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Old 01-08-2016, 09:12 AM   #1
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Lexington Park , Maryland
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Frame off vrs. Frame on

Let's say we've got an early 80s trailer. Let's say, it is in fair condition and will probably need some gutting. What would necessitate a "FRAME-OFF" start to a renovation? Obviously, some damage to the actual frame would be a cause, but how severe? Other reasons? If we were to take out all the cabinets, some walls, and replace most, if not all, of the appliances, as well as replace the floor... do we need to separate it?

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Old 01-08-2016, 09:31 AM   #2
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1973 21' Globetrotter
Houston , Texas
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Welcome to the Forums!

I would say that if your frame is so dramatically rusted away/damaged that it needs to be taken to a welding shop for a partial rebuild, then a shell-off is suggested. If your floor is rotten in so many places that you will need to repair/replace practically every sheet of subfloor, then a shell-off is the way to go. Many times the frame damage and floor rot go hand in hand, os it is not an either/or.

There are people who replace their floors and do extensive frame repairs with the shell essentially still in place, but I think this is the hardest way to do the job. Lifting the shell may seem dramatic and intimidating, but if you have extensive floor and frame repairs, I would say it is a no-brainer.

As far as gutting the trailer and replacing interior parts/appliances, you can do all of that without lifting the shell. The very first thing to establish is how rotted your floors are, and secondarily how damaged the frame may be. You have to get access to the floor next to the wall around the entire perimeter of the trailer and poke at it with a sharp screwdriver or awl.

How to lift the shell? Build the gantry frames, buy a few HF chain hoists, and you are on your way.

good luck!

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Old 01-08-2016, 10:07 AM   #3
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It would seem to me that if you are going to all the trouble and expense to do the level of renovation that you are planning on, gaining access to the frame for a complete inspection and remediation of any rust damage, followed by a good coat or two of rust proof paint/sealer via a "frame off" is a small incremental investment with a big payoff.
Bob Martel
WBCCI# 5766
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:22 AM   #4
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I did mine shell on and replaced all crossmembers and all the outriggers.
I only did shell on as I have worked alone on 80 percent of it. I was not confidant that I could pull the shell by myself.
It would definitely be easier to get at things with the shell off. Other wise be prepared to be crawling around on the ground a lot.
Good luck with your project.
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Old 01-08-2016, 10:38 AM   #5
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Taos , New Mexico
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It seems to be mostly related to the condition of the floor and also the frame itself. It also depends a lot on both what your plan is for the trailer (flip or use it yourself) and how long you intend to keep it. The economics will then define the best path forward. Regardless, it will be a lot of fun and learning
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:42 AM   #6
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1959 18' "Footer"
1957 26' Overlander
Three Rivers , California
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Most likely you will need to remove interior to gt a good feel of repairs.
If rotted floor in many places then shell off is the way to go.
Can't imagine crawling around, up an down for an entire renovation even on a short one.
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Old 01-09-2016, 05:07 PM   #7
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Some trailer layouts are easier to fix than others. For example a center bath (rear bedroom) model can be fully inspected with the shell on.

From my experience and reading everything I can find about frame and floor repair the front, and rear and at the door are the main trouble areas. A failed roof vent is another way water gets in. Makes me wonder why AS hasn't solved these water intrusion problem.

In our case removing the gaucho and the rear beds provided 100% of the needed access.

I would agree that taking the shell off is not that much work so if you are removing everything from the inside then I would take the shell off. With that said I would not just strip the trailer unless I had to remove everything.
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Old 01-10-2016, 08:20 AM   #8
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1973 27' Overlander
Fonthill , Ontario
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When I first started working on my '74 Overlander, I wasn't planning on doing a shell off restoration. Even after I dropped the belly pan I still wasn't planning on lifting the shell. There was some moderate rust on the frame, but still lots of it left with original paint. The floor had the last 4' that needed replacing and a section near the floor. What finally made the decision to lift the shell for me was that I was going to retrofit grey water tanks in the frame.
Boy was I glad I did! Once the shell and floor were removed, I found a section of the main frame that looked good from below but when tapped with a hammer turned into dust!
The discovery added a few weeks of part time work to the project but I now know I will have a solid frame to keep rolling down the road for the next 40 years.
The added bonus of removing the shell was with the gantries I was able to roll the frame over at will. Never had to weld or paint upside down on my back. Even reinstalling the belly pan was a one man job with gravity as my helper.
The only time I had any help was the actual lifting and lowering of the shell. 3 neighbours helped. 2 of us manned the hoists the other 2 walked around the perimeter either loosening or guiding the shell back down.
Although it seem like I know what I'm doing, I'm just standing on the shoulders of giants who have done this before and kindly posted their journey.
73's VE3ZPW
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Old 01-28-2016, 10:06 PM   #9
Dan & Callan
1977 31' Excella 500
Portland , Maine
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Important question while still deciding if I should pull the shell

I'd say I'm 96% gutted, as in I have everything out of my 1977 31' Excella 500 (center bath). Everything, including the entire subfloor and most of the belly pan. My frame is much better than expected, but it still needs at least 8 outriggers replaced along with roughly 3 of the thin cross beams near the rear. Still not sure if I want to pull the shell, but the barn it will be living in has a built in hoist...

Anyway, my question is: with the shell attached (or not on about 8 outriggers) is it safe for me to tow the airstream?? I'm slightly worried about the rigidity and structure. I'm planning on moving it about 7 miles over clear paved roadway.
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Old 01-28-2016, 10:22 PM   #10
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1972 31' Sovereign
1975 31' Excella 500
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Benton , Arkansas
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80% of my original plywood was sound, and my frame was solid.

I did a full gut shell on and was camping 120 days from purchase.

It is all about condition and time spent working v. camping.

Brevi tempore!
The fact that I am opinionated does not presuppose that I am wrong......

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Old 01-29-2016, 08:09 AM   #11
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Springville , Alabama
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Take It slow and you'll be fine. I replaced 12 outriggers and the rear tie down was gone. I towed mine 175 miles @ 70 with no interior panels attached with all the parts inside. I had no problems at all. As a matter of facts the interior was gutted withe the subfloor cut out . I screwed 5 sheets of Osb to the remaining 2 inches of subfloor left. It camper towed great too
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Old 01-29-2016, 10:21 AM   #12
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1973 27' Overlander
1972 29' Ambassador
St. Paul , Minnesota
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Huge temptation, drop the belly skins and go for a midnight 75mph blast... Hopefully the State Police won't tie the trail of pink insulation to you.

On the seven mile repositioning drive avoid hitting curbs or dragging the tail & take precautions against any hatches or doors opening from extra wiggle/jiggle/jounce. Duct tape left on 1/2 a day won't hurt a thing.

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Old 01-29-2016, 04:34 PM   #13
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1972 27' Overlander
1971 31' Sovereign
Orlando , Florida
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 90
Either way can be done.

I am doing my 73 27' overlander shell off. I've done it all myself and really, it's not that big of a deal. I used a floor jack and jacked up the front and rear, supported by 2x10's and concrete blocks. Not a fancy way.

The biggest advantage that I see is being able to pull the trailer out from underneath. This affords such easy repair of framing, outriggers, axels, tires, brakes, wiring, and all the belly pan frustration that others have mentioned. My shell seems light - I guess 500 pounds. I got a little nervous during some winds, but it all has worked out okay so far.

It's a coin flip. Depends on your working conditions you can tolerate. I knew I'd get frustrated tripping over outriggers (already gouged myself deeply) and cross members. This was the trailer is gone, ostensibly being welded by the pros, while you run within, fix dents, access doors, replace running lights and repair windows.

My .02.

Good luck!

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Old 01-30-2016, 09:03 AM   #14
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1968 26' Overlander
Manheim , Pennsylvania
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The biggest determining factor on my decision to go frame off was dropping the belly pan. I say, crawl under there on your back, drill out the rivets, get yourself really dirty when all of the road grime and animal nests falls on top of you, take a good look at the frame, and then ask yourself if you really want to be crawling around under there anymore. The thought of trying to install all of the insulation and rebuilding the belly pan while on my back was enough to make me build the gantries. Flip the frame upside down and work on that stuff from above. That's how they do it at the factory. So they must be on to something...

'68 Overlander
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