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Old 12-09-2014, 11:55 PM   #1
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Theresa , New York
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Taking the plunge?

Hi,
My wife and I have long admired Airstream trailers and we now have a chance to have one for no money out of pocket.
We found an owner of a 1976 31' who wants to trade us for an old HD sportster that gets little use.

The trouble is our pickup is a 6 cylinder full size and not up to the task.
We don't have the money for a new pickup at this time and we don't want a payment.
To add to the mix we are not crazy about the layout. We prefer the dinette across from the galley and this model has the fridge across from the stove.

There is some work to be done for sure and and a good ding on one of the rear corners but we can not get around the idea that it is free or almost as the bike is probably worth a few thousand dollars. ( old ironhead 1975)

The trailer has no leaks. Electrical works. Who knows about the fridge and furnace as there are no keys.
It was as cold as a witches kiss when we looked at it so we probably would go back dressed better to inspect undercarriage and reinspect the dent to try and determine if there is structural damage.

We wondered too about the shades that roll into the wall and other parts that seemed flimsy.

One other thing, a few rivet points seem to be slightly dished in.

Would this year be a good bet or should we bide our time and wait for another.

They don't seem too rare until we are looking for one and we don't want to make a decision based on how cool the trailer is vs when and if we would get a chance to use it.
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Old 12-10-2014, 07:15 AM   #2
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Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about the floor plan because the odds of finding another 40 year old trailer that is perfect, and for very little money invested, are pretty slim.

I would worry about structural integrity, and working appliances. Those would be your biggest expenses to repair. Even a dented segment on a trailer that age is almost expected.

The '70's trailers were not very heavy, and they were not wide body, so they are relatively easy to tow. If your truck will handle the tongue weight (check with mfg. for weight capacity), it will probably tow the trailer OK as long as you are content with not going 75MPH. If it does not have a towing package, you will probably need to add a transmission oil cooler, an electric trailer brake operator, and maybe even a receiver hitch. You will also want a weight distribution hitch setup if the trailer does not come with one.

I wouldn't look at this trailer as the trailer to end all trailers, but a way to get your feet wet so to speak, and trading material possibly in the future. Used Airstreams sell easily.

Welcome to the forum.
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Old 12-10-2014, 08:53 AM   #3
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Sounds like a good deal to me. The bike and the trailer both are worth $2,000-$3,000.
I think your 6 cylinder truck might pull it. What is the truck and motor? I know an old Ford 300 CID straight 6 would tow it all day long.
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Old 12-10-2014, 08:55 AM   #4
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Welcome to the Forums!

Sometimes the most expensive trailers are the free ones! Go to the "Portal" tab under the Air Forums logo and look for the Inspection checklist. This checklist will walk you through everything you need to have a good hard look at when considering a trailer. In my experience, even trailers that "don't leak" actually do, the owners just don't know they leak because the water enters the skin, drips down between the outer and inner walls, and rots the floor at the base of the wall behind some piece of furniture.

The 70's vintage trailers are notorious for "rear end separation," where the floor becomes so rotted in the rear that the frame and shell are able to move independently of one another. You won't be able to see much by looking underneath the trailer, as it should be enclosed with aluminum sheet underneath. Unless the axles have been replaced, you will need to do that as well (~$1500 in parts).

Assuming the trailer doesn't need major surgery (ie., a shell-off renovation), you can still expect to spend several thousand dollars on axles, upholstery, replacing broken appliances, new floor covering, etc., to make it "liveable." Just manage your expectations. A 40 year old trailer is much the same as an old car that has been parked in a field for the last 40 years. You can't expect to hop in and drive away.

good luck!
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Old 12-10-2014, 11:04 AM   #5
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1959 28' Ambassador
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Peru , New York
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tommr View Post
Hi,
My wife and I have long admired Airstream trailers and we now have a chance to have one for no money out of pocket.
We found an owner of a 1976 31' who wants to trade us for an old HD sportster that gets little use.

The trouble is our pickup is a 6 cylinder full size and not up to the task.
We don't have the money for a new pickup at this time and we don't want a payment.
To add to the mix we are not crazy about the layout. We prefer the dinette across from the galley and this model has the fridge across from the stove.

There is some work to be done for sure and and a good ding on one of the rear corners but we can not get around the idea that it is free or almost as the bike is probably worth a few thousand dollars. ( old ironhead 1975)

The trailer has no leaks. Electrical works. Who knows about the fridge and furnace as there are no keys.
It was as cold as a witches kiss when we looked at it so we probably would go back dressed better to inspect undercarriage and reinspect the dent to try and determine if there is structural damage.

We wondered too about the shades that roll into the wall and other parts that seemed flimsy.

One other thing, a few rivet points seem to be slightly dished in.

Would this year be a good bet or should we bide our time and wait for another.

They don't seem too rare until we are looking for one and we don't want to make a decision based on how cool the trailer is vs when and if we would get a chance to use it.
Too funny, I too traded a nice Airstream for a nice Harley several years ago. Both of us have been thrilled by the trade.
As noted in other posts, your trailer leaks, as pretty much they all do to some extent. It also has rear end separation & floor rot…………………I can see it from here If you expect to get in it & go camping, you're in for a disappointment, however if you want a project, this will definately be one. All of the usual problems are likely in this trailer, floor rot, rusty cross members, failed appliances, leaks, sagged out old axles, mouse infestation etc, however done right, this can be an exciting ride for you. Depending on the 6 cylinder truck you have, you'll probably be able to tow it, however I wouldn't set off on a cross country trip with it.
Check out The Vintage Airstream Podcast | Vintage Trailer Restoration for further insight into what you're up against.
Colin
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Old 12-10-2014, 11:04 PM   #6
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Replace Axles?

Thanks for the reply's.

Am I to understand that the axles will need to be replaced?
That sounds serious. Is this typical?

As for the floor we stamped and stomped and jumped on the rear bumper and it seems pretty good.

I was led to believe the trailer had been stored in a barn until now.

My truck is a 1500 dodge Magnum v6 full size with an 8 foot box.
Maybe there is something I could do to bump up the torque or HP.
I installed air lift bags to help support the springs and it has a 2" receiver welded on to the frame and electric brake control.

I have pulled other trailers of similar weight OK but it seems to labor.

I have a friend who is trying to sell us a 3500 dually with 4 wheel drive but that sounds like a lot of truck and too many tires to replace.

The air stream is actually lighter than my neighbors 30 foot wilderness with the tip-outs and built in outside barbecue with sink and la tee dah recliners.

I am not afraid of a project, and I have tools, I just don't need a 31 foot lawn ornament, even if it is all shiny and blue.

We probably should take a better look but as we are in Northern New York the weather has turned cold and the snow is flying. Makes it hard to wiggle underneath.

I will check the check list and mull this over some more.
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Old 12-11-2014, 12:09 AM   #7
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The Razor's Edge...

Dear Tommr,

This sounds like a real bargain, BUT it's 40 years old and could eventually need "The full monte" - a frame off restoration. BUT...IF it's really been stored in a barn until recently, you might be recipients of the "lucky dog" award because this is a unit that could be usable by spring (aluminum tent on wheels) while you fixed it up over time without doing a frame off. It's a real razor's edge gamble. If you've got a place to store it under cover without incurring any significant expenses and if you're getting it for virtually free, worst case? You could store it until spring (assuming no heat in the storage) and assess it then - you'd probably be able to sell it for a break even price if upon sober thought and a careful assessment you decided it was a no go.

Take a real major dose of reality though - to keep this unit "leak free" and prevent frame separation - it needs to be kept out of the weather until you can go over it with a fine toothed comb. If you don't already have a barn or big carport, could cost $50 to $200 per month to rent. Then there's the maintenance, replacements and repairs. Nothing comes free - but if you are really handy you can do virtually everything yourself. Then your major cost is TIME. Months or even a year or two... a 40 year old trailer that hasn't been lovingly and consistently maintained is NOT going to be a 3 week project to get even vaguely road worthy.

I admire the heck out of people who do keep these 40 year old trailers on the road and lookin' good. But the odds are 99% that you're going to NEED to replace the axles so that the trailer won't rattle itself to death being towed, and the tires must be dry rotted, but even before those items, you've got to make it as water tight as possible to prevent or at least stop water damage. Every rivet, every seam and everything mounted on the roof, sidewalls and end segments need to be sealed. Anything sticking through the roof (antenna, bathroom vents, fans, vent stacks, etc.) will have to be resealed and possibly replaced, then there are the access doors for the refrigerator water heater and furnace that could have leaks, and the door and window seals which have surely disintegrated and must be replaced.

In a barn until "RECENTLY" - if that means until six weeks ago, recently is great. If it's been out in the weather without being watched for leaks for a year or more... it has started to leak, how badly is the only unknown.

One more piece of good news - Colin Hyde has a restoration business in NE New York... send him a PM and find out what he'd charge for a serious inspection to help you make a better choice.

One more thought - I've been hot on the trail of a 10 meter Avion (vintage kin trailer) which I PLAN to spend $30,000 to $40,000 to have professionally restored by someone ELSE. (Because I've had a money pit "this old house" and am too old and creaky and not masochistic enough to put myself through that again.) However, I've seen plenty of people here who've spent that much or more on a "do it yourself" restoration.

I do know how to spot "good bones" where a lot of the work will be cosmetics, but I still would budget for a new RV refrigerator, furnace and water heater at a minimum - and that's about $3,000 by itself. Then it's likely a new A/C would be required too..... and the hits just keep coming.

Vintage ain't cheap in the long run. It is cheaper than brand new though.
On re-reading this, it sounds like I'm raining on your parade, and if so I apologize truly. I sense that you're financially conservative and want to avoid unnecessary debt, so I urge you to use SEARCH to look up some restoration threads and do a day or two of serious reading before you decide. May I recommend that you search "Costalotta" - an Argosy (painted Airstream) restored by Happy Campers. It's not an over the top job done like the one done by Smokeless Joe - and it gives you a real sense of how to to repairs and upgrades over a timeline.

Paula
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Old 12-11-2014, 04:15 AM   #8
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1959 28' Ambassador
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tommr View Post
Thanks for the reply's.

Am I to understand that the axles will need to be replaced?
That sounds serious. Is this typical?

As for the floor we stamped and stomped and jumped on the rear bumper and it seems pretty good.

I was led to believe the trailer had been stored in a barn until now.

My truck is a 1500 dodge Magnum v6 full size with an 8 foot box.
Maybe there is something I could do to bump up the torque or HP.
I installed air lift bags to help support the springs and it has a 2" receiver welded on to the frame and electric brake control.

I have pulled other trailers of similar weight OK but it seems to labor.

I have a friend who is trying to sell us a 3500 dually with 4 wheel drive but that sounds like a lot of truck and too many tires to replace.

The air stream is actually lighter than my neighbors 30 foot wilderness with the tip-outs and built in outside barbecue with sink and la tee dah recliners.

I am not afraid of a project, and I have tools, I just don't need a 31 foot lawn ornament, even if it is all shiny and blue.

We probably should take a better look but as we are in Northern New York the weather has turned cold and the snow is flying. Makes it hard to wiggle underneath.

I will check the check list and mull this over some more.
Yes it will need axles, & yes it is typical. We've installed many, & drop shipped far more all over North America & beyond.
1500 with a Magnum V6, it'll work in the short term as a local tow vehicle, but not enough oomf for anything more than that.
"Barn Finds" are good, albeit still full of mice. The method for checking for rear end "issues" is to have one person bounce up & down on the bumper, while another is down on their hands & knees looking directly at the frame rail area where it protrudes from the body. If the frame moves any differently than the body is moving, then you have "issues". The body, floor & frame are bolted solidly together all of the way around the perimeter, so any movement that is not in complete unison is a sign of a problem. Keep in mind that "pretty good" is not good when is comes to structural floor rot. Leaving this unchecked/unrepaired only leads to more problems.
Don't bother "wiggling" underneath, as those issues are the least of your problems.

Colin
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Old 12-11-2014, 06:54 AM   #9
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No mice, no rodents, no sign of any infestations, bees, wasps, hobos.
It doesn't even smell musty.
My wife is extremely sensitive to mold and she did not detect any, at least during the preliminary inspection.
The tires looked good. No cracks or rot that I could see on the outside.

We are going slow though as there seems to be more involved in this project than we expected and I am currently 1/4 way through the restoration of a 1961 Lyman boat and motor.

To say we are conservative with money is an understatement.
We have no car payments, no house payments, and we live modestly with few meals out etc.

One reason we are looking for a travel trailer is for arts and crafts shows.
We make and sell clay bird houses and feeders, wood birdhouses and feeders, wind chimes, photography and a host of other items made in our home studio.

A big expense for a 3 day or longer show is the lodging. Since we have to drive to the shows anyway the extra gas would not be such a problem compared to a 100 dollar a night motel bill and food.
Many major shows have arrangements for vendors with trailers and motor homes so that is not always an issue.
As a matter of fact at may shows the campers, ( some stay in tents! ) often get together in the evenings for conviviality and conversation.

Then there is the comfort factor, of being able to have our own bed and stuff after a long day and the luxury of being able to arrive early or spend a few extra days at an interesting destination with out the cost of a motel.

As far as storage, I was looking at the side of our studio building, 45 feet long and the north side with no windows, and we could build a covered area on the side with a stone driveway to keep her when not in use.

Lastly, since we live in the 1000 Islands region of the St Lawrence River, there would be opportunity to rent the trailer out where I could deliver and set up at a local state or private camp ground, keeping a credit card as deposit against damage.

Fisher men, and women, as well as sight seers love to come to this area but if they are towing a boat they can't bring a trailer. Just a thought.

Again we will need to look this one over more carefully and we are resigned to the fact that if we miss it because we did not jump then maybe it is a good thing.

Thanks again for the input and we would rather have the bad news up front than after we were into it. And if it saves us trouble and money its not bad news, its good advice!
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Old 12-11-2014, 07:27 AM   #10
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Oh,
By the way,
Is the 1500 for axels each or for two.
We are close enough to Plattsburgh, north of Watertown, to drive up. Nice ride.
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Old 12-11-2014, 01:29 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tommr View Post
...
To say we are conservative with money is an understatement.
We have no car payments, no house payments, and we live modestly with few meals out etc.

One reason we are looking for a travel trailer is for arts and crafts shows.
We make and sell clay bird houses and feeders, wood birdhouses and feeders, wind chimes, photography and a host of other items made in our home studio.

A big expense for a 3 day or longer show is the lodging. Since we have to drive to the shows anyway the extra gas would not be such a problem compared to a 100 dollar a night motel bill and food....
It sounds like you've made a lot of good life choices.

It also sounds like you know how to enjoy simple things like hanging around with other RV'ers making s'mores or perhaps sharing an occasional craft beer. IMHO, there is a lot of value (far beyond money) from that kind of socializing. Get a bumper sticker that says "I'm spending my kid's inheritance" and go for it.

The VALUE of not using gas station bathrooms? The VALUE of not spending $100 (or more) on a hotel room that horrifies you if you walk across the carpet with white socks on? Or worse yet, you watch CSI and see what luminol might show all over the walls? EEEEU? Priceless.

I've always been pretty conservative myself BUT I've always saved up for SOMETHING, not with a goal of becoming Ebenezer Scrooge. Money gives you more power to choose - and a nice used Airstream that actually WILL save you money at shows? Well you have enough sense to not need my blessing, but it sounds like a good plan to me.

Do check with your locality and make sure you can get a building permit and that there are no zoning rules that would prevent you from keeping the Airstream on your lot. Do talk to Colin, he's a true vintage guru.

With your needs and plans if this isn't the "right one" - for you, buying nearly new and financing it might actually make sense since it might even be partly deductible for the business. (Mine is financed at very low interest and I'm now prepaid by years! I'll have it paid off in a year or less. I wrecked a much more depreciated one, and at the interest rate offered it made more sense to finance it than lose the return on invested money.)

Happy Trails - see you down the road at an Airstream rally.
Drink the Kool-Aid

You have Aluminitus - Resistance is Futile.

Paula
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Old 12-19-2014, 09:00 AM   #12
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So...it's been a few days, did you go ahead and do the trade? I just found your thread now and seeing all the bad comments about what you'll have to replace I want to reassure you that I personally own 3 40 year plus trailers no full monty needed on any of them. Axels hold up for a long time providing they are taken out on the road a pulled around for a trip here and there. The kiss of death for the rubber in the style of axle airstream used in the 60 and 70s is sitting still and not moving. Case in point....my other half is a mechanic and I was complaining about replacing my windshield wipers on my car yet again and he explained to me the reason why modern rubber products like tires and wipers doen't hold up as long as they used to is the manufactures now a days are required to add a certain amount of recycled content. Have a look on YouTube at vintage airstream being built videos it's very cool how they make the axles

Take the time to search for Andy from inland RV's thread on how to check if your axle is still good. Use Googles search engine. The one on the forums isn't very good. I will go to Google...type air forums and then what I am looking for, less frustrating than the interal search engine

The best possible airstream trailer to find are the old ones that no one has tinkered with to try to "improve"

Old AS's rock, the workmanship seems better, the aluminum polishes up, replacing or repairing portions of floor if necessary is possible with pulling the shell right off and everything is easy to repair with the help of these forums. You can do it ☺ and you will be so deservedly proud when you do.

Enjoy
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Old 12-19-2014, 09:51 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tommr View Post
Oh,
By the way,
Is the 1500 for axels each or for two.
We are close enough to Plattsburgh, north of Watertown, to drive up. Nice ride.
Axles cost less than that for the pair. Yeah, it's a nice drive from Watertown, done it many times. Either Route 3 or Route 11
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