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Old 08-18-2020, 01:40 PM   #1
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League City , Texas
Join Date: Jun 2020
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1978 Sovereign Adventures

Chapter one: “No s**t, there I was”.

To get you caught up:

My beloved hubby and I are not new to RV’ing, but as we retired from the military, and moved home to Texas, we sold our 5th Wheel, and settled into a home. Why might you ask? Well, funny story – we also have an old boat that we have been restoring for a few years. So, in order to make progress on the boat, we settled in a couple miles from the marina where she sits/floats/lives so that DH would be able to complete projects while continuing to work.

But as luck would have it, we really loved and missed camping. This time though, we decided we wanted to have an Airstream. On a recent trip to the Midwest, we found what appeared to be the perfect one, old (1978 31ft Sovereign), and while it needed some work, we up for a bit of a project (Because a 1978 Formosa 57 just wasn’t enough….). The discussion was had and we decided to bring that baby home to Texas. We had her axels checked, bearings repacked, a quick inspection and we were on our way home.

Chapter 2: “I got a bad feeling about this…”,

After we got home and started digging in – oh my. This trailer was a bit more of a mess than we had thought (not unlike the boat…). The deconstruction began…. To make a long story short, I have never seen so many damn rivets in my life. I am not sure before we started this project that I had ever even seen a rivet outside of a pair of Levi’s, but I am sure experienced with them now. There were rivets that were in rivets that were under screws. I have a theory that the Airstream Craftsmen were either slightly liquored up or had a really warped sense of humor when they put these trailers together. I like to refer to it as the “Airstream jigsaw puzzle”.

Any whoo – I will save you the very boring details of the tear down, but I will try to post some pictures down below. We were very lucky that there was a lack of rodents and bugs, although we were apparently the neighborhood slum lord for a series of wasp nests. All in all, the tear down went pretty quickly, up to the point of removing the shell. And that is where it got interesting…

Chapter 3: You have to use a Gantry. “Here – hold my beer”.

As we are limited in space at our place of residence, not to mention an HOA that does not allow travel trailers to be parked for more than 10 hours, we decided to rent a storage unit for the tear down. Apparently south Texas is so ridiculously popular and full of RVs that storage units big enough for a 31ft trailer are VERY few and far between.

Lesson #1 – Anticipate more space than you need. A lot more space than you need.

After two days of frantic searching, we secured a unit slightly smaller than we would have wanted. Like, we had to hold the door to the storage shed open with a pole to get the trailer backed in without the AC ripping off the door. Also, there is only about 2 feet on each side. And on the back. But – she was under cover.

Lesson #2 – Build a Gantry. Don’t think twice. Just build it.

After four weeks of tear down (time limitations – hubby’s work, and the heat. I could only really work by myself for a few hours in the morning, and on the weekend, we worked until about noon). It was time for the lift. We decided to do a full lift, because the way the outriggers looked, and as we pulled up flooring, furniture and cabinetry the subfloor was very, very rotted. We were however, limited in the space/size of the storage shed, so in the end, we made the decision to lift using the jack method, with some borrowed ideas from other forum posters. I say “jack method” for lack of better terminology. I am going to skim over some of the details here, but you should get the gist.

Lesson #3 - The jack method might work if you have plenty of space and the right jacks.

DH built out some framework inside of the Airstream (which we lovingly refer to as “Mambo”), built out some wood frame holders to lay the 2x6s across, some bracing for the roof, and other miscellaneous things (blocks to secure the jacks, poles to press for the lifts).

Lesson #4 – Should have removed the AC first.

Due to the limited space, and not having a ladder or scaffold at the time to remove the AC, we left it in. Here is a fun fact – during a lift if the weight shifts, the weight of the AC will compound uneven weight distribution, and you will be struggling to get the shell straightened out, and not slipping off the side. So – take off the AC if you are using the jack method.

Lesson #5: Have a plan – be prepared to adjust.

Holy moly. We anticipated the lift taking one full day with three of us working.

Day 1 of “the lift” we spent most of the day fighting hidden rivets, screws and bolts between the frame, the shell and the steel plate in the back. At the end of the day, the jacks were in place, and you could see daylight between the shell and frame.

Day 2 of “ the lift”. One of the jacks was lifting at a tilt, which was throwing off the shell. In theory, the shell should have lifted a few inches in the front, then a few inches in the back, but the whole time lifting straight up. But, no.

Day 3 of “ the lift”. We replaced the floor jack and now had two scissor jacks. Yay! Both jacks were lifting straight up and evenly. Then that whole AC weight distribution thing happened. Then we realized that we actually needed an intermediary form of stabilization before Mambo could actually rest on the long-term blocks/boards. So – off to Lowes! I should have bought stock in Home Depot and Lowes. We purchased enough cinder blocks to add a piling at each of the four corners, which we used to keep the shell from shifting while we finished the lift.

Finally, the big day – we pulled out the trailer chassis out from under the shell and brought that to the house. Because it is behind our gate, the HOA should not be able to see the chassis while we finish the subfloor and tank removal.

I don’t mind telling you that when we were done that day, I had an adult beverage rather early.

Chapter 4: Cleaning up the mess.

This morning I spent a couple hours removing about a third of the rotted subfloor and insulation – mostly with a crow bar because whatever was holding them on could not be removed – we will have to cut those off after the floor is removed.

One good thing – it seems that the frame does not look completely rotted, but I do think that we have some rear end issues.

So, you are caught up on our adventures. I wanted to post as we continue on this path, as because of willingness of other posters to share, we learned a lot about techniques and problems to anticipate. We very much appreciated the information.

Quick question if anyone has any idea:

We do not see that the rear end is broken or rotted off the frame, but rather that there seems to be a lack of supporting beams. Is this the “rear end separation” issue?

**having difficulty getting photos uploaded - more later.

Happy Monday!
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Old 08-19-2020, 05:37 AM   #2
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1978 31' Sovereign
New Smyrna Beach , Florida
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Wow

Have you folks got a tiger by the tail!! I’ve been where you are and understand the space issue. I used gantries to do my lift, and was fortunate to have space to use at my don’s shop.

Rear end separation is where the frame and shell separate from each other. This is caused by corrosion and rotted wood. It is caused by water penetration where the water runs down the back of the trailer and leaks in. A bad toilet seal can also cause the floor to rot. Ass to that that the hot water heaters also are leak prone and you have all the ingredients you need to rot the connection between frame and shell.

You should be given a medal for attempting a shell off resto. Some refer to this as the full-monty. You’re in a select group especially when you consider sovereigns.

I’m marking my 20th month working on mine. Working alone makes progress slow, but I have enjoyed the challenge as I’m sure you will.

I’ve subscribed to your thread and I encourage you to blog about your progress as it will help others. But posting progress has helped me. Help from others has been key in this project. I couldn’t have done it without The help of other forum members.

Glad to help any way I can.
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Old 08-19-2020, 05:49 AM   #3
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1978 31' Sovereign
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PS I didn’t find a control panel and decided to go a different direction. I’m going to use a SeeLevel monitoring system.

While you have the frame out, you should consider upgrading your holding tanks. The tanks are woefully small in the 78 Sovereign.

To answer another question you asked, there is a cross member that goes across the back that the hold down plate is riveted to. The metal isn’t that thick and in my AS, it was rotted away. But there is one. I’ll dig around for a pic and post later today.
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Old 08-19-2020, 06:30 AM   #4
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1956 22' Safari
1962 28' Ambassador
Williston , Vermont
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Welcome to the Forums and the small community of vintage Airstream restorers. Most things I have learned about our hobby came from here and the folks who offer ideas and suggestions. It also is a great place to document all of your hard work in case you ever have to sell your beloved “Mambo”.

I very much enjoy your writing style and look forward to following along on your journey. - Mark
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Old 08-19-2020, 09:50 AM   #5
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League City , Texas
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Thanks!

Thanks everyone! Yes, it is a challenge, but luckily, hubby is blessed with the mechanical/engineer mind frame so we are not at a total disadvantage. Having worked on restoring the boat has also taught us a few extra skills. And by "us" I mean him. I am just built in labor.

We are going to upgrade the tanks, and of course all new plumbing, wiring, ect. This morning I ran into an issue with removing some of the subfloor. The majority of what I worked on yesterday was rotted so it came up very easily, but today whatever kind of bolt/screw that the floor is pinned down with will not allow me to pry it up. I think we are going to have to cut the bolts when hubby has some spare time.

We definitely had the rear end separation, however, it was not really noticable until we started the lift - at that point you could really see the sag. This was another factor is the challenges of our "jack method" lift.

Although the majority of the frame I see is pretty decent, I was surprised at how light and thin weight the frame metal was - definitely going to need some reinforcement.

Any thoughts on grinding vs. sandblasting anyone? We are leaning towards sandblasting as we have a very reasonable quote, they are a mobile team and they have a rotisserie to flip the frame. Not to mention that not having to work in the very hot Texas sun would be a bonus.

Added a few photos today!
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Old 08-19-2020, 09:58 AM   #6
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Thank you! I very quickly saw that I was going to need to maintain a sense of humor with this project.
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Old 08-19-2020, 10:17 AM   #7
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More photos

Here are a couple more photos!

That is Izzy the black lab, my hired help.

Do y'all notice that huge green mast in the background??? I did mention the ongoing boat project right? Does anyone else have 60ft masts in their yard? No? Just checking.

Get a boat he said... it will be fun he said....
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Old 08-19-2020, 10:21 AM   #8
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Haha! The "Full Monty" makes it sound so fun - like a weekend at the beach.
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Old 08-19-2020, 01:13 PM   #9
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1978 Sovereign Adventures

The acronym BOATS stands for “Bring over another thousand, skipper!” My dad was in that business all his life. He defined a boat as a “ hole in the water, lined with wood, metal or fiberglass, into which you throw lots of money. “

There are days I liken my Airstream to either a boat or an airplane, and most days it is costing lots of money for maintenance and upgrades.

It’s worth every bit of it when you are out camping someplace beautiful or just stopping on the road and heading back to a nice clean personal bathroom, especially at my age...!
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Old 08-20-2020, 05:57 AM   #10
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1956 22' Safari
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Definitely go with the sand blasting. You don't really realize how big these frames are until you have to clean every last little bit of it. Make sure you have a good paint ready when they are done. They rust awful fast. Either POR15 or Eastwood Chassis black.

A trick with the floor bolts, use a hole saw of about 2". Put the center bit right next to the head of the elevator bolt and basically cut the floor all around it. Just don't go too deep and saw the frame. The last little bit of wood easily breaks away and then use a reciprocating saw to finish the job after the floor is removed. Worked well for me. - Mark
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Old 08-20-2020, 10:08 AM   #11
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I second the sand blasting, if for no other reason you get to see progress quite fast. It will also make your welder (even if its you) very happy to have a clean base to work from if frame repairs are needed.

Since your portable sandblast contractor is mobile, suggest you tow frame somewhere away from the house. Noise, dust, etc. will not make for happy neighbors.

Look forward to following your progress. It takes a while, but the end result of having your own layout is worth it.
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Old 08-22-2020, 12:56 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by steinVT View Post
Definitely go with the sand blasting. You don't really realize how big these frames are until you have to clean every last little bit of it. Make sure you have a good paint ready when they are done. They rust awful fast. Either POR15 or Eastwood Chassis black.

A trick with the floor bolts, use a hole saw of about 2". Put the center bit right next to the head of the elevator bolt and basically cut the floor all around it. Just don't go too deep and saw the frame. The last little bit of wood easily breaks away and then use a reciprocating saw to finish the job after the floor is removed. Worked well for me. - Mark
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Thank you, that is a splendid idea. Thank you very much for the picture.

Right now the repairs went on hold for a few days as we are prepping for the double whammy of TS Laura and TS Marco this coming week. It is never a dull moment in Texas, especially during hurricane season.
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Old 08-22-2020, 12:59 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by 57Vintage View Post
I second the sand blasting, if for no other reason you get to see progress quite fast. It will also make your welder (even if its you) very happy to have a clean base to work from if frame repairs are needed.

Since your portable sandblast contractor is mobile, suggest you tow frame somewhere away from the house. Noise, dust, etc. will not make for happy neighbors.

Look forward to following your progress. It takes a while, but the end result of having your own layout is worth it.
Good idea - We will either take her back to the storage facility and temporarily rent an outside parking area or take her down to the company’s place of business if they will allow that sort of thing.

We like to reserve aggravating the neighbors for special occasions....

Thx, Mike and Nicole
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