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-   -   Resurrecting Big Bertha... or, 'How I spent $30,000 on a $2,000 trailer...' (

Panama Red 08-28-2012 07:40 AM

Resurrecting Big Bertha... or, 'How I spent $30,000 on a $2,000 trailer...'
08/18/2012- Big Bertha comes home with me for the first time. She was born in 1974 up in Ohio. 31 feet long, center bath. I'm sure she was quite the looker back in her day. Now, she has no bedroom floor, all five Vista Views leak like there is no glass in them, and her awning lays in the grass next to her. Oh yeah, I'm in love...

Pretty sure the previous owner just got discouraged and gave up. He'd actually torn out the floor in the bedroom and welded in the new framework necessary. Had all brand new tires (including spare) and the propane tanks full... then decided he wanted to get back into sailing. After pulling the belly pans and lower skins, I almost decided to get into sailing myself.

Actually, I'm REALLY looking forward to this project. I'm replacing the back eight feet of floor and the front eight feet of floor for the time being. The middle section looks "good enough" for the time being. I want to do some camping in it in a few months, and the shell-off thing will wait until I retire in 6 years.

Started off by removing the commode, and all the fake wood vinyl flooring. Went to my local welding supply and had them make me some 11 gauge 5 inch channel. Have replaced all the outriggers from the wheels back, and three of the rear cross members. I have one cross member in front that needs replacing, and all of the front half curbside outriggers. Oddly enough, I can get away with only replacing a couple of the street side forward outriggers, but might just do all that I expose with the sub-floor removal...

I'm one week, and about $200 into the frame at this point. Will probably take about another $100 in metal. I've bought the plywood already, and the new oak laminate and moisture barrier for the whole trailer, along with TEKS screws to hold the ply in place... Got a little more than $400 in that.

Just wanted to add, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but if I had based my purchase solely on reading the refurb threads on here, I never would have bought this thing. Some of ya'll make a trailer rehab sound like a trip to Mars... incredibly expensive, and it's rocket science. However, mixed up in the doom-saying is some incredibly good advice. First, it IS going to cost more than you thought. I was figuring on around $750 to $1000 to get my first camping trip out of her (not totally renovated, but serviceable) and in reality, it's appearing like it will be between $1500 and $2000 now. So the guy who said to double your original estimate was pretty much on the money. Second, you really need to know a bit of everything to do this. The guy I got her from was a welder, so the frame repair wasn't a big deal to him. But, the wood work, electrical, plumbing, etc etc I believe overwhelmed him just a bit... ok, a lot. Fortunately, having grown up on a farm, and having a dad who has done everything from working for IBM in their hey-day, to drilling wells and fixing appliances, I got a very well rounded education (I've been the "Flashlight Holder" since way back)... and it's all coming into play in the refurb.

All that to say, "Hi", and "Thanks!" for some great advice and tips. Hoping to post up some pic's soon as I figure it all out.

Oh yeah, for all you guys that have vista views that you can pull the clip out and remove the glass, don't do it until you have all the shimmed butyl in hand... you'll end up with a duct tape window for a few weeks if you do. The up side is, it's the only vista view I have that isn't leaking right now. I've got an order in with "All Glass Parts" up in Canada for a roll of each size shimmed butyl they carry. They'll let you order single rolls...:D I'll let you know which size works for me.


Aage 08-28-2012 08:01 AM

Well, howdy and to! Glad you are finding good info here to help you with your project.

Wow, talk about jumping in with both feet! :D I love this kind of story, a kind of ready, fire, aim situation. I suppose that's the best way to really get things done in the fastest time.

Good luck with your Sov, and hey, where are the photos!? You already knew we were going to say that, didn't you? ;)


Panama Red 08-28-2012 09:54 AM

All my pictures aqre up on my Facebook page... and it won't let me access them at the moment. May have something to do with the network here at "The Office".

I've wanted an AS for years now, however the cost of the newer ones is, ummm, prohibitive you might say. And I figured why pay somebody to do something I've been practicing my whole life to do. About 15 years ago my father and I tore a 1979 MG midget completely down, no two pieces left bolted together, and totally rebuilt it. Had about $15,000 in a $6000 car. This can't be NEAR as difficult as that was. Dad's to the "Sit on the stool and give advice on how to do it" age now.

More outriggers being welded on tonight with pictures to follow...

TouringDan 08-28-2012 10:52 AM


Welcome to the forums. I'd say you have the perfect background for restoration of an Airstream. It is really very satisfying to get stuff done the way you want it done. When you finish it, it will work as well as a new one and cost you less than half as much. Glad to have you with us.


overlander63 08-28-2012 11:11 AM

I am having deja vu, all over again...
Good luck with your Bertha.

Panama Red 08-28-2012 08:41 PM

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Thanks Overlander, now I have to read all 2647 pages of your thread...:D

Annnnd... the photo's!

This was just getting her home. Looks a bit different at the moment...
More pictures to come after I finish the rear outriggers and paint the rear half of the frame. Got the black water tank out today, all except one of the curb side outriggers, and only have three road side outriggers to do.

Panama Red 08-31-2012 06:29 PM

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Outriggers and frame reinforcement done on curbside rear... picture is before welding was complete.

HiHoAgRV 08-31-2012 07:58 PM

Welcome Red!
It looks like you have apretty good grasp of what it takes to get Bertha back on the road.

These things have one HUGE advantage over an MG....they leak less oil...:rolleyes:

Keep us posted with lots of photos...

Panama Red 08-31-2012 08:10 PM


Originally Posted by HiHoAgRV (Post 1196913)
These things have one HUGE advantage over an MG....they leak less oil...:rolleyes:

That's why the Brits don't make a Travel Trailer... they can't figure out how to make it drip oil.

Will do on the photo's... wife's leaving on a trip to Kenya next week, so the work on Bertha will get fast and furious.

Panama Red 09-03-2012 07:43 AM

All welding from the axles back is complete!!! Now it's wire wheel time and them some ospho and POR15. More pictures to come. Got done late yesterday and was just too tired to think about photos...

Panama Red 09-04-2012 08:17 PM

Decided to skip the ospho after reading the directions on the can of POR15. Wire wheel and then painted back half of the back half.... I guess that would be the back quarter.

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to every one who said that POR15 wouldn't come off. "Surely it will" thought I. "They just aren't using the right stuff to get it off," was another thought I had... My hands are two thirds covered in what remains of gray POR15. The only thing I can think of that I didn't try was PVC cleaner, which I believe is close to acetone, which didn't touch this crap... I have very black fingers.

Hoping to finish painting the rear half of the frame by Saturday and put the subfloor in Sunday. Pictures upon completion of the painting...

Skatiero 09-04-2012 09:41 PM

Cool project! I look forward to reading all about it!

tinyhome 09-05-2012 06:49 PM

Great project! Spending 30k on a 2k trailer sounds like every car I have ever owned. All part of owning an American classic. Keep posting updates. Thanks.

overlander63 09-05-2012 07:47 PM


Originally Posted by Panama Red (Post 1198813)
I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to every one who said that POR15 wouldn't come off. "Surely it will" thought I. "They just aren't using the right stuff to get it off," was another thought I had... My hands are two thirds covered in what remains of gray POR15. The only thing I can think of that I didn't try was PVC cleaner, which I believe is close to acetone, which didn't touch this crap... I have very black fingers.

Remember, experience is a great teacher. It allows you to recognize a mistake when you make it again...:blink:

Panama Red 09-06-2012 05:05 PM


Originally Posted by overlander63 (Post 1199308)
Remember, experience is a great teacher. It allows you to recognize a mistake when you make it again...:blink:

And now I could probably recognize this mistake when I make it two out of five times... I'm a pretty quick learner.

Finally got my shimmed butyl rubber samples in the mail. I ordered a roll each of 1/16, 1/8, 3/16, and 1/4 to see which combination I needed for my Vista Views. I was set on the 1/16 for between the glass and the frame because of a post by Andy on here somewhere... can't remember which one. I couldn't find anything on what to put between the plexi and the glass, so I ordered all three sizes. Turns out the 3/16 was perfect. I tried the 1/4 first, but I couldn't make the clip ring squeeze back in, so I used the 3/16. It was perfect. I could just manage, with a judicious application of force, to squeeze the clip back in place. Looks like the roll off 3/16 will do three windows (I've done two already and it appears to be enough for one more on the spool) and it will probably only take two rolls of the 1/16 to do all of my Vista Views and Stack windows. Glazed around the windows with Vulkem 116 for a final seal. Waiting on some super hoopty silicone to come in to do the Vista Views on the other side, just for comparison, 'cause inquiring minds gotsta know.

Going to finish painting the back half of the frame tomorrow, and make my patterns for the floor Saturday. Hoping to have sub-floor back in the bedroom by Monday evening.

Panama Red 09-07-2012 10:44 PM

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After much internal debate, I decided to pull the back half of the bathroom, water heater and hall closet to remove the whole back 8 feet of subfloor. I was going to leave it at the bathroom wall to save a little tearing out time, but I just couldn't stand that partially rotted floor. I'll be a lot happier in the long run. So, pulled kitchen vent fan cover and resealed it today, and then tore out the back half of the bathroom. Closet and floor come out tomorrow, and hopefully finish painting back half of frame...

Pictures are: frame getting painted, bathroom torn out, and a front stack window that I removed, cleaned out the old film, and resealed. Came out pretty nice.


Panama Red 09-08-2012 07:58 PM

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FINALLY finished the rear frame. Waiting on my order of shimmed butyl to come in to fix the vista views in the bedroom before I put in floor. Quite a few leaks back there actually. Rained hard all day, so I got to see the worst of it. VV's will fix most of it, running lights will probably get most of the rest...

I've got enough shimmed butyl to do one more Vista View, which I will do and document with photo's tomorrow. Will probably do the complete description in a stand alone thread.


Panama Red 09-09-2012 10:21 PM

Sealing up leaks before new ply goes in...
Had a heck of a rain storm all last night as this front pushed through. Looking for a little Harley weather behind it. WOOOOOT!!!

Anyhow, I had a ton of water leaking in everywhere. Not wanting to install my nice new plywood in an aquarium, I started on leaks today. I only had enough shimmed butyl on hand (more's headed this way) to do one more Vista View, so I sealed the Vista View, and documented it here

As for the rest of the leaks, I just looked for a giant blob of silicone from one of the PO's, and then sealed up what was actually leaking. Like if you find a string of silicone on a main end seam, above the running light, and you pull the running light and water pours out...

Speaking of running lights, here's a "Don't Do This" tip for people just starting out. Don't seal the weep holes in the bottom of the running light. They are there to let any water that may get past your sealant higher up to leak out. Just another tip from your Uncle Red.

Also, don't use steel blind rivets to hold the rear window awning rail to the body of the trailer. They rust and cause all sorts of corrosion, and they leak...
If you're going to use blind rivets, at least use aluminum, and put a little gloob of Vulkem on each.


Panama Red 09-10-2012 08:23 PM

Made a form for the rear subfloor out of heavy cardboard. Cut out Plywood for rear subfloor. Sealing edges of plywood with paint. Waiting on it to dry, I got to scrape some more silicone.... I understand that silicone is supposed to be superior to Vulkem, but dang what a mess it is if you ever have to get it off. And, let's be honest, at some point you're going to have to get it off. I've actually found the majority of the leaks that the PO (one of the PO's anyways. The guy I bought it from just tore out the rear subfloor, welded in a bit of frame work, and then decided to get back into sailing...) was gooping silicone at. At some point in this campers life, it appears as if an RV dealer has done a bunch of cheesy work to turn a quick buck. I'm betting the windows tinted on the outside are the work of a dealer trying to bring the look "up to date". The glazing work around the windows is just a little too neat for the average owner. Also, where the wrap around skin has been removed and replaced (and spray painted black. not seeing this on 74's. Don't think it's original), and a chunk of plywood and 2X4 to the right of the front door has been cobbled in to stiffen up the floor... somebody did quite a bit of shoddy cover up work on this thing to get rid of it. Unfortunately, the crappy work has led to more water leaks, which caused more rot and rust.

Not to worry. It's all getting fixed now. Rear sub-floor hopefully going in later this week.

Panama Red 09-11-2012 08:53 PM

Bertha's Got Back
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Finally putting the bedroom floor back in Bertha! Also stripping out the silicone and resealing with Vulkem. I know, I know, silicone lasts longer... which is the problem I'm having right now. Just a tip for you, someday somebody else may own your Airstream. Don't do this to them... please!

The rear window awning rail was gooped up like the rest of the windows, except for the holes drilled just under it... go figure, it still leaked. This picture was after stripping out a ton of silicone, and riveting the rail back to the camper. Got a few more leaks to look at. Have some really nice weather in store... May have to loose the Springer for a ride.

On Panama Red's Budweiser Long Neck scale of difficulty, with One Long Neck being slightly harder than talking Bill Clinton into having sex with an intern, and Ten Long Necks being the equivalent of doing a Full Monty, this floor/frame refurb receives a "Seven Long Necks" rating....

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