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Old 07-05-2008, 07:11 PM   #1
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Rough Roads With Airstream?

Does anybody have extensive rought road experience with Airstream trailers?

I do extensive travelling in northern BC and Alberta, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It's not hard core offroading and four wheeling, but there's thousands of km of gravel highways. Right now I've been used a small camper on a half ton pick-up, but I've like more room.

Right now I'm split between a pick-up/camper, motorhome, or a trailer behind an SUV or pick-up. I'd like to go with a trailer, say around 25 feet.

How much clearance is there to go larger with the tires? I don't really want to tear into anything new to fit larger tires, but I'd also like to buy new.

Why type of suspension do Airstreams use? Is it just leaf spring? I thought some of them used a rubber torsion type suspension?

Is it possible to rig up an air bag suspension so the ride height and spring rate could be tuned?
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Old 07-05-2008, 07:21 PM   #2
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For suspensions, the rubber torsion axles started about 1961 or so, before that was leaf spring. Air ride is not recommended as it raises the center of gravity, which adversely effects handling. Some people have had good luck with 16 inch truck tires, but check your space inside the wheelwell of the trailer you want to install them in to verify they won't rub.
If you do much gravel road driving, I would recommend both rock guards for the front windows, and stone guards for the front lower segments.
You should also look at the plumbing where it hangs down under the trailer to make sure it will not get torn off on a really bad road.
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Old 07-05-2008, 07:55 PM   #3
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An older Airstream with worn out or ridgid torsion axles will tansfer a lot of shock to the coach and tear it apart. The bane of roads for Airstreams is washboard. gravel or dirt if it is fairly smooth is OK. Also a tow vehicle with stiff suspensiton like a 3/4 or 1 ton will ride rougher than the trailer and transfer shock to the trailer. Airstreams are reasonably well made and will stand up to reasonable unpaved roads. but not designed for really rough roads as are some other units like Fleetwood pop ups.
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Old 07-05-2008, 08:40 PM   #4
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Current Airstream designs are made for high speed cruising on high speed highways. They have Low center of gravities helped by the torsion axles which give lower ground clearance than leaf spring axles. You could put lifting blocks between the axles and the frame of the coach to give you more ground clearence. After looking closely at some of the pictures from Wally's African Caravan I think they may have modified some of the trailers and tow vechiles to help them servive the rough roads. I have a 77 31 footer with the rear bath and it has had some damage from the roads in Canada. The trailers with the rear bath from that era are pron to frame problems but survive on good roads but can be damaged on rough roads. No one makes a trailer that will servive whatever you travel over, especially if you travel at high speed. Newer Airstreams are not cheap. You may want to buy something that is rugged but cheap enough to be somewhat disposable.
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Old 07-05-2008, 09:25 PM   #5
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Old 07-05-2008, 10:00 PM   #6
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I've looked at Fleetwoods before, I don't know about a tent trailer on the shoulder seasons when it dips well below zero.

Maybe I'll have a new frame made for an older model, and see about spacing the axles and enlarging the wheel wells.

This is really highly preliminary brain storming, and not that likely to come to fruitition.

I was looking at Airstream because I've heard endless stories of roof leaks with "square" models, and I'm an all weather road tripper.
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Old 07-06-2008, 11:13 AM   #7
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Perhaps the biggest hassle with rough roads is that it tends to vibrate the interior apart. The interior cabinetry on new Airstreams is often just stapled and the warping of the rig coupled with vibration tends to separate joints, especially at the exterior walls.

Gravel roads, especially if well maintained, tend to have a lot of washboard. That's tough on any vehicle. If not well maintained, then you can get into potholes and rocks and other interesting terrain which put different stresses on the rig.

One of my friends had to repair his water tank on a new 31' Classic. The new rig was wider than the old one and one rock on his favorite road didn't allow the track he needed. Fortunately the tank wasn't ruptured when he high centered.

Another took a 28' foot with a slideout across a gully and didn't accommodate for the length. That took the bumper off the trailer.

( The first time out can be a learning experience! - )

Then there's RJ's Bambi. He repaired the 4 bullet holes that were in it when he found it and blocked up the axles for extra clearance so he could go where he wanted to. Being a Bambi it didn't have that much on the interior to fall apart and it was an older trailer with riveted tracks for the stuff attached to the walls and that helps.

Another example is the '78 Sovereign that had been up to Alaska. Twice. It has been repaired for frame droop. The rough road vibration tends to separate the shell from the floor and frame and they needed to get re-attached. So that trailer has the indicative patches on the rear for this work.

I note that the idea for Africa caravan is to use disposable trailers (not bring them back). Just look at PeeWee's stories and you can see the toll that trek took 50 years ago. Roads and conditions have not improved since then, either.

I've run across a number of folks who aren't real happy with how their Airstream is holding up. They envisioned a bit better when they bought the new trailer. One, an aircraft mechanic is really disappointed when using aircraft as a referent. That state of mind stands until they get to thinking about their experience with a previous SOB. A reference like that tends to make the Airstream look like a much better alternative.

Roof leaks on SOB's? yep. I think the Airstream will handle a bit better snow load, too. It probably took an avalanch off a big roof to squash the one Dave is repairing. We've got to replace 2 ribs and do a bit of 'adjusting' on the rest of the roof to get it somewhat towards normal.

Then there's the SOB that lost its siding on US 101 near the Oregon border. They closed to road due to wind after we got to town and found a wall to hide behind and do a damage assessment. Most SOB's even have the skin just stapled so the Airstream rivet method has its advantages, too.
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Old 07-06-2008, 12:57 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by canadianguy View Post
I've looked at Fleetwoods before, I don't know about a tent trailer on the shoulder seasons when it dips well below zero.

Maybe I'll have a new frame made for an older model, and see about spacing the axles and enlarging the wheel wells.

This is really highly preliminary brain storming, and not that likely to come to fruitition.

I was looking at Airstream because I've heard endless stories of roof leaks with "square" models, and I'm an all weather road tripper.
If you want a tent-type trailer, but don't want to freeze, there is the A-Liner. It folds up like a pop-up, but when you raise the roof, it has hard fiberglass sides.
It's not an Airstream, but it's not bad for what it is. If I was told I had to get a pop-up, I'd probably get one of them.
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Old 07-06-2008, 02:39 PM   #9
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There are a couple of these Chalet campers in my Flyfishing Club. They are nice units and the owners like them.
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Old 07-06-2008, 02:44 PM   #10
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There are a couple of these Chalet campers in my Flyfishing Club. They are nice units and the owners like them.
Here, they are known as A-Liners. Last time I checked, they were owned and built by Columbia Northwest.
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Old 07-06-2008, 03:26 PM   #11
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I have a 2004 25 Safari. I use the trailer as a hunting vehicle and tow in Mexico where even major highways are rough.
I endorse what others have said about rock guards. I find a big rock guard in back of my tow vehicle works well.
I tow on rough roads, gravel roads and rough gravel roads, but not any kind of road where clearance is a problem. There are too many expensive things to fix under my Airstream and as any one can see, there isn't much clearance.
I tape my cabinets closed with duct tape when running, particularly the one under the sink in the bathroom.
I have had minor problems like hinges and latches loosening but nothing major yet. The clearance on the spring bars of my Equalizer hitch is not very good. I have lost parts when I have high centered the hitch.
I carry spare latches, screws and plastic wood to remount stripped screws. I also carry spare hitch parts.
With previous travel trailers and motor homes, I have had lots more problems such as spring shackles breaking, shocks breaking off of springs and even the wood frame on a supposed high quality travel trailer breaking on a trip to the Yucatan. The same trailer dumped the contents of the under couch water tank in the living room when a compression fitting failed due to travel on rough roads. My Airstream is much more durable than previous r.v.s and I would match it against any travel trailer.
I have a low regard for wood framed campers and travel trailers. The wood frame of my friend's high dollar cab over camper broke when he went over a tope (Mexican speed bump) at 30 mph.
I tow in hot weather and have had three blowouts in the last twelve months. The blowouts don't occur running slowly on the rough stuff, but later when I am running at highway speeds. I suspect travel on rough roads weakens the ST tires and they blow out when running at highway speeds in hot weather. Tires are the achilles heel of my trailer.
My wife is after me to take our Airstream to Costa Rica. If we go, the tire problem will have to be solved. The Airstream is tough enough to take it with different tires.
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Old 07-06-2008, 03:43 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by canadianguy View Post
Does anybody have extensive rought road experience with Airstream trailers?

I do extensive travelling in northern BC and Alberta, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It's not hard core offroading and four wheeling, but there's thousands of km of gravel highways. Right now I've been used a small camper on a half ton pick-up, but I've like more room.

Right now I'm split between a pick-up/camper, motorhome, or a trailer behind an SUV or pick-up. I'd like to go with a trailer, say around 25 feet.

How much clearance is there to go larger with the tires? I don't really want to tear into anything new to fit larger tires, but I'd also like to buy new.

Why type of suspension do Airstreams use? Is it just leaf spring? I thought some of them used a rubber torsion type suspension?

Is it possible to rig up an air bag suspension so the ride height and spring rate could be tuned?
One of the biggest problems, and concerns towing an Airstream trailer on gravel is all to often over looked.

Th LPG lines, underneath the trailer, will taken an absolute beating, to the extent of causing numerous LPG leaks as well as flattening the copper tubing.

The PM is rather easy.

Get some high quality rubber hose. Slit it from one end to the other, in a spiral instead of a straight line. Install the rubber hose over "ALL" of the exposed LPG lines, and tie it down with tie wraps, about every 6 inches.

Be creative when covering the brass fittings, and again hold the rubber hose in place with tie wraps.

The exposed wire for the brakes, should like wise be protected.

Rockguards and segment protectors are a must as well.

All you can do from there, is hope for the best.

Andy
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Old 07-06-2008, 09:34 PM   #13
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Nice stuff, Andy. That advice will be good for my trailer as well. I've done this on a couple of cars (where fuel line might catch something; as well as some A-C lines) and the recommendation then was to keep in mind condensation/water collection as the wrapping proceeded.

As to an offroad suspension, well, I was just reading on Hendrickson Walking Beam suspensions as used on vocational trucks in logging, construction and the oilfield.

Now THAT would make one trailer everyone talked about!
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Old 07-06-2008, 11:59 PM   #14
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Rough roads with Airstream?

Hi, rough roads? Southern California freeways. That's all I need to say.
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