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Old 07-09-2012, 04:10 PM   #1
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My sister's Airstream and her nervous brothers!

Hello! I know from forums I belong to that people who drop in just to ask a question can be a nuisance--I hope you'll forgive me and I also hope I can be my sister's link to this community. She's not an internet person and not savvy about anything technical--digital, analog, mechanical, etc.!

I'll keep this as brief as possible. My 62 year old sister bought a 1977 Airstream, apparently a 29 or 31 foot model (it is a little hard to get specifics from her--she says it's 30 foot "International" so I imagine it's a Sovereign or Ambassador). When she found that her Caddy would not tow it (doh!), she went back to the same fellow and bought his pick-up truck that he had used to tow it, a 2007 Chevy Silverado 1500 with a V6 4.3 liter engine with a special tow package.

She and her friends did lots of work on the insides and plumbing, but she hasn't had the mechanical feature (tires, bearings, axles, etc.) looked at. A checklist I found of what should be reviewed made the hair stand up on my head! In additional, she is using the truck and trailer to move out here to California--she is coming from Illinois, so she has two mountain ranges to cross, depending on her route, so she is loading the AS down with her belongings, including furniture and boxes. It is hard to estimate the total weight of those belongings, but I would guess 800 lbs. at a minimum. And of course whatever the AS needs to take on board--water and propane at the least.

We anxious brothers are trying to persuade her to get the whole outfit to an RV center to have it all checked out. She hasn't even hooked up the trailer yet, much yet taken a test drive. None us have ever towed of any size, but what our friends and neighbors who do have told us, and what we have read on the internet, including this very forum, has us very worried for her safety.

That's all background--thanks for wading through that. Apart from all the other issues this may present (which I'd be grateful to hear about), does the V6 Silverado 1500 strike you Airstreamers as a viable tow vehicle for a large trailer on this route?

Thanks and I will be most grateful for all responses.

Sincerely, Dan Carmell
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Old 07-09-2012, 04:25 PM   #2
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HI and welcome to the forum. Without specifics it's hard to offer good advice. If you can post the trailer serial number we can tell you what length it is and what the dry weight of the trailer would have been new. This would help when trying to assess towing safety. If the truck is as stated it's possible that a fully loaded 30 foot trailer might be exceeding recommended tow capacities.

Old tires need to be replaced, bearings need to be packed every year or two, brakes should be inspected, etc. It's likely that the axle in a trailer this vintage is at the end of it's life and likely to give a hard ride.

If she knows something about the repair history of the trailer perhaps some of these concerns can be set aside. The good news is that all these things are repairable and an aging Airstream can be very safe and easy to tow.
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Old 07-09-2012, 04:26 PM   #3
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Dan,

You're not a worrywart, you've got a picture of a disaster waiting to happen - and quite possibly you're right on. FURNITURE! in the Airstream? Unless it's an empty shell it HAS furniture already.

When is she planning to leave. She absolutely MUST get the tires, brakes and bearings checked! New Shock absorbers if now new axles would be good too.

At a minimum get her to ship a lot of boxes via UPS or (for books especially the USPostal Service). Heavy stuff like a Washer/dryer or home refrigerator should be sold locally IMHO.

Lastly WHERE in Illinois is she? If near the eastern border, she could backtrack to the mother ship in Jackson Center Ohio and get the basics inspected there.

With LUCK the seller took good care of the unit.... with LUCK.

Paula
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Old 07-09-2012, 04:49 PM   #4
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Setting off for California from Illinois as a novice RVer in an untested truck towing an unfamiliar, long, possibly overloaded trailer is not an idea I would support.

First off, I'd say your guess of 800 lb for all her belongings is probably VERY low, especially since you include furniture in the description of the stuff.

At an absolute minimum, I'd recommend a thorough checkout of the truck and trailer by an experienced technicians followed by a shakedown trip or two for her to learn about towing and trailer camping where she's close to home and has some support infrastructure as a good way to start. That way she can address problems and gain experience when a) she's not hauling everything she owns and b) doesn't have to be somewhere specific on a schedule.

Now, having said the serious part, has your sister ever seen The Long, Long Trailer?
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Old 07-09-2012, 05:09 PM   #5
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Thanks so much for the feedback and details--it is a huge help, although now I have try delicately to inform sis about all this. She is not always keen on her brothers telling her what to do, but she is so impractical!

I will try to get the serial number, but judging from your very helpful comments, the best thing would be to cancel or postpone the trip. My guess is the only way that will happen is if she breaks down en route--hopefully on a very flat and populated section of I-70 or -80, if she gets so far. I agree the 800 lb. estimate is way too low, but was trying to lowball to see if what I see as the truck's likely towing ability might be somewhere near what I think the total weight might be.

I have seen Lucy in the Long, Long Trailer but not for years--I downloaded it recently to view with Suey when she arrives. My sister shares a lot of character traits with Lucy!

Thanks again, Dan
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Old 07-09-2012, 05:25 PM   #6
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The serial (VIN) will be located on her title and also on a small metal plate somewhere near the trailer door. The number is stamped into the plate.

Good luck - watchful brothers are nice to have around
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Old 07-09-2012, 05:28 PM   #7
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If she decides to go ahead and do this. At the minimum, she will need a weight distribution hitch with a sway control; on a V6 truck she will need to keep the RPM's up when towing uphill to avoid overheating; she will need to make sure the tires are new within the last 5 years (as a rule of thumb) to prevent blowouts which can really damage a trailer from the tire cords; and she will need to ensure the brakes and brake controller are properly adjusted so that she can stop when she needs to and not just when she wants to.
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Old 07-09-2012, 05:38 PM   #8
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In addition to the above, suggest that she needs some prior experience in backing the trailer before heading off. You never know when she will need to do this.

Yes, I remember Desi's experience in the Long, Long Trailer-- not to mention our own.
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Old 07-09-2012, 06:06 PM   #9
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My sister's Airstream and her nervous brothers!

Greetings Daniel!

Welcome to the Forums and the world of Vintage Airstreams!

Quote:
Originally Posted by dcarmell View Post

I'll keep this as brief as possible. My 62 year old sister bought a 1977 Airstream, apparently a 29 or 31 foot model (it is a little hard to get specifics from her--she says it's 30 foot "International" so I imagine it's a Sovereign or Ambassador). When she found that her Caddy would not tow it (doh!), she went back to the same fellow and bought his pick-up truck that he had used to tow it, a 2007 Chevy Silverado 1500 with a V6 4.3 liter engine with a special tow package.
The 4.3 Liter V6 has quite a job with just the full-size pickup. Checking the Trailer Life Towing Guide -- 2007, the highest tow rating for the 4.3 motor in a 1500 Silverado 5,300 pounds (standard cab, standard bed, 2 WD) that required the optional 3.73 differential, and factory towing package. Even a 27' Overlander lightly loaded would be a tremendous load for this truck. You can find the referenced guide at this link.

From the Airstream site, it can be determined that the following empty/dry weights were listed for the three largest Aristreams for 1977:

27-Overlander -- Twin -- 580 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 4520 lbs. Trailer Weight
27-Overlander -- Double -- 570 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 4550 lbs. Trailer Weight

29-Ambassador -- Rear Bath -- Twin
. . . . . . . . . . 605 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 4830 lbs. Trailer Weight
29-Ambassador -- Rear Bath -- Double
. . . . . . . . . . 590 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 4840 lbs. Trailer Weight
29-Ambassador -- Center Bath -- Twin
. . . . . . . . . . 720 lbs Hitch Weight -- 4790 lbs. Trailer Weight
29-Ambassador -- Center Bath -- Double
. . . . . . . . . . 720 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 4775 lbs. Trailer Weight

31-Sovereign -- Rear Bath -- Twin
. . . . . . . . . . 630 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 5040 lbs. Trailer Weight
31-Sovereign -- Rear Bath -- Double
. . . . . . . . . . 620 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 5070 lbs. Trailer Weight
31-Sovereign -- Center Bath -- Twin
. . . . . . . . . . 710 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 5025 lbs. Trailer Weight
31-Sovereign -- Center Bath -- Double
. . . . . . . . . . 715 lbs. Hitch Weight -- 5005 lbs. Trailer Weight

Even with the 27' Overlander, the truck's trailer tow rating will likely be exceeded with even modest provisions for a cross country trip. My '64 Overlander weighs close to the 1977 and my travel weight for a cross country trip varies between 6,000 and 6,100 pounds. The truck probably provided adequate power for the prairies and plains of Central and Northern Illinois, but I suspect that the lack of power would be pronounced even in the hills of Southern Illinois. A point to remember is that the weights cited above are for a trailer that is totally empty . . . no water, empty holding tanks, empty LP tanks, and no optional equipment installed on the coach. The weights cited above can be referenced at this link.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dcarmell View Post
She and her friends did lots of work on the insides and plumbing, but she hasn't had the mechanical feature (tires, bearings, axles, etc.) looked at. A checklist I found of what should be reviewed made the hair stand up on my head! In additional, she is using the truck and trailer to move out here to California--she is coming from Illinois, so she has two mountain ranges to cross, depending on her route, so she is loading the AS down with her belongings, including furniture and boxes. It is hard to estimate the total weight of those belongings, but I would guess 800 lbs. at a minimum. And of course whatever the AS needs to take on board--water and propane at the least.
This plan would concern me as well for a number of reasons.
  • It is possible to exceed the Gross Weight Rating of the trailer . . . this information should be on tag riveted to the front of the trailer behind the LP tanks.
  • The Gross Combined Vehicle Rating of the pickup is likely to be exceeded.
  • Twenty-nine foot and larger coaches of this era were noted for frame sag as well as rear end separation. Should either of these conditions exist, overloading of the trailer will magnify the problem, particularly on a long cross-country trip.
  • Maintaining trailer balance with between 12% and 15% of the coach weight on the hitch is also a definite concern when loading the trailer in an unusual manner. The heavier items should be ahead of or over the axles with the lightest items packed behind the axles.
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcarmell View Post

We anxious brothers are trying to persuade her to get the whole outfit to an RV center to have it all checked out. She hasn't even hooked up the trailer yet, much yet taken a test drive. None us have ever towed of any size, but what our friends and neighbors who do have told us, and what we have read on the internet, including this very forum, has us very worried for her safety.
Your concerns are relevant. Towing any trailer has a steep learning curve early in the process. Even with the Overlander, it is necessary to make adjustments when making turns . . . not only to avoid driving the coach's wheels up onto the curb, but also to allow for the "swing" of the rear end of the coach . . . and this becomes more of an issue as the coaches get longer. Your post seems to indicate that your sister will be traveling solo, and this presents some hook-up problems that become easier with practice (I towed solo for more than two decades). At the very least, I would suggest that your sister practice towing on familiar roads before getting out on the long journey. The practice should include backing as well (think large empty parking lots). A couple of "shake-down" trips to local state parks or campgrounds/RV parks would be advisable so that she has an opportunity to become familiar with the operation of the coach's systems as well. Something else to consider is obtaining instruction in how to handle the trailer on steep mountain grades . . . . gearing down, slower speed, manual application of trailer brakes, etc.

Your thoughts about having the coach's runing gear checked-out is a good one. As others have mentioned if the bearings haven't been serviced in the last 24-months this should be a pre-departure priority as well as replacing tires if they are more than four-years-old. This coach comes from an era when Excella Hdrya-Vac Disc Brakes were either standard or optional (depending upon model) . . . if the coach has this feature, the brakes should be carefully examined as sourcing repair parts while on the road can be difficult . . . . and even if it has electric drum brakes, inspection should be a priority as the trailer pushes the cabilities of the tow vehicle.

In addition to the trailer inspection, I would suggest taking the entire rig to a public scale for weighing . . . this will reveal issues with overloading on both tow vehicle and trailer.

Your sister is about to embark on what could be an adventure of a lifetime, but your safety concerns are founded. There are many solo Airstreamers so she will have lots of company as a solo; but pre-departure preparations can be even more important for the solo as there isn't a second set of eyes observing what is happening on a continuing basis. She will likely find that a couple of check lists might be of help . . . . hitching procedure . . . pre-departure inspection . . . packing essentials. Your sister's trip can be a safe one if the possibilities of overloading of both coach and tow vehicle are addressed prior to departure . . . it can be very scary to be stranded on a steep mountain grade with a tow vehicle that can't pull to the summit (I had this experience just West of the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 in 1982).

Your sister is fortunate to have family members watching out for her and trying to insure that she is working within the parameters of tow vehicle and trailer capacities.

Kevin
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Old 07-09-2012, 06:24 PM   #10
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Dan

A novice, your sister, towing a relatively large travel trailer fully loaded (or overloaded) across country with a V6 is a recipe for disaster. I would not let her do it, if at all possible. I recommend an experienced driver go with her to make sure that all arrive safely.

Dan
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Old 07-09-2012, 06:53 PM   #11
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Dan, us forum junkies have no clue. Although we are quick to offer advice, we do not know anything more than you do so anything you hear from us is pure speculation. She may know a hell of a lot more than we think.
If you are concerned about your sister. You and you brother flip a coin and one of you buy a plane ticket to wherever she is and check it out.
Otherwise she can put on her big girl panties and get headed to CA. If the truck and trailer break, she'll fix it. If not she'll be stuck.
Regards,
Joe
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Old 07-10-2012, 12:17 AM   #12
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Joe, I may be missing something, but I read the real problem here as one of the sister's physical safety on the highway. And probably of other motorists.
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Old 07-10-2012, 07:41 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AirHeadsRus View Post
Dan, us forum junkies have no clue. Although we are quick to offer advice, we do not know anything more than you do so anything you hear from us is pure speculation. She may know a hell of a lot more than we think.
If you are concerned about your sister. You and you brother flip a coin and one of you buy a plane ticket to wherever she is and check it out.
Otherwise she can put on her big girl panties and get headed to CA. If the truck and trailer break, she'll fix it. If not she'll be stuck.
Regards,
Joe
Well said.
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Old 07-10-2012, 02:46 PM   #14
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Folks, I wanted to thank you all very much for the feedback. My brothers were blown away by the detailed, helpful information. We are now much better prepared to support our sister to be safe and have a great trip.

What I've done is put all your responses together (with no identifying information) and am mailing it priority today, so she can read this before the weekend and decide what she is going to do with this.

Joe certainly was right--my sister definitely has "big girl" pants and she doesn't like "the brothers" bossing her, no sir! So we have recommended an RV service provider who can help her go through the prep checklist and I am sending her your comments and then she will do what she will do and I have to hope no tears will be shed.

Thank you all again for all the great information. I don't think I've ever jumped into any kind of forum and gotten a friendlier, more supportive and knowledgeable response.

Once she starts out, I will post again to let you know how she is doing!

best regards, Dan Carmell
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