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Old 08-22-2004, 01:52 AM   #1
Tom, the Uber Disney Fan
 
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Looking to purchase my first AS

I am looking to purchase my first RV. One of my employees' brother-in-law recently bought a mini-Winie and wants to sell his circa 1970 31 foot Airstream that he bought from the original owner at an estate sale about six years ago. My employee said it is in very good condition and was offered to him for $3000. He told his brother-in-law that I was interested and the b-i-l said he would sell it to the highest bidder. My employee said that would be me; he doesn't have anything to tow it with, only a Maxima and a Ranger.

The AS is currently parked in an RV park in N. Georgia so I haven't been able to go look at it yet and it really won't be available until after the end of summer. I will probably go look at it in a couple of weeks.

All I have been told is that one side of the step is broken (they use a concrete block to support that side of the step), the hinge screws have pulled out of the extension on the table and occasionally the fridge drips water on the carpet. From lurking on these boards for a couple of days, I have gathered that a new fridge will run about $1400. Does dripping water mean a new fridge is on the horizon? Can the step be repaired or replaced fairly easily? If not, can't I use a milk crate with a piece of plywood attached as a step for now.

The a/c will freeze you out in no time. The only things that have been done since it was bought at the estate sale were the awnings have been replaced at a cost of $2000 and the carpet was replaced (family owned floor covering business). Other than these, I have been told there is nothing wrong with it.

I know I will need to take an ice-pick to check for rotten flooring around the fridge, but I really don't know too much to look for beyond that. Is there anything underneath to look for? What about the brakes and wheel bearings? I am sure the current owner will tell me about them. If I purchase, what class hitch will I need (class III or class IV) and what type of brake controller should I have installed on my tow vehicle?

This is really more trailer than I need, but I know how well built Airstreams are and my Dad always said they were the Cadillacs of campers. Plus, at this price it is hard to pass up and I won't have to finance so if it stays parked for months on end, I won't feel guilty as long as it doesn't turn into a white elephant. I have fond memories of camping in a pop-up tent trailer when I was a kid and have two boys now (4 & 7 yrs. old) and would like for them to have similar experiences, too. For the next couple of years I am mainly looking to use this trailer for short trips like week end trips to state parks. If the whole family really enjoys camping enough, I will upgrade my tow vehicle and start heading out west for longer trips when the youngest is old enough to remember them.

I haven't been into camping in nearly 30 years and I am less than handy so any advice or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Tom
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Old 08-22-2004, 11:32 AM   #2
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Go to http://inlandrv.com/ to learn how to check for worn out axles.

Tires more than 5 yrs. old are rotting, regardless of appearance, and may not even be safe to use. Bearings likely need to be repacked - not a big deal.

Use the ice pick all around the perimeter (some areas are hard to get to - use every effort), and anywhere there is plumbing. Check the archives for "floor rot".

Is the refrigerator an RV type? Many in parks are not. If so, the water almost has to come from a bad door seal.

Do a search for "tail droop", "frame separation", and "rear end sag". These problems are not as common with the pre-'73 coaches, but check anyway.

Sometimes the frame which holds up the step rusts out. This is a more expensive repair.

The 12 volt water pump is not used when connected to city water, so it may not be working. Put some water in the fresh water tank and see.

This coach will not have a grey water tank, so you will be restricted to 1) using sewer hookups; or 2) using one of those blue tote tanks. The black water tank will be pretty small as well, but should be good for weekends.

Being "handy" is very useful even with a brand new rv. There are so many systems, so much to go wrong. This is a 35 year old trailer - think about it.

The choice of brake contollers is almost like choosing a religion. Jordan and Prodigy would be my first two choices.

You will need a class three weight distributing hitch. And some kind of sway control. These choices are well covered in the archives.

Expect this coach to approach 6,000 lbs. when loaded for travel. It can be pulled by some, but definitely not all, 1/2 ton trucks (or van, or SUV). A 3/4 ton would be a lot better.

Good luck,

Mark
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Old 08-22-2004, 12:07 PM   #3
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Sometimes the perfect trailer will find you...

Tom,

We have just come back from our first extended trip in our new to us Airstream. Had a wonderful time camping in a Provincial park (Vancouver Island BC, Canada). My wife and I have a 7-year old of our own and are heading to China at the end of Sept to adopt a daughter.

We bought the trialer in May after much consulting of this forum and meditation. I originally found the trailer on e-bay... a 1970 27' Overlander. The opening bid was 4200 US. Nobody bid on the trailer so I contacted the seller and offered a $200 deposit to hold it till I could look at it. I was willing to lose the $200 if it didn't work. In the week it took me to go look at it I was feverishly shopping for comparables. The problem with looking at comparables for a 34 year-old trailer is condition is so variable.

When I did see the trailer I was thoroughly disappointed... nothing worked as it sat, the owner seemed to know nothing about it. I was actually going to walk away from the trailer and continued looking. The owner called me back and over the course of the next few weeks of research I realized that it actually was a pretty good trailer in very original condition and bought it for 3500. A big feature for us was the twin beds for two kids and the original walnut woodwork in great condition.

It had been sitting for 10 years. It had some burst copper pipes which I had a plumber fix for $300. The fridge that wouldn't work on AC now works great on Propane just by assembling the pilot lighter mechanism. We stripped the carpets and found the ply sub-floor to be in excellent condition for the most part. We replaced a small section of plywood and sealed the rest and layed laminate flooring. We re-did the the upholstery for about 500.

I still plan to re-do the running gear (brakes, shocks, axles?, Tires) and water heater and stuff but we have a trailer that we all love and are already using.

BTW. I pull it with a 1998 GMC 1500 4X4 (no brake controller yet). I wouldn't pull it with anything smaller. So I can imagine a 31' would be marginally heavier. Interestingly the smaller trailers seem to be more valuable. Likely for the easier towing less storage etc.

Good luck in your search.

Ken
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Old 08-22-2004, 01:17 PM   #4
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Ken, no brakes on your Overlander is a dangerous proposition. You need those brakes, and a decent controller costs <$100, and you can easily put it in yourself or have a local U-haul place do it. You are actually breaking the law in some states with having those brakes not work on your camper.

John
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Old 08-22-2004, 07:02 PM   #5
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Thanks John,

I am not advocating running without brakes or controller. I am actually not certain if my trailer brakes are working or not. I was planning on doing the running gear as a package and wanted to use the trailer. 2 hours in the Slow lane, no hills, parked in a campsite for 2 weeks.

I am now pulling the wheels and will likely replace the braking system with new (shocks as well as new tires) and will install the brake controller.

BTW, I saw your post re lug size. A 13/16" socket fits very well over mine.

Ken
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Old 08-23-2004, 12:14 AM   #6
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Don't do it

Hi Tom,

I think you said it best - it IS more trailer than you need, and a 30 year old Airstream is a full time hobby in and of itself. They are a lot of work and time - time that you could be camping with your boys. Axles alone will be close to $2500, and it may need a lot more.

In addition, a 31 ft Airstream is so large that you can't FIT it into a lot of state parks - for weekend trips it is overkill. I recently had to pass up two state parks that had sites, but they were for tent campers or trucks, not even my 23 ft would fit, ended up in an RV park 50 miles away, not on the coast, very pissed off.

I suggest you get a popup or a Bantam Flier and go camping with your boys. They sure won't know the difference, except that you are out there with them, not at home working on the stupid camper again.

Just my opinon. Now go camping!

-john
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Old 08-23-2004, 12:04 PM   #7
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No Brake controller!

Quote:
Originally Posted by TroutStream
BTW. I pull it with a 1998 GMC 1500 4X4 (no brake controller yet). I wouldn't pull it with anything smaller. So I can imagine a 31' would be marginally heavier. Interestingly the smaller trailers seem to be more valuable. Likely for the easier towing less storage etc.

Good luck in your search.

Ken
Ken...No Brake Controller! ...I have a Hayes Micro Control, HD Plus...new in the box (came with our Safari when we purchased it)
Yours for the shipping!
Dave
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Old 08-23-2004, 12:51 PM   #8
Tom, the Uber Disney Fan
 
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"Expect this coach to approach 6,000 lbs. when loaded for travel. It can be pulled by some, but definitely not all, 1/2 ton trucks (or van, or SUV). A 3/4 ton would be a lot better."



j54mark,



Thanks for the tips, I will look for the info you suggested. I have researched this particular model on Airstream's shop literature from a link I found on this forum and per that chart, this AS weighs 4,950 lbs. dry. This corresponds with what another poster posted about their '71 Sovereign. The newer AS's that are 25-28 foot weigh more. I don't know why, but according to the chart they do. Anyway, this leaves me with two towing options for the time being: 1) my wife's Expedition has a 4.6 L V-8 Triton with a 6,000 lb towing capacity. It is very peppy for its weight and size. With two adults, two young children and a cocker spaniel, that will leave about 600 lbs for provisions and gear. This brings it to the limit and not my first choice other than the Expedition's comfort level. 2) I have a 1995 F-150 XLT extended cab with a 5.0 L V-8 with a 7,000 lb towing capacity. This truck is in excellent condition despite 170,000 miles and I wouldn't be afraid to drive it on a cross country trip. I'm not sure how it would do pulling a large trailer in mountains, but my wife and I aren't mountain people anyway. However, my oldest son has really outgrown the back seat so comfort is the only issue. This is the main reason for limiting trips to week end trips until I can upgrade either for towing, but in the interim I will use the truck. It looks like the cost for a class III hitch and brake controller should run about $250 plus any installation that I can't do myself. The sway bars would come with the trailer. I will research this also to make sure I am getting the right equipment.



71 Safari, I appreciate your advice, but I know if I want my wife to go camping a pop-up camper is out of the question. I haven't really searched other brands but don't think I would be able to find anything for $3,000 or less that wouldn't require lots of work. I know this unit has been used several times per year since bought at the estate sale and only been parked at the RV Park since June of this year when the mini-Winnie was bought. It was parked in the RV Park as a base near a lake for my employee and his family to try out this summer. But my employee doesn't have the $3,000 or the tow vehicle.



Again, the main reason I am considering this trailer is the price. If it is in as good of condition as I have been told, I think it will be as good of a deal as I will find on an Airstream and probably as good of a deal as I will find on any travel trailer.
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Old 08-23-2004, 03:00 PM   #9
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$3,000 can definitely be too much, (although you are likely quite right that it is a good deal). However, most of us have found the purchase price to be more in the nature of a down payment.

The 4.7 is going to be struggling. I don't want to get into tow ratings again (see archives), but keep in mind that the 6,000 lb. limit is derived from the gross combined weight rating. As you load more in your truck, you can tow less. In other words, it is NOT 6,000 lbs. plus whatever you stuff in your truck.

Your F150 would likely be ok if you consciously load light. Expect to be slow going up big hills. Get a supplimental transmission cooler (if not present already).

The older units were narrower, had lighter frames (no grey tank to hold up, and only a small black tank), and all interior pieces were lighter weight. That is part of their attraction today. But empty weight is just that - empty. No LP gas. No water. No options (like that awning). No televison. No four month supply of canned goods.

As far as a pop up is concerned, I'm with you. If I wanted a tent, I'd just sleep in a tent. My wife and I want the refrigerator, the bathroom, the sink, the bed, the a/c, etc., etc.

Good luck,

Mark
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Old 08-24-2004, 07:49 AM   #10
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The transmission cooler was one of the items that I felt would be a necessity. I will probably upgrade in a couple of years to a supercrew with a 5.7 or maybe an F-250. I'm not looking for this to be a restoration project, just a decent camping tailer for the family to use for week end get aways. We already take two one-week vacations a year where we stay in hotels and I don't see that changing. But we would like to have the opportunity for three day week ends in between to get us through the year.

And like you j54mark, I have a tent I bought last year to take my oldest on cub scout camp-outs and my idea of roughing it included a platform-queensized inflatable air bed and a battery powered coleman inflator. That was as rough as I want to go and only overnight. My wife wasn't interested.

BTW, the lady in the next tent was using her inflator while I was setting my tent up and one of the men in the group went over and stuck his head in her tent and told her he thought she was vaccuuming her tent. I told him not to laugh that I would be breaking mine out as soon as I got the rain fly on my tent! LOL.
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Old 08-24-2004, 01:00 PM   #11
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My guess is that there are a number of problems that you don't see.

But I say buy it.
3000 dollars is about the right base price. Some cheaper are found but rarely.
The new awning if that is correct is the hole card and it's a card worth playing.
I am shocked though that the owner is willing to sell at same price he paid after improving over 2000 dollars worth.

You say you are not handy. This will cost you. Get handy. Much of the work on these things is not as difficult as much as it is tedious and uncomfortable (getting to the item to repair).

A factor to me is whether you have a place to keep it. If not then that's a problem. Your neighborhood covenants may not let you keep it at home. Check first.
A paved drive is a great asset, to do work underneath, althought a nice lawn is softer and cooler. Sharp gravel and rocks will kill you. If it is stored away not only are you paying monthly fee, it is just too easy not to go over there and work on it.
Very importantly, do not gut (take out) more than you are sure you can repair or replace one project at a time. It is real easy to dismantle, much harder to re-assemble or remodel. The best deals are partially gutted trailers because they rarely can be sold for even the minimums on a complete unit. So if you change your mind after half-assing a remodel you are gonna lose money I would bet.

Always try to keep the "value" at least within 500 dollars of what you have in the thing. Keep a journal and KNOW what you have in it at all times.
Don't forget to add the cost of your travel, postage, etc in chasing parts, but don't expect to include your time used or lost from other things unless you want a bad headache and a need to cry.
If refurb ever gets in the way of the family harmony then bail out. 71_Safari had some good points and I appreciate his nerve in posting them.
Last advice which won't be recieved very well around here, is this.....Airstreaming should not become your religion! And the trailer should not become an idol. It actually is just a big old hunk of metal. Not hardly worth more than a few lost precious moments with the family.
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Old 08-24-2004, 02:44 PM   #12
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Thanks for the advise guys. I am interested in the things that I wouldn't be seeing right off the bat. I will search for the items mentioned especially the axels and brakes. I am more concerned about what shape the mechanicals are in and the safety of the systems than the esthetics. My dad always said you can't ride on looks and I feel this way about this trailer. When I see it there may be more things wrong with it than I want to bother with, if so I will continue my search.

I know there will be things to be repaired and some things will wear out over time. I just really want to know what is worn out now and how muchy it might cost to fix them before I decide to invest in this trailer. I could probably take my time and do some of the repairs to things like replacing cabinets, flooring, carpet, maybe wiring for lights, maybe even brakes, but I am not too comfortable with major safety items like axels or gas appliances.

As for as the reasons this guy wants to sell, he decided he wanted a motor home and bought a four year old Winnebago in May or June. He has put a 24" LCD flat panel screen tv in it and wants to trade it for a larger motor home. Guys with money...Go figure.
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