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Old 08-14-2019, 12:40 PM   #1
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Surviving that first trip

My wife and I bought an '89 Excella 29' last year. It had belonged to Bill and Peggy Welch, long-time Airstreamers from Nashville. Bill passed away a couple of years ago. Peggy, now in her 90's, is still going strong but had no more need for the trailer.

When Bill fell ill about a decade ago, they parked the Excella. And there it sat until the fateful day I mentioned to my wife Judy that maybe we should buy it and bring it back to life. She thought I was crazy - at first. The floor had major rot, we had no way to test most major systems, etc. But she loved the look and feel of the Airstream and made me a deal: we could buy it, but only if I'd promise to make it usable within three weeks! I said yes, she made the reservations, and home it came.

(We had also gotten Bill & Peggy's old Suburban in the deal as a tow vehicle. My time had been pretty well consumed by the Excella, so I had done little to the Suburban - more about that later.)

Three weeks later, we're ready to roll. We hook up and head out, starting to make the turn around our driveway when I hear a sound. Oh crap: the trailer swings much wider than I thought and I've hooked the rear bumper on a stone pillar on our walkway. I find a dead-blow hammer, get the bumper roughly back into shape, curse a bit under my breath, and we're off again.

About ten minutes into the journey, I notice that the voltmeter is reading low. I quickly deduce that the alternator isn't charging, so it's back home. A trip to town for a replacement, an hour or so to get it installed, and we're off again.

We drive about 25 miles north and exit the freeway. It's just started to rain when I hit a curvy exit ramp. The combination of newly-dampened ramp, fifteen-year-old truck tires, and non-functioning ABS (I did mention that I hadn't spent much time on the Suburban, didn't I?) create a few terrifying seconds of swerving until I can come to a stop. A quick cleaning of underwear and it's back on the road.

We've survived about the first 30 miles now. Surely the bad stuff is behind us. I realize that I'm not sure I turned the inverter on to power the fridge, so I stop to check it - all good. About five miles farther on, I start to hear a giant roar from under the truck. It must be a failed driveline bearing. I get out in the rain (Yes, the rain has set in in earnest by now.) only to discover that there is no center bearing on this truck. What caused that roar? Oh, that's it: I failed to disengage the parking brake when I stopped to check on the fridge. Relief; surely we'll have smooth sailing now!

About another five miles down the road, all is well - until a pickup coming from the other direction loses its right front wheel. I want to just close my eyes and wait for the crash but force myself to watch. The truck and its detached wheel miraculously veer rightward into the ditch. Another crisis narrowly averted.

Thankfully, we had no further incidents. Everything in the Excella pretty much worked. We did, however, wind up having about three inches of rain during our two-day stay, and we sat through one of the worst lightning storms I've ever seen.

The really good news is, we've finished restoring the Excella and have had it out many more times with no drama whatsoever. I fixed the Suburban's ABS and put new tires on it. I put a complete new set of brakes on the Excella (I had put new tires on it as soon as we bought it - I'm not crazy!)

I feel compelled to state that every word of my account here is true. I couldn't make this stuff up. They say what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and I think we've proven that adage!

Bob in Nashville

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Old 08-14-2019, 01:26 PM   #2
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You will look back upon this with fondness!

Would love to see some photos of your resurrected rig!

Have fun.

easily distracted by shiny objects
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Old 08-14-2019, 05:38 PM   #3
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Great story mcneon! Pardon me if I found it amusing (sort of in the same way the movie Long, Long, Trailer is amusing).

Well written, and of course if you were writing about it, it meant you survived. That's the important thing.

Thanks for the laugh. Makes the troubles on our first trip seem small.
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Old 08-14-2019, 05:57 PM   #4
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And that is why we often recommend a short distance trip for the "first" time.
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Old 08-15-2019, 09:10 AM   #5
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Carlisle , Pennsylvania
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Just for grins:

1) How old are the batteries on the trailer? Costco likely has something that will replace them on sale cheap ....

2) How old are the tires on the trailer? I would not go cheap there.

If the trailer sat for 10 years, both are likely in the "past the use by date" range. Much easier to replace when you are at home than when you are on the road.

If the converter / charger dates back to the origin of the trailer, I'd put in on the "replace fairly soon" list as well. If it's working now, you can make that a winter project.

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Old 08-15-2019, 11:19 AM   #6
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1981 31' Excella Limited
1964 22' Safari
Ramona , California
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Thanks for sharing. The key take aways of your story in order of importance/outcomes (in my opinion)
1) you kept a positive attitude
2) no one was injured-that is not always the case so see item #1
3) spouses remained civil
4) you perservered
5) you eventually completed the restoration
1966 Overlander, 1981 Excella II, 1964 Safari (for sale)
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Old 08-18-2019, 04:12 PM   #7
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In reply to uncle_bob,

1. We stopped at the tire store on the way home from picking up the Excella. Put a new set of Carlisles on it.

2. Batteries happened the next day. The old ones were large and heavy, but they really weren't batteries any more. No sign of life in them. And, since the electric jack operates off the house batteries, we were pretty well dead in the water until those were renewed.

3. We replaced the inverter/charger this year. The old one was only about 12 years old, but it apparently was generating power surges. It knocked out the control board in our new water heater twice! Yeah, that's fun.

One item I failed to mention: We had one working brake when we got the trailer. Some rodent or other had chewed the wires off the other three!

And another point of emphasis: After checking the original brakes and adjusting them, I was still not happy with their stopping power. I found a complete set - backing plates, shoes, hub/drum assemblies, bearings, lug nuts - and replaced everything. By shopping carefully, I only paid about $450 for four complete wheel assemblies. That was by far one of the best things I could have done for a 30-year-old trailer. Now I feel confident that everything is perfect in that very critical area. Sometimes it's best just to bite the bullet.

Bob in Nashville

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