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Old 07-03-2009, 12:08 AM   #1
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DenverAaron's Avatar
1963 22' Safari
Aurora , Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 38
How to Replace a Vintage Awning

I'm a bit of a cheapskate. I take on projects, even if they are too large, because I want to save a few nickels. Most of the time it pays off, but some of the time it bites me in the arse.

I have a 1963 Safari -- Love IT! The two reasons I wanted this trailer were: the double exterior door (mini door over the screen); and the retractable awning.

Life has been good with the Safari. I have ripped out the interiors, and have been renovating, um, I mean, "restoring" it during the past 4 years.

I took the trailer out boondocking last summer. Had it all set up and enjoying the Colorado air. Then a storm hit. Ripped my canopy to pieces. I wasn't too surprised, as the fabric was original. But I was disheartened. I HATE sitting in the rain when camping, and I hate being confined to the interiors when it's raining. I'd prefer to sit below the canopy, enjoying the storm in my dryness.

So, this summer I decided to replace my awning. I was floored at the cost for a new Zip Dee replacement awning. Mine is 12' -- which would have cost over $500 to purchase. Yikes! (Remember, I'm very, very cheap).

But then my buddy told me to check out JCWhitney, as he got a good deal on a replacement awning for his non-airstream trailer. Long story short, I got a brand new 11' wide awning for $159 (by Shademaker), plus they knocked off 10% for my order, plus they shipped it for free. Granted, I only had 6 colors to choose from. But let me tell you, I unrolled it today -- and it is BEAUTIFUL! I'm sure that Zip Dee is a much higher quality fabric with more color selections to choose from, but for me, "Mr. Frugile", I am very, very happy with my new awning.

But I was really nervous about performing the replacement. You see, as with most of my projects, I usually muck them up pretty bad before they show any signs of improvement. And one of the first instructions for the replacement was to, "drill out the existing pop rivits to remove the end caps". Oh Crap! This sounded like a disaster in the making!

I'm happy to say that it turned out to be much easier, and much cleaner than I expected. And I'd like to share with you -- a potential reader in my same predictiment - all that I learned in my own do-it-yourself adventure.

1. The awning came with two parts: the awning; the fru-fru dangly shade. I'm sure there's some technical name for it, but basically it's the part I use to clip my lights to.
2. There was a bunch of extra chord in the package, but I found that I didn't need to use it.
3. The first step for me was to remove my awning and tube. To do so, I lowered my arms and CUT the old awning off at the trailer. I was very careful to keep my tube aligned, as I didn't want to reinstall it backwards!
4. Once I had cut free the tattered fabric, I let it uncoil. This is very, very important, as I highly value my eyes and fingers.
5. I laid the awning on the ground and removed it from the two arms. All there was was a screw one either side to remove. Then, I had to bang it gently with a hammer to knock it free from the years of captivity (my trailer is a 1963 -- did I mention this already?)
6. Once the tube was free from the arms, I laid it on the ground for the moment.
7. Next I focused on removing the old awning from the trailer. This is pretty easy too. I used a 3/8" socket fastened to my drill to undo the 2 bolts (at either end). Once the brackets were removed, the old awning and chord pulled right out. I cleaned this slot with a stiff brush to make sure the 40+ years of gunk did not impede my new fabric.
8. Time to drill! This notion did freak me out, and I didn't know what to expect. But it all turned out fine. As it is, the orig. aluminum caps are pop-riveted (3 ea. end) to the end of the tube. You will need to drill these old rivets out. I used a 3/16" drill bit to punch thru. I was pretty nervous about damaging something on the inside, but as it turns out, there wasn't anything for me to hurt. 3 rivets per side, and the caps were off. I marked each cap and tube so that I could put them back in the same holes. This turned out to be a good idea.
9. Once the caps were off, removing the old awning was a breeze. Again, I made sure to keep the tube lined up with the camper, and slipped the new awning in at the same orientation as the old one. For this, my wife helped work the fabric. I don't really think this is a one-man job at this point. Besides, I enjoy the company. Afterall, she enjoys the awning too!
10. Slip the new awning and the new fru-fru deco trim into the slots in the tube. That's it! Now you can put the caps back on.
11. I went to Home Depot and picked up a package of 3/16" long pop rivets by Arrow. I also purchased the alum. washers next to the rivets, as my orig. rivets had 4 washers each. I ended up only putting in 3 washers per rivet, and that seemed to work find.
12. Once you pop rivet each end cap on, you are ready to re-assemble.
13. I rolled the canopy up about halfway, then had my wife hold the tube while I gently worked the bead back into the trailer. Does this make sense? You have to put the end of the canopy into the slot on the trailer. The canopy should have a bead sewn into this end. I rubbed soapy water on this bead to help ease it back into the slot. Work it gently, and BE PATIENT! This is usually where I fail in a project. The bead got stuck a few times, but together we got all 11' back into it's home.
14. Now I had the canopy slipped into the trailer side, it was time to re-attach it to the arms.
16. The tube needs to be put under tension. I found that I had to wind each side a dozen times to ensure proper tension. But after the 7th turn, it became very, very trecherous. One slip, and that bad boy could have done some nasty damage to my fingers and eyes. You'll need a helper at this point to hold the tube so you can wind it to the proper tension. I tried 7. Then 10. And finally 12 turns. Carefully slip the end into the arm. Then repeat for the other side.
17. Test the tension. If the canopy doesn't roll up all the way, tighten the ends again. You're going to have to guess at the correct tension. If it rolls up too fast, unclick it a few.
18. Now that the tension is correctly set, put the screws back into the arms, add the clips back at the top of the awning (at the trailer), and BAM! -- bring on the foul weather!

I really just finished this up tonight, while it was raining. We are heading to southern Colorado for the weekend camping. I'll try to take some pics and post them.

For $159 (-10% plus free shipping), I am very, very happy with my new awning. I chose "Great Smokies Blue", and it is 100% in the Airstream color scheme. If you're a cheapy like me, and just as nervous as myself, I hope this posting can help! I'm sure there are some experts out there that can offer up additional advice. My main goal in writing this is to share with you a bit of what I learned, as I began out nervous as could be, and I finished with a great sense of pride in what I accomplished. AND, it was much, much easier than I feared!

Best of luck with your own endeavors!

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Old 07-04-2009, 07:48 AM   #2
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2016 20' Flying Cloud
Centennial , Colorado
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 1,065
Great information! We can't wait to see pics of your new awning!

I have made my own awning also and it's not hard. Followed instructions from several posts here on the forums and it came out well. I should have it on the trailer in a couple of weeks and will post pics also.

By the way....have you joined the local chapter of the Vintage Airstream Club? If not, we sure would welcome you!

Steve "Centennial Man"
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Old 07-17-2009, 06:06 PM   #3
2 Rivet Member
1972 25' Tradewind
Rockville , Maryland
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 20
The awning on the AS I'm buying is apparently in reasonable shape but the plastic fabric gray cover is very ragged.

How hard would it be to replace the cover? And where would one find a replacement?

Many thanks for ideas!

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Old 07-17-2009, 09:01 PM   #4
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1975 31' Sovereign
1969 27' Overlander
Wichita , Kansas
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 55
Images: 4

Would you mind giving there web site? Also do you know if they have the hardware to replace a awning that is missing?

Wichita kansas
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