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RankAm 01-23-2014 08:08 AM

Considering a rehab? Rank Amateur's renovation
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I decided to blog (here) and cross-post here in the Airforums about my purchase and renovation of a 1956 Flying Cloud. This is a day-of-purchase photo of the Flying Cloud:

Attachment 204205

Many others have blogs and online postings about their Airstream restorations (many here on the Airforums), and you might wonder what will distinguish my postings from those other online materials. The major purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as a complete neophyte to a camper trailer renovation. I started the process as a rank amateur with very little knowledge or experience in many of the skills necessary to an Airstream renovation.

So, this blog will be a catalog of what I consider to be the information most useful to persons who (1) are contemplating a trailer renovation and (2) have little or no experience in one or more of the principal tasks (or tools) involved in a renovation.

I am launching this blog in early 2014, at which time I have finished only demolition of the Flying Cloud, so I have a long way to go before I will have a completed camper. Another complication is that the Airstream is in Montana, where I spend only part of the year. In addition, when I am in Montana, life can be very busy sometimes (why be in Montana if you do not take advantage of all that it has to offer?!). Accordingly, I am confident that there will be times when I will have no postings.

In the postings below, I will (1) give some background as to my decision to purchase an Airstream, (2) describe how I found the Airstream that I purchased, (3) explain the demolition process, and (eventually) (4) describe my renovation of the trailer. Step (3) now is complete, but step (4) will be very challenging and time consuming. I feel as if my progress to date has been satisfactory (and without loss of life or limb), but I think that the demolition will prove to be the easy part.

I also am a big fan of the Vintage Trailer Academy (as it now is named), and I encourage anyone contemplating a camper trailer rehab to attend one of the annual Academy programs.

So, if you are contemplating a trailer restoration or renovation, and want to read about one amateur’s experiences, please read on. I hope this blog will provide information to help you decide whether to tackle a trailer rehab. So far, I have really enjoyed working on my trailer, but I have a long way to go! At this time (with the demolition complete), I have no regret about my decision to undertake a renovation.

RankAm 01-23-2014 12:26 PM

Why consider a camper renovation?
I was approaching retirement, and I wanted a significant retirement project that would require me to learn new information and skills.

I am an out-of-doors person who has camped, hiked, and canoed throughout my life. Later in life, I started flyfishing for trout, and as a result of that flyfishing, my wife and I now spend part of the year in Montana.

One afternoon, while I sat at my desk in Texas, out of the blue came the idea to restore an Airstream trailer. My family had no connection to Airstreams, and I never had been inside of one, so the idea was radical.

I immediately started internet research, and I soon found this Airforums site, which proved to be an absolute treasure trove of information. My browsing through the Airforums eventually took me to the message threads concerned with the Vintage Trailer Academy (as it now is named). The VTA is offered once a year in Albuquerque, and it also is a terrific source of information about trailer restoration.

I decided to attend the VTA for information that would contribute to a better decision about whether I should buy and renovate an Airstream. In addition to all the technical information at the VTA, I met many people (on the faculty and other registrants) who were very helpful. One couple, with whom I had dinner one night, provided me an internet URL that ended up being the source of the Airstream I bought.

RankAm 01-23-2014 12:32 PM

I decide to do it
After returning home from the Vintage Trailer Academy, I decided to go ahead with a purchase and renovation. I knew that I would have a lot to learn, but that really was one of the most appealing elements of doing an Airstream renovation.

Next, I had to decide what trailer I wanted to buy. I liked the appearance of Airstreams, so I considered only Airstreams. As to the vintage, length, model, configuration, etc., here are the factors that influenced my decision:

1. I wanted a trailer for only my wife and myself. In other words, I planned for a camper with beds for only two people. Our children are grown, and if we go camping with children and/or grandchildren, we will make arrangements for them to have their own camper or tent.
2. I wanted a relatively short trailer for easy of towing, parking, etc., that would fit in my garage.
3. I wanted a trailer long enough to have a dedicated rear sleeping area so that the beds would not have to be converted to some other use as living space during the day.
4. I wanted enough trailer length for a wet bath, as I expect to use the trailer in the Rocky Mountains for primitive camping and fishing.
5. I did not want a dinette in the front of the cabin, but I wanted enough space in the front for an L-shaped lounge that would be comfortable for reading and watching a video on a rainy day.

I concluded that 22’ would be the shortest trailer that would suit my needs.

Eventually, I decided to look for a 1950’s 13 panel. As I learned more about the Airstream trailer models, I decided to search for a “whale tail” model.

NJtoNC 01-23-2014 01:09 PM

i will be excited to see your progress on the trailer. I suspect many of us start as amateurs and leave as ... well.. addicted, honestly. i sure am :)

RankAm 01-23-2014 03:26 PM


Originally Posted by NJtoNC (Post 1407293)
i will be excited to see your progress on the trailer. I suspect many of us start as amateurs and leave as ... well.. addicted, honestly. i sure am :)

Lauren / Adam, thanks for your post. I see from the list of your coaches that you do have a big addiction! I certainly have enjoyed myself so far. Hank

64airstream 01-23-2014 04:42 PM

We can relate
We can relate to everything you've posted so far. An advantage you have is that you joined the forums well before you started. We found the forums after we finished. We wish you all the best and look forward to seeing your progress. We've learned that this forum is a wealth of information and knowledgable people very willing to help one another. It's a great community.
We posted our first project on if you're interested. We have 't updated it for awhile with many great trips, but we'll get to that too, someday.
Enjoy the process,
Marie and Roy

RankAm 01-24-2014 08:25 AM


Originally Posted by 64airstream (Post 1407370)
We can relate to everything you've posted so far. An advantage you have is that you joined the forums well before you started. We found the forums after we finished. We wish you all the best and look forward to seeing your progress. We've learned that this forum is a wealth of information and knowledgable people very willing to help one another. It's a great community.
We posted our first project on if you're interested. We have 't updated it for awhile with many great trips, but we'll get to that too, someday.
Enjoy the process,
Marie and Roy

Marie & Dave:
Thanks for your post. I agree that the Airforums site is a goldmine of information. I just browsed through your website, and I will save that link for future reference. Hank

RankAm 01-25-2014 07:34 AM

Searching for a whale tail and finding #8038
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Having completed the thought process of selecting the length, vintage, and whale tail version, I set out to find a 22' whale tail. Eventually and through the internet, I found a 1956 22' Flying Cloud model whale tail for sale in western Nebraska. It was owned by a family that was (I am fairly sure) only the second owner of the trailer. The good news for me was that they had apparently kept the trailer in a barn most of the time, so it was protected from some of the elements.

I was interested in the trailer, and I decided to see the trailer on my spring drive from Texas to Montana. I made a detour into western Nebraska to see the Flying Cloud, serial number 8038.

Here are some images of the trailer at my visit:

Attachment 204288

Attachment 204289

Here is the interior (looking from the rear of the cabin to the front) with a double bed in the rear curbside and a front dinette (that converts to another bed):

Attachment 204290

Here is the galley area:

Attachment 204291

As best I could tell, the interior components (lights, oven, refrigerator, etc.) were original.

Aage 01-25-2014 07:51 AM

Not a bad looking rig for one of its age. Congrats!

Perhaps you already mentioned this, but judging by the sloped opening for the wheel, it is a California model. The serial plate should confirm this, if I'm right.

Could be just my imagination, but by any chance, is the exterior painted? The colour looks more even that I would expect, but that maybe just the lighting...

RankAm 01-25-2014 08:09 AM


Originally Posted by Aage (Post 1407894)
Not a bad looking rig for one of its age. Congrats!

Perhaps you already mentioned this, but judging by the sloped opening for the wheel, it is a California model. The serial plate should confirm this, if I'm right.

Could be just my imagination, but by any chance, is the exterior painted? The colour looks more even that I would expect, but that maybe just the lighting...

Yes, it is a California model, and I am very glad to report that the exterior was not painted! That would have been another large task, and I dodged that bullet. Hank

cdmagda 01-26-2014 03:44 AM

Nice find...
We'll, you've done it, you picked the best looking model made to date (I'm not biased). No...really, you did find a great trailer there! The whale tail models do distinguish themselves, and personally, I think they do have something more going on style-wise. Your unit was made rather close to our '55 WT Flying Cloud (7967), but sure is in better condition than what I brought tape kept most the windows shut for the journey home, and you could climb through a hole in the bath area.'s that floor of yours? Will a few patches do...or is a bigger job ahead of you? Mine was shot, requiring the whole floor to be replaced, which I did, using the body-off method. The belly had to be totally replaced also, and was done so using .040 material (it's thick, but installs looking better than thinner stock. The belly pan was the most difficult part of the restoration... I wish I had the use of a rotisserie for the frame, facilitating working from above, rather than below, on your back.
Anyhow...good luck, you have a nice one to start with. Here are some pics of my journey, so to speak. Member's Photos - Photo Gallery

RankAm 01-27-2014 07:09 AM

cdmagda, thanks for your post and the link to your photos. As you will see in posts that I eventually will make, I was lucky and had a sound subfloor.

The belly pan was not in good shape, however, and I expect that I will have to replace a large percentage of that metal. I know that the thicker gauge metal makes lots of sense for the belly, but I will have to replace at least two of the four corner pieces, and I worry over whether I can form the .040 to a good fit. Do you have any advice on the corners?

Thanks for your comments.


cdmagda 01-28-2014 05:33 AM

Belly Pan...
Concerning your belly pan corners, you will need to cut the pan off at the underside of the deck(under the banana wrap). That will enable you to hide that edge of the replacement pan, assuming the patch doesn't go beyond the banana wrap (toward the center of the trailer). The up side to .040 is that it does not create unsightly creases as easily when forming around and up to the c-channel (you will want to rivet into the c-channel for the rigidity you will need to keep that .040 in place). The replacement will lap over, rather than under, the skin of the trailer, so make good use of a quality sealant to ward off water intrusion.


kmaggard 01-28-2014 07:49 AM

So very cool! I owned and lived in that same year and model when I was attending Arizona State University in 1975. It was in mint condition and in place of a booth it had a sofa covered in that loopy nylon type fabric. All seemed original. I would tow it out to the desert under Taliesen West in north Scottsdale for a week at a time and study. I ended up moving out of state and left it with my parents in Cottonwood, AZ and I think they sold it to someone in Camp Verde, AZ.
Makes me want to dig thru old pics now.

RankAm 01-30-2014 08:21 AM

The inspection
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Inspecting a used trailer is a very important task. You want to make sure that you know what you are buying and that you are paying a fair price.

Based on my Airforums readings and what I learned at the Vintage Trailer Academy, I thought I had a good idea of what to look for and what to do in the inspection. These Airforums contain many message threads with lots of good information about trailer inspections.

Title. I suggest that, at the time of your first inspection, you inquire about the title to the trailer. Some sellers do not have a title to assign, and that may create a problem in terms of (1) insurance on the trailer and (2) obtaining a new title in your state of residence. If the seller cannot provide a good title, then you may have to rely on a bill of sale (BOS). Before you buy a trailer via a BOS, determine whether a BOS will satisfy you, your state of residence for purposes of registration and titling of the coach, and your insurance company.

Tools. I brought with me a flashlight, a small-blade pocket knife, and a camera. If you do not intend to gut the interior of coach, then you may want to bring tools to check the electrical, plumbing, heating, etc., systems. Because I would gut the interior and remove all electrical, plumbing, and heating items, I was not concerned with those items.

Inspecting the coach. I used the flashlight to look into all the nooks and crannies in the cabinets and under the beds and other furniture. I was looking for (1) water damage, (2) delamination of cabinets and bulkheads, (3) sign of rodents, and (4) other wear and tear that might indicate serious structural or other problems.

Make sure that you can fully inspect the trailer. If it is crammed into the corner of a garage or barn, insist that the trailer be moved out so that you can fully access all of the exterior of the coach. Do your best to determine the condition of the frame, even though that is difficult to accomplish if the belly pan is intact. Insist that the interior of the coach be emptied (or move the contents yourself) so that you can inspect all of the interior (including all storage areas such as in cabinets and under other furniture). Make sure you get all the way into/under the cabinets and furniture so that you can inspect the floor close to the side wall of the coach. Water damage often is found close to the side walls.

I used the knife to poke and test the flooring for damage, principally rotted wood resulting from water penetration. If the subfloor is compromised (soft to the touch), you are looking at a very much more complicated and expensive restoration, as compared to a restoration of a trailer with a sound subfloor. These Airforums have lots of information about replacement of the subfloor. If the subfloor must be replaced, you either must remove the superstructure (the shell of the cabin) or you must insert the replacement subflooring with the shell in place. In either event, you must totally gut the interior of the cabin.

Some people are not afraid of a subfloor replacement, and other people want nothing to do with a subfloor replacement. The challenge to address in the inspection is to determine whether the subfloor is sound, and that is very difficult to determine if the cabin interior is in place and the belly pan is in place. Thus, poking around with the knife is very important. The owner will not be keen on your making holes in the floor if the holes can be seen, but if you poke around under cabinets and furniture, the holes will not be visible from inside the cabin. Also, if the trailer has exterior-access compartment doors, inspect the storage area and use the knife to test for floor rot. Be particularly careful in inspecting around plumbing because leaking plumbing often causes floor rot.

Make sure you examine the roof, both from the inside and the outside. From the inside, look for signs of water entering the cabin. From the outside (you will have to get on a ladder or otherwise get high enough to examine the roof), look for structural integrity, dents, etc.

Issues with 8038. Although I considered 8038 to be in relatively good condition for its age, I noticed several problems.

1. The roof. The photos in post #8 above show the significant dent in the roof. This caused me some heartburn, as I was not confident as to how well this could be repaired and whether I had the skills and tools to undertake the repair. I ultimately decided to proceed, but this was the point of greatest concern to me.

2. Windows. The images in post #8 show that the lower front curbside window was taped shut, and I determined that this window (which should swing open on a crank mechanism) did not operate correctly. The lower front streetside window was in the same condition. I knew that old window parts are difficult to find, but what was very important to me was that the exterior and interior frames were undamaged and complete. Finding replacement window frame parts is extremely difficult.

Some of the swinging window operating mechanisms were broken or otherwise in need of repair, but I knew that at least some replacement parts were available for the operating mechanisms.

3. Belly pan and frame. This is how the street side (behind the wheel well) belly pan looked at the time of inspection:

Attachment 204627

I bent the tab you can see in the image above, and looked inside the opening. I saw some plumbing wrapped in a heat tape:

Attachment 204628

Eventually (after the purchase and during removal of the belly pan), I found cuts like this through several outriggers for the piping you see in the image above:

Attachment 204629

Relatively simple welding repairs will fix the outriggers (I think).

The belly pan had been damaged, repaired in some places, and generally was pretty beat up from 50+ years of use:

Attachment 204630

I expect that the replacement panel in the image immediately above resulted from damage caused by a tire blowout.

The condition of the belly pan would require some not insignificant repairs, but I was prepared to replace the belly pan metal, so the sorry condition of the belly pan metal did not discourage me.

4. Side wall metal. The exterior alclad side wall above the street side wheel well had a rip of about 1” (again, probably due to a tire blowout). I thought that I could rivet some metal trim on the inside wall of the wheel well to stiffen up and stabilize the rip. I will provide more about fixing the rip in another post.

5. Holes in floor of cabin. There were several holes (for plumbing) through the floor and subfloor of the coach. I would have preferred that they not be there, but I was not discouraged by their presence.

6. Roof vent. The rear roof vent obviously had been leaking (or at least the prior owners thought the roof vent was the source of a roof leak), as the vent was covered in plastic sheet and silicone caulk was all over the area. I intended to install a new roof fan (and otherwise rework that area), and the roof structure around the vent opening seemed sound, so I was not concerned about the leak, plastic, and silicone, etc.

You do not know for sure what you are buying until you gut the trailer and remove the belly pan. As the expression goes, to some extent you are buying "a pig in a poke."

RankAm 02-03-2014 08:04 AM

The negotiations to purchase
The major dent in the roof caused me considerable concern, but I found no floor/water damage, and (based on limited evidence) the frame of the trailer seemed to be sound, so I decided to make an offer. My internet research helped me determine an approximate value for 8038, but one never knows how about the reliability of that posted information.

I did my best to come up with a reasonable offer, but the owners did not even counter-offer, so we obviously were far apart as to the value of 8038. I thought that the owners were asking considerably too much for 8038. I provided to the owners a link to a prior version of this price guide. Further negotiations ensued, and we eventually had an agreement. I ended up paying more than I wanted, but less than the owners wanted (isn’t that the definition of a good bargain?), but I was very partial to that model, so I do not regret the price I paid.

Resolve, in advance of your arrival for pickup, how and when you will pay the purchase price for the trailer.

Next up: the retrieval.

calais66 02-03-2014 08:49 AM

Nice! Congrats.

RankAm 02-06-2014 11:37 AM

The retrieval Part 1: getting 8038 road ready
I needed to bring 8038 to its new home to Montana. A retrieval (or "recovery") involves a good bit of advance logistical work to make sure that the process goers smoothly. I did get 8038 home, but I was fortunate because I really did not fully understand what I was doing. My advice is that you read up on trailer towing, and these Airforums have a lot of good information. I hope that other Airforums folks will comment and correct any errors in this post!

A. Tools and equipment. For the retrieval of 8038, I used the following tools and equipment:

1. Tow vehicle.

Make sure that your vehicle and the hitch assembly have the necessary towing capacity for the trailer. You also need a suitable hitch ball that is matched in size to the trailer's coupler.

The tow vehicle must be wired to connect to the trailer’s running lights (or to a running light kit if the trailer’s lights do not function properly). Many vehicles are at least partially pre-wired for towing, and you should make sure that any necessary parts have been installed and are working properly. Determine the type of wiring harness on the trailer, and make sure that your tow vehicle harness either (1) matches the trailer harness or (2) you have an adapter that will connect the two.

2. Tiedown materials. Make sure you bring duct tape, bungee cords, rope, plastic sheeting (thick, not thin), etc. You never know when you may need one of these items! I used duct tape to secure window frames that would not lock in place.

3. Locking device for the hitch ball. The coupler will have some sort of locking device to make sure that the coupler will not come free of the hitch ball during towing. Make sure that you have properly secured the hitch and coupler.

4. Mirror extensions (if required). Depending on the width of the trailer, you may need mirror extensions so that you can see the curbside and streetside of the trailer as you tow. Failure to have the necessary mirrors can lead to citations and fines.

5. Tool box. Include in your tool box miscellaneous tools including a socket torque wrench to use on the trailer’s wheel lugs. You will want to check the torque settings on the lug nuts during the tow. If you have not used a torque wrench, buy one in advance of the retrieval and become familiar with its settings and how to use it. Determine the correct torque for the wheel lug nuts so that you can confirm periodically, while you are towing, that the torque is correct.

6. Plastic sheeting. In the event of precipitation, you may need plastic sheeting. I ended up placing additional plastic sheeting over 8038's rear roof vent that may have been leaking. If it rains during your drive, stop periodically to make sure you have no water penetration into the cabin. Be creative in using the plastic sheeting and duct tape if necessary!

B. Preparation of trailer.

1. Before you arrive. I arranged for the owner to have the following done before I arrived for the pickup. I arranged to pay the associated expenses, but the seller had to tow the trailer to a service facility and then back to the owner's home.

a. Tires. Tires are an extremely important safety item. Trailer tires tend to have a relatively short life span, and trailers that are for sale may have been sitting for a long period of time. Old tires (even though the tread is not significantly worn) may be quite dangerous. Blowouts occur with trailer tires. Have a tire professional inspect the tires and replace them if necessary.

b. Suspension. Lubricate the suspension if the trailer has a leaf-spring axle or axles.

c. Wheel bearings. Lubricate the wheel bearings. This is another very important safety item. If the wheel bearings are not properly lubricated, you may burn out the wheel bearings, and that could lead to axle or wheel failure, both of which could be very dangerous.

d. Shock absorbers. Check the shock absorbers and replace them if necessary.

2. Before you depart with trailer.

a. Running lights. As a matter of safety, and to avoid the attention of law enforcement personnel, make sure that the various running lights of the trailer are working properly. If the running lights do not work properly, you can use a temporary set of running lights available at RV stores and Harbor Freight.

b. Hitch, coupler, and safety chains. Make sure that your hitch and coupler are properly connected and locked with a pin. The coupler lock pin should not be a padlock while you are on the road. Instead, the locking pin should be a quick release device so that the trailer quickly can be removed from the tow vehicle in the event of an emergency. Use a padlock, if you wish, when you are not moving. Also, make sure that learn how to use the safety chains on your trailer.

c. Anchoring and securing. Secure all windows, vents, and doors. Bungee cords and duct tape can be very useful.

(1) Entry door. Make sure your entry door is securely closed. Many doors have come open while the coach was being towed because of failure of (1) the door handle/lock mechanism or (2) the door hinges or hinge bases. Many Airstream doors (so-called “suicide doors”) open towards the rear of the trailer, so if the door opens while the trailer is being towed, the wind will catch the door and violently swing the door to the rear of the coach. Considerable damage to the door and exterior side walls may result.

(2) Exterior compartment doors. Make sure that any exterior compartment door is locked and secure. These doors have been known to work free and blow off.

(3) Interior doors. Close and secure all doors, drawers, cabinets, etc., inside the coach before the launch.

(4) Other items. If trailer has contents that are not anchored to the floor or walls, make sure that you otherwise secure those contents because the vibrations caused by the drive drive may cause the contents to move and result in a mess.
Okay, more experienced Airstreamers, please critique!


RankAm 02-06-2014 11:43 AM

The retrieval Part 2: getting her in the garage
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The morning after our recovery drive, my wife and I set out to get 8038 into her new home, where she would reside for several years during the renovation. It turned out that getting 8038 into the garage was an ordeal, with my wife and myself working together.

The problem in getting 8038 into the garage resulted because (1) I could not back into the garage on a straight line and (2) I had not stopped on the way from Nebraska to practice backing up with the trailer. Because of the configuration of the garage and the gravel drive, I had to be turning the tow vehicle while backing the trailer into the garage, which means that I was blind on one side of the trailer, and that made me very nervous. My wife was in the garage monitoring the position of the trailer and yelling information to me.

I admit that I made a mistake in not having more experience in backing the trailer before we brought her home. I should have stopped somewhere on the route home and practiced, but 8038 was towing beautifully, and I wanted to sleep on my own bed!

Well, after a number of attempts to get 8038 into the garage, we finally had her inside:

Attachment 205042

You will note that 8038 had a roof air conditioner, and I was very lucky that 8038 just fit under the garage door. My garage doors were oversized, and a standard-sized garage door may not be high enough for a trailer with an air conditioner on the roof.

If your trailer will not fit, you could consider raising the roof (and increasing the door size) of your garage (see here)!


Aage 02-06-2014 04:33 PM

You need one thing I didn't see you mention for your 'retrieval or recovery': a fully-charged 12V battery, installed in your TT.

It's terribly important on most trailers, not sure your '56 should have one.

But if it does, can you tell us why?

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