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Old 01-30-2014, 08:21 AM   #15
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1956 22' Flying Cloud
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The inspection

Inspecting a used trailer is a very important task. You want to make sure that you know what you are buying and that you are paying a fair price.

Based on my Airforums readings and what I learned at the Vintage Trailer Academy, I thought I had a good idea of what to look for and what to do in the inspection. These Airforums contain many message threads with lots of good information about trailer inspections.

Title. I suggest that, at the time of your first inspection, you inquire about the title to the trailer. Some sellers do not have a title to assign, and that may create a problem in terms of (1) insurance on the trailer and (2) obtaining a new title in your state of residence. If the seller cannot provide a good title, then you may have to rely on a bill of sale (BOS). Before you buy a trailer via a BOS, determine whether a BOS will satisfy you, your state of residence for purposes of registration and titling of the coach, and your insurance company.

Tools. I brought with me a flashlight, a small-blade pocket knife, and a camera. If you do not intend to gut the interior of coach, then you may want to bring tools to check the electrical, plumbing, heating, etc., systems. Because I would gut the interior and remove all electrical, plumbing, and heating items, I was not concerned with those items.

Inspecting the coach. I used the flashlight to look into all the nooks and crannies in the cabinets and under the beds and other furniture. I was looking for (1) water damage, (2) delamination of cabinets and bulkheads, (3) sign of rodents, and (4) other wear and tear that might indicate serious structural or other problems.

Make sure that you can fully inspect the trailer. If it is crammed into the corner of a garage or barn, insist that the trailer be moved out so that you can fully access all of the exterior of the coach. Do your best to determine the condition of the frame, even though that is difficult to accomplish if the belly pan is intact. Insist that the interior of the coach be emptied (or move the contents yourself) so that you can inspect all of the interior (including all storage areas such as in cabinets and under other furniture). Make sure you get all the way into/under the cabinets and furniture so that you can inspect the floor close to the side wall of the coach. Water damage often is found close to the side walls.

I used the knife to poke and test the flooring for damage, principally rotted wood resulting from water penetration. If the subfloor is compromised (soft to the touch), you are looking at a very much more complicated and expensive restoration, as compared to a restoration of a trailer with a sound subfloor. These Airforums have lots of information about replacement of the subfloor. If the subfloor must be replaced, you either must remove the superstructure (the shell of the cabin) or you must insert the replacement subflooring with the shell in place. In either event, you must totally gut the interior of the cabin.

Some people are not afraid of a subfloor replacement, and other people want nothing to do with a subfloor replacement. The challenge to address in the inspection is to determine whether the subfloor is sound, and that is very difficult to determine if the cabin interior is in place and the belly pan is in place. Thus, poking around with the knife is very important. The owner will not be keen on your making holes in the floor if the holes can be seen, but if you poke around under cabinets and furniture, the holes will not be visible from inside the cabin. Also, if the trailer has exterior-access compartment doors, inspect the storage area and use the knife to test for floor rot. Be particularly careful in inspecting around plumbing because leaking plumbing often causes floor rot.

Make sure you examine the roof, both from the inside and the outside. From the inside, look for signs of water entering the cabin. From the outside (you will have to get on a ladder or otherwise get high enough to examine the roof), look for structural integrity, dents, etc.

Issues with 8038. Although I considered 8038 to be in relatively good condition for its age, I noticed several problems.

1. The roof. The photos in post #8 above show the significant dent in the roof. This caused me some heartburn, as I was not confident as to how well this could be repaired and whether I had the skills and tools to undertake the repair. I ultimately decided to proceed, but this was the point of greatest concern to me.

2. Windows. The images in post #8 show that the lower front curbside window was taped shut, and I determined that this window (which should swing open on a crank mechanism) did not operate correctly. The lower front streetside window was in the same condition. I knew that old window parts are difficult to find, but what was very important to me was that the exterior and interior frames were undamaged and complete. Finding replacement window frame parts is extremely difficult.

Some of the swinging window operating mechanisms were broken or otherwise in need of repair, but I knew that at least some replacement parts were available for the operating mechanisms.

3. Belly pan and frame. This is how the street side (behind the wheel well) belly pan looked at the time of inspection:

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I bent the tab you can see in the image above, and looked inside the opening. I saw some plumbing wrapped in a heat tape:

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Eventually (after the purchase and during removal of the belly pan), I found cuts like this through several outriggers for the piping you see in the image above:

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Relatively simple welding repairs will fix the outriggers (I think).

The belly pan had been damaged, repaired in some places, and generally was pretty beat up from 50+ years of use:

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I expect that the replacement panel in the image immediately above resulted from damage caused by a tire blowout.

The condition of the belly pan would require some not insignificant repairs, but I was prepared to replace the belly pan metal, so the sorry condition of the belly pan metal did not discourage me.

4. Side wall metal. The exterior alclad side wall above the street side wheel well had a rip of about 1” (again, probably due to a tire blowout). I thought that I could rivet some metal trim on the inside wall of the wheel well to stiffen up and stabilize the rip. I will provide more about fixing the rip in another post.

5. Holes in floor of cabin. There were several holes (for plumbing) through the floor and subfloor of the coach. I would have preferred that they not be there, but I was not discouraged by their presence.

6. Roof vent. The rear roof vent obviously had been leaking (or at least the prior owners thought the roof vent was the source of a roof leak), as the vent was covered in plastic sheet and silicone caulk was all over the area. I intended to install a new roof fan (and otherwise rework that area), and the roof structure around the vent opening seemed sound, so I was not concerned about the leak, plastic, and silicone, etc.

You do not know for sure what you are buying until you gut the trailer and remove the belly pan. As the expression goes, to some extent you are buying "a pig in a poke."
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:04 AM   #16
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The negotiations to purchase

The major dent in the roof caused me considerable concern, but I found no floor/water damage, and (based on limited evidence) the frame of the trailer seemed to be sound, so I decided to make an offer. My internet research helped me determine an approximate value for 8038, but one never knows how about the reliability of that posted information.

I did my best to come up with a reasonable offer, but the owners did not even counter-offer, so we obviously were far apart as to the value of 8038. I thought that the owners were asking considerably too much for 8038. I provided to the owners a link to a prior version of this price guide. Further negotiations ensued, and we eventually had an agreement. I ended up paying more than I wanted, but less than the owners wanted (isnít that the definition of a good bargain?), but I was very partial to that model, so I do not regret the price I paid.

Resolve, in advance of your arrival for pickup, how and when you will pay the purchase price for the trailer.

Next up: the retrieval.
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:49 AM   #17
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Nice! Congrats.
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Old 02-06-2014, 11:37 AM   #18
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The retrieval Part 1: getting 8038 road ready

I needed to bring 8038 to its new home to Montana. A retrieval (or "recovery") involves a good bit of advance logistical work to make sure that the process goers smoothly. I did get 8038 home, but I was fortunate because I really did not fully understand what I was doing. My advice is that you read up on trailer towing, and these Airforums have a lot of good information. I hope that other Airforums folks will comment and correct any errors in this post!

A. Tools and equipment. For the retrieval of 8038, I used the following tools and equipment:

1. Tow vehicle.

Make sure that your vehicle and the hitch assembly have the necessary towing capacity for the trailer. You also need a suitable hitch ball that is matched in size to the trailer's coupler.

The tow vehicle must be wired to connect to the trailer’s running lights (or to a running light kit if the trailer’s lights do not function properly). Many vehicles are at least partially pre-wired for towing, and you should make sure that any necessary parts have been installed and are working properly. Determine the type of wiring harness on the trailer, and make sure that your tow vehicle harness either (1) matches the trailer harness or (2) you have an adapter that will connect the two.

2. Tiedown materials. Make sure you bring duct tape, bungee cords, rope, plastic sheeting (thick, not thin), etc. You never know when you may need one of these items! I used duct tape to secure window frames that would not lock in place.

3. Locking device for the hitch ball. The coupler will have some sort of locking device to make sure that the coupler will not come free of the hitch ball during towing. Make sure that you have properly secured the hitch and coupler.

4. Mirror extensions (if required). Depending on the width of the trailer, you may need mirror extensions so that you can see the curbside and streetside of the trailer as you tow. Failure to have the necessary mirrors can lead to citations and fines.

5. Tool box. Include in your tool box miscellaneous tools including a socket torque wrench to use on the trailer’s wheel lugs. You will want to check the torque settings on the lug nuts during the tow. If you have not used a torque wrench, buy one in advance of the retrieval and become familiar with its settings and how to use it. Determine the correct torque for the wheel lug nuts so that you can confirm periodically, while you are towing, that the torque is correct.

6. Plastic sheeting. In the event of precipitation, you may need plastic sheeting. I ended up placing additional plastic sheeting over 8038's rear roof vent that may have been leaking. If it rains during your drive, stop periodically to make sure you have no water penetration into the cabin. Be creative in using the plastic sheeting and duct tape if necessary!

B. Preparation of trailer.

1. Before you arrive. I arranged for the owner to have the following done before I arrived for the pickup. I arranged to pay the associated expenses, but the seller had to tow the trailer to a service facility and then back to the owner's home.

a. Tires. Tires are an extremely important safety item. Trailer tires tend to have a relatively short life span, and trailers that are for sale may have been sitting for a long period of time. Old tires (even though the tread is not significantly worn) may be quite dangerous. Blowouts occur with trailer tires. Have a tire professional inspect the tires and replace them if necessary.

b. Suspension. Lubricate the suspension if the trailer has a leaf-spring axle or axles.

c. Wheel bearings. Lubricate the wheel bearings. This is another very important safety item. If the wheel bearings are not properly lubricated, you may burn out the wheel bearings, and that could lead to axle or wheel failure, both of which could be very dangerous.

d. Shock absorbers. Check the shock absorbers and replace them if necessary.

2. Before you depart with trailer.

a. Running lights. As a matter of safety, and to avoid the attention of law enforcement personnel, make sure that the various running lights of the trailer are working properly. If the running lights do not work properly, you can use a temporary set of running lights available at RV stores and Harbor Freight.

b. Hitch, coupler, and safety chains. Make sure that your hitch and coupler are properly connected and locked with a pin. The coupler lock pin should not be a padlock while you are on the road. Instead, the locking pin should be a quick release device so that the trailer quickly can be removed from the tow vehicle in the event of an emergency. Use a padlock, if you wish, when you are not moving. Also, make sure that learn how to use the safety chains on your trailer.

c. Anchoring and securing. Secure all windows, vents, and doors. Bungee cords and duct tape can be very useful.

(1) Entry door. Make sure your entry door is securely closed. Many doors have come open while the coach was being towed because of failure of (1) the door handle/lock mechanism or (2) the door hinges or hinge bases. Many Airstream doors (so-called “suicide doors”) open towards the rear of the trailer, so if the door opens while the trailer is being towed, the wind will catch the door and violently swing the door to the rear of the coach. Considerable damage to the door and exterior side walls may result.

(2) Exterior compartment doors. Make sure that any exterior compartment door is locked and secure. These doors have been known to work free and blow off.

(3) Interior doors. Close and secure all doors, drawers, cabinets, etc., inside the coach before the launch.

(4) Other items. If trailer has contents that are not anchored to the floor or walls, make sure that you otherwise secure those contents because the vibrations caused by the drive drive may cause the contents to move and result in a mess.
***
Okay, more experienced Airstreamers, please critique!

Hank
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Old 02-06-2014, 11:43 AM   #19
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1956 22' Flying Cloud
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The retrieval Part 2: getting her in the garage

The morning after our recovery drive, my wife and I set out to get 8038 into her new home, where she would reside for several years during the renovation. It turned out that getting 8038 into the garage was an ordeal, with my wife and myself working together.

The problem in getting 8038 into the garage resulted because (1) I could not back into the garage on a straight line and (2) I had not stopped on the way from Nebraska to practice backing up with the trailer. Because of the configuration of the garage and the gravel drive, I had to be turning the tow vehicle while backing the trailer into the garage, which means that I was blind on one side of the trailer, and that made me very nervous. My wife was in the garage monitoring the position of the trailer and yelling information to me.

I admit that I made a mistake in not having more experience in backing the trailer before we brought her home. I should have stopped somewhere on the route home and practiced, but 8038 was towing beautifully, and I wanted to sleep on my own bed!

Well, after a number of attempts to get 8038 into the garage, we finally had her inside:

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You will note that 8038 had a roof air conditioner, and I was very lucky that 8038 just fit under the garage door. My garage doors were oversized, and a standard-sized garage door may not be high enough for a trailer with an air conditioner on the roof.

If your trailer will not fit, you could consider raising the roof (and increasing the door size) of your garage (see here)!

Hank
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Old 02-06-2014, 04:33 PM   #20
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You need one thing I didn't see you mention for your 'retrieval or recovery': a fully-charged 12V battery, installed in your TT.

It's terribly important on most trailers, not sure your '56 should have one.

But if it does, can you tell us why?
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Old 02-07-2014, 02:43 AM   #21
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I believe it is for the emergency braking system if a trailer comes off the hitch.
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Old 02-07-2014, 07:38 AM   #22
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Thanks, Aage and cmagda for your posts.

Aage, let me make sure I understand your question. "TT" refers to Travel Trailer, not Tow Truck?

My Flying Cloud did not have an on-board battery, and the coach braking system was primitive. It had a simple hydraulic surge brake, and I do not know how (if at all) it would have operated if the trailer had detached from the tow vehicle.

I have already removed the surge brake, and it will be replaced with a new disc brake system as part of a new torsion axle.

Can either of you (or anyone else) describe how best to deal with that old-style braking system on a recovery trip?

Hank
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Old 02-07-2014, 08:31 AM   #23
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Considering a rehab?: Rank Amateur's renovation

If your trip is not too far, I wouldn't bother, just have good brakes on your tow rig, and go slow, 55 at best. The tires are more important, along with functioning running lights. Also, if the bearings haven't been packed in years, I I would pack them before leaving.
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Old 02-07-2014, 08:42 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RankAm View Post
Thanks, Aage and cmagda for your posts.

Aage, let me make sure I understand your question. "TT" refers to Travel Trailer, not Tow Truck?

My Flying Cloud did not have an on-board battery, and the coach braking system was primitive. It had a simple hydraulic surge brake, and I do not know how (if at all) it would have operated if the trailer had detached from the tow vehicle.

I have already removed the surge brake, and it will be replaced with a new disc brake system as part of a new torsion axle.

Can either of you (or anyone else) describe how best to deal with that old-style braking system on a recovery trip?

Hank
This was likely not a "surge" brake system, unless someone installed a surge coupler at a later date. The hydraulic brake system of that period consisted of a master cylinder mounted on the tongue with an arm that typically stood vertically. There was a chain or cable that attached to the end of the arm & over to your tow vehicle. In the event of a de coupling, the chain would be pulled, the arm would come down, forcing brake fluid to the wheel cylinders. This was an early "break away" system, however it didn't allow you to apply the brakes during normal operation. This could also be used as a parking brake. My 57 Sovereign of the Road has this system on one axle & the other axle has electric brakes...........of the day. Sounds kinda crazy having usable brakes on only one axle on a 30' trailer, but you have to remember that this trailer only weighed 3900 lbs, which is somewhat less than what many single axle trailers weigh today. Towing speeds were also somewhat slower back then too.
When I restore my 57, I plan on leaving the old master cylinder on the tongue as a conversation piece The trailer will get modern torsion axles, along with electric brakes on both axles.
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Old 02-07-2014, 02:28 PM   #25
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Thanks, Aage and cmagda for your posts.

Aage, let me make sure I understand your question. "TT" refers to Travel Trailer, not Tow Truck?
Yes, Rankam, TT = Travel Trailer (and TV = Tow Vehicle, FYI).

cdmagda was correct, but I thank Colin for clarifying what braking system was used on your '56.
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Old 02-07-2014, 07:55 PM   #26
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Thank you very the kind words regarding the Vintage Trailer Academy - we work very hard to make this a quality learning event...........

Ken J.
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:01 AM   #27
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This was likely not a "surge" brake system, unless someone installed a surge coupler at a later date. The hydraulic brake system of that period consisted of a master cylinder mounted on the tongue with an arm that typically stood vertically. There was a chain or cable that attached to the end of the arm & over to your tow vehicle. In the event of a de coupling, the chain would be pulled, the arm would come down, forcing brake fluid to the wheel cylinders. This was an early "break away" system, however it didn't allow you to apply the brakes during normal operation. This could also be used as a parking brake. My 57 Sovereign of the Road has this system on one axle & the other axle has electric brakes...........of the day. Sounds kinda crazy having usable brakes on only one axle on a 30' trailer, but you have to remember that this trailer only weighed 3900 lbs, which is somewhat less than what many single axle trailers weigh today. Towing speeds were also somewhat slower back then too.
When I restore my 57, I plan on leaving the old master cylinder on the tongue as a conversation piece The trailer will get modern torsion axles, along with electric brakes on both axles.
Thanks, Colin. Here is an image of my a-frame at pickup:
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So, should I have attached a chain from the tow vehicle to the top of the upright arm on the hydraulic master cylinder? It is obvious that I did not do so, and the takeaway (for other amateurs) is that you should learn about the breakaway system as part of getting ready for the recovery trip.

I did drive slowly and carefully on the way to Montana, and I made frequent stops, but I did not have a breakaway system operating during my recovery. Was that illegal?

Hank
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:07 AM   #28
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Thank you very the kind words regarding the Vintage Trailer Academy - we work very hard to make this a quality learning event...........

Ken J.
You are welcome, Ken.

This is a good opportunity to again encourage amateurs considering an Airstream restoration to attend the VTA. You will be favorably surprised at how very much you learn. Do not wait until the last minute to register for the VTA because the number who can attend is limited, and the slots are full well before the event. Hank
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