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Old 02-27-2011, 12:11 PM   #1
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1985 29' Sovereign
Richmond , Virginia
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Newbie Basics Question(s)

I've spent the past few days wandering around this forum...this is outstanding and thanks to all who contribute.

I'm looking to buy and renovate a 70's or 80's AS (my first) in the 27-31' range, which I will primarily use for taking the kids camping, fishing trips with buddies, and as a mobile office. Some questions:

1. Any particular years/models to avoid? Saw something about smaller/lighter steel in the frames on some years, not sure how big an issue that is.
2. I've read about "rear end separation" issues, particularly on models with the rear bath (?), how do I look at a used airstream and tell if I'm going to have to do costly frame repairs?
3. Any other key things related to structural soundness of the trailer I should look at to avoid nasty/expensive surprises? I am comfortable doing electric, carpentry, flooring, painting etc. so don't mind those issues, but don't know boo about how the LP gas system works, for example.
4. My ideal AS has the mid-mounted bath, with bed in the back. If I can find one of these, I'd like to take out the closets across from the bath (against the other wall) to make space for a low desk. When I do that, what will I find behind the closets? Can I just remove them and paint the walls, or is it insulation behind them and I need to re-sheet the wall? If so, how do I do that?
5. Can I reconfigure the kitchen counters? Was thinking it might be cool to build cabinets/counters out from the wall into the center of the living area, with an overhanging countertop that I could put some barstools under...kind of the kitchen island concept in a trailer. Anyone tried this? Thoughts?

Many thanks in advance, I'm sooper excited about doing this...our neighbors had an airstream when I was a kid and I thought it was the coolest thing ever

Bill
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Old 02-27-2011, 12:29 PM   #2
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Dear Fellow Virginian, TAKE YOUR TIME CHOOSING the right Airstream. Many of us (I include myself in this number) have bought more than one because we've chosen the wrong unit the first time around.

Seriously, I wouldn't dip my toe into a 70's or 80's unit as a first timer - but that's me - your experience may differ. These are 30 to 40 years old - and most are in need of the full monte. Unless you have more money than God, time to spare and a full heated and air conditioned shop - preferably with employees - to do the work, your kids might be teenagers or adults before you're ready to roll.

I also wouldn't buy brand new - HEAP o' depreciation (ask me how I know!) I would if I were you visit Safford RV - about 50 miles north of you on just off I-95 and LOOK at everything they've got. It's an idea farm. Take a digital camera and a notebook and make notes of features you like, love and dislike. You can also try out the beds and baths for size - real world experience will help you to pick out the best possible deal when you DO buy.

Look for something less than 10 years old, with new tires - and go CAMPING. Get the project trailer to work on during the school year when your kids can't enjoy the camping experience.

All those warnings to the side, happy hunting!

Paula
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Old 02-27-2011, 12:58 PM   #3
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1985 29' Sovereign
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Thanks for your advice, Foiled Again :-)

One note on this...I have kind of a weird work situation where I am in Charlottesville a couple nights a week (I live in Richmond), so my plan is to stay in the AS while I restore it...kind of a work on it at night deal and have a place to crash so I don't have to keep paying for hotels. And I do have access to a secure indoor shop to park it next to (or inside) while I work on it. I've also got employees who can help me out with technical stuff (e.g. electrical) and access to a full woodworking shop (I run a reclaimed wood company)...so I've got some resources.

And I don't want to foot the cost of a newer model...:-)

But I get your point, and will certainly look around.

Thanks again!

Bill
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:01 PM   #4
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This is how mine looked with closet still in.

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This is how it looked with closet removed.

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Welcome to the forum.

Gary
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:16 PM   #5
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Thanks Gary...so looks like after removal you can just paint the walls? I assume the closets are fastened to the walls at some kind of brace point in the frame (like studs in a house) and you just have to spackle over the holes? Is there some kind of special airstream spackle I need?

Thanks again...will check out your blog!
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:16 PM   #6
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Bill
I've had 4 Airstreams in 35+ years of camping/RV'ing...a 65 Caravel (wish I'd kept it) a 76 21', and 87 29' Soverign, which was like what you describe, rear bed, side bath and my current 30' Classic.
I did cosmetic/upgrade restorations on the 65 and 76...interior paint, plumbing, counters etc. If your "handy" and have the desire you can do anything to the interior as evidenced by some of the custom re-do's you've seen in these forums.

I'm getting the bug again as approach retirement next year and might scrounge up an old Airstream to tinker with to keep from sitting on my butt too much!

To answer a couple of your questons:
As far a condition goes the specturm is huge...I went to look at a trailer that had spent most of it's life on the California coast (the add on craigslist sounded good) and it was JUNK! It needed to be towed to the dump...it was one big pile of corrosion to the point that a lot of the rivets on the skin had disintegrated! So you just have to look.
If you find a 29' Soverign like I had you can remove the closet adjacent to the bath and there will be aluminum behind it...my closet was lined with cedar but there was aluminum behind.
Look around and get what you want and have fun. I had a blast working on the first two and my daughter helped me with both. And it's not hard or terribly time consuming. And I used both of my first two trailers while they were works in progress.

So, welcome to Airstreaming....you're gonna love it!

Mike
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:23 PM   #7
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so my plan is to stay in the AS while I restore it...kind of a work on it at night deal and have a place to crash so I don't have to keep paying for hotels.
Bill
Bill it really isn't feasible to stay in the trailer while restoring it. Depending on what year and condition of trailer you buy you will more likely than not end up replacing the sub floor and possibly relacing/repairing the steel frame. To accomplish these tasks everything must be gutted from the unit. Also with the floor removed the trailer will not be structurally sound enough to move it. The same holds true of course for the frame.
As you read try and stay away from the longer units with the rear bath but rear end seperation is not limited to these units alone. There is a basic design flaw with the rear bumper storage compartment cover and where it meets the shell. This area is very much prone to leaks and will rot the floor and also allow water into the belly to be absorbed by the insulation, sit there and rust out the frame. You can check for this seperation by standing on the rear bumper and bouncing up and down. Watch for movement between the bumper cover and the shell.
It is hard to tell for sure about the condition of the frame without removing the belly pan but if you look at it and it is heavily corroded around the rivets or is sagging that usually is an indication of the frame being rusted at those points.
Inspect the floor throughly all around the perimeter where it meets the shell. Use an icepick and test the wood for rot. Pay particular attention at the rear, inside compartments, closets and below any opening like windows and doors.
Airstream at some point in the 80's switched the construction material of the floor to OSB from plywood and these units will have much more damage to the floor from water leaks.
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Old 02-27-2011, 01:24 PM   #8
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Thanks Gary...so looks like after removal you can just paint the walls? I assume the closets are fastened to the walls at some kind of brace point in the frame (like studs in a house) and you just have to spackle over the holes? Is there some kind of special airstream spackle I need?

Thanks again...will check out your blog!
Airstream spackle yes it's called a rivet.
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Old 02-27-2011, 03:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stonew98 View Post
Thanks Gary...so looks like after removal you can just paint the walls? I assume the closets are fastened to the walls at some kind of brace point in the frame (like studs in a house) and you just have to spackle over the holes? Is there some kind of special airstream spackle I need?

Thanks again...will check out your blog!

I won't paint my interior skin. I have cleaned a lot of it with TSP. It cleans up nice. I may paint the end-caps but I may upholster them as an alternative. In any case, they will be left as a late project.

There is no closet. Just a front frame that the doors hang on. The front bedroom wall makes one closet end and the microwave cabinet end makes the other closet side. There's a rod hanging on the two borrowed ends. The closet door aluminum frame is riveted to the skin at the top and screwed to the wood floor at the base. It's a good design and it's strong and light. I don't need 6' of hanging closet.

I'm not replacing anything much of the original stuff. In fact most of it went in the dumpster. Mine was a twin bed plan with a table between. That's all in the trash. I may build something similar again but right now I'm planning to install a double bed with the head towards the street side. I may not like the walk around space allowed by the double bed, and change it. If I leave it, I'll build a bedside table over the electric service and a smaller closet. Regardless of what I do, I want floor/wall access to monitor possible future water leaks. The original design hid all the floors at the walls and there was occult damage.

I'm replacing just about everything built in, including furniture. I'm still debating the sofa issue. I saved the original sofa and loveseat, but I'm not liking the arrangement and I expect I won't be using them in this trailer.

This trailer is my first experiment. I'm repairing and replacing components to OEM specs or better. I'm trying to make anything I do reversible, so I can change things in the future. Staying pragmatic should keep me from devaluing the trailer as I continue to spend money on it.

I have most of the repairs made and replacement components either installed or in my shop waiting for spring. I'll install laminate floors, build new cabinets/tops, install new furniture, put in new drapes, and clean up the outside a bit this summer. My target date to take it out for it's first little trip is September 1, 2011.
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Old 02-27-2011, 07:42 PM   #10
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Welcome to the forums Bill. We are also in the Richmond area. We bought a 1979 center bath 31' sovereign a couple of years ago and renovated it. The blog we kept is linked in my signature below. We decided to gut our interior and rebuild due to the paneling, tambor door and plastic deterioration. You will find many excellent blogs on this site. As far as taking out the cabinets across from the bath, our 79' interior looked very much like Splitrocks 76' above; cabinets in and out and wouldn't be difficult to add a desk in there.
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Old 02-27-2011, 09:21 PM   #11
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Newbie Looking

Bill

Welcome to the forum. If you have got some skills and are tuned into learning some more, then I would look for an older AS. I bought my 1984 Excella 500 about ten years ago because I liked the floor plan and did not see a wlole lot of differance between a new one and one that was 15 years old except for new appliances. Also spending 10k was a differant ball game than spending 50-60k. I would recommend that you look at a lot of them to get an idea of what is out there and then go after the one that you want that would work the best for you.

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