We came, we saw, we conquered, we went home. That was an excellent shakedown trip and we had a lot of fun with it. We suffered some small disasters, had a minor infestation of santas, and came this
close to squishing another Airstream owner and crushing his trailer on the road on the way in. Good times!
I put in the new Fantastic fans the weekend before we left, which turned out to have been the best use of my time in all of this as they worked exceptionally well to keep us from baking. Unfortunately because of our positioning they also let a lot of dust blow in but oh well, aesthetics took priority there.
I ordered a Reese 600lb spring-arm hitch from PPL, got it in plenty of time but then had some issues with setup. Well, for one thing nothing was loaded right, but more importantly my driveway isn't level (slopes to one side a little) and getting the trailer in and our is not something to do casually. Also, the specs for the nuts said to torque to some very high numbers - 300 lb-ft for the nuts attaching the hitch head to the shank, 450 lb-ft for the hitch ball (a 2" ball on a 1.25" shaft). Also, it looked like the hitch height was going to be more than allowed for with the shank I had ordered so I had to run around and buy another one locally, and then it turned out the first one worked anyway. Grr. Probably should've bought the whole thing locally and had it installed, but too late now.
Anyway, the day before we left I pulled the trailer out of the driveway and got it hooked up pretty much perfectly after a few false starts. The trailer came with the cams and snap-up hooks for a dual-cam sway control, which were pretty old but I figured, what could possibly go wrong? Once I got it adjusted - both hitch height and head angle, involving a lot of use of a 4' ruler to measure wheel well heights and so on - everything came together, so that using 5 links on the chains worked well to level the trailer and located the cam heads on the new spring bars exactly under the bend in them. I torqued the nuts the redneck way with a 5-foot cheater bar and had no problems with loosening, although at some point I should take the hitch into a mechanic and have them torqued properly. Getting used to the clanks as the bars snap off the cams when you go around tight corners took a little while.
Hitching up is super easy with the backup camera in the truck. Strongly recommended. I can do it on my own in one or two tries rather than needing 17 tries or a friend directing. Of course, the backup camera is useless once the trailer is hitched - I'm looking into splicing a switch into the video feed, though, so that a camera on the back of the trailer could feed the OEM screen in the dash. That would be pretty neat.
The safety chains on the trailer weren't long enough to go under the big hitch head, but luckily the new hitch had come with heavy chains designed to be attached to the spring bars. So, I ran them through the safety loops and attached both ends to the locking link on the safety chains, for a setup that I think was safe. I should go and get a few inches more chain added to the fixed safety chains, though, so I don't have to resort to what looks like a kludge (although as I say, I am pretty sure it was safe).
ANYWAY, here's a photo:
I had also just added a new breakaway controller with its own rechargeable battery, so that I don't have to have an unfused line from the trailer battery - basically just to keep the onboard battery isolated from the outside world. That worked fine and was only about $40.
The trailer cable was a replacement that I had wired myself, worked fine as expected. It completely isolates the truck and trailer 12V
systems, so the trailer battery isn't charged by the truck. The truck just runs the lights and brakes. The brake cabling needs some work (too many unsealed wirenuts for my liking - they need to be weatherproof wirenuts or wrapped in heatshrink or self-amalgamating tape at least) but the brakes work well. Too well, in fact, but we'll get to that.
I also bought and installed a Tekonsha P3 brake controller, which I recommend highly - worked great, and has good indicators and fine controls.
Here's a slightly closer view:
Packed our stuff mostly in plastic totes (lack of cabinets) but some in the drawers and cabinets that are in. Strapped the fridge to the floor by putting in some temporary eyebolts. We seemed to pack by just throwing everything we owned in a box and putting it in the trailer. Well, we were in a hurry, and you don't want to forget something. The boxes filled most of the floor space in the trailer, which meant they could just be loose, they weren't going anywhere.
So, towing: I was pretty concerned about taking it out, since it had been sitting for two years and the tires were of unknown age - they have lots of tread, and no outside cracking to speak of, but still, who knows how old they are. The rims are split-rims too, which means they probably weren't replaced very recently. But, a few miles of towing, then a few miles on the freeway before I pulled off to check everything was okay, and everything seemed very good. Towing with the dual-cam set up was very different even to the towing with the big moving truck I did before - much more connected and stable, and completely locked together for lane changes and corrections. It really worked well. Towing, I got about 12-13mpg with the Tundra. The trailer is light because it's stripped, but I think it'll be okay towing once it's complete and quite a lot heavier.
A stop for gas and obsessively checking the hookup for the 95th time, then up Donner Pass. No problem at all maintaining 70+ all the way up, and the truck even kept up about 10mpg for it. Here we are at Donner Summit:
Coming down was easy too, probably too easy and too fast, because approaching Reno we were in the middle of a conversation about the tires - the one that goes, "These tires are a little old but I think they're fine!" - when Ellen said, "Is there supposed to be black stuff coming off the trailer on this side?"
The answer to that being "no", I pulled over. Here's why:
Oh dear. So, I jacked the trailer using the somewhat pathetic Toyota jack (not having brought a real jack just for the trailer, which I will do in future) and removed the wheel using the lug wrench from the truck. Which was too big for the nuts, but luckily not so much too big that it didn't work. Getting the spare off proved also to be exciting. It's under the front on a sort of A-frame that drops to the ground. Well, there's not enough clearance to get it off the retaining rod with the trailer hitched and level, so I had to find a pile of blocks, unhitch, and use the hitch jack to lift it far enough to get it out. All in all a pain in the ass, but at least it was daylight and not raining. Or snowing. Or hailing. And we didn't have too many time pressures.
The spare turned out to be a bit older than the tires on the trailer, with some sidewall cracking, but a similar lack of wear. Well, what are you going to do, so I put it on. A kind local driving by stopped and offered help, which I declined but appreciated and advised us of a tire place at the next exit. Unfortunately by the time I was done it was 6:30pm - this was Saturday - and everywhere was closed. We ended up driving to a local Wal-mart on the off-chance they would have it, where I had the usual spectacularly incompetent and rude customer service who eventually told me I was out of luck, which I had already figured.
We decided to head out anyway - only 100 miles to the playa, I could probably tow the trailer on 2 wheels anyway if we got another blowout (since it's so light right now), and in the worst case we could just sleep on the side of the road and get a new tire on Sunday. Bought a couple of 30 gallon water drums and had them filled in Reno, unfortunately this process took so long that we couldn't find anywhere to buy propane (another thing we should've done earlier) so we wound up leaving with only one full tank when we should have had three. At the stop in Reno, ran into someone with a smaller (and polished) '64, and we chatted a little.
Then the rest of the trip was uneventful right up until the little bit of country highway right before the playa, where I saw coming out of the dark (quite far away) the taillights of that Airstream with the hazards on. I was doing 70 at the time so I slowed down quite a bit, but expected him to be pulled off the road. Unfortunately there was no shoulder there, and so he was stopped in the traffic lane (perhaps unavoidably but I couldn't tell because I couldn't safely stop either) and I found myself heading right at the back of this stopped trailer with the owner standing between it and me. Braked hard and went around, and it probably wasn't that close, but it was definitely pretty scary. It would've been sort of difficult to explain the collision of two 1964
Airstreams in the middle of nowhere, too.
Once there, Airstream and truck had no problem with the playa surface, and we got in pretty fast and found our camp by maybe 11m or midnight. The weather was a little windy and dusty so we didn't hang out much. Slept on the floor on some thick rugs the first night, woke up to a pretty clear day on Sunday as I recall, where we did a lot of unpacking but not much setup. We did get a power feed set up from the center camp grid, which was excellent as it meant I could run the fridge on 110V the whole time and we didn't have to run our generator. No use of A/C allowed, but that was okay.
Monday was dusty, but it wasn't too bad inside:
We stayed inside a lot that day. But, I did set up the 55A power converter that had been sitting inaccessibly in storage all of last year, so we had plenty of 12V
power too. I have the external lights all replaced with LEDs, and a switch wired on the hitch that runs them from the trailer battery rather than the truck, so I had them on the whole week. Looked pretty nice and they were a good navigational aid in the dark, especially before we had many other lights up.
I also hooked up the water pump to a hose going to one of the 30 gallon drums outside - this never worked very well I think because the hose was both too long and too flexible to get a good vacuum, but eventually I got the hose shortened enough that we did get okay water pressure. But now I know it needs an accumulator tank to even out the water pressure and avoid cycling, which was pretty bad. The water pump doesn't vibrate much once set up right, but maybe enough vibration that I should try a little harder to isolate it from the box it's on. Still, RUNNING WATER was enough of a treat that the minor drawbacks didn't matter. Set up the grey water tub under the sink drain, and the 32-gallon portable waste tank under the toilet. Both worked fine as you'd expect (not being very complicated). Internal tanks would've been nicer, but what are you going to do.
Another task was blocking out most of the windows with foil-bubble-foil insulation:
Worked well, very simple. I put a panel in the jalousie window and sealed it around the edges with foil tape, as that window was letting in a ton of dust even though it has new seals and fuzzy strips.
We donated our one working propane tank to the camp stove. Was okay really, we didn't need hot water for anything (pretty hot just being in a barrel in the sun all day anyway), had a big camp stove, and ran the fridge on 110V all week.
Tuesday was nicer:
We spent Tue/Wed/Thu mostly setting up our camp. One dome, two 10x20 shade structures, a kitchen, an outside shower, some sculptures, bones, a 12V
sound system using a big car amplifier that drove 6 speakers scattered around, and my (somewhat self-selected) job, the lighting. Which mostly means cable ties and many many of them. I went through maybe 300-500 in the week and pretty much always had some ties and some diagonal cutters on me (the cutters because I cannot stand the trailing ends of cable tires, they must be trimmed). Lots and lots of rope light, spotlights, red lanterns, etc etc. I added a few bits of LED rope light to the back bumper of the AS too.
Here's a few photos of the camp at night:
As you can see the Airstream was backed up to the road in front, and we also used it as a projection booth for movies shown on the side of the big rental box truck. So it was pretty front-and-center there and we had to shoo away some inquisitive visitors who found the open door a bit too inviting and walked right in. Hey! That's my house!
I ran some lights up the front radio antenna and the flagpole bequeathed to me by the previous owner which I attached to the back bumper. Also good for finding your way home in the dark. Next year I'm thinking of getting a really, really big flagpole and doing the same thing, with much greater visibility.
A photo from one friend:
and a panorama from another:
Saturday morning was dusty, we had some visitors with kids come by and had 7 people inside for a long time - which was fine as long as most of them were sitting down. Nice to have somewhere to hide that wasn't just as dusty, and still have space to hang out like civilized people - tents don't work very well for that there.
The man was burnt as scheduled, with an excellent fireworks show and some really gigantic fireballs. Good show in general and no firedancers (who I like up close but find unspectacular as part of a big show).
Sunday the temple burned, nice and slowly, with about 20 or 30 minutes of dead silence in the crowd where we were sitting at least.
Monday we packed up, took our stuff to our new storage unit in Reno (hooray for not having to drive a big rental truck from SF!) and I went on an exciting expedition to the dump, where I threw away an entire pickup bed full of useless junk we had accumulated over the years. That was aside from another entire pickup truck full of trash. Which always looks bad, but it's almost certainly less than 20-some people would produce at home in 10 days.
Bought a new tire and wheel in Reno but left the old spare on, ditched 1/5 split-rims on the unsuspecting tire place, and drove home uneventfully. Got home during the afternoon, found cars parked such that I had to drive down the street the wrong way again to angle the trailer in, but had little problem getting it back in the driveway without even much outside direction.
All in all, a pretty good trip I would say. Here we are back home:
I rinsed both truck and trailer over the weekend and got rid of a lot of dust, but both need cleaning with detergent, and the inside of the Airstream needs major attention with a vacuum cleaner and a lot of cleaning. Microfiber works really well at picking up the playa dust though. It's not as bad as you might think. Lots of other stuff put out on the back patio and sprayed with the hose, which also works well. We're about 1/2 unpacked now, but as noted we didn't pack very well and that includes unpacking and cleaning most of my tools too.
Next year should be even better. Water tanks! Propane! Beds! A belly skin! Maybe new wheels, tires, and maybe even axles! Although actually the existing axles seem to have a lot of spring in them still. More ground clearance would be nice though. And maybe next year I might have polished more than about 12 square inches too.