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Old 01-04-2015, 01:37 AM   #1
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1982 31' Excella
Everett , Washington
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 4
Rivet In way over our heads

In a way of introduction: I just turned 32, have a wife and a 5-year old son. I have a cushy, albeit a demanding job in a big software company and my wife is a stay at home mom and photographer. I've had a dream of traveling the country for a full year in an airstream but considered it to be farther in the future. Less than 2 months ago, my wife and I got inspired (crazy?) and decided to do it now.

The plan: buy an older airstream and fix it up, remodel the interior to specifications of my artsy wife, quit the job and hit the road starting in Summer 2015.

We just bought a partially-gutted 1982 31' Excella. Picking it up was the first time I ever towed anything in my life (went smoothly, btw). I do not own a truck so I rented one for the job. I have nowhere to store the trailer so last minute I found a place to rent where I can also work on it. As for handyman skills, I do mostly mouse and keyboard, but did hang pictures on the wall and assembled Ikea furniture in the past. Replacing kitchen faucet was a major accomplishment for me.

Are we in way over our heads? I think so. We are both excited and overwhelmed but taking it step at a time and not turning back. Sage advice from this forum will be surely needed...and greatly appreciated

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Old 01-04-2015, 03:27 AM   #2
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1987 25' Sovereign
Oregon , Ohio
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 484
Don't quite your day job until you have the trailer road worthy and finished inside. You can learn what you need to know to rehab your trailer, but it may take longer than you anticipate. Been patient and you will do a good job.

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Old 01-04-2015, 06:11 AM   #3
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Good Ol' , USA
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Welcome! Nothing like dreaming big!!

The partially gutted Excella.... who is going to do the re-gutting and getting it really checked out and road worthy? Realistically, unless you have lined up a good restore-it shop and are ready to lay down a pile of cash for the job, summer 2015 is an optimistic target. Can you describe the condition of the Excella? Do you have a tow vehicle in mind?

I look forward to hearing more about your adventure. I love it when I hear of a younger couple chasing the dream of travelling this way! Great experience for you and your family. I grew up in a truck-and-travel-trailer family and we had a BALL! (I know that my 87-yr-old dad would still agree that it was all worth hauling up to 7 kids plus him and Mom across the country!) I am 51 and just last year was able to get me and my wife on the road and introduce her to the adventure with our 1987 Avion 34W. Now she's having a ball and looks ahead to our next trip!
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Old 01-04-2015, 06:47 AM   #4
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2007 23' Safari SE
Central , Connecticut
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 1,621
I think the trick here is to decide the primary goal. If the goal is to have a bespoke Airstream, then this will take a while. (Unless you want to come home after 50 hour weeks and work on the trailer.)

How bad is the trailer's condition. Is the floor intact? How many of the systems (frig, furnace, A/C, hot water heater) work? Are you going to replumb the thing? At this age, the rubber components in the axles often are shot, requiring new axle assemblies.

Even if you're starting with a totally intact and functioning trailer, remodeling can be extensive. Are you building new cabinets? You can put in IKEA cabinets, but they are rather heavy (there are tricks to lighten them.) Of course, if you're just ripping out carpet, putting in a new floating floor, and cleaning things up, this will take a lot less time.

But let's say the goal is just to do the trip. Soon. Then I think your most effective option is to cut your losses on the Excella, buy a well-cared for used AS for around $20k-$30k, do the trip, and if need be, sell it upon conclusion. It won't depreciate much if at all. That might sound like a lot of money, but if your 81 needs a bunch of stuff, the parts bill will stack up fast.

I think you can figure out how to do this, but you just need a clear plan and idea of your available budget and time.

Now: 2007 Safari SE 23' "Anne" towed by 2011 Dodge Durango "Herman"
Before: Argosy Minuet and T@B, towed by various Honda Odysseys
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Old 01-04-2015, 07:05 AM   #5
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2006 25' Safari FB SE
Cary , North Carolina
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 793
Well you are "in". How far is relative and depends on 3 things IMO..

1 - The structural condition of the Airstream (frame rust and/or damage, and floor rot)

2 - How much you have budgeted or are willing to spend to get the Airstream structure, electrical and plumbing ungraded, and to what style/condition/appearance level you want to restore the exterior and interior.

3 - How work much you are wiling to learn how to do and then take on, and how much are you willing to spend on tools required for your new skills.

(#2 and #3 are no different from software development btw )

You never want to invest in the interior and exterior of a structurally unsound trailer so start you skill and knowledge development by getting a good handle on #1.

You'll need to teach yourself some basics about structural and mechanical elements of a travel trailer . - not too hard. All the information you need to do that can be found here but it takes some searching. Do not be afraid to pull off the parts you need to inspect. Do your homework, noodle hard, stare at the thing, and post pictures if you need help.

Buy good tools. Learn how systems work.

After #1 you will have a better idea of how much this will cost you.

You'll never have that omelet until you start breaking eggs.

2006 Safari SE FB
2000 F150 4.2L
2011 F250 6.2L
Raleigh, NC
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Old 01-04-2015, 07:34 AM   #6
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1983 31' Airstream310
Hillsburgh , Ontario
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 1,463
There is real time and then there is Airstream time. To complete a task in an Airstream you must first multiply your estimated time of completion by a factor of five. If it only takes five times longer than what you budgeted for, thank the Airstream Gods for being merciful.

It will take you the better part of 3-6 months of seriously learning all the systems, subsystems, designing what you want to work in the space and purchasing parts for the build, BEFORE you even START!

You also live in Ohio which is not known for a year round climate in which to work outdoors.

The PM I'm sending you with links took most of last summer and ALL of this summer to complete. I was also lucky that my shop was slow so I was able to take three+ weeks off this year to work on the coach.

The first mistake an Airstream dreamer does is bite off more than they can chew. DON"T HAVE AN END DATE FOR YOUR RESTORE as it will only disapoint you and your wife, causing great stress.


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Per Mare, Per Terram and may all your campaigns be successful.

Its a recession when your neighbor loses his job; its a depression when you lose your own. "Harry S Truman"
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Old 01-04-2015, 07:43 AM   #7
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Corpus Christi , Texas
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Don't equate size -- trailer versus house -- for time of work. Trailers are more difficult than they appear due to their size. Read that as high time consumption for given tasks.

No one here wants to rain on your parade, but to welcome you all and to be encouraging.

Offhand and based on others experience two to three years is more likely. Full-time help or to engage a restoration shop will bring that down.

This is not to say that the TT cannot be made ready to camp. An aluminum tent with some amenities as has been said.
1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 10-cpm solo, 18-cpm towing
Sold: Silver Streak Model 3411
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Old 01-04-2015, 07:50 AM   #8
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2014 27' FB Eddie Bauer
Chelsea , Michigan
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From the self-description of your prior construction and "handyman" experience and your stated primary goal of getting on the road this summer, I would think that it might take you about three years of long hours and constant frustration before you list your newly acquired trailer as a "partially gutted" Airstream for the next starry-eyed owner to take up the project. The world is full of half gutted and half finished Airstreams bought by idealistic individuals with your exact plan in mind. What percentage of them actually get finished by the owner? Who knows?

The successful Airstream restoration projects are generally done by handy and talented individuals with time on their hands and who enjoy the process of rebuilding the trailer as much (if not more) than the joy of using it OR those with $40,000 to $80,000 to pay a professional to do the restoration for them.

If you have the money, I would buy a new or newer (2 to 5 years old) Airstream and pursue my dream. If you are on a tight budget then I'd look for a 5 to 10 year old truly road worthy unit and hit the road.

Sorry to bust your bubble, but it's best for you to now this now so you have time to course correct and stay on track.
Bob Martel
WBCCI# 5766
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Old 01-04-2015, 08:02 AM   #9
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2014 27' FB Eddie Bauer
Chelsea , Michigan
Join Date: May 2010
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Originally Posted by slowmover View Post
No one here wants to rain on your parade, but to welcome you all and to be encouraging.
Well, I don't know if my earlier post counts as "raining on your parade" but please take it in the spirit in which it is intended: to help you achieve your objective of getting on the road with your dear wife this coming summer in an Airstream so you too can enjoy the life. If you had posted that you are a handy and inquisitive type who has a lot of spare time on his hands and really, really wants to build his dream Airstream from scratch, then I'd have given you a different and more encouraging answer. Although, even under those circumstances, your time frame for a DIY project is way off, several years is more realistic.

For what you want to do, plan to buy new, or plan on spending at least $20,000 or so for a well maintained, road worthy unit, learn how to use on a few weekend trips before you take the plunge, and then go with gusto!
Bob Martel
WBCCI# 5766
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Old 01-04-2015, 08:14 AM   #10
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You will poke your eye out.

I want to be supportive, and positive when it comes to peoples dreams, unless they dream of jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Can you return to your job?

If your job affords you to be a one income family…DO NOT QUIT unless you have A LOT of money saved up.
The first year on the road is probably the most expensive. Rent your house or, you lose $15,000 in real-estate commission to sell it. $25,000 to redo your trailer. $30,000 for a tow vehicle. Seasoned experts, who can fix anything, traveling alone, spend $25000 a year on the road. Healthcare? You will need RV toys ( generator, tools, hitch, communication and entertainment systems, etc etc $$$???), Five grand to store all your stuff or ten grand to replace it. Don't know your particulars, just thinking worse case scenarios.

I am guessing that you are going to try sushi before you commit to eating sushi everyday for a year. ( Think laundramats, fighting cold and heat, no close trusted friends, long hours on the road, campground living, no personal space or time etc---along with all of the great cool stuff ) Know that travel trailers are NOT four season living quarters. You will most likely spend winter, held up in an expensive campground in Florida

Sorry, I just had to balance out all of the " Go for it, follow your dreams"

Read read read ask ask ask before you tow again. Learn to be an electrician, plumber, carpenter, mechanic. Then I will give you my blessing, wish you luck, and be happy for you. Again…sorry for going all Dad on you.
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Old 01-04-2015, 08:26 AM   #11
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Corpus Christi , Texas
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There are threads around here detailing restorations and full rebuilds. Some highly talented folks who chose to share their expertise. Regarded by others as authorities. And others who may not have done up a thread yet with results very satisfying to them.

On a "budget" it is my preference to recommend a 10-15 year old unit. Some work may be needed, but a close inspection will keep one away from units with serious problems. The problems to solve are then more in the line of being pleasurable rather than onerous. Lower entry price and typically high Airstream condition versus conventional trailers at this age make it a well understood value.

I have a 1990 trailer of a different but design related brand. Some problems which will take time, money and some expertise. But beyond this in very good original condition. Also not my first rodeo. Were I to detail the work no one would be surprised at it taking until August. Yet it is but a fraction of what you've proposed.

There is an intersection where your budget of time, money and ability will intersect. Whether that is with this trailer or another only you can determine. Thus I can only recommend reading threads of this nature for careful consideration. One of my favorites is SteveBryants recently completed work.

Everyone here recognizes the desire, and a very good number of us have had to make hard decisions to do it in working with what we have.

Read, read, read, friend.
1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 10-cpm solo, 18-cpm towing
Sold: Silver Streak Model 3411
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Old 01-04-2015, 08:43 AM   #12
planning for full time...
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2014 30' FB FC Bunk
Somerset County , New Jersey
Join Date: Jan 2014
Posts: 742
One thing that hasn't been mentioned is how much time with that 5 year old you will miss while working full time and restoring a trailer. I was in your shoes not long ago and found a very nice late model used trailer. We were camping immediately. I still spend time alone with the trailer, but not the magnitude you are looking at.
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Old 01-04-2015, 08:57 AM   #13
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2012 25' FB Eddie Bauer
Vintage Kin Owner
Virginia Beach , Virginia
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 5,678
About the worst thing you can do is build a beautiful interior, then find out the frame is so rusted it should have been replaced and/or that you have major floor rot. Next worse thing is to do a beautiful interior and then find out you've got mouse poop behind the walls and it leaks like a sieve. Either one (or both) and you have to re-gut and start over.

First INSPECT the frame by dropping the belly pan
Check for rear end separation. Stand on the bumper and bounce up and down while your wife watches, if the bumper moves and the body doesn't, it's a broken frame.
Are the interior walls down or partly down? Sniff test. Mouse droppings will smell like that for 50 years!
How are the axles? Run one tire up on a ramp, if the other tire on the same side doesn't partly drop the axle is frozen and needs to be replaced. Then check by running the other axle up. Unless the prior owner already replaced the axles they are 95%+ sure to need replacing. You might want to move up to a slightly higher rated axle especially if you'e adding luxuries that weren't available in the original.

Then you work on plumbing, electrical, propane, furnace, etc.

Then you start the "fun stuff"............... or if you're like me, I bought gently used 1 year old EB and the next day was camping.

Today is a gift, that's why they call it the present.
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Old 01-04-2015, 09:17 AM   #14
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2013 31' Classic
billings , Montana
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 1,199
it will be cheaper to buy a newer one all ready to go, and a lot less headaches...ask me how I know!

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