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Old 02-24-2013, 07:46 PM   #1
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Clueless Wannabe Vintage Airstream Owner

Hello Airstreamers!

I've been lurking for a long time, and finally decided it was time to join and share my story. I don't own a trailer yet, but really want to take the plunge into vintage Airstream ownership. I'm looking for any advice, insight, and encouragement/discouragement you 'streamers have to offer.

(I feel like this might get wordy, so feel free to skim, or ask more pointed questions)

My Story:
Most everyone in my life I've spoken of this endeavor to has told me I have no business buying a trailer of any kind, much less a vintage one. I, having got the itch, disagree. To my credit, most people in my life just aren't into trailer traveling, thus their negative outlook. I'm a 28 year old, single woman. I own a home in a city that I don't live in (I moved a year and a half ago). It's rented out. I have a very stable job that theoretically affords me the discretionary income to embark on a trailer purchase/restoration (I say theoretical, as that income could be used elsewhere, like a new home purchase in the city I live in now). My work is in the IT realm, and remote work is possible at times. My job also affords me every other Friday off, so I've got at least 26 long weekends a year, more depending upon how holidays fall. I live in Houston, TX, a location I feel is ideal to quick weekend getaways in the Texas Hill Country, as well as more extensive trailer travel. I'm happiest when I'm away for a period of time in a location I can be surrounded by nature and just relax. Oh, and I've got a 55 lb. Catahoula Leopard Dog (he's awesome) who would be along for any and all trips, and who loves exploring as much as I do.

So, to me, on paper, other than the being single thing, I think I seem ideally suited to trailer ownership and traveling. But I know, on paper is one thing, in reality is another...



My RVing Knowledge:
My knowledge of RVing is pretty much zilch. I've done research and my knowledge expands every day, but by no means do I feel up to speed. If you were to hand me my dream Airstream tomorrow and tell me to go, I wouldn't quite know where to start. I've read through various Airstream manuals and they make it seem so easy, but fortunately I'm smart enough to realize, at least at first, it's not. So, how do I learn? Do I just go for it and figure it out as I go? Are there books I can read that really dumb everything down? I know my wanting a vintage trailer (more on that later) means I'm going to encounter attributes/functions/issues I wouldn't necessarily in a modern trailer.


Vintage vs. Modern:
Why do I want vintage? There are a few reasons, the main one being that I love the character of the old ones, and ultimately I want to customize to incorporate more modern conveniences without drastically compromising that character. And if I'm going to spend the money, why not spend it on something I can get for cheaper in the beginning and have the bulk of the money go towards the improvements and upgrades (and the foundational/technical repairs) that get the trailer really suiting me? The modern ones are nice, but when I look at them, they're just not "me" when they come off the lot. So, even if the cost ends up being the same to repair and customize a vintage as it would be to get a ready-to-go modern, I'd rather go the vintage route. Is this logic flawed?


The Right Size for Me?:

I've fluctuated on the right size trailer and would love some input. I think I've finally settled on the 26' - 28' range, but letting the 24's go was rough. It is just me and the dog at this time. But several years from now, there could be a husband and kids. Or, it might still just be me and some animals. So, ideally I'd love to get a trailer now that suits my needs but that has a little bit of growing room. I want this trailer to be "it." If the husband and kids come along, most likely, we won't be in a situation where we'd be living in it full time, so that doesn't need to be taken into consideration. However, I don't want to rule out the possibility of me full-timing in it in the near future. It's something I've thought about, and an idea that's really growing on me. Anyone have any input on how to truly assess what size trailer is the right size?



The Layout and Features:
I'd really love some input here on opinions of different layouts as well as how easy it is to configure some things so I know what to consider or pass over.

Front Dinette: I think having a front dinette is an absolute must for me. Sometimes my work comes home, and sometimes I can work remote. I need the work surface the front dinette offers. With that front dinette in the vintage trailers, the floor plans I've found have always paired it with 2 middle-twins. Was this always the case, or are there trailers out there that were manufactured (or customized) with the front dinette and the middle double-bed with the wardrobes/chest of drawers? How big of a storage loss do you encounter when you've got the twins vs. the double with the wardrobes/chest of drawers? How hard is it to add a front-dinette if I find a trailer that doesn't have one (as in, something me and handy friends could do ourselves, or something I'd need to pay a professional to do)?

Bathtub vs. Shower: Something that I've not quite been able to figure out through my research--the purpose of the bathtub in these trailers. How are they different from a simple shower stall in function? I'm assuming, given that it's a travel trailer, people aren't taking actual, sit in and soak, baths? Were people just accustomed to bathtubs when these were put in, or were/are they actually intended for taking traditional baths? Why were these put in, and why did they switch to shower pans/stalls later?

All Electric vs. Traditional: In the classifieds, I've come across several trailers that have been made all electric. What is the general consensus on this? Honestly, I don't forsee myself frequently going "off the grid." Most of my camping will likely be done within the confines of state parks that offer water and electric and, if I'm lucky, sewage hookup right on my concrete site. But, I don't want to rule out the possibility. If I truly get crazy, I may buy some land and go "off the grid" on it on my long weekends until I decide to build and/or put electric and water/sewage hookups on it. If a trailer has been made all electric, how hard is it to get it back to a self-contained state?



What to look for, and what repairs to make?
I've read numorous articles and threads on what to look for when buying a vintage trailer, and what repairs to tackle, but I'd love to get more advice. And dumb it down, if you can, as I said above, I am really in the dark here. Unfortunately, I know that's a pretty dangerous place to be when considering buying a vintage trailer, so I'm hoping I can learn from all of you. I know floor rot is a big one to look for, as well as rear end separation. What else? I've discovered that axle replacement is a biggie as far as necessities. Is this something any RV shop can do, or should it be taken to someone skilled in repairing/restoring vintage trailers? And, how can I look at existing axles and decide they need to be replaced? If someone is offering a "ready to camp" vintage trailer, how can I assess if that's really true? I won't been hauling my trailer cross country when I first get it, but I do want to make frequent trips to the Hill Country 3 to 4 hours away during its first camping season with me. What kinds of electrical issues should I be looking for? I have learned from my research that the foundation/technical repairs should be tackled before anything aesthetic. But I'm still trying to grapple exactly how to assess a true "ready-to-camp" trailer that aesthetic tweaks can be made to vs. one with "hidden" issues that you should address before hauling it off for a trip.


My Tow Vehicle:
Currently, I drive a 2004 Chevy Tahoe with the tow package on it. Some of my searches on this vehicle as a tow vehicle have offered differing opinions. I know the modern Airstreams are heavier than the vintage. With any improvements I do, I plan on minimizing material weight as much as possible to keep the trailer as close to the stated original weights as possible. Does anyone forsee me having issues using this as a tow vehicle for the type of use I've described? I've been looking to upgrade to a Jeep Grand Cherokee and am now anxiously awaiting owner opinions/feedback on the diesel engine option after it's been out a while. But, I wonder if this will be a large/powerful enough vehicle? My Tahoe is paid off and runs wonderfully, so it'd be ideal it if it was a good enough tow vehicle. It's rated to tow the weight I'd be towing, but I've seen threads of people advising against using either the Tahoe or the Grand Cherokee as a tow vehicle. Experiences? Advice?


My Ideal Trailer:
From my research, I'm thinking my ideal trailer is a 1960's Overlander or Ambassador. The 24' Tradewinds I really want to be in the running, but I worry about them being too small. Thoughts on this? I have also decided upon the 60's due to a factor that may not be true. From my research, it looks like the 60's have the all wood cabinets/furniture, whereas in the 70's they transitioned to another material (tambour?). Is this correct? The wood is important to me as I would love to keep the original cabinets and furnishings (and make repairs where needed), but add a more modern touch through stain and/or paint. I know there are differing opinions on restoring vs. renovating and painting fixtures, so I know I might catch some flack for this. In your opinion, would it be better for me to buy a trailer for a bit more money that someone's already done things like update plumbing to PEX, install new axles, re-wire, re-insulate, etc. on, or buy a cheaper trailer and have these things done myself? I worry a bit about quality and integrity. How do I ensure that who did the repairs did them correctly?


Phewph, that's long. If you made it through, thanks for reading! And, please, offer all advice and insight. And, don't hesitate to tell me that I'm crazy and shouldn't go down this path. If you guys, who are quite experienced in Airstreaming, say it, I think that might be a signal that I start to listen to the nay-sayers.
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Old 02-24-2013, 08:11 PM   #2
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Here you go! A Forums Rally in the Texas Hill Country. Send a private message to the organizers and see if you can rent a cabin or tent camp there. People love to show off their Airstreams and introduce you to the lifestyle.

Airstream Forums - 2nd Annual Texas Hill Country Spring Rally

Texas also has two 'Airstream only' campgrounds... I know little about them, but I think you have to join WBCCI to use the facilities. Most of these places are happy hunting grounds for used Airstreams - people do age out or have health problems, or buy a newer bigger one and unload the older one.

Oh, and finding "the one" on the first time out... good luck... but Aluminitis will probably dictate you'll drool over something else sooner or later. True vintage will cost $40K and up to redo unless you're competent at several trades and have the time and energy to do it yourself. Of course you can do it in increments.

Oh, and the bathtub in some models. They're pretty tiny. Handy to bathe a child in, and will fit a smaller frame... but a friend who describes himself as 5 feet 18 inches tall.... NO way.

Paula
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Old 02-24-2013, 08:14 PM   #3
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I think you have it narrowed down pretty well after that epistle. Good luck in your search.
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Old 02-24-2013, 09:11 PM   #4
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My advice, you seem to know what you want, so you can make this happen! Are you handy? Mechanically inclined or have friends that are?

My best advice would be to visit airstreams in person, go to rallies, introduce yourself. Who knows maybe you'll find a single guy with a trailer that shares your views in life, how awesome would that be?

There's an Airstream restorer who is about three hours from you. Drop him a note, he may be an invaluable resource both before and after you find a camper. Nice guy and would be able to evaluate a trailer to ensure you get one in good shape. His name is Lance, Nickname Top on these forums.
Top's Texas Vintage Campers, Recreational Vehicles, Nolanville, TX 76559 - index.

If you like vintage, go for pre 1963, and Overlanders rock, the bad news is that they almost always need extensive work....

Good luck!
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Old 02-24-2013, 11:06 PM   #5
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Clueless Wannabe Vintage Airstream Owner

Greetings fleurdenola!

Welcome to the Forums and the world of Airstreaming!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
Hello Airstreamers!

I've been lurking for a long time, and finally decided it was time to join and share my story. I don't own a trailer yet, but really want to take the plunge into vintage Airstream ownership. I'm looking for any advice, insight, and encouragement/discouragement you 'streamers have to offer.

(I feel like this might get wordy, so feel free to skim, or ask more pointed questions)

My Story:
Most everyone in my life I've spoken of this endeavor to has told me I have no business buying a trailer of any kind, much less a vintage one. I, having got the itch, disagree. To my credit, most people in my life just aren't into trailer traveling, thus their negative outlook. I'm a 28 year old, single woman. I own a home in a city that I don't live in (I moved a year and a half ago). It's rented out. I have a very stable job that theoretically affords me the discretionary income to embark on a trailer purchase/restoration (I say theoretical, as that income could be used elsewhere, like a new home purchase in the city I live in now). My work is in the IT realm, and remote work is possible at times. My job also affords me every other Friday off, so I've got at least 26 long weekends a year, more depending upon how holidays fall. I live in Houston, TX, a location I feel is ideal to quick weekend getaways in the Texas Hill Country, as well as more extensive trailer travel. I'm happiest when I'm away for a period of time in a location I can be surrounded by nature and just relax. Oh, and I've got a 55 lb. Catahoula Leopard Dog (he's awesome) who would be along for any and all trips, and who loves exploring as much as I do.

So, to me, on paper, other than the being single thing, I think I seem ideally suited to trailer ownership and traveling. But I know, on paper is one thing, in reality is another...
There is a fairly large community of singles who travel solo. The Wally Byam Caravan Club has an Intra-Club called the Free Wheelers. The Free Wheelers are single Airstreamers who band together for Caravans and Rallys . . . and they usually caravan into large rallys like the annual International Rally so that they are parked together. There is also a group of Solo Airstreamers in its formative stages here on the Forums.

I was a Free Wheeler from 1995 through 2010, and thoroughly enjoyed my association with the group. Traveling solo isn't as intimidating as some people might think. A key to success is realizing that all of the responsibilities of routing, campground selection, setup and breakdown fall to you so that means adjusting your travel goals accordingly. For me, I found that limiting my travel day to 300 miles (and preferrably 250 miles) meant that I could fully enjoy my travels . . . my first year, I tried to stick to the 500 mile days that I drove when touring by car and soon realized that I wasn't enjoying my travels.

Something else to consider is whether you will enjoying RVing as much as you are hoping. RVing isn't for everyone. I grew up with an aunt who RVed every summer and introduced me to RVing, and I was involved in some form of camping from the time that I was five years old. To give yourself a chance to experience the world of RVing without making a large monetary outlay in the beginning would be to rent an RV for a trip . . . chances are that it would be a class C Motorhome as not many trailers are offered for rental today . . . but it would provide you with the opportunity to discover whether your really like the RV lifestyle.

When I purchased my '64 Overlander in 1995, my family and friends were skeptical but I knew that I enjoyed the RV lifestyle so pushed on. While many solo RVers prefer a motorhome because they fear the hitching duties of a solo traveler . . . today with the number of mirrors and cameras available it is a comparatively easy task to hitch up an Airstream travel trailer.


Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
My RVing Knowledge:
My knowledge of RVing is pretty much zilch. I've done research and my knowledge expands every day, but by no means do I feel up to speed. If you were to hand me my dream Airstream tomorrow and tell me to go, I wouldn't quite know where to start. I've read through various Airstream manuals and they make it seem so easy, but fortunately I'm smart enough to realize, at least at first, it's not. So, how do I learn? Do I just go for it and figure it out as I go? Are there books I can read that really dumb everything down? I know my wanting a vintage trailer (more on that later) means I'm going to encounter attributes/functions/issues I wouldn't necessarily in a modern trailer.
That is one of the wonders of the Airstream community. Airstreamers tend to band together and assist new owners. Everyone has to start the RVing experience somewhere. There are a number of books available that introduce the novice to the world of RVing. Try the Forums search function, and you will encounter several threads that identify books that have been recommended by Forums members. As a novice, attending a few rallys will allow you to quickly acclimate to your Airstream and learn the basics of Airstream travel. The best hint that I might offer you is consider renting a typical tandem axle U-Haul trailer for a weekend and force yourself to tow it everywhere you go . . . and include some time in an empty parking lot to practice parking, backing up, turning, etc. The U-Haul is narrower and shorter than most Airstreams, but it will give you an opportunity to become acclimated to having a trailer behind you and how it impacts your tow vehicle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
Vintage vs. Modern:
Why do I want vintage? There are a few reasons, the main one being that I love the character of the old ones, and ultimately I want to customize to incorporate more modern conveniences without drastically compromising that character. And if I'm going to spend the money, why not spend it on something I can get for cheaper in the beginning and have the bulk of the money go towards the improvements and upgrades (and the foundational/technical repairs) that get the trailer really suiting me? The modern ones are nice, but when I look at them, they're just not "me" when they come off the lot. So, even if the cost ends up being the same to repair and customize a vintage as it would be to get a ready-to-go modern, I'd rather go the vintage route. Is this logic flawed?
I don't see a particular problem with your logic so long as you are prepared for the time and monetary committment that it may take to get a Vintage coach refurbished to your standards. There ar a number of companys that specialize in woring on Airstreams. Some of these companys will perform a complete restoration of all aspects of an Airstream while others are more specialized. There are at least three companys that specialize in creating new draperies for Airstream products. There are more than three companies that specialize in poiishing and/or Plasticoating Airstream products. A half dozen or more companies specialize in complete restorations.

When I purchased my Vintage Airstream, I wasn't initially planning to purchase a trailer more than 30 years of age. I began my search with the new Airstreams of the time, but couldn't find the floorplan that I wanted . . . one that featured a large, comfortable bathroom. My search took me to used Airstreams and finally to Airstreams of the 1960s and 1970s. I knew when I walked into the 1964 Overlander that it was the coach that I wanted . . . it was the size that I envisioned and it had the large, comfortable rear bathroom with center twin beds. I learned later that it was the same trailer that I had gone on my first Camping trip in 1964 when it was new.

My Overlander wasn't perfect and needed a fair amount of restoration, but with an expenditure of about $2,000 beyond the purchase price, I was ready to travel for a few seasons while I learned precisely what the coach needed and what I wanted to accomplish in its refurbishment/restoration. The golden oak interior of my Overlander was one of its selling points. Beginning around 1969, Airstream began the switch to plastic laminates that included tambour in the cabinet doors beginning in the early 1970s. The laminates weren't necessarily lacking quality, but they tended to be very dark making the interiors seem very somber (IMHO). The overall feeling of an Airstream can be greatly impacted by how you accessorize it and by the fabric choices made in its appointments. As I approached the refurbishment of my Overlander, I realized that I was not a do-it-yourselfer and someting of a klutz with tools. I acted as my own contractor and sought out qualified professionals to carry out repairs and restoration . . . I transported the Overlander to Fowler RV Interiors in Symsonia, Kentucky for a total interior make-over; then it was off to P and S Trailer Service in Helena, Ohio for a complete polish job with with Plasticoat to the Original Sheen; then to Ace Fogdall RV in Cedar Falls, Iowa for mechanical repairs, air conditioner, furnace, water heater, chassis repairs, and new Zip Dee Awnings.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
The Right Size for Me?:
I've fluctuated on the right size trailer and would love some input. I think I've finally settled on the 26' - 28' range, but letting the 24's go was rough. It is just me and the dog at this time. But several years from now, there could be a husband and kids. Or, it might still just be me and some animals. So, ideally I'd love to get a trailer now that suits my needs but that has a little bit of growing room. I want this trailer to be "it." If the husband and kids come along, most likely, we won't be in a situation where we'd be living in it full time, so that doesn't need to be taken into consideration. However, I don't want to rule out the possibility of me full-timing in it in the near future. It's something I've thought about, and an idea that's really growing on me. Anyone have any input on how to truly assess what size trailer is the right size?
Size is a very personal decision. I have known a number of Free Wheelers and trailer size choices varied widely. One of my good friends in the Free Wheelers full-timed around eight months of the year in a 16-foot Vintage Airstream Bambi. I also new three or four Free Wheelers who traveled in 34-foot Airstreams and thought that they were the most versatile of trailers. I, too, favor the 26 to 28 foot Airstreams as being not too very large yet large enough to be comfortable for a long trip (I lived in my Overlander for nearly five months).

When loaded for an extended trip, my Overlander weighs in at about 6,100 pounds and has a hitch weigh between 725 and 775 pounds. I have towed the Overlander with a wide variety of tow vehicles, and have found my '99 Suburban K2500 to be a near ideal tow vehicle other than its temperamental four wheel drive transfer case controls. My most frequent destination is the Rocky Mountains, and towing performance in the mountains is critical to me so I have a 7400 VORTEC V8 with 4.10 differential gearing which gives the Suburban a trailer tow rating of 10,000 pounds . . . more than what is needed for the Overlander, but permits me the flexibility of of towing in Overdrive in all but extremely hilly or mountainous terrain. You Tahoe should be sufficient for a Vintage Overlander or Ambassador, but I would be a little concerned about a Sovereign both from a length and weight standpoint.


Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
The Layout and Features:
I'd really love some input here on opinions of different layouts as well as how easy it is to configure some things so I know what to consider or pass over.

Front Dinette: I think having a front dinette is an absolute must for me. Sometimes my work comes home, and sometimes I can work remote. I need the work surface the front dinette offers. With that front dinette in the vintage trailers, the floor plans I've found have always paired it with 2 middle-twins. Was this always the case, or are there trailers out there that were manufactured (or customized) with the front dinette and the middle double-bed with the wardrobes/chest of drawers? How big of a storage loss do you encounter when you've got the twins vs. the double with the wardrobes/chest of drawers? How hard is it to add a front-dinette if I find a trailer that doesn't have one (as in, something me and handy friends could do ourselves, or something I'd need to pay a professional to do)?
I have had four RVs . . . two Airstream products and two Brand X products . . . the Brand X products both had Dinettes while both Airstreams have front lounges. My vote is definitely for the front lounge when compared to a dinette. My findings with dinettes were that they weren't terribly comfortable for dining and were mini torture chambers when it came to lounging. The Vintage Airstreams (pre-1966) had free standing drop-leaf dining tables that are quite versatile. These small tables are designed to tuck into the space under the living room window when not in use . . . and they can then be scooted out and opened up with one or both leaves open to accommodate the dining, game playing, etc. The later coaches with the Credenza Tables function on a similar principle, but the table folds into a cabinet that is typically mounted beside the sofa and the table pulls out and can be open with up to three leaves depending upon the use that it is going to serve. In either case the coaches often came with a set of Leg-O-Matic chairs for seating at the table whether it was a drop-leaf protable table or a permanently mounted Credenza table.

This is where spending time in coaches with the lounge as well as the dinette to see which layout is more comfortable for you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
Bathtub vs. Shower: Something that I've not quite been able to figure out through my research--the purpose of the bathtub in these trailers. How are they different from a simple shower stall in function? I'm assuming, given that it's a travel trailer, people aren't taking actual, sit in and soak, baths? Were people just accustomed to bathtubs when these were put in, or were/are they actually intended for taking traditional baths? Why were these put in, and why did they switch to shower pans/stalls later?
The bathtubs are most commonly featured in the Vintage coaches with rear bathrooms. There are a few of the later mid-bath coaches that utilize a tub, but these floorplans are most often with "walk-through" bathrooms. I can't say that I have any special love or dislike of the bathtub in my Overlander. I generally utilize it for showers, but find it to be very helpful when it comes time to bathe my Chihuahuas . . . and on one particularly hot rally where we were limited to 3-AMP electric power, the bathtub became a swimming pool for the Chihuahuas to help them keep kool in the hot weather. I also have friends who loved their coach's bathtub when it came time for their childrens' baths. In either case, the room reserved for the bathtub or shower can be a tad confining . . . but less so in the rear bath units than the side bath units.

The WBCCI videos of 1950s and 1960s Caravans illustrate the bathtubs being utilized. They are on the small side, but it is possible to soak for a short time if you don't mind folding up a bit. In a coach without a graywater tank, you learn to think twice about water usage when you know that you will be emptying a "blue boy" tote a bath in the bathtub just isn't all that enticing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
All Electric vs. Traditional: In the classifieds, I've come across several trailers that have been made all electric. What is the general consensus on this? Honestly, I don't forsee myself frequently going "off the grid." Most of my camping will likely be done within the confines of state parks that offer water and electric and, if I'm lucky, sewage hookup right on my concrete site. But, I don't want to rule out the possibility. If I truly get crazy, I may buy some land and go "off the grid" on it on my long weekends until I decide to build and/or put electric and water/sewage hookups on it. If a trailer has been made all electric, how hard is it to get it back to a self-contained state?
I consider this option momentarily with my Overlander, but my travel style made it terribly impractical. Many of my travels took me to locations where 50-AMP service wasn't available and I was and still am not anxious to drag a generator along in my travels. I ended up installing thre solar panels and an Inverter/Charger for my electrical needs, but I stayed with LP gas for the range/oven, furnace, and water heater. . . . and I went with a 3-way RV Refrigerator so that I can use electricity most of the time (12-volt DC, 120-volt AC, or LP Gas). While I am not fond of LP gas appliances, I worry less about those installed in my Airstream than those in the hotel/motels where I once stayed. The key is regular, routine check-ups by a qualified RV technician.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
What to look for, and what repairs to make?
I've read numorous articles and threads on what to look for when buying a vintage trailer, and what repairs to tackle, but I'd love to get more advice. And dumb it down, if you can, as I said above, I am really in the dark here. Unfortunately, I know that's a pretty dangerous place to be when considering buying a vintage trailer, so I'm hoping I can learn from all of you. I know floor rot is a big one to look for, as well as rear end separation. What else? I've discovered that axle replacement is a biggie as far as necessities. Is this something any RV shop can do, or should it be taken to someone skilled in repairing/restoring vintage trailers? And, how can I look at existing axles and decide they need to be replaced? If someone is offering a "ready to camp" vintage trailer, how can I assess if that's really true? I won't been hauling my trailer cross country when I first get it, but I do want to make frequent trips to the Hill Country 3 to 4 hours away during its first camping season with me. What kinds of electrical issues should I be looking for? I have learned from my research that the foundation/technical repairs should be tackled before anything aesthetic. But I'm still trying to grapple exactly how to assess a true "ready-to-camp" trailer that aesthetic tweaks can be made to vs. one with "hidden" issues that you should address before hauling it off for a trip.
With a Vintage coach, unless it has been mostly or entirely restored, you can count on most if not all of the following repairs/replacements:
  • Axles, Tires, and Brakes. Most "As-Found" Vintage Aristream products will require this prior to being expected to travel far and wide. The exception might be a pre 1962 Airstream that doesn't have the Henschen Dura-Torque Axles and has leaf spring axles instead (brakes, tires, reubilt springs, and new bearings are likely to be needed on one of these coaches).
  • Some frame repair from minimal such as reinforcing entry steps, repairing outriggers to replacing rusted crossmembers. Some Vintage Airstreams require minimal if any frame restoration while others need a total frame replacement. Rapping on the bellypan with a rubber mallet can reveal the presence of grit that can be pieces of a disintegratiting frame . . . but beyone that it is difficult to assess the frame without removing most if not all of the bellyban.
  • The umbilical cord/trailer connector is likely to need rewiring to the current industry standard. The industry standard is comparatively recent and many "as found" Airstreams will still have their original Bargman Plugs with the unique Airstream wiring schematic that includes wiring colors that do not correspond to the today's functional relationships.
  • The LP Gas cylinders will likely need to be re-certified or replaced. If the original cylinders happen to be aluminum, re-certification is well worth the expense as new Aluminum tanks are quite expensive.
  • Depending upon the age of the Vintage Airstream, you may find that it has split-rim wheels. These wheels were used when roadside tire repairs were common and the wheels came apart to simplify tire changing. Today, these wheels are considered to be somewhat dangerous, and it is difficult to find shops that will work on the split rims so they are on the mandatory replacement list for most Vintage Airstream restorers.
  • You will likely find that you need to replace or add a trailer breakaway switch to your recently acquired Vintage Airstream as these are components that have a comparatively short life and weren't always installed on the coaches after delivery as they have only been required in comparatively recent times.
  • You will almost certainly find that you need to re-seal and replace gaskets for all windows, doors, and compartment openings. The various horizontal seems as well as most vertical seems will need to be resealed as will the the plumbing vents through the roof. Anything that protrudes through the roof or sides of the coach will also need to be resealed . . . resealing is part of regular maintenance on an Airstream product.
  • If the Airstream has the original Armstrong Bay Breeze Air Conditioner, my suggestion would be to find a good commercial refrigeration technician and have it restored. I didn't realize how easily the Armstrong could be rebuilt and I allowed myself to be talked into a new Coleman Mach III and it just isn't as effective as the Bay Breeze and it doesn't operate from a wall thermostat as the Bay Breeze did.
  • The water heater and furnace, if original, will need to be replaced as a safety percaution. In the older Vintage Trailers International Oil furnaces were utilized, and these furnaces developed the reputation of being carbon monoxide leaks waiting to happen . . . some of the Suburban furnaces from the 1970s had a similar reputation.
  • If the coach has the original Univolt power converter, its replacement is almost a given. These power converters had the reputation of boiling the electrolyte in the battery shortening the life of the house battery tremendously.
  • Some restorers will routinely replace the PAR water pump. While the PAR water pump may be a little noisier than modern replacements, it is still popular in the Marine industry and a rebuild kit can be sourced from most boat suppliers. I have found my original PAR pumps to be superior to modern replacements . . . and when one becomes troublesome a $50 to $60 rebuild kit will solve most problems.
  • You can almost count on a refrigerator replacement or rebuild with most Vintage coaches. All too often, an as found Vintage Airstream will have a dorm-type compressor refrigerator that requires 120-volt AC to operate, and that is something that is not conducive to extended travel . . . my Overlander came to me in that condition and an RV 3-Way refrigerator was one of my first major expenditures.
  • Depending upon how long the Vintage coach has been stored/inactive, it may have a brass dump valve for which you cannot find sewer hose adapters in today's market. When this is the case you hope that the correct adapters are found somewhere in the coach or you plan on replacing the original valve with a modern Thetford or Valtera valve . . . Airstream generally utilized Thetford while most of the rest of the industry utilized the less durable Valtera. I have kept Thetford valves on my Overlander, but the previous owner put Valtera valves on my Minuet and they will be replaced with Valtera when the time comes.
  • Keep in mind that Airstream didn't make the gray water tank standard until 1974 so most Vintage Airstreams will have one comparatively small black water tank . . . the gray water just drained on the ground when the coaches were new . . . today, the restorer is faced with installing an aftermarket gray water tank or carryin a "blue boy" tote as do many Vintage Airstream owners.
  • You may also find that the coach's foam cushions need to be replaced along with upholstery and drapes. This is not uncommon and is part of the fun of refurbishing a Vintage coach, but new foam can have a factor sticker shock as high quality foam is expensive. If you plan on spending a lot of time in your coach, you may find that having mattresses custom made for the center bedroom is money well spent. I had custom mattresses made for my Overlander's twin beds and have never regretted the expenditure as it increased travel comfort considerably.
  • Many Vintage Airstream buyers find good luck with the original ranges. In both of my coaches, the ranges needed little more than a bit of polish and adjustment and they were good to go. In both cases, I knew the history of the coach to the original purchasers . . . and in both instances the ovens in the ranges had been used less than a dozen times during the life of the coach.
  • About 50% of Vintage coach owners replace one or both of the roof vent fans with Fantastic Vents for their greater air flow and lower current draw. These were among the first modifications with both my Overlander and Minuet . . . they make camping without utilities much more comfortable.
  • Most vintage Airstreams came with either front or roof mounted TV antennas, and if they are in decent condition they will equal the performance of new antennas. If you enjoy television, it is a common job to install a new antenna, and there are numerous possibilities out there. When I had new antennas installed on each of my coaches, I had Cable/Satellite and Telephone wiring added at the same time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
My Tow Vehicle:
Currently, I drive a 2004 Chevy Tahoe with the tow package on it. Some of my searches on this vehicle as a tow vehicle have offered differing opinions. I know the modern Airstreams are heavier than the vintage. With any improvements I do, I plan on minimizing material weight as much as possible to keep the trailer as close to the stated original weights as possible. Does anyone forsee me having issues using this as a tow vehicle for the type of use I've described? I've been looking to upgrade to a Jeep Grand Cherokee and am now anxiously awaiting owner opinions/feedback on the diesel engine option after it's been out a while. But, I wonder if this will be a large/powerful enough vehicle? My Tahoe is paid off and runs wonderfully, so it'd be ideal it if it was a good enough tow vehicle. It's rated to tow the weight I'd be towing, but I've seen threads of people advising against using either the Tahoe or the Grand Cherokee as a tow vehicle. Experiences? Advice?
While your Tahoe should be able to handle up to a Sovereign among the Vintage rigs, I suspect that you would be happiest with its performance towing an Overlander, particularly if it doesn't have the 6.0 Liter V8 with 3.73 differential. I have been very well pleased with my '99 GMC K 2500 Suburban, but it has the 7400 VORTEC V8 that produces more than enough power and torque to tow any of the Vintage Airstreams. One of my earlier tow vehicles was a 1984 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and it was an excellent tow vehicle for the Overlander, but it had a very short towing range of 170 miles on a tank of fuel, and it only averaged 8 MPG towing . . . its 360 V8 had loads of power and torque and never gave me reason for concern in the mountains . . . I am not familiar with the new down-sized Jeeps and their towing abilities. My Suburban is up to 198,000 miles and I am anticipating close to 300,000 miles before the motor will need to be replaced.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
My Ideal Trailer:
From my research, I'm thinking my ideal trailer is a 1960's Overlander or Ambassador. The 24' Tradewinds I really want to be in the running, but I worry about them being too small. Thoughts on this? I have also decided upon the 60's due to a factor that may not be true. From my research, it looks like the 60's have the all wood cabinets/furniture, whereas in the 70's they transitioned to another material (tambour?). Is this correct? The wood is important to me as I would love to keep the original cabinets and furnishings (and make repairs where needed), but add a more modern touch through stain and/or paint. I know there are differing opinions on restoring vs. renovating and painting fixtures, so I know I might catch some flack for this. In your opinion, would it be better for me to buy a trailer for a bit more money that someone's already done things like update plumbing to PEX, install new axles, re-wire, re-insulate, etc. on, or buy a cheaper trailer and have these things done myself? I worry a bit about quality and integrity. How do I ensure that who did the repairs did them correctly?
I will admit to being more of a restorer and keep to the original as much as is possible. Both of my coaches have their original cabinetry with their original finishes. The Overlander has Golden Oak veneer on all of its woodwork with most of it being original . . . it was refinished utilizing WATCO oil finish with new materials being treated to a bit MinWax Golden Oak stain prior to the WATCO oil finish. The cabinetry was one of the first things that attracted me to the Overlander. The Minuet has vinyl-clad aluminum cabinetry with pickled birch veneer tambour doors in the cabinets. The Minuet had plastic tambour originally, but I thought that the wood veneer had a richer feel.

The viability of an original interior in a Vintage Airstream will be highly dependent upon how it has been used and maintained by the prior owners. I was fortunate to be the third owner of my Overlander and the second owner of my Minuet. In both cases, the coaches needed mostly clean-up with new upholstery/foam/drapes and floor coverings. Where a coach has been neglected and exposed to minimal or no maintenance for an extended period of time the greater the work in retaining the original materials of construction.

Generally, your best buy will be a completed restoration. The problem is that everyone's definition of restoration varies. Some "fiippers" just go through a coach and address cosmetics producing a coach that looks good, but may have limited long-term functionality. A quality restoration typically sells for substantially less than what it cost the owner to complete so the second owner has the advantage of the prior owners labor . . . the problem may be finding a restored coach that suits your taste and expectations.

My preferred method is to look for a coach that has been in continuous use throughout its life. Check with your nearest WBCCI Unit and see if any members are selling coaches as they upgrade to newer/larger coaches or as they find it necessary to retire from travel. These coaches typically have been lovingly maintained and the owners often offer attractive pricing in hopes that their coach will remain active in the club. I purchased both of my coaches in this manner and was able to enjoy traveling while I had restoration completed in the off-travel-season.

Good luck with your investigation and research!

Kevin
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1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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Old 03-05-2013, 07:31 PM   #6
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Thank you all so much for your responses! I haven't posted and then disappeared, I'm still around, still looking for my project trailer, and still keeping the faith despite an increasing number of my friends and family telling me I'm crazy. I'll keep you all updated on the search and eventual purchase!
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Old 03-05-2013, 07:54 PM   #7
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Hi, we are in our first year as airstream owners and loving the travel and freedom it gives our family. Went went vintage. Perhaps our we page will give you some useful info: welcome to our airstream story - home
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Old 03-05-2013, 08:26 PM   #8
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Thanks! I really love reading through Airstream Restoration/Renovation and subsequent travel blogs, and love discovering new ones. They keep things in perspective, but still get me excited.

I have to confess, though, that the reality in those blogs is what has kept me from taking the plunge. I'm handier than the average person, but I don't think my handiness can compare to the rest of you. And, I'd be doing it alone! I do plan on contracting out some (a lot) of the labor, as I stated in my previous post. But, I don't want to contract out so much that I don't get to know the inner-workings of my trailer. Once I understand how something works, in general, I've got it, and can troubleshoot/fix most problems. I don't want to limit my learning experience because someone else did the work, but I also am really hesitant about tackling the initial learning on my own.
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:04 PM   #9
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Since you don't have any RV experience, it would be a shame if you either put a lot of time and money into something you find you don't enjoy as anticipated, or start a project and get discouraged before finishing. Why not tone it down a bit. Look for a nice used trailer in working condition. You can find 19'ers for under 15k. Room for one or two and your canine companion. Take care of it, use it for a while and make sure you enjoy the experience. It's easier to figure out all the systems, and how to use them, when they work. You can always get your money back out. If that goes well, you can start on your bigger, more ambitious dream.
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:18 PM   #10
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Robert, that is great advice, especially since under $15K is in my budget. And I am open to a newer RV to start so I can get acquainted with the lifestyle and doing it all on my own.

The "19'ers for under 15k" you mentioned, I'm crossing my fingers you are referring to Airstreams? (since this is airforums, I really hope so!). If so, that's encouraging. My current (paid off) vehicle could tow the weight of the new 19'ers, and some of the new 19'ers have my must haves, while the vintage 19'ers do not (wet baths vs. shower stalls; wet baths, to me, are a no go)

I haven't done much research on "newer" Airstreams because the really new ones (current/last model year) I figured were out of my price range. There doesn't seem to be as many resources on the newer vs. the older. Can you point me to any resources that discuss how "old" you can go to still get a decent starter Airstream for beginners that doesn't need major repairs?

Which years do you recommend I look at? And, any suggestions on what I should look out for (warning signs) in a newer trailer?
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:39 PM   #11
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Greetings fleurdenola!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fleurdenola View Post
Robert, that is great advice, especially since under $15K is in my budget. And I am open to a newer RV to start so I can get acquainted with the lifestyle and doing it all on my own.

The "19'ers for under 15k" you mentioned, I'm crossing my fingers you are referring to Airstreams? (since this is airforums, I really hope so!). If so, that's encouraging. My current (paid off) vehicle could tow the weight of the new 19'ers, and some of the new 19'ers have my must haves, while the vintage 19'ers do not (wet baths vs. shower stalls; wet baths, to me, are a no go)

I haven't done much research on "newer" Airstreams because the really new ones (current/last model year) I figured were out of my price range. There doesn't seem to be as many resources on the newer vs. the older. Can you point me to any resources that discuss how "old" you can go to still get a decent starter Airstream for beginners that doesn't need major repairs?

Which years do you recommend I look at? And, any suggestions on what I should look out for (warning signs) in a newer trailer?
When looking at previously owned Airstreams regular use and maintenance typically are two terms utilized to describe a coach. Lack of use allows certain systems to atrophy and find their end sooner rather than later while lack of regular maintenance can result in leaks that rot floor and/or frame. The key is to shop around in your area looking at Airstreams in your price range as well as those below and above to get a feel for the area's asking prices. Most of the "typical" guide books underestimate the value of a well-cared-for Airstream. With a budget of around $15,000, I am guessing you may be looking at something between 8 and 15 years old.

While you are looking, you might consider sources such as the Classifieds here on Airforums as well as advertisements that you might find in the various WBCCI Unit Newsletters from your area (Region 9 WBCCI) -- trailers advertised by members in the newsletters are typically well-loved, carefully-maintained coaches that are being sold either because the owner is upgrading to a new(er) coach or when an owner retires from traveling . . . the prices are often attractive as the owners many times hope to see their Airstreams remain active in the club.

Good luck with your research and search!

Kevin
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1964 Overlander International/1999 GMC K2500 Suburban (7400 VORTEC/4.11 Differentials)
1978 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre/1975 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (8.2 Liter V8/2.70 Final Drive)
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Old 03-05-2013, 09:54 PM   #12
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Steve (steveirving), I'm reading through your and Kate's blog, and your solution to create a space for dog food and water bowls as well as a bulletin board/shelf/pen & pencil area (in the "what to do with unused space" entry) is genius. Just the type of innovation I one day hope to incorporate into a trailer. I've got a few other questions for you I've written down that I want to pass your way, but I want to read through the rest of the blog so I can send them to you all at once.

Steve's blog entry really caught my eye because I am searching for creating ways to create storage and functionality in such a small space. One of my favorite renovations, not necessarily for the decor but for the use of materials and space, is one I'm sure you've all seen: Living Large in an Airstream Trailer House Tour. That locking hardware and slide our printer drawer from the dinette first sold me on the "renovate, but keep the awesome character" ability of these versatile trailers. Anyone's input on how they've optimized storage and functionality (think Steve and Kate's creation of both an "entry way" and a dog feeding area in an in-utilized space) is very welcome!
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Old 03-05-2013, 10:17 PM   #13
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Hi Kevin, just want to clear up: my budget isn't around $15K, but $15K is in my budget. As far as capping out in immediate expenditure, my number is a little bit higher. And as far as what I can outlay on repairs and/or projects undertaken monthly, there is a budget for that. I guess you can say I'm in the position of, buy something ready to use that's 5-10 years (adjusting my budget for the scale you provided above) old now without incurring any financing debt (if, 5-10 years old and well cared for truly means ready-to-use), or, buy something not ready to use but still avoiding financing debt by undertaking the projects monthly.

Basically, I'm not looking to deplete my savings on this purchase, but there's still room to purchase without depletion. So, I either have a large outlay now (newer trailer) with little monthly repair expenditures, or a smaller outlay now (older trailer) with consistent monthly expenditures (and thus, not at much going to savings) to get it up to par.

I'm still really stuck on the character of the vintage trailers. But, if I could get into a newer working Airstream that fits my needs for now for a price I could outright afford now, I think I might feel more comfortable taking the plunge on a more desperate project trailer knowing I can make sure it's redone right. Through my research, I think I've become stuck on doing/contracting the refurb/reno myself, even though I know it's going to be more expensive than getting one someone has already done. That is, unless I come across one a well-vetter Air Forums member or someone who has a well documented refurb/reno blog is offering.

I will be reaching out to the organizer of the TX Hill Country Spring Rally in hopes, if nothing else, I can drive up for the day and meet some of the folks and hopefully they'll want to show off their rigs. It looks like they've got quite a crew coming, so if they let me "spy" I might get lucky in being able to tour a variety of Airstreams. And hopefully I'll get so addicted to Airstream rallys that I make a purchase to ensure I'll be a part of the next one!
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Old 03-06-2013, 05:42 AM   #14
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Thumbs up What we did so very long ago...

Quote:
Originally Posted by robert claus View Post
Since you don't have any RV experience, it would be a shame if you either put a lot of time and money into something you find you don't enjoy as anticipated, or start a project and get discouraged before finishing. Why not tone it down a bit. Look for a nice used trailer in working condition. You can find 19'ers for under 15k. Room for one or two and your canine companion. Take care of it, use it for a while and make sure you enjoy the experience. It's easier to figure out all the systems, and how to use them, when they work. You can always get your money back out. If that goes well, you can start on your bigger, more ambitious dream.
X2!!!

Started here with a road-worthy 63 Safari....


And ended here years later...


Good Luck in your search, you've started in the right place.

Bob
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