The Bolts from Hell: Replacing a Dometic RM66 in a '68 Safari
It's been years since I posted anything here, but my latest adventure with replacing the Dometic RM66 fridge in my '68 Safari is just too good not to share. After fussing with its gradually failing performance over the years, I decided to replace the fridge this summer. The replacement, a Dometic 2510, is an inch taller. I knew this would pose a challenge--but it was nothing like what awaited us underneath!
As I found out by checking the Forum just before the mobile RV repairman quit on me (at least he didn't charge me anything), old Airstream fridges are held in by a pair of 4" x 9/16" carriage bolts through the frame that are located (typical Airstream) past a forest of wires and obstructions. I called my son to come up and help, since he had an angle grinder and a car-full of useful tools I felt we'd need.
It turned out that the bolts were so long, and the nuts screwed so high up, that even a deep-socket wrench wouldn't engage them. In addition, they were severely corroded and frozen. The corrosion had rotted the wood next to the square part of the bolts so that even if you could get a hold on a nut it would just spin the bolt around in its hole. We used the angle grinder with a cutoff wheel to cut through the more lateral bolt from below, showering ourselves with hot sparks and requiring that I constantly squirt-gun the bolt to keep it from igniting the punky plywood.
To get to the median bolt, we had to use the angle grinder and a chisel to cut through the bottom of the fridge past 3" of styrofoam and urethane insulation. Finally, I was able to get a vise-grip on the bolt head while my son slowly removed the nut from below. Once free, we still had a half-dozen or so small screws that had to removed. Altogether, we worked for over 6 hours getting that miserable unit free! Some engineer at Airstream must have been obsessed with the fear that the fridge would move even a millimeter.
Installing the new unit was easy, although due to its greater height I had to chisel out the wooden runners on which the old unit slid. Since the LPG fuel option on the old unit had failed years before, I decided to test it with propane first. (Note: Make very sure you use two wrenches to attach the flared propane line--you need a lot of torque, and you don't want to apply any torque to the complicated system just past the 5/8" nipple.) The new fridge fired up beautifully with the first push of the button, and the freezer unit was cold just 1 hour afterward.
After this incredible adventure, my son and I anointed our burns, scratches, and cuts, sat down with brewskis and exchanged (unprintable) reflections on various phases of our work. Although I can say that we were able to share some father/son bonding, I don't ever want to have to do something this hard again!