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Old 01-14-2018, 02:19 PM   #1
3 Rivet Member
1956 22' Safari
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 122
Our yet to be named, '56 Safari

After countless hours reading blogs written by folks restoring vintage Airstreams, I think it is probably time I add our story to the collective consciousness.

My wife and I are the proud owners of a 1956 22’ Airstream Safari. I am an engineer by training but have always been sort of a motor head. When I was younger, it was old english sports cars. More recently it has been motor cycles, currently old BMW Airheads. Both in cars and bikes, I got great enjoyment of “rescuing” forgotten machines and restoring them to their former glory. I had occasionally thought it would be fun to get an Airstream and do the same. Well, now we have done it.

My wife and I have never really toured the US. Flown all over it, but not really toured. Initially I thought we should do it in a conversion van or a truck camper and was very seriously considering building a truck camper from scratch. Then I happened to look at the local Craigslist. And there she was a ’56 Safari, all of three miles from our house!

We couldn’t imagine dragging a 61 year old trailer all over the country, but it was so close, we figured we would check it out. And so it begins. My wife actually fell in love with the layout of the Safari. I loved all of the windows and the 13 panels, just so cool. The trailer was fairly complete, the skin was very good and it just had the floor replaced. The biggest things we thought it needed was to replace all of the screens, add a black and grey tank and do something about the smell. The previous owner, having a minor case of Aluminitis, owned the Safari, a 1960’s 25’ Airstream and a 1970’s Argosy. He originally bought the Safari from a seller in Kansas and had it shipped to Vermont. That was two years ago and he hadn’t yet done much to it, instead focusing on his 25 footer. Anyway, a deal was made and we towed it the 3 miles home without incident.

My wife and I hung around it for a day or two plotting our plan of attack. We found this was only possible if all of the windows were open for an hour or two before we went in. Truly we had to figure out what was going on with the smell.

I don’t have a shop as such, although I have taken over one garage bay year round and the second bay from May until November. Problem is that it is filled with 6 motorcycles and 2 side cars. In the basement I have a small wood working shop where I can work in the winter. We also have a barn good for storing non-mouse edible things such as aluminum skins.

What I plan to do with this blog is post to it as if I had started when we took possession of the trailer last September and then bring everyone up to speed as to where we are now. I know this is a huge project, but we would really like to camp in her the end of next summer or early fall.

So here are pictures as she first appeared at our house on September 25th, 2017.
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Old 01-14-2018, 03:14 PM   #2
Rivet Master

1966 22' Safari
1955 22' Flying Cloud
Fredericksburg , Texas
Join Date: May 2015
Posts: 666
Congratulations and looking forward to tuning into your adventure. Friends of ours that camp with us acquired a 55 Safari last year. They gave me the opportunity to do some upgrades they wanted. We really like the layout and bank of windows. Good luck and have fun. Bubba

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Old 01-14-2018, 03:46 PM   #3
3 Rivet Member
1956 22' Safari
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 122
Airstream Archeology

One of the fun activities when buying an old Airstream is figuring out what modifications previous owners have made over the years and just what they were thinking. Being new to Airstreams, it also was an excuse for lots of time on the web trying to figure out what the original really looked like.

We found three major changes:

First, a very large vent was added above the refrigerator. What I believe is the trailer was delivered as a Park model which only would have 115v for cooling. When propane was added later, this big hood was added. A couple of things tipped me off it wasn’t original; half the window was covered by the duct work, half of the upper cabinet was lost to ducting and the vent to the roof was very rough cut with exposed fiberglass.
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The second mod was to the dinette. One of the benches had the back hacked off and the cushions modified to fill the gap. I suppose it opens up the space more, but makes for lots of little cushions if you wanted to turn it into a bed.
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The last modification is the curb side bed was made so that it could go from full size to 6" narrower. The bed frame was moved toward the curb and dropped two inches. Then movable legs were added to the bed platform. I am guessing the idea was to make it into a kind of couch, narrower and lower than the bed with the ability to transform it back into a bed. The transition from the lowered portion to the normal height would tend to be very uncomfortable as the two inch rise was about where your shoulder would be. And there also was a bunch of cushions needed to come together for the bed. I don't think I could get my wife Lynne to sleep on that side.
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Old 01-14-2018, 04:07 PM   #4
3 Rivet Member
1956 22' Safari
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 122
Let the Disassembly Begin

Disassembly began in earnest on September 28th.
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And looked like this by October 2nd.
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Here is when we started to discover the hidden secrets of the “New” floor. The previous owner had the floor replaced before he took delivery. Turns out it was only most of the floor. They kind of forgot about under the bathroom, arguably the most likely place for rot. And it was rotten.
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Turns out they forgot a couple of other things as well. Like removing the mouse infested insulation under the floor. I just can’t imagine ripping out the original floor, seeing and smelling that mess and not cleaning it out. Even if it was just to make your life easier putting it back in. The previous owner even asked for pictures with the floor up, but somehow they were never delivered.
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And they forgot to set the circular saw high enough not to put large gashes in the frame rails.
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And to make the floor extend all the way under the U-channel. Notice it is only ½” to ¼” under the channel. In some spots it didn’t even reach the channel. Glad I didn’t pay for it.
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So here is what she looked like by October 6th, just nine days after we started.
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We also found something I didn't expect, slight buckling in the front frame rails. There will be many posts about these next spring when I fix them.
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Moral of the story, trust but verify or just do it yourself.
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Old 01-14-2018, 04:42 PM   #5
3 Rivet Member
1956 22' Safari
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 122
The Rush Before Winter

Our initial plans were to weatherize her as much as possible before it turned cold, which can happen early where we live in northern Vermont. But this year was different as it was warm a couple of weeks into November and we got a bunch done.

For the past two years, the Safari was stored outside covered with a large tarp. Since we had turned it into a big aluminum tube, leaks don’t much matter. So we stopped on the shell and spent our time stripping the finish off of doors and furniture, stuff that had to be done outside. I figured we would have the winter to work in the basement.

We ended up getting a lot further along than we thought. I did most of the stripping and my wife Lynne was a real trooper putting 2 coats of amber shellac and 3 coats of poly on everything. Sound familiar Shari? We spent many hours pouring over your "Birdie" blog.

Here is where we are now on January 14th, 2018.

The first piece I rebuilt was the night table/dresser. I had to replace the top and both sides.
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Here’s Lynne hard at work
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All of the doors, drawers, the closet and the bathroom were stripped and refinished. Here are the closet panels.
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The upper kitchen cabinet needed to be completely fabricated with new wood to undo the modifications made for the vent install.
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For the furniture, I ended up using most of the panels as templates and just re-skinned the frames. Here are most of the pieces positioned together. Kind of ran out of room in the basement.
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The only piece of furniture we didn’t get refinished before the cold set in was the closet. It needed a lot of work as it was partially destroyed when it was removed during the earlier floor replacement. Next warm day...
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Old 01-14-2018, 04:57 PM   #6
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InsideOut's Avatar

1956 22' Safari
Vintage Kin Owner
Conifer/Evergreen , Colorado
Join Date: Feb 2002
Posts: 11,835
Images: 108
Congratulations! Welcome to the vintage front kitchen club! Hope you get as much enjoyment from yours as we have ours! I think your#O-6305 is a bit earlier than ours (#O-6421), but who knows, they may have been in the factory at the same time...

Good luck with your restoration. Having "been there, done that" on ours, let me know if we can be of any support or encouragement. It's a big job, but very rewarding when it's done!

Vintage Airstream Club - Past President 2007/2008
WBCCI #1824 - DenCO Unit Past President (2005)
AIR #30 - Join Date: 2-25-2002

RMVAC | WBCCI DenCO Unit | BIRDY - our 1956 Safari | 1964 Serro Scotty
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Old 01-14-2018, 05:02 PM   #7
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1965 26' Overlander
Tulsa , Oklahoma
Join Date: May 2006
Posts: 368
Cabinets look great!
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Old 01-14-2018, 07:42 PM   #8
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1986 34' Limited
1975 27' Overlander
Conifer , Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 4,468
Images: 1
Hello from another vintage Airstreamer in Colorado. I have not done the level of renovations that you are doing, but I have done extensive work on four different vintage Airstreams. I had a 66 Trade Wind (photo below), my son has a 69 Globetrotter, I now have a 75 Overlander, and my wife has her 86 Limited. I enjoy the vintage Airstream hobby; maybe a bit excessively.

Like you, I have enjoyed the sports car hobby for many, many years; from the Healey 3000 in college to the S2000 I recently sold. I enjoy motorsports, but the only motorcycle was a '74 Norton Commando 850. I now enjoy ATV riding here in the Colorado mountains.

There is an old 50s Safari sitting in a yard not 15 miles from me. Someday I may get the urge to make an inquiry.

I'm going to tag along in your renovation thread and make peanut gallery comments now and then. You have found a very nice vintage Airstream, and it will be sooo much nicer when you venture out on your first trip in it.

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WBCCI #8607
VAC Region 11

Link to my 1975 Overlander Improvement Journal:
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Old 01-14-2018, 07:59 PM   #9
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1963 22' Safari
1955 26' Cruiser Overlander
Yakima Valley , Washington
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 2,338
Images: 10
Blog Entries: 1
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Love the front kitchen! The cabinets are looking amazing! Great work!
Scott & Megan
1963 Safari from the 1963-64 Around the World Caravan
wally:Restoring Wally Byam's 1955 26' European Caravan Trailer![/COLOR]
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Old 01-14-2018, 09:33 PM   #10
3 Rivet Member
1956 22' Safari
Williston , Vermont
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 122
All, thanks for the kind words.

Bubba, thanks for encouraging me to do this.

Shari, after looking at your finished trailer, we made the decision to buy this one. You set a very high bar.

David, like minds think a like. I also had a 100-6 Austin Healey and have restored a couple of Norton's, an '70 and a '74. But I really don't know if I will end up with more than one Airstream. We will see what happens when this one winds down. Going to be a while.

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Old 01-15-2018, 08:21 AM   #11
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1956 22' Flying Cloud
Dallas , Texas
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 339

Welcome to the Airstream restoration/renovation world! Your engineering background will serve you well with your Safari project.

I am renovating a 1956 Flying Cloud, and it has gone very slowly, but it has been a very interesting process for me. I started with almost no background for the tasks required, but I have learned a lot!

My thread (in my signature line) shows what I have done (through early summer 2017). I did no posting in late 2017, and I have some catching up to do in my thread (which I hope to do that in the next several weeks).

Good luck. I think you have a great size and great vintage trailer.

See my 1956 Flying Cloud renovation thread.
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Old 01-15-2018, 10:24 AM   #12
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1956 22' Flying Cloud
1953 32' Liner
1955 22' Safari
Valley View , Texas
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 3,971
Images: 78
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You have a GEM!

The front Galley Safari is a perfect layout floor plan...basically. Look at Sherrys' coverage for an in depth rebuild. My rebuild, much less comprehensive....Red Barn Safari...might give you some ideas. Here a a couple pics from mine. Note...I travel alone, therefore I feel that space taken up by beds is a waste. I have replaced the beds in mine with a living area....couch is perfect as a single bed, and it will pull out for a double. Oops...can't upload pics...but, you can see them in Red Barn Safari.
"If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted
then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production."
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Old 01-15-2018, 08:08 PM   #13
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1986 34' Limited
1975 27' Overlander
Conifer , Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 4,468
Images: 1
I think Melody Ranch is a mid fifties Airstream expert. He has built some beautiful pieces of history.

You have probably seen this, but if not, I thought I'd post the link. It is a 56 Safari for sale in Oregon. Maybe it's your next trailer? Oregon isn't too far from you, is it? It has a rather interesting write up about the history of this model.

WBCCI #8607
VAC Region 11

Link to my 1975 Overlander Improvement Journal:
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:58 PM   #14
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1977 Argosy Minuet 6.0 Metre
1973 21' Globetrotter
1975 26' Argosy 26
Vista , California
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 302
Great fun, looks good so far, keep us posted.

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