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Old 04-25-2018, 08:25 PM   #1
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Austin , Texas
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1950's era Airstream Electrical... How Does It Work?

Hey guys, first time poster here looking for some education. A long intro made short:

I'm not into camping. However, my 9-year old son very much is... and we need a bonding activity. I am into vintage stuff though and work in the traditional hot rod industry. So, to keep this new activity fun for me I've decided to start hunting for a 50's era airstream.

The camper I'm looking at right now is a '59 and around 600 miles from me. As I understand it, pretty much all of the major appliances run off either propane or 110. The lights, however, run off of either 110 or the 12v battery depending on where you have the switch set. There is no converter. Is this correct?

Assuming that it is, I have a few questions that I'm hoping you guys can help me with:

1. When in 12v mode, you are obviously running off the battery. Does the battery just charge when you are plugged in? There's gotta be a charger onboard, right?

2. Speaking of being plugged in, do these old trailers accept the plugs at modern campgrounds? Or, do I need some kind of an adaptor?

3. The trailer that I plan to go look at is in really amazing original condition. I plan to do some minor restoration work, but have no plans to tear the walls or subfloors out. Given that, is it possible to upgrade the electrical system to use a more modern power center with a converter and multiple deep cell batteries? I ask as more functionality while boon docking appeals to my kid.

Anyway, I don't even know what I don't know... So thanks for being patient with me... and thanks in advance for any help thrown my way.
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Old 04-25-2018, 08:58 PM   #2
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1973 Argosy 22
Carleton , Michigan
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I am following this thread because i am interested to see what Airstream had going for electrical in 1959- because they were always first adapters to technology.

My Ď65 Airstream Safari had a convertor, but i am guessing that was state of the art. My Ď64 Trotwood was all wired for 110 volt, so if boondocking all you had was a Humphry propane light, Coleman lanterns and flashlights.

Using adapters, you can always plug in at campsites. If the trailer plug is 30amp, you can plug an adapter into the end and make it a regular 110 volt, 20amp end.

Shawn
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Old 04-25-2018, 09:01 PM   #3
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1974 27' Overlander
Baltimore , Maryland
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Welcome! I don't know much about how the 50s trailers in particular were set up, but electricity works the same now as it did then. I'm sure it'll be manageable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanC View Post
I plan to do some minor restoration work, but have no plans to tear the walls or subfloors out.
Famous last words.
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Old 04-25-2018, 09:38 PM   #4
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1999 30' Excella 1000
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Welcome to the family RayanC. Not into camping and buying a Airstream. You are a impressive role model dad. Something tells me you both will learn how special nature can be together. Prepare yourself to be awed by the great outdoors. We call them ''dogbones'' adapters from household plug to whatever, and vise versa. Walmart has them. Buy a trailer that needs a good cleaning then go camping...trust me on this. You and your helper can renovate in the winter. Don't forget the fishing poles. Your first camping trip should be close to home, or driveway. You are a good dad RayanC
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Old 04-25-2018, 09:49 PM   #5
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1979 23' Safari
1954 29' Liner
Orange , California
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Ryan,

My recollection is that the 12V worked off of the tow vehicle battery originally and there was no trailer battery. Send your questions into TheVAP: http://www.thevap.com/


Bill

Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanC View Post
Hey guys, first time poster here looking for some education. A long intro made short:

I'm not into camping. However, my 9-year old son very much is... and we need a bonding activity. I am into vintage stuff though and work in the traditional hot rod industry. So, to keep this new activity fun for me I've decided to start hunting for a 50's era airstream.

The camper I'm looking at right now is a '59 and around 600 miles from me. As I understand it, pretty much all of the major appliances run off either propane or 110. The lights, however, run off of either 110 or the 12v battery depending on where you have the switch set. There is no converter. Is this correct?

Assuming that it is, I have a few questions that I'm hoping you guys can help me with:

1. When in 12v mode, you are obviously running off the battery. Does the battery just charge when you are plugged in? There's gotta be a charger onboard, right?

2. Speaking of being plugged in, do these old trailers accept the plugs at modern campgrounds? Or, do I need some kind of an adaptor?

3. The trailer that I plan to go look at is in really amazing original condition. I plan to do some minor restoration work, but have no plans to tear the walls or subfloors out. Given that, is it possible to upgrade the electrical system to use a more modern power center with a converter and multiple deep cell batteries? I ask as more functionality while boon docking appeals to my kid.

Anyway, I don't even know what I don't know... So thanks for being patient with me... and thanks in advance for any help thrown my way.
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1973 Dodge W200 PowerWagon, 1977 Lincoln Continental, 2014 Dodge Durango
1979 23' Safari, and 1954 29' Double Door Liner Orange, CA

http://billbethsblog.blogspot.com/
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Old 04-25-2018, 10:05 PM   #6
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1958 26' Overlander
Battle Ground , Washington
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50's experience

Welcome to the forum. Your back ground should be of great assistance. I'll take a shot at your questions based on my experience with our 58.

1. You are correct the battery(s) can be charged when plugged into shore power with a charger in place. You may also get a small charge when plugged into the tow vehicle (TV).

2. You will need a new plugin (probably 30 amp configuration unless you are looking at one of the larger models). I would recommend replacing all the 110V wiring if it still has original. CAREFULLY check system out at some point the chances of a short to the body are common. The majority of the wiring is inside the walls. Inner and outer aluminum skins are riveted in place. Original 110V fuse box is screw in fuses.

Click image for larger version

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3. Pay close attention to the plywood sub-floor. Take an ice pick and a moisture meter if available and check the bathroom/shower area carefully for moisture issues or dry rot. Check inside cabinets. Step on the rear bumper and see if frame sags away from the shell. Common issue with rear bath configurations. If it has leaf spring suspension, I'm sure you know what to watch out for. It it has torsion axles and they haven't been replaced in under 10 years expect to replace.

As I indicated above most wiring is inside the walls. It would be best to expect to replace the 110V, but you can bypass on the short term. You'll have some 110V lights, but many are dual voltage (12V)/bulbs. If the 12V functions.

You can probably find a members close to the trailer that would inspect for you or go out with you if they can. Good luck and keep us posted, the more photos the better members can help out.
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Old 04-26-2018, 12:21 AM   #7
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1980 24' Caravelle
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welcome RyanC, the late 50's and early 60's AS had a conveter but it did not charge the battery. it was a square wave power supply. 12v lites and fan motors run just fine; don't wire a radio in.changing out the old converter for a new one is not to hard nor costly.that year AS had the battery in a box under the front window.i had a 63 globetrotter and a 63 overlander and had many of the same problems. good luck . kurt
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Old 04-26-2018, 06:22 AM   #8
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Thank you guys so much... From what I gather, you can't rewire one of these things without bringing the walls down, right? Can you upgrade to a more modern power center like a power dynamics without re-wiring the whole trailer?
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Old 04-26-2018, 09:45 AM   #9
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If your primary priority is for bonding activity camping in the outdoors with your 9 year old - my input is to start with a tent and get out camping next weekend! Summer is here in a lot of places (okay it's snowing where I am right now but the sun will be out later today). Go big - get really nice everything and a really good tent, great cots for sleeping and you will save $thousands and months and months of work time. You will have just as much fun outdoors as you would in a trailer of any type. Trailers can be a pain in general for a quick camping weekend - you have to spend time getting it ready to go and hitched up, then you have to get the trailer level at the camping spot, you have to hook them up, they often need some kind of repair or a hose or something replaced after you get home. If your goal is to have camping adventures with a 9 year old I'd personally start with a tent or a good used pop-up trailer that you can set up together and be ready to go fishing or swimming or hiking in 20 minutes tops.
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Old 04-26-2018, 10:41 AM   #10
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1953 25' Cruiser
Richland , Washington
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I have a 53 Airstream, which we renovated last year. It is also in amazing condition for its age. My partner replaced the old glass fuses with a new breaker box. He's an electrical engineer so he checked the wiring throughout the trailer and installed new connectors at all the outlets. We installed roof air-conditioning, a vent fan and a new water heater last year also. We traveled almost 8000 miles last year without a hick-up. As for the floor, there were a few areas (in front of door and along the back and front windows that we removed and replaced with new wood. The rest of the floor is solid. I've touched just about every square inch as we also replaced the flooring tiles. Our trailer is a park model, no tanks or 12v, so I can't speak to how they configured them in 59. But, my partner also installed a battery and converter for the refrigerator to run on while traveling. It has worked just great for us. We will leave this August for another long trip to the Great Lakes.

Good luck to you with whatever you decide to do for your next camping adventure. You and your son will have lasting memories, for sure.
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