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Old 10-03-2008, 10:29 PM   #1
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What did a trip to Alaska do to your Airstream?

We've been to Alaska and NW Canada twice—20,000 miles total. Our Toyotas handled it well, but I'm wondering what it does to an Airstream.

We've been on a lot of remote dirt highways (Dalton and Dempster Highways for example) and I don't know if Barb would allow me to take the Safari on them, but I'd like to. I know the frost heaves are bad for my back, so I'm sure they're don't help a trailer.

When things broke, how long did it take it get fixed? Where? What broke? Where did you go? Would you do it again?

Gene
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Old 10-04-2008, 06:02 AM   #2
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When I drove the highway in 1971 it was still gravel and we had to have a wire screen over the windshield and headlights to prevent stones from breaking them. We had to camp along the road waiting for washouts to be repaired- it was fun stuff! But I was an Airstreamless collage student then. Things have changed.
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Old 10-04-2008, 07:44 AM   #3
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We went this year, and although we did not go on any of the really bad totally gravel roads, there are still lots of frost heaves, and gravel repaired sections on the Alaska Hwy. There is a section North of Haines Junction, Yukon and Tok, AK, that is 150 miles long, and because of all the bad sections of the road and construction, took us 6 hours to drive.

We had a small inexpensive microwave mounted above the refrigirator in our '75, 23' AS mounted with Velcro, and it rode to Haines Junction, YK from San Antonio, TX without a problem, but when we got to Tok, AK, it was laying on the floor busted.

The "Highways" in Alaska are not much better in places....we stopped for lunch on one of those roads between Delta Junction and Glennallen, and the medicine cabinet and mirror was laying on the floor all busted up. Forunately the mirror did not break, and we were able to stop at a hardware store and buy the necessary fasteners and glue to rebuild it.

You will get lots of dust in the trailer from the gravel roads, especially in the rear, so if you can do a better job of sealing everything, it will help. We also got a broken windshield from flying gravel, and rock dings all over the front of the trailer, this after installing some rather large flaps on the truck, and taping some foam pads on the front of the trailer. Fortuantely, we had no major problems with the tow vehicle or trailer.

But, all in all, it was a great adventure and we actually plan to go back maybe this coming summer.
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Old 10-04-2008, 08:46 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by CrawfordGene View Post
I don't know if Barb would allow me to take the Safari on them, but I'd like to. I know the frost heaves are bad for my back, so I'm sure they're don't help a trailer.
Maybe you ought to get a second trailer for the trip...an old one she wouldn't care as much for!

Shari
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Old 10-04-2008, 05:10 PM   #5
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Not too old though. You wouldn't want to hurt a vintage Airstream now would you?

Barry
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Old 10-04-2008, 09:24 PM   #6
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My Own Definition of Terms...

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Not too old though. You wouldn't want to hurt a vintage Airstream now would you?

Barry
Nope! Just old...

0-3 years = Brand New
3-5 years = New
5-10 = Broken In
10-20 = Old
20-25 = Funky Old
25-40 = Vintage
40+ = Really Vintage

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Old 10-04-2008, 09:50 PM   #7
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Nope! Just old...

0-3 years = Brand New
3-5 years = New
5-10 = Broken In
10-20 = Old
20-25 = Funky Old
25-40 = Vintage
40+ = Really Vintage

Shari
Wow, this is great Shari.

So this means my Flying Cloud, my car and both my wife and I are Really Vintage. I like it. My wife will probably suggest that this is for inanimate objects only but then again, one of us thinks the cars and trailers have feelings .

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Old 10-04-2008, 10:11 PM   #8
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We took our 97 Safari to AK in 2006. We had the normal wear and tear but nothing that made us wish we hadn't gone. Some things were surprising - such as when we found that gravel had opened our fresh water drain and therefore drained our tank. As we were about to leave Watson Lake for the Cassiar (where we truly needed fresh water) it was a wonderful find.

You will mud-blast the front of your rig - especially if you go to Dawson City. (As that is the heart of gold-rush country, why would you miss it, anyway?) There is a truck wash on the East side of town.

I think you need to take a "mellowed" rig to Alaska. Those of you that have brand new rigs and agonize over every dimple or scratch - wait a few years. Alaska will still be there.

Pat
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Old 10-04-2008, 10:30 PM   #9
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My parents did it the first time in 1964 with our Airstream. The whole family went, it took a month. Since I was only 4, I don't remember too much. I know we had a rock guard on the front of the TV (pics at Roger's Airstream History (Round 2!)). I had heard stories of non-Airstreams (pre SOB terminology) having their underbelly tubing flattened by the rocks and their sheet metal screws work out. I DO remember that we had a total of 9 flat tires between both vehicles.
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Old 10-04-2008, 11:12 PM   #10
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We took our '64 Overlander to Alaska in 2005 and had no major problems or flat tires. The trailer still had the original axles which we decided to replace after we got back. They were due to be replaced anyway. We got one chip in the windshield of the Suburban, but no noticeable dings on the trailer. Maybe there were some that would have been noticeable on a new Airstream. We did end up with a lot of dust in the trailer the day we drove the Top-of-the-World highway.
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Old 10-05-2008, 12:00 AM   #11
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My parents did it the first time in 1964 with our Airstream. The whole family went, it took a month. Since I was only 4, I don't remember too much. I know we had a rock guard on the front of the TV (pics at Roger's Airstream History (Round 2!)). I had heard stories of non-Airstreams (pre SOB terminology) having their underbelly tubing flattened by the rocks and their sheet metal screws work out. I DO remember that we had a total of 9 flat tires between both vehicles.
Great photos! Did you scan the slides yourself? Really brings back that era.

Thanks!
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:21 AM   #12
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Q: What did a trip to Alaska do to my Airstream?

A: Having recently completed the WBCCI caravan to Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon, I have some ‘what it’s worth’ opinions to share.

We had 28 trailers of various sizes and 7 motorhomes, and all but one survived. You can learn the route taken, the town and cities visited on the WBCCI website.

The majority of the roads were good to very good. Maybe 10% were bad to very bad. Depending on weather and the last time the gravel sections were re-graded, some dirt roads could be a challenge but potential damage can be limited simply by driving slowly. With good planning, one should never be in a hurry to get anywhere traveling with an Airstream. It helps to have mud or stone guards on your tow vehicle, plus some kind of shield across the front of you trailer. All the under trailer gear, such as the propane lines, the water drain valve, and the black and gray water pipes should be protected by shielding of some kind. Some people had very little protection and suffered only minor damage or none at all. There were a few very bumpy sections that caused minor internal damage to cabinets, but driving slowly should minimize that. If it rains, expect a very muddy rig. Many towns and campgrounds have facilities for washing your vehicles.

You can’t totally depend on what is written about expected road conditions in current issues of “The MILEPOST.” or for that matter what some people say about how it was last season. There is a lot of dated and second-hand information available—just ask. Condition change and the highway departments are constantly repairing and upgrading the roads. I got the most accurate information from the various tourist information centers, national park people and others travelers.

Our group suffered a number of flat tires, one burnt axle assembly, and various routine plumbing, electrical and appliance problems. I don’t know the starting condition of the trailers, their tires or air pressure prior to the caravan. I kept my four year old tires fully inflated, checked them often and had the wheel bearings re-greased. Maybe I was lucky, but I had no such problems over my 86 days and 13,225 miles. Not even a popped rivet. Some vehicles got dings in the windshields.

The trailer that didn’t survive was hit by a moose. They were able to tow it to Fairbanks, get an insurance settlement and buy Some Other Brand (an SOB), which enable them to continue on with us. We had a good group of knowledge people and more importantly our caravan leader could trouble shoot and fix almost anything with his supply of tools of spare parts.

There are many RV maintenance and repair facilities and hardware stores along the way. The cost of parts, repairs as well as fuel is more expensive in Canada. The people are very friendly and helpful. Having a cell phone and WiFi Internet service can give you another level of comfort and security.

My trailer was bought to be used and not for show. There are risks and costs in living any life style, traveling or doing anything. I expected my rig would sustain some damage, but it completed the trip in great shape. Most of us learned first hand how to keep our Airstreams in good condition, avoid breakdowns and solve problems.
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:24 AM   #13
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Maybe I could borrow one of those vintage trailers for the trip.

We experienced damage on the SUV and pickup we used on our 2 trips. Paint dings and windshield damage was it. On gravel roads, the best thing to do is pull over as far to the right as you can safely and slow way down. Two vehicles going 60 (common on the Dalton Hwy) means rocks flying at 120 mph, but even when I slowed down, some opposing traffic didn't. A speeding NWT government pickup on a freshly graveled road (Dempster Hwy) peppered our 4Runner and we got a lot of damage to the windshield—not enough to make it difficult to see through it, but enough to replace it when we got back. Mud on gravel roads—which often are dirt—clay mostly—gets packed behind the wheels and on the undercarriage and it very difficult to wash off. It creates a ride as if the alignment is completely out of whack. I ended up scrapping it out with a screwdriver because it collects behind the aluminum wheels and can't be reached with a high pressure hose. The best way to get it off is to remove each wheel and wash them. Not a pleasant experience. Other than that we had no breakdowns. In Newfoundland with an SUV the oil pressure sending unit failed—always heart stopping when you look at the gauge and it reads zero. And the roads in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are pretty bad—probably the worst paved roads we've ever seen.

A trailer is a different story. I am encouraged that people do travel with only minor problems. Of course, not everyone has that experience. Driving slowly makes sense, but doesn't feel like an option when everything is so far away. NW Canada and Alaska are big. Big like enormous. On a Mercator projection map they look smaller, but they aren't. While I know driving slowly helps, my right foot knows we'll never get there if we drive too slowly. Hard to balance that battle between my foot and my head.

Until you get to permafrost country, the paved roads are very good. Not so good north of that line. With permafrost melting and the line moving north every year, roads are bumpy because ice underneath has turned to slop.

I bought a new Safari partly because I figured there would be less damage on a new unit for such trips. We are still learning how to pack tightly to prevent movement in cabinets—movement not only breaks the items packed, but stresses the cabinets. The cushions on the sofa and streetside seat for the dinette are always falling over no matter what road we are on. Maybe velcro would help with that. The microwave is on a nonslip mat on the floor and hardly moves at all. Anything placed on the bed or bedroom carpet pretty much stays in place. A plastic container thing with 4 large suction cups in the shower holds the shampoo, soap and conditioner pretty well (I hate having to pack and unpack items over and over). Robes and towels on hooks pretty much stay there, or can go on the bed. Everything in the truck stayed where it was put. Sometimes drawers have opened. The dealer put another stop on one and I may ask them to do that for all the others.

But I don't know much what would or could happen to the undercarriage, axles, propane connections, cabinets and drawers. We have our 1st and 2nd scratches, but it didn't make me feel any better. The rock guards already have dents and one plastic rock guard window has a crack in it. Like I was told when the dealer tried to sell me the extended warranty, it's "an earthquake on wheels". And it is an earthquake that goes on and on and on. That's what worries me. I also wonder whether I should have an extra spare and whether I should have Load Range E tires. Thus, do people get flats less frequently with E tires? Other things I wonder about are what are the most likely things to watch for and to take care of before leaving. I know, for example, repacking the wheel bearings and checking and adjusting the brakes are an obvious ones.

I like to cover all bases, but at some point, there are diminishing returns and unnecessary precautions. Nothing I can do about moose except keep my eyes open. We have them in Colorado too.

I suppose at some point, you just say, "what the hell, let's go".

Thanks for your posts and I'm looking forward to more experiences.

Gene
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Old 10-05-2008, 11:44 AM   #14
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My parents did it the first time in 1964 with our Airstream. The whole family went, it took a month. Since I was only 4, I don't remember too much. I know we had a rock guard on the front of the TV (pics at Roger's Airstream History (Round 2!)). I had heard stories of non-Airstreams (pre SOB terminology) having their underbelly tubing flattened by the rocks and their sheet metal screws work out. I DO remember that we had a total of 9 flat tires between both vehicles.
Those vintgage picture are wonderful to look at. A lot of those Alaska highways are paved now. Thanks!

Gene
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