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Old 05-17-2012, 12:46 AM   #1
TGK
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1971 23' Safari
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Section of aluminum detaching from belly '71 Safari

I have a 1971 Safari, tandem axle. This evening I noticed a section of aluminum has separated from the underside. To be more specific, there is a large square or rectangular metal framed section located on the bottom in back of the entry door and toward the center of the trailer. A piece of aluminum covered this section and was secured to the metal frame with screws. It appears the aluminum ripped off the screws in several places and one entire corner is hanging down. Above the aluminum, I can see what looks like some sort of fiberboard. It is not plywood. It is broken up/flakey and is sagging. If it is some sort of fiberboard and it got wet, I can understand how it may have swelled and the weight/pressure forced the protective aluminum sheet to tear away from the screws.

While I have had this trailer for almost 7 years, I have had very few problems with it, as it had been restored when I bought it. I do not have a lot of experience when it comes to repairing Airstreams.

My questions are;

- What does this metal framed section on the underside of the trailer provide
access to?
- Is it likely Airstream would have used a fiberboard or composite of some
sort rather than plywood?
- What's involved in repairing this?

So far the bellypan on the rest of the trailer looks fine.

Any input/suggestions are appreciated. Also, if anyone can recommend a repair resource for older Airstreams in NW Oregon/SW Washington, I'd like to hear about it. While there is a newer Airstream Dealer in Portland, I don't think their focus is repairing Airstreams of this age. If anyone knows otherwise, let me know.

Thanks,

TK
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Old 05-17-2012, 07:07 AM   #2
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1974 23' Safari
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1947 25' Spartan , Manor
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Hi there, pictures would help for sure, but it sounds like it's the frame that holds the fresh water tank. My Safari (a 74) did not have a separate piece of metal, it just had the belly pan, this may have been changed during your restoration, so it's hard to say without some pics.
If you can re-screw or rivet the metal back in place you would likely not be in much worse shape then you are now. If the floor was not replaced during restoration and you, or a repair place starts to get into it to fix it, you may uncover a lot of things that (while aren't necessary) could use fixing. Getting someone who's handy could put some new screws into it, but large rivets would be better. Hope this helps! Feel free to PM some pics since threads get lost.
Cheers.
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Old 05-21-2012, 12:31 AM   #3
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I was able to get down and actually take some measurements as well as photos. The aluminum panel showing in the photo below ripped away from the screw heads holding it to a 4' x 5' framed section on the belly. This framed section, extends on the belly from just behind the door area to the other side of the trailer toward the water fill spout. As indicated in the photos, there is some sort of fiber board mounted above the panel. It is not plywood and you can see where it is shredded. It's bulging down and may be what caused the aluminum sheet to tear away. The "fiberboard" did not shows signs of being wet when I discovered this last week. The water tank is empty but was full when we took a trip in early May. Does this 4' x 5' panel allow access to the water tank? On the one hand, I thought the damage may have been caused by a water leak. However, the shredding or flaking puzzles me. I reached up into that area and it crumbled.

I've had this trailer for 7 years and this is the first time I've seen anything like this occur. The rest of the belly skin appears to be in decent shape.
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Old 05-21-2012, 12:47 AM   #4
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From what I can see in your photos, it looks like the dropped down section and frame which holds the water tank. I have never had one out so can't say for sure that what you are seeing under the metal is insulation that was put in at the factory to keep the tank from freezing. I expect that the rivets just got tired and started to pop out/off. Others who have had things apart more than I have probably have a better feeling for this, but from what I can see here, find a way to re rivet the metal and you will be good to go.

By the way, this is very much the way my 71 18' Caravel is built, with the water tank under the floor and hanging down slightly. However, I have never had any reason to remove it, or work under there on it.
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Old 05-21-2012, 07:30 AM   #5
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The bulging of the fiber board looks like the most obvious culprit, and as they say, the most obvious answer is usually the right one. If you can push hard on the bulging board and it stays bulged out that would convince me even more.
If this is the only place that it's happening and that bulging is going on then it probably isn't a sign of a bigger problem.

From the little I can see I think there are a couple fixes for it:

1- if the fiber board is crumbling then dig out as much as possible (you may want to take out a couple more rivets to really get back there). Take out enough to get it flush or even a bit deeper. You can add a bit of insulation if possible and then re-rivet the panel in place using large rivets and tempro. I bet this would get you a number of years of service, BUT there may be the risk that the water tank could break through the fiber board and end up on the road.

2 - remove the entire section of belly pan, remove the entire fiber board, replace it with marine plywood. This will be more difficult, especially if the tank sits on top of that board, which it likely does. This may not actually be possible from the bottom either since that board is fit in the water tank holder pretty snug. If it is fitted you could use two sections of plywood to get them in and then secure the two sections together.

EITHER WAY, BE CAREFUL WHEN POKING AT THE BOARD! The water tank is likely right above it. It's been around a while and is probably brittle.

All in all this doesn't seem like a problem that can't be fixed with some basic tools and a little muscle. If you do repair it yourself then borrow a creeper (you'll be happy you did) and wear your eye protection.
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Old 05-21-2012, 09:12 AM   #6
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What I see is a very poorly done repair by a PO. The original piece of wood was a one inch thick piece of plywood with the aluminium sheet covering the face of the plywood facing the road.
In your second picture just behind the gas line you can see the bolt holding the front section of ZEE angle. There will be another bolt on the roadside at the front edge. Remove these two bolts and the front section of Zee angle can be removed. Once it is out the fiberboard(originally plywood) can be removed by sliding it forward. After is is about halfway out you can support the fresh water tank so it wont fall out when the board is removed.
Cut yourself two pieces of 1/2" plywood to fit into the Zee angles and laminate them together. I used contact cement to attach the aluminum to the underside of the plywood and slid the entire assembly back into place as one component. Bolt the front section of ZEE angle back on and seal all the edges with Vulkem and your good to go again.
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Old 05-21-2012, 10:05 AM   #7
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WasagaChris sums up the repair quite nicely.

I would recommend nothing less, as you run the risk of a catastrophic failure of the particle board you are describing, in which case your water tank might be deposited on the highway.

One word of warning, is that when I removed my water tank, the plywood that needs to slide out of the way was frozen in place. I ended up having to attach a "come-along" to the hitch and pull it free. If your particle board has swollen up around the edges, it could be quite stuck in place.

This isn't a difficult repair, but there are some precautions you can take to improve the experience:
1) Make sure your water tank is completely empty before you begin the removal of the wood.
2) Have something like a transmission jack or floor jack with a piece of plywood attached to it ready to support the water tank as you pull the wood out of the way.
3) Pull the trailer wheels up onto "leveling blocks" or even a couple of 2x12s to give you an extra few inches of space to work in under the trailer.

good luck!
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Old 05-21-2012, 11:29 PM   #8
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Section of aluminum detaching from belly '71 Safari

Thanks for the very helpful input from everyone. Looks like I have something to fill some of my spare time. I hope to dig into this over the next week. Will post the results, particularly if I find anything unusual.

TK
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:21 PM   #9
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Section of Aluminum Detaching From Belly of '71 Safari

After receiving all of your helpful comments, I completely removed the aluminum sheeting and quickly realized that what I perceived as flaking fiberboard was actually plywood that had become so saturated with moisture that it would crumble in my hand. I was able to remove the worst of the rotted material, exposing most of the water tank. A perimeter of relatively good plywood from 6" - 8" wide was left in place.

I placed a stout container under the center of the water tank and proceeded to slowly fill the tank. I did not see any evidence of leaking anywhere as it filled. However, I went inside the trailer to observe the fill tube on the inside of my lower kitchen cabinets. The fill spout is located just left (stern side) of the furnace. It is tight quarters, but one can see where the fill tube attaches to the tank and also where two narrow black rubber tubes come off the very top edge of the tank. These tubes connect with a single tube that runs up to the water inlet opening. I assume they are there to let air out of the tank as it fills with water.

I was watching the water run in through the clear inlet tube and once the tank filled, water started to back up the inlet tube. When this happened, I noticed water starting to drip out of the black rubber "air relief" tubes in two places. It was steady dripping and quickly made the plywood below wet. I went back underneath and could see water wicking along the bottom of the tank from the broken edge of plywood closest to the fill tube. I could not see any other evidence of leaking on the tank.

So, I was able to pin down at least one source, and possibly the only source of leakage. To further test this, I drained several gallons of water off the tank to allow the water level to fall below the air relief outlets and let water drain out of the black rubber tubes back to the tank. I'm going to let it sit like that for the next day or so to let the plywood inside dry out as well as the moisture on the underside of the tank. If I don't see any more evidence of leaking, the problem may be isolated to the air relief tubes. Since these tubes would likely only be leaking when the tank is full or near full, it must have been going on for some time, as not that much water was coming out. However, I guess it doesn't take much moisture to rot wood when it can't dry out. If that's the case, perhaps I only have to upgrade the tubes and their connections. If not, then a full tank replacement may be required. Of course, either way, I still have to get the remainder of the old plywood out of the perimeter and install new wood.

One question I have for all of you that have been around Airstreams much longer than I have, is whether I should replace the tank regardless of whether it is leaking? Since I have the compartment opened up and it is likely the original tank at 41 years of age does the plastic deteriorate even though it is not exposed to UV light?

Again, your input has been helpful and appreciated.

TK
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Old 05-31-2012, 09:28 PM   #10
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If I recall on my 74, you may have to remove one of the lower cross members (L channel) on each side to drop the water tank....don't quote me on this. Make sure the bolts aren't rusted. If the tank is fine I would say keep it. No use in messing with more then you need to.
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