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Old 07-12-2009, 09:44 PM   #1
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1970 23' Safari
2005 30' Classic
1986 31' Sovereign
Lorain , Ohio
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Axle Replacement Photo Documentation

Following is the documentation of the DIY axle replacement project of my 1970 Airstream single axle Safari. Please understand that any information contained in this point is for your review only. This replacement was done by Larry (loudruff) and myself in Larrys garage.

I take no responsibility for your decision to follow any technique presented here. Use your head and if you feel uncomfortable with any part, get some help. Many steps involved with this project require you to lift the trailer. Not doing this correctly can severely damage your Airstream, and could kill you! Please be careful!

Additionally, axles are heavy. Don't expect to do this project alone without extended time.

I intend to present this as a "photo documentary". I'll probably edit more notes in later. But, I wanted to get this started while things were fresh in my mind.

Tools used:

2 jack stands for permanent use
2 "safety" jacks
1 large hydraulic jack
2 small hydraulic jacks

Various common sockets and wrenches
Sledge and other hammers

4" Angle Grinder
Arc welder

The Axle:

The Axle purchased was from Axis in Elkhart, Indiana. It came painted, with new brakes and hubs. Price was $330.

Trailer Lift:

The trailer was jacked up and secured in three places. Two jack stands placed as designed behind the axle mounting plate, and the tongue jack was used. Examine your trailer to learn specific design spots for jacking.

Additional jack stands were moved around as require for additional safety.

Old axle removal:

So my concern was how hard it would be to get 40 year old bolts out. I figure these things have been out in every kind of weather, so they probably will have to bee cut off.

Larry had been soaking the bolts with pb blaster for a couple of days. Much to my surprise, they all broke free fairly easily.

The small floor jacks were placed on either end of the old axle. The forward bolts were removed. Smaller "pins" (bolts) were placed and loosely secured with nuts. The pupose of this is to facilitate the rotation of the old axle out of its bracket. This is hopes of not dropping a 200+ axle on the floor.

The rear bolts were removed. The jacks were slowly lowered, This cause rotation foward. After some wood blocking was placed under the drums, the front bolts were removed.

The axle was then yanked from beneath the trailer. Two hand dollies were placed under each drum and the axle was moved up to the welding area.

Shock Bracket Relocation:

So this sounds easy. Cut the mounts off the axles, weld them on the new ones. Done.

Thankfully, Larry has all the right gear to get it done. Basically, he torched them off. Then he clamped them in a vice and cleaned them up with a 4" angle grinder. Then he used the grinder to remove the paint from the new axle where the new weld would be.

Larry used an arc welder to provide a full bead on each side of the brackets. Each side was allowed to cool prior to welding the opposite side. This reduced the heating of the shaft.

Finally, a quick coat of paint was applied to the bare metal.

New Axle Installation:

The axle was moved back to the trailer and push under in the approximate position. The jacks were used simultaneously to raise the axle in place. The bracket was seated in it's home, and it became immediately apparent that the axle sat about an inch too low. After lower the axle and studying the geometry, it appeared that the distance between the top of the axle and the top of the mounting bracket was significantly different.

In thinking about the situation, the frame should rest directly upon the axle mount. The bolts should not be relied on for the support of the trailer.

We decided to get out the torch and cut out part of the mount required for the axle to move up to meet the frame.

Be sure to protect your trailer when welding on it! Take a good look behind your "target" to see where sparks may fly. We had to move the brake wire out of the way, and a scrap wood barrier was placed to prevent a stray spark from flying up into the bellypan.

The axle was then jacked back into position. The rear bolts were placed. The front holes need some quick correction with the torch to allow for the bolts to fit.

The shocks were than easily mounted. The shocks have a lot of play in them, so I don;t think the mount placement would have to be very precise.

Final Notes:

The old hardware was inspected and reused. The brakes still need wired and adjusted.

The new measurement is 23.5" from floor to edge of wheel well. Basically, I gained 1 inch.

So the guy in the pictures is Larry from Lagrange (loudruff). This job wouldn't have gotten done without him! Thanks Larry & Lou.

Proud Member of the Wally Byam Airstream Club #24260

The “Ohio Airstreamer -- Informal forum for weekend camping” thread.
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:11 PM   #2
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OMG, you used a cutting torch, and is that a Chevy blazer your towing with?

Just joking. That is really cool documentary. Wish I could have done it with mine, BUT I was lazy and had Inland RV do mine on my way through LA on my last trip...


May you have at least one sunny day, and a soft chair to sit in..

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Old 07-12-2009, 10:16 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by purman View Post
OMG, you used a cutting torch, and is that a Chevy blazer your towing with?
We prefer the term "heat wrench".

And that is a dodge durango with a 5.9....

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Old 07-13-2009, 01:38 AM   #4
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Hi, good job and great story. But I am surprised that you only gained one inch in height.

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Old 07-13-2009, 06:04 AM   #5
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Nice write-up. It give people perspective on what can be involved in replacement.
We refer to the torch as a "smoke wrench".
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Old 07-13-2009, 06:10 AM   #6
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Looks great! That is exactly the way we (94tri and I) changed out the axles on my Ambassador. Safety first and the heat wrench works perfectly.

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Old 07-14-2009, 08:31 AM   #7
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Nice Job Larry , I knew it would be done right.
Dan<<<>>> Nice job of documenting,I have some pic's of our axle change but when you are wrenchin ya dont have much time fer cameras. Ours went so fast I really didnt have the time.
Roger & MaryLou
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Old 07-14-2009, 09:04 AM   #8
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Excellent photo documation. I posted a very recent thread on our tandem axle installation. We gained at least 3" lift, enough that I have to increase the auxillary step stool so my wife (and my arthritic knees) can more easily step up to the coach step. I also purchased a tongue jack stand extention to stre-e-e-etch the WDH bars in place easier.
Neil and Lynn Holman
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Old 07-19-2009, 02:16 PM   #9
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Thank you so much for sharing! nother show and tell of what the big job can entail. Actually it isn't that big of a job in my opinion compared to floor repacement.

So if you need this kind of work done. Jump in and and get 'er done.

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Old 08-07-2009, 04:07 AM   #10
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Dan, when I did my Caravel in March of 2006, Axis told me that they weren't going to do Airstream axles any more. Did they change their mind again or did you order in some way that they didn't have to "hold your hand"? Here's my extensive thread, including lots of thoughts on what to do about the shock mount. This is the note that RIVKA got back from Axis about not doing any more Airstreams

My only problem with that Caravel axle was that it turned out to be under rated. A series of posts on this issue starts here You can see that INLAND ANDY is concerned about the higher modulus rubber used by Axis. Anyway, I got a replacement axle, installed it, and measured the operating flex on the arm--everything is OK except the Axis rating of 5,200 lbs must mean that they rate their axles for maximum load, not operating load.

Did you notice a low clearance between the brake plate and the swing arm on your Axis axle? See the issue here

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Old 08-07-2009, 06:54 AM   #11
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Nice documentation. A bit more scary with single axle.

Did you weld the skid plate back onto the new axles?

Also, I found on my Sovereign that while the axle mounting bracket was up tight to the frame, I could still slide a piece of paper between the belly pan and the axle mounting bracket. I deduced that it was the overall tight fit (including tight bolts) which distributed the weight of the trailer throughout the trailer axle mounting plates (if that makes any sense). Anyway, after tightening 1/2" bolts, I went ahead and welded the axels to the mounting plate just for good measure. I doubt I'll be doing the axles again.
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Old 08-07-2009, 09:07 AM   #12
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Longmont , Colorado
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Not clear on why you made the frame notches deeper, but no wonder you only gained an inch in ride height after you were done. I think I might have modified the mounting brackets before changing the axle tube position, unless I'm missing something here. At any rate- nice foto doc of the process, thanks.
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Old 08-07-2009, 09:30 AM   #13
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The skid plate (I only had one) was a bolt on. I did not put it back on the new axle.

The frame was notched to allow the frame to rest directly on the mounting plate. In truth, this would not have happened if I understood the geometry better. The proper location could have been ordered.

Of course a couple of solutions could have been applied. The mounting bracket could have been altered, added to, and redrilled. We elected to give up an inch in ride height. This was probably the easiest answer.

So, in design terms, what's the impact? The trailer rides lower than it would have otherwise. But, still higher than it was. I suppose I have less "travel" space available in the event the axle needs to severely rotate. I really can't imagine it bottoming out though. Maybe if it took a curb hit at high speed?
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Old 08-07-2009, 11:49 AM   #14
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The lower clearance will be less of an issue with a 23' than with a '31.

Depending on wheel well clearance (and I have no clue how much is there), there might be a risk of bottoming out. Otherwise, as long as your hitch is set correctly so that the entire rig is level, I don't see a big deal.

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