all work.
We have yet to attack the morass of hoses, pipes and connectors under the sink, a mess that looks like the web of a psychotic spider.
Improvements are inevitable
Our Airstream came without an awning.
Ralph Lauren would never allow this on any of his $120,000 remodels of the beloved 16-foot Bambi, and neither would we.
We ordered a beautiful striped awning from Zip-Dee, an Illinois company that makes retractable awnings for trailers, fifth wheels and motor homes.
With freight, it was about $1,300. Installation was $200.
The awning adds an extra room, which is important when two people are living in a space that otherwise measures 20 by 7 feet.
To put that in perspective, our Airstream quarters – kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room – are significantly smaller than many walk-in closets.
Beauty is only skin deep
The year our Airstream was built, 1971, wasn't memorable for fashion and design.
The colors of the period were harvest gold and avocado, sometimes applied to Nehru jackets and bell bottoms.
So my wife and I confer.
Let's go light on this, we agree.
No custom upholstery. No Flash Gordon stainless steel. No hand-painted interior mural inspired by the Sistine Chapel.
We'll tear up the existing carpeting. We'll replace it with inexpensive throw rugs.
And we'll make the whole thing so it can be stripped, cleaned and changed easily.
Thanks to Target and a handful of Western memorabilia stores, we now have bedding, throws, towels, dishware, silverware and some nifty antique pictures, all put together for just over $1,500.
Yes, even an Airstream can be accessorized.
So our basic investment is now about $11,500, approaching the top end of the $10,000 to $12,000 range I had expected.
My wife, who is both wiser and less of a tightwad, had estimated $12,000 to $15,000.
Are we done yet?
Perhaps not ever.
On our first weekend in Red River, N.M., we discovered a leaky pipe.
And winter may have killed our new battery, creating doubts about the converter/charger. So, no, we're not done yet.
But it doesn't matter.
Like the rest of life, it's not the destination, it's the journey.
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/scottburns/columns/2006/stories/061306dnbusburns.12650e7a.html