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Old 01-13-2014, 10:38 PM   #1
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1953 17' Clipper
Montevallo , Alabama
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Sinking feeling

Hello,

Several years ago I bought a 1953 Clipper, 17'. The outside is in really good shape and the inside looks good but needs painting, sprucing up, etc. After a about a year, i discovered a rotted spot on the inside of the door when I pulled up the linoleum to replace the flooring. i kept her covered most of the time but occasionally the cover would blow off, always during a big rainstorm. OK, i know about bungee cords but obviously not how to make them stay secure in a high wind. After every rain, the floor would be wet again. The rotten floor board has gotten progressively worse and will have to be totally cut out or something. I plan to reseal all the panels, hopefully to solve the leak (?).

I know the biggest joy of having a vintage Airstream is the process of lovingly restoring it and that was my plan but I am feeling overwhelmed. I do not have access to a shop or have any way to remove the skin and start over from the bottom up. My husband and I are not especially handy with anything beyond fixing a leaky faucet. What advice do all you experienced folks have to offer a novice? Do I need to sell it to someone with more savvy? It would break my heart but I don't want it to just get worse. Is there a service somewhere that can do the serious repairs? If I could just get the floor repaired, I think I would enjoy doing the rest of the renovation. I have been talking about my AirStream retirement project for years now and I just retired so I am ready to get going. Any words of encouragement are very welcomed. Looking at all the photos on the forum is very inspiring.

Thanks.
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Old 01-14-2014, 12:43 AM   #2
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2003 28' Safari S/O
Marietta , Georgia
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I hope your dream is realized soon. The pathway there may seem bleak at the moment, but most of us have one or more stories of frustration along the way to our current satisfaction.

I know its hard to calibrate just what another means when they describe their level of skill at a particular task: a perfectionist is always disappointed and an optimist thinks all is well when it usually isn't.

However, almost everybody I've met who owns aluminum has enough brains, brawn, and bankbook to survive the early years of ownership :-) so I suspect you actually have the intellect and many of the abilities necessary to finish what you've started. Experience is the missing element and forging ahead is the solution to that shortage.

Trial and error will help conquer your tarp coverage dilemma. Make a spider web or rats nest, you'll get there even if it is not pretty.

Once secured and dried out (use fans if you need to), focus methodically on each step of isolating where the water is getting in. The forum is a fantastic source of insight, pictures, etc. once you master the 'search' function. Just remember, water wanders and the leak is just as likely to be somewhere close to, but not necessarily immediately above, the visible pooling.

A thorough inspection of your shell is necessary as a first step. Look for cracks, gaps, etc. in all visible caulking material around lights, pipes, fittings, etc. Test all material for flexibility. If it is hard there is a good chance it is involved (but not necessarily the whole fix).

To remove old caulking, use a plastic paint scrapper carefully to get most of it. Then a product like DeBond works great to clean everything before apply a new layer.

MarineFormula Adhesive remover and general cleaner by DeBond
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Old 01-14-2014, 05:46 AM   #3
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You can hire someone to replace the floor and trace the leaks, just make sure it is someone very knowledgable and experienced with airstreams! Yours Sounds like a really cool trailer.
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Old 01-14-2014, 08:23 AM   #4
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Make sure whoever does the work knows vintage airstreams
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Old 01-14-2014, 08:35 AM   #5
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Excellent clarification, lumatic!!!!
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Old 01-14-2014, 08:56 AM   #6
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1995 34' Excella
Lynchburg , Virginia
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Posting some photos would help. We would all really like to see your Airstream.

The key to solving your problem is finding the right person to repair your trailer. Hopefully some forum members in your area can help here.

Hang in there.

Dan
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Old 01-14-2014, 09:14 AM   #7
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I think the real question is: do you want to have the vintage trailer restoration experience?

To share my own anecdote, I spent two years looking for THE trailer--I was looking for a certain range of years, size, and floorplan. Above all, I did not intend to do a shell-off, and I did not want to do sheet metal work. So I bought my trailer, and it all looked in pretty good shape. I didn't inspect as thoroughly, as I could have, because I had already committed to buy the trailer based only on some grainy photos and assurances from the owner that it was in good shape. Well, vintage Airstreams are like onions, as you peel away the layers, there is something new to make you cry. I peeled up my carpet and found rotting floor, pretty much all around the perimeter of the trailer, especially in the front, the back, and around the door. I removed the bellypan and found that the frame was rusted and disintegrating. I eventually lifted the shell, repaired the frame, replaced the flooring, changed out a few panels and am finally back to the point that the trailer can be used as an "aluminum tent." Yes, I was the guy who just wanted to spruce up the interior too.

In your case, best case scenario, you have a leaking door gasket, and the rotted area can be patched without doing a shell-off. Realistically, though, you have a 60 year old trailer. You wouldn't expect a 60 year old car to require nothing more than upholstery to make it ready for a road trip, right? If the floor is rotten, then the frame is probably also rusted. Your trailer is likely a candidate for a complete rebuild.

So what to do? You can hire the heavy lifting out to a professional restorer. I know there are a few in Texas--don't know if there are any closer to you. They could lift the shell, replace your floor, and make any repairs to the frame that are necessary. If you can operate a drill and a screwdriver, then you can remove the entire interior, pull up the flooring, and get a good look at the sub-floor. You might find that it isn't in too bad of shape--maybe it can be patched. Here is where there are more layers to the onion. You may be able to find the leaks, you may find more rot, you might discover shoddy repairs to the plumbing that will inspire you to replace with pex, you will become more intimate with what is visible of the electrical system. You will have to decide how much of this you are willing to learn to fix. There is a reason why professional restorers charge tens of thousands for a complete rebuild--it takes time, effort, expertise, etc..

So back to the original question: Are you ready for the full "vintage owner experience?" If so, get out your screwdriver and electric drill and get to work. Also, start by replacing all the cracked hardened rubber gaskets around the doors and windows, and sealing around the other vents, pipes, chimneys, etc. that penetrate the shell.

Do you love the trailer, but are not at all interested in doing the work yourself? Then spend some time getting quotes and identifying knowledgeable restorers--just realize saying "my trailer leaks, and I have a soft spot in my floor" will get you estimates from $200-20,000 dollars.

I am not trying to sound negative--just trying to help you manage your expectations. There are plenty of trailers for sale out there with no interiors in them because somebody launched into sprucing up the interior, and when they realized they had to be a plumber, electrician, tinsmith and welder, they threw in the towel.
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Old 01-14-2014, 05:34 PM   #8
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That sounds very familiar! I sold my 63 Gt early last summer, in my haste to replace it, I bought a 65 overlander without inspecting it first. Not wanting to travel the 800 miles( one way), I agreed to purchase it going only off of pics sent by the owner... Never again!I asked the owner fairly detailed questions about the floor, axles,etc. He said floor in bath area was solid. Long story short, I spent all summer replacing the rear floor, plumbing, water heater , a/c, and tearing out the poorly installed "new laminate floor".all this just to get the camper usable for the rest of summer!
Sorry about the rant, I've been wanting to share this tale for months! Now that some time had passed , my anger has subsided,& I'm making great progress(polishing, new axles, etc), so all is good!!
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Old 01-14-2014, 05:46 PM   #9
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Wren...

Don't give up your dream - especially one you've had for after retirement. It is *vitally* important to have something to do that you're passionate about following retirement.

It's easy to be intimidated by all the DIY stories here by folks who are truly gifted craftsmen and craftswomen. But you don't have to do everything yourself to be fully involved in a restoration. Contract out the work that you feel like you can't do - and even the work you don't want to do - and do the rest yourself.

It's still your project and it will be rewarding on many levels. Don't give it up.

Poppy
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Old 01-14-2014, 05:56 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Birdmaestro View Post
Don't give up your dream - especially one you've had for after retirement. It is *vitally* important to have something to do that you're passionate about following retirement.
Seconded! I bought my Airstream two years ago in preparation for retirement, even though I won't be retiring until early January 2015. Every time I go camping in my Airstream, that's "retirement practice."

A noted New Orleans media personality, Frank Davis, who passed away last month, once told a group of school kids, the secret to a happy life is:
1 - Find something that you really like to do.
2 - Do it better than anybody else.
3 - Find someone who will pay you to do it!
In that regard, using my Airstream in my retirement is my secret to a happy life. I really like to do it. With all of the pre-retirement practice I get, by the time I actually retire, I ought to be pretty good at it. And of course, there will be retirement pay, to satisfy the third requirement.
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Old 01-17-2014, 11:55 AM   #11
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1953 17' Clipper
Montevallo , Alabama
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Thanks to you all for the encouragement. After more reading, I am even more puzzled about what the previous owner did to this baby. There is no propane, only a place to plug in the trailer to an extention cord. The little stove is 2 electric burners. I don't see any water tanks or places for one. There is some new copper pipe under the cabinet but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. There is a tiny shower. There is an old AC unit that is installed on the back of the trailer under where the table is. I haven't run it because it looks like it would have to drip inside the back storage area. I guess if I had an experienced airstreamer with me when I looked at it, they would have told me to get away as fast as I could. Still, the body looks so good for such an oldy, no dents or dings. Anyway, I guess maybe with all the expertise and good vibes available to me, it will be my retirement project. I don't want to give up. Thanks again for listening.
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Old 01-17-2014, 01:20 PM   #12
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Well, we buy them for the shell, so if yours is in good shape, then mission accomplished! A lot of jury-rigging will likely have been applied over the years. Be patient, but be fearless, and you will succeed. There is nothing in that trailer that is any more high-tech than the house you live in.

Good luck!
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Old 01-17-2014, 04:02 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by silver wren View Post
Thanks to you all for the encouragement. After more reading, I am even more puzzled about what the previous owner did to this baby. There is no propane, only a place to plug in the trailer to an extention cord. The little stove is 2 electric burners. I don't see any water tanks or places for one. There is some new copper pipe under the cabinet but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. There is a tiny shower. There is an old AC unit that is installed on the back of the trailer under where the table is. I haven't run it because it looks like it would have to drip inside the back storage area. I guess if I had an experienced airstreamer with me when I looked at it, they would have told me to get away as fast as I could. Still, the body looks so good for such an oldy, no dents or dings. Anyway, I guess maybe with all the expertise and good vibes available to me, it will be my retirement project. I don't want to give up. Thanks again for listening.

Ok I'm going to venture a guess that the PO made this an electric/shore power and water unit. I have similar. You won't be boondocking without significant restoration or modification. But is boondocking your retirement plan? It wasnt for me so I am happiest when I recognize that I have a fairly sound unit that I can use with shore power and water. I could make myself crazy trying to get back to original.
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