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Air Cruiser 12-18-2012 10:20 PM

1956 Bubble Rebuild Begins -- Bubble Trouble!
After many months of discussions on what we'd like to do, yesterday we finally started gutting the interior of our '56 Bubble. We bought "Lily" aka "Little Girl" over a year ago, waiting for the right time to start our rebuild. She was pretty much original, although I believe the frig had been replaced at time point in time. She was original, but not usable as she sat. After two days of "gutting", she is pretty much down to the floor and skins.

Something interesting we discovered, it looks as though the black tank was built out of plywood and coated on the outside with fiberglas and resin. Does anyone know if this was the way they came? Also, the fresh water tank looks to have been made out of galvanized steel, that, too, surprised us.

The exterior has "personality", someone used her for target practice with a shotgun, but none of the shots went completely through the outside skins (and only on one side). All of the windows had been broken out. We took the windows to a friend who does sheet metal work and he is going over them and rebuilding them (four of them).

At this point, we plan to do a shell-off rebuild. We were planning to remove the floor after the shell is off then check out the frame, do any necessary repairs, paint with POR 15, then do the new subfloor and replace the shell.

It was obvious that the floor had a problem at the door, but we found that the floor is bad at the window areas front and back. Having said that, we now are talking that instead of repairing the frame, we may need to build a completely new one. My DH was a welder in an earlier life, so he can handle that. After having read "beckybillrae's" thread on her Bambi, we like the fact that she beefed up the new frame, and we'll probably do the same. Also, it seems a plus that we can build the frame to accomodate the new tanks, thinking we need to add a grey tank as well as new black and fresh water tanks.

While the DH was in there, he didn't like the looks of the wheel wells and remarked that he wants new ones and wanted me to find out if the new Airstreams are using plastic wheel wells -- does anyone know about this? I told him I'd read that someone else had new wheel wells fabricated at a sheet metal shop out of steel. I remarked that if we're going to do new wheel wells, why not build them large enough to accomodate larger wheels -- 16" wheels so we can get Michelins on "Little Girl" -- that way we can drive down the road with fewer worries of blowouts. We realize this means a new axle too.

We'd greatly appreciate any and all information this great forum's members would be willing to share with us. This is our first Airstream rebuild, so we are really newbies when it comes to rebuilding them. We've been reading many threads by members here about their rebuilds of all different lengths, all amazing work!

We will be posting some pics as soon as we learn how to go about that. Also, our desktop computer crashed two days ago during a power outage here, we are down to our laptop, so I don't know if that's going to make it more difficult to post pics or not.

Thanks to all who decide to follow our work and especially to all who share their information.

Air Cruiser

Wolfe 12-18-2012 11:33 PM

makeing metal well's is cheap insurance and well worth the cost,
if a upgrade to 16" will work thats a plus. i had a metal belted tire come
un done. plastic went, wireing went, ducting went, what a royal mess.
I wish i had used stainles to hold road salts at bay

Minno 12-19-2012 06:47 AM

The fresh water tank being galvanized steel is normal for that era. It originally was a pressurized water system, meaning that once the tank was filled with water, you used an air compressor to add air to the fresh water tank to pressurize the system. If yours is all original, you should see an air valve on the outside of the trailer by the water tank. The one I've seen was located right next to the fresh water fill. But, someone may have installed a water pump at some time, and maybe removed the air valve as there would be no need to pressurize the water tank anymore.


the544man 12-28-2012 09:55 PM

congrats air cruiser on rebuilding a bubble! I also have a 56 bubble and had a great time rebuilding it. I've still got a few things to finish and look forward to seeing how you plan yours out. good luck with a lot of sleepless nights when you're brain keeps working out multiple details. have a great time, do what you want with it, post lots of pictures (to do this
just pay the airforums fee because you will get your money back 10 times in free advice and sometimes free parts) but also tons of space. you've got a rare trailer as there Are not many of our bubbles around. which version do you have? mines the sloping whale tail. hey have a great weekend. I'll be watching your progress for sure! cheers Ted

Becky B. 12-28-2012 10:47 PM

Aaah, I will be watching your restore! I'm glad you're starting your project & posting your progress here! Your mind will be whirling for, oh, about 2 years!

Air Cruiser 12-29-2012 03:29 PM

Thanks to everyone for sharing information and/or moral support.

Our desktop computer crashed and the new part(s) should be here the end of next week, I'll post some pics of our demolition then (and become a supporting member here).

Wolfe, thanks for sharing your lessons learned. My DH thought plastic wheel wells would be a quick/easy fix, but I'm doing a lot of talking to go the new metal wheel wells route. I'm sorry to hear you had such a mess to contend with.

Chris, my DH said "Little Girl" still had the original Shrader air valve, but he removed it since we're installing a water pump.

Ted, over the past year+, I have spent many hours reading your thread on your rebuild of your Bubble, drooling at times! I was hoping yours would show a shell-off, but I think the PO of yours must have done the new floor before you bought it, is that right? I'm hoping that if you see anything we are doing that you feel we should handle differently, you will speak up -- we need all the guidance we can get!

We are going to replace the toilet with a new one, and I think you removed yours, is that right? We are thinking we may need to build a new frame so that we can install new fresh/grey/and black water tanks within the frame, instead of inside. This will be tricky, I imagine, since she is so small and we need to get the weight distribution just right.............does anyone have any suggestions regarding tanks and/or placement?

Becky -- Thank you, too, for watching our thread. Your work on your Bambi was so spot-on, so well done, I'm hoping we can do something remotely close to yours. Also, thanks again for sharing info on your new frame. I realize our Bubble is shorter than your Bambi, but it is close enough to get pointers from. Did your original frame have enough depth for the tanks, or were the original tanks inside? It's been years since I've done any woodworking, so I don't know if I can handle that or not, but I'm definitely going to do all I can...........I'm looking forward to it!

Our friend who has said he will help us with our shell-off/frame work/new floor/insulation/wiring can't get free time until the second or third week in January, so, after that, we will have plenty to post here about!!

Thanks again to all and please, anyone with any ideas, feel free to share.


Becky B. 12-29-2012 03:47 PM

We used 4" stock on our new frame, so the grey tanks fit within it. The fresh water tank sits under the gaucho (as original, only larger than original), and the black tank is above the floor in the wetbath. This also was as original. If you're doing woodwork, you MUST get yourself a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. I'm telling you, it has made woodworking a thousand times easier for me than without it! I used to make frames for cabinets with a dowel system that was a PIA (drilling, gluing, clamping) and the Kreg jig makes it EASY! (no, I don't sell them) Have fun creating!

the544man 12-29-2012 07:31 PM

hey deb,

thanks-- you're right. there was no frame off for my bubble. the floor only had a couple spots to fix so I was able to tend to it without the beheading. I'd try that through in the future with a different project. since you're going ground up I'll chime in when you get to the stuff I got to trouble shoot. first of all. what I found helpful was to take a ton of measurements and plan everything out on graph paper. it helps you see what really will and won't fit in a bubble. have fun and happy new year. cheers- Ted

the544man 12-29-2012 07:43 PM

oh yes deb. I did not reinstall a toilet in my bubble. after looking at the original designs of the bubbles on paper--I wanted a dinette right up front in the trailer rather than a closet right inside the door. I have a print out of the 56 original interior stuff if your interested. I could PDF it to you I'm sure. putting a dinette up front with all of the sloping curves makes it harder but I like sitting at the dinette and looking out a full window. the original version shared the front window with the toilet closet. I'll be curious to see where you put yours....and if you put it under a hatch in the dinette seat I won't laugh at all! there's only so much room in a bubble. cheers. Ted

Air Cruiser 12-29-2012 10:32 PM

Ted, I thought about mocking up the floor on our shop floor; maybe using chalk to draw it on the floor or laying down kraft paper and cutting it to size. We could use cardboard to mockup various areas like the bed; cabinets; the bathroom (just a toilet and a very small corner sink, no shower); frig; sink; dinette. If I did them in box form, we could actually see how much room is taken up and what would be available for walking around.

Off the top of my head, what I'm kicking around doing is turning the bed north/south instead of east/west and placing it on the curb side where the original sink/cooktop were. Then it would be nice to be able to have the bathroom run north/south beside the bed, but don't run it into the corner because of the curves in the corner and the window is there. I thought a small cabinet or wardrobe could be there. We took measurements of the bathroom/dinette/bed before we tore them out, and I think the width of the bathroom was around 2', so if the bed would be 4' wide, that would leave one foot to walk through to get to that wardrobe -- pretty tight, but maybe doable. Doing this, that would use up approx. half of the available length. I'm thinking the inside measured 7' x 13'. I also thought the sink and two-burner cooktop with frig. under cooktop could go along the street side wall and the dinette across the front end, east/west. This sounds like a lot to go in, and I have a feeling it won't work, but it would be nice. One good thing about this is that the fresh water tank could go under the bed as that is where the original tank was located and I'm thinking the water fill is there on the outside. We will probably only put in a two-person dinette, so that will save a little space into the center of the floor. Also, if I remember correctly, there is an outside storage hatch centered under the back window, so that throws a little curve to this idea -- did you keep your storage there?

Becky, I'll google that Kreg pocket hole jig to see what it is and the best place to pick one up, thanks for that info.

Also, about the black tank............I know a lot are inside the trailer, and our original one was, but that is a little creepy to me; I'm wondering if they ever leak?

Thanks to both of you.


the544man 12-29-2012 10:55 PM

deb. sounds like a good plan with some mock ups----writing on the actual trailer floor and using tape to line things out on walls helps with perspective too. yes I kept the rear hatch accessible. I put in a permanent rear bed too so I made half of the under bed usable from inside and the other from the exterior. sure Is nice to keep the odd sized things and permanent things for the trailer (hoses, cords, chairs, camping stuff, etc) out of the way and ready to go. i don't like yard sale camping or having to load everything in the truck each time. I even have room for the spare tire back there. I think I have some pics of what I did with the hatch on page ten of my thread. the planning will be fun for you. one thing to remember--- your bed will never be too big! try not to skimp there if possible. this will fun watching your work. there are so many possibilities even with a tiny bubble. cheers. Ted

ps. and whoever suggested he kreg system is right. I used it too---especially helpful for attaching everything to the floor and building my rear bed. lowes carries them

monah 12-31-2012 05:20 PM

Congrats....can't wait to watch your progress. We're renovating a '58 Bubble named Wanda....bought her completely gutted. new electrical done, new hardwood floor to planks away from being complete, interior paint done we begin the interior build. Enjoy the journey!!!!

Minno 01-01-2013 11:11 AM

doing a mock up of your floor plan inside the trailer is a good idea. We spent a fair amount of time doing that and we think it saved us from some mistakes we might otherwise have made.. You get a better idea inside the trailer because the curved walls will be different than on a wide open floor. Good luck!


Air Cruiser 01-14-2013 06:19 PM

I tried posting this three or four hours ago, but it hasn't shown up yet, so I think something happened to my internet connection at the time I tried to post............I'm sorry if it shows up and now I'm double posting.

It's been a couple of weeks since we've posted, but we have been busy. Since I posted that DH had her gutted, we started the renovation in earnest, boy was that a mess! We didn't find any skeletons, but we did find several live insects and quite a bit of nastiness.

It was decided that they wanted to try to replace the floor and repair the frame without removing the shell, but they removed the front half of the flooring and decided to go all the the full monte! The frame in the front was not in the greatest of shape along the front window, and in front of the door (no big surprise here) has quite a bit of frame which needs to be replaced. We also think in front of the rear window is going to be pretty bad as well. Well, it happened -- she flipped her lid and we had separation today, but they didn't have time to remove the remainder of the floor, that will be tomorrow. We're going to POR-15 the frame as soon as it has been repaired or a new one built.

One thing which surprised us, both the interior and exterior skins on our Bubble are .032 thickness instead of .025, as some on the Forum have said theirs is (it is 2024 t3 however) -- I suppose this could vary from year to year and model to model. We located some and are going to replace the bottom skins on the curb side, exterior due to damage from "kids" shooting her and a dent from a previous owner. We had originally thought we'd leave those alone and allow her to have "personality", but we decided due to the fact that they used pop rivets (holes in center) instead of buck rivets on the outside, they needed to be replaced and that we'd go ahead and replace the skins too. FYI -- the new skin material we located cost $225/4'x12' sheet, we thought not too bad a price. We did receive various prices around, the most expensive being $747+ per sheet! Wow!

We have quite a few photos to post, but we left our cameras at the building where she's being worked on, so I'll try to remember to bring them home tomorrow to post, we'll also need to become "Supporting Members" to post.

While the guys have been doing their thing, I've been researching and calling around for parts to keep them busy. ;)

We decided to change out the axle, so I have a call in to Andy at Inland RV for that; we purchased the two axles for our '99 Safari through them and everything went smoothly, great people to deal with. We removed our wheelwell covers, which were not reusable, and measured the opening in the frame for them, that measured 32". We are going to have the new ones fabricated as large as the opening in the frame will allow, which is that 32". We're thinking of trying to upgrade to 16" tires/wheels, so I measured those on the '99, that measurement is approx. 29 1/2" (our UV covers were on, so I got it as close as I could without removing them). I don't know if that is enough clearance or not -- 2 1/2" total. We'd like to put the Michelin XPS on this one too, and they are 16". Any thoughts?

We located belly pan aluminum from a salvage metal recycler for $32.50/4'x10' sheet, mill finish and I think it is .030 or .035 thickness. We're going tomorrow morning to pick up four sheets if it looks good.

I've been looking around for holding tanks too -- all three types. Anybody have a good place to buy them resonably? Wondering what tank sizes you all have for your tiny AS's please.

Wiring harness -- would anyone please share where they purchased their wiring harness?

Also, if anyone has any info to share regarding wiring, plumbing (we're planning to use PEX), and/or propane lines, we'd greatly appreciate hearing from you.

Marine plywood -- I've checked all around and could only locate 3/4" marine plywood, so that's what we are going with, picking up four sheets tomorrow. We plan to coat both sides and all final edges with marine polyurethane.

We also know we have to rebuild the step, it's in terrible condition.

We decided to leave the water closet (toilet and small sink only, no shower or wet bath) in the original location and put the bed beside that -- those are in the front. Hopefully the dinette will be in front of the rear window and the frig, sink, two-burner cooktop and any cabinets in the remaining areas -- sides and corners. We decided to place the bed up front by the water closet because that configuration would allow us to get in/out of the water closet and get in/out of the bed easily -- just hoping we can allow enough room to get past the bottom of the bed to the kitchen area, going past the wheelwell on the curb side.

Last week we ordered items from VTS (rivet items, window seals, etc.) so we'll have things to work with in that regard.

Thanks to all who are following our renovation thread and those who are sharing info and/or offering advice -- we greatly appreciate all.

More to come tomorrow.


the544man 01-14-2013 07:34 PM

hey deb,
I got a Bargman trailer light harness and junction box from vintage trailer supply. I still wired it for trailer brakes and trailer battery charge since I could. yes pex water lines are the way to go. I used the brass quick connectors with no problems. I also put all new 1/2" copper propane lines (same size as original) in with custom flexible pieces for the fridge and stove. a good local shop can make those for you. I look forward to seeing your pics.

Air Cruiser 01-15-2013 08:57 PM

Today we really looked that frame over and did a lot of discussing of what to do, the final outcome was that she's getting a new frame! We ordered some of the stock and will pick up the pieces in the morning........the frame building begins tomorrow. My DH thinks if all goes well, they should have the new frame completed by sometime Thursday. I guess I'll have the job of painting the frame with the POR-15.

The marine grade plywood came in and tomorrow I'll start coating that, top and bottom, with the marine grade polyurethane.

This morning we picked up the new belly pan aluminum and some 18-gauge for odds and ends. New exterior skin is to be delivered on Friday.

I tried to become a Supporting Member tonight, but had issues -- we don't use Paypal and I didn't see another way to pay for that. Also, I tried to upload a few pics, but for some reason those didn't go through. I thought I had read that I may be able to post a few pics without being a Supporting Member, but obviously not. After I hear back about how to proceed, we'll be in good shape.

Ted, thanks for the information regarding the wiring harness, wiring, water lines, propane lines, etc. Wow, there's so much to plan and make certain things are completed in the correct order!

I don't think I've asked this before, so here goes..............what has everyone used to wash down the skins to dissinfect them?

Oh, I also have to start stripping the interior skins of the zolatone. I think I read on Shelly's thread that she came up with something less harsh -- in the citrus line? I'll have to go back and reread her postings.

I think we'll pick up the insulation tomorrow morning too. We also discussed all three tanks, again, and made a decision on which to go with, now we just have to get those ordered.

Thanks again everyone.


Becky B. 01-16-2013 07:30 AM

About your axles....if you order through Colin H, you can pick them up in Elkhart, IN & save the shipping costs. I think he is exclusive for axis axles now. And, of course, while in Elkhart you can visit all the RV surplus stores!

Air Cruiser 01-16-2013 04:37 PM

Hi Becky.

Yes, we have decided to go through Colin Hyde for our axle, my DH talked with him again late this afternoon and I think Colin said he was going to try to place the order yet today, but I'm not entirely certain about that as I didn't speak with him.

You and I must think alike, that is exactly what I told my DH that I could do while picking up the axle. Could you elaborate more on ones that you know of besides Bertrangers (I think is misspelled their name), which would be rather close to Axis? I called them about belly pan aluminum; at this time they didn't have any, but we found some kind of local here for a good price.

I would like to find a two-burner cooktop; frig; etc.



Becky B. 01-16-2013 05:01 PM

These are the ones I went to:

Factory RV Surplus Website (574) 262-3327
1611 W Bristol St Elkhart Directions
R V Surplus & Salvage Website (574) 264-5575
3267 Northview Dr Elkhart Directions

Just google Elkhart RV surplus stores. I had more luck at the RV Surplus & Salvage store. I got my fridge there & the fresh water tank & the propane set up for the tongue. If you're making your own cabinets, Bontrager's has some nice lumber sometimes. I wish I had gotten more maple while I was there! The Factory RV Surplus has a building that's set back from the store (at least I think it's associated with that place) that had some cooktops & vents IIRC. It was a couple of years ago that I was there! I've had a stockpile of stuff under my pool table for my project & it's finally about all gone. Takes a lot of planning, that's for sure!

Air Cruiser 01-18-2013 11:24 AM

4 Attachment(s)
As you can see, we became a "Supporting Member", so we should be good to go with pics, let's see if I can do this.

If these download correctly, I think they are in this order:

1) Lily (aka Little Girl) on her way to her new home, approx. 1 1/2yrs. ago.
2 & 3) Pics of her old frame, I don't know if you'll be able to see all of the bad places.
4) Lily's shell resting on stands while the new frame is being built, etc.

The welding on the new frame has been completed and the sub-floor is being bolted onto it this afternoon. After that, I think they are going to turn it upside down to run the wiring for the trailer brakes, install new stainless steel gray tank, insulate, and anything else which is needed. Since we have all new steel in the frame, we decided not to use POR-15 and went with a coat of frame primer and a final coat of tractor paint. They reworked the step so it is sturdier and works much more smoothly. After all the underneath work has been completed, the new belly pan will be installed. Oh, they also welded on a new hitch.

We are picking up some stainless steel tomorrow morning, and my DH is going to fabricate and weld our gray and black tanks to fit our available spaces.

As I think I stated before, we ordered a new axle through Colin Hyde, who was wonderful to work with, and I think it should be delivered in around three weeks or so. We upgraded it to a 3500lb. axle due to various reasons, and will be able to use either 15" or 16" tires; we are fabricating new wheelwells, and I think they are going to be stainless steel too.

I was reading on the internet about Prodex, and I noticed that they have
a new one which has more RV value, I think about twice as much, I really forget now (they called it something or other "10" instead of "5"). Does anyone know anything about this new one and whether or not it should be okay to use on our AS?

I read that Shelly used Citristrip, so I picked up a jug and am going to try stripping the zolatone off of one of the panels -- if it works as well for me as it did Shelly, we'll pick up some more. They didn't have any plastic razor blades, but I did pick up plastic putty knives, so we'll see how that goes.

The new exterior skin aluminum did arrive a couple of hours ago, so we have that to use when needed.

We have been moving along fairly well this week, but everyone has to go back to work next week, so we will slow down considerably then.

Please speak up if any of you know of something we are forgetting.........we are new to renovating Airstreams, so we'd really appreciate a heads up.

I think that is all for now. The camera is supposed to come home with DH tonight, if so, I'll attach pics of the new frame, etc.


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