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Old 06-07-2004, 02:52 PM   #1
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A sad ending with a new beginning

My grand plan was to buy a trailer in the fall, fix it up over the winter and take the family for a cross country trip. All that came together pretty well, with some what of a surprise of just how hard and far I would need to look to find a decent one. I did find a great one last fall, with the help of fellow forum members to check it out for me. It was a 74 Overlander in excellent shape. I flew from New England to Tampa to buy it at Thanksgiving. I parked it at a friends hanggliding facility and drove down with the family for Christmas vacation. We pick it up, when south to the Keys, and then brought it back up to the frozen wasteland we call home. The furnace worked great, and keep the inside plenty warm for working on over the winter. It was in such great shape not that much work was needed but we were going to modify the interior to have bunk beds in the back. Again more help from fellow forum members with the bunk design, and a few hours in the shop and the bunks were nearly complete. I was going to take it to PA for a flying vacation about a month ago, so I blew out the winterizing and started to pack. While the forecast was supposed to be above freezing the weather guessers changed their minds and said it was supposed to get below freezing. I was away, but I had a friend come over and start the furnace. I had just fired up the water heater and felt “just to be on the safe side” he should start that too. Bad idea…

So my sad story begins with my return home from the weekend to find my 74 Overlander burned up in the driveway. The water heater ran away and took the rest of the trailer with it. Now I can look back and see just how lucky we were. The trailer was parked immediately next to the house and nothing happened to the house. It happened in the afternoon so the neighbors were around to see the smoke. The fire department arrived quickly and the two cars that were next to it were not damaged in any way. My friend who did the lighting of course feels very bad, but my wife explained to him that he very well could have saved our lives by not having this happen while we were in it. Or even the tragedy of having this happen while we were on the road.

The somewhat humorous event that causes me to write about it now, is the fact that a fellow member wrote me to “check out a trailer” for him near me. He described it and mentioned it was “smoke damaged”. Well guess what, it was mine…

what comes around, goes around…

The good news part of the story is, I have found, and purchased a new one. While not “new” it is considerable newer than the old one. It is a 99 25ft safari. And while is does not quite have all the character of the older one, all the appliances are new, work great, and hopefully won’t cause the same sort of problems. It tows great, and we should be off this summer on our trip after all.
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Old 06-07-2004, 02:59 PM   #2
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That WAS a sweet Overlander! I was rightfully jealous of you finding one that basically needed nothing and was ready to roll. It is sad to see a vintage trailer (or any trailer) go up in smoke. Your wife was right. Good thing it happened in your driveway and not while you were on vacation, or worse, in the trailer.

Good luck with the new one, and post some pictures, will ya?
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:14 PM   #3
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Since a lot of us have these older trailers, somebody has to ask....

Anyone know what circumstances let to this? Seems like a pretty severe damage to me. Shouldn't the saftey systems in the water heater keep this from happening?

Was it a maintenance issue? Or lack there of?

I always leave our water heater on from the moment we setup camp until we leave, since mine is pilot model. Making me nervous here!
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:18 PM   #4
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Any idea what exactly went wrong with the water heater to cause the fire? Suddenly I'm glad I spent the money to have mine inspected and updated. What a horrible loss! Glad you found another one though. I'm sure you will sleep better at night then you would have in another vintage after that experience.
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:27 PM   #5
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To be honest, it was the little note on the water heater that had me do this. There was a little note that said something like (and I am paraphrasing here) “if you are having trouble lighting the unit, it might be from an overheat. This unit is equipped with an emergency gas shutoff should the water get to hot.” I keep thinking well the worst that can happen is the thing might shut down and freeze. But it is worth a shot.

Well it seems pretty obvious that the fail safe, failed. There is little doubt that it started in the heater, and was no sign of “explosion”. I don’t really know if it would have been a problem if we had been in the trailer as I expect we would have smelled something before it got out of hand, but you never know what kind of nasty stuff can heat up first. But out of the trailer, well that is where we were.

Personally I can’t even say (or type) water heater without a cold chill these days. I for one, won’t be leaving it on when we are away.

Now there are many stories of mice building nests in the water heaters, and this can cause fires. But I don’t think this was the case as I had tested the heater on Friday, let it warm up until the water was hot, checked that the thermostat would shut it down, and left it sort of middle of the range. Saturday is when it burned, and the fire department was called about 2 hrs after it was lit. If there was a mouse nest in there, I am sure I would have smelled something on friday…
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:32 PM   #6
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Stephanie, you have the right idea. I love the old trailers, but should I ever do one again, I would replace the old appliances. Having seen what can happen with old refrigerators, and now water heaters, I would just bite the bullet and replace them. The furnace BTW, that worked so great through -20 deg temperatures, was new…
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:35 PM   #7
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wow - how old was the heater, this is making me have second thoughts about having a propane water heater - this is the second Airstream fire I've heard about in the past couple of months from a water heater.

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Old 06-07-2004, 03:37 PM   #8
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As far as I could tell it was original, 1974…
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:45 PM   #9
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I am so sorry for your loss - yeah you found a new one and thats great, but the emotional part of coming home and seeing your trailer as a burnt out shell has to be devestating.

I agree with your wife - things do tend to happen for a reason - much better to have happened in your driveway, than on the road - has a tendency to ruin a good vacation.

Have a GREAT time in your new trailer

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Old 06-07-2004, 03:52 PM   #10
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I'm glad that AV8 is able to maintain such good humor about a very disappointing and potentially life-threatening situation. His comments bring up a very important point.

When I first bought my '74 Argosy motorhome, the appliances were functional, but they were 30 years old. The previous owner, a very frugal man, suggested fixes for a couple of "minor" problems. The "little hole in the furnace heat exchanger," for instance, could be patched. He'd already patched it once, after all.

I weighed my options. I could keep the older appliances and save the cost of replacement, or I could buy new ones and rest much easier both figuratively and literally. In addition, I'd be adding automatic ignition for both furnace and water heater, a very convenient feature.

I wound up replacing both units, and I'm very glad I did. Not only are they both trouble-free, they're safe, and, with proper routine maintenance, I won't have to worry about their functionality for a very long time.

If your trailer is newer, and if there's no real reason to suspect the condition of the furnace and water heater, your decision is not nearly as clear-cut as mine was. Chances are that having them checked out thoroughly by a professional is all you'll need for peace of mind.

For me, though, and considering the condition of those functional but aged units, replacing both was an obvious move. There's a lot to be said for originality, and it's sometimes necessary to be frugal. There's also a lot of comfort in knowing something is right, too, especially when it's something that can kill you.

Just what I did.
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Old 06-07-2004, 03:56 PM   #11
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That it was. Kind of like watching a movie, can’t be real…

I had just started to pack for a trip, so it had some of my favorite clothes, etc. But none of my really “good stuff” laptop, etc. It was my first experience with a fire. Literally sifting through the rubble trying to recognize bits and pieces was not much fun. Oh, sh-- I had my leather jacket in there, oh man, that was my favorite shirt, etc etc. I tried to start a new search that night, but I just couldn’t do it. The amount of time, and effort that had gone into this one was too daunting. But buy the next morning I fired up all my old tools to look, and stumbled onto one on the eastern shore of the Mississippi. On the road again…
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Old 06-07-2004, 04:32 PM   #12
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AV8,
Glad you're all OK. Sorry for your loss. Judging from your avatar, your other trailer doesn't have a water heater

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Old 06-07-2004, 04:48 PM   #13
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One of the very first things I did after I bought my '72 was replace the water heater. But, I had to, the original was leaking water, because the bottom of the water tank rotted out.
I installed a new one, purchased from a local RV parts dealer. This winter it ran continuously for almost 4 months. I think the more you use it, the less likely mice or spiders will try and build a home in the fire tube.
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Old 06-07-2004, 04:51 PM   #14
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AV8

Here in AZ we don't usually bother with little things like water heaters, just set a can of water out and pretty soon you have hot water, just kidding, I shouldn't joke with you about such a serious matter, glad you and yours are all right, hope you can post pictures of your new A/S.
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