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Old 05-26-2020, 08:38 PM   #1
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 8
Custom Galvanized Frame - 1969 Sovereign 31'

Hello all - first ever post here.

I've been wanting to renovate an old Airstream for a while now, and ended up finding one nearby last fall, a 1969 31' Sovereign. The shell is in great shape, everything else....not so much. But that's okay, because my plan all along is that I want to build a whole new Airstream from the ground up, especially when it comes to the frame.

I am a mechanical engineer by education, but I now manage a metal fabrication company and am a certified welder (and working towards certified welding inspector later this year). My Airstream, like most of the era and size, has pretty severe back end rotting of the floor, and almost assuredly, the frame as well. My company specializes in heavy, structural steel fabrication, and we galvanize over a million pounds of steel every year. Therefore, I am looking forward to (hopefully) custom building a new, beefy frame and getting it galvanized, as I have yet to find anyone out there that has successfully accomplished this. Galvanizing is the best protection for this type of application, and I am looking forward to sharing my experience doing this so that hopefully others can learn more about the process and gain some ideas for their project(s).

Right now, I am in the middle of the demo process, having torn out all the furniture, carpet, etc but not yet the interior skins, windows, or roof mounted appliances. My plan is to hopefully accomplish the rest of the demo and shell lift off this summer, followed by a detailed frame design and fab this fall (I reserve the right to be waaaay too optimistic in this timeline, FYI).

The reason for the post this far in advance is because I would like to get feedback from those of you out there that have been through this type of frame build so I can be prepared. As of right now, my plan is to use at least 5" x 3" x 3/16" HSS (rect. tube) for the main structural members, with every inch of my being pushing me towards using 1/4" wall thickness for added rigidity. I don't plan to go less than 1/8" thick bent plate or C-channel for the crossmembers and outriggers, which I plan to custom cut and bend all new parts. In short, I plan to go heavy on this frame, mainly because my response to most problems is, "Build it bigger/stronger." Yes, I have read in many threads that Airstreams are monocoque shells designed to hold up the frame and that too much rigidity can shear off rivets and bolts. However, I am yet to "see" this in pictures and experience. So, if you have good experience in this field, I would love to hear your story and advice.

If you have other out-of-the-box or fun ideas for the frame that you've kicked around before, I would love to hear it. I've read a few suggestions to fabricate a metal strip that follows the outline of the shell and sits on top of the outriggers in order to help with support and water intrusion, and I thought that was an interesting idea I may pursue. I am versed in 3d modeling and have heavy equipment and CNC plasma cutting at my disposal, so right now is the time for interesting ideas.

After fabrication, I will plan to do some detailed posts about galvanizing the frame and why I think more people should consider it, based on their location and budget.

Looking forward to sharing my progress with you all and getting your insight.

Thanks,
Jared
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Old 05-26-2020, 10:24 PM   #2
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Jared, just for snickers and giggles look at vintage AVION trailers. 8 inch I beam frames. Get a paper cup to contain your drool.
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Old 05-27-2020, 06:14 AM   #3
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2003 25' Classic
Zanadude Nebula , Milky Way
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Welcome Aboard 👍

Watching with interest...👍

Consider a nice final silver power coat. Might make it ALL silver.🤩

Bob
🇺🇸

The stock rusty spare wheel...
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Old 05-27-2020, 03:22 PM   #4
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1972 25' Tradewind
Willis , Texas
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New Frame

Extremely interested in this string. Surprised my wife with a 1972 Tradewind Land Yacht. Gutted it and removed what was left of the flooring. It needs a new frame. I have a 110 volt wire feed welder and can melt metal together. Not that confident in my welding though for something as important as the frame. Considering upgrading to a 220 volt welder if I proceed in building the frame on my own. Was thinking the same regarding beefing up everything. Looking forward to responses.
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Old 05-27-2020, 03:53 PM   #5
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1999 34' Excella
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I'm interested also. So Ill be tagging along to watch. Lots of pictures please!

My background is commercial construction. As you know that goes along with a lot of structural steel fabrication. I'm not a certified welder, but I have burned a lot of rods and wire.

I've considered custom fabricating open web trusses for cross members to give more options for running things through the floor frame, and to get some extra depth in the belly for larger tanks and/or additional insulation.

Looking forward to seeing your progress!

Welcome to the AirForums!
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Old 05-28-2020, 07:40 AM   #6
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 8
Thanks all

Thanks all - I'll be sure to post pictures as I discover the condition of the frame and design a new one. Planning to use 3D software at this time, so should be able to share a lot of design aspects and get feedback. Just be patient with me

Foiled - If it wasn't for the banana wraps keeping me at 5 inches and that little thing called weight, I'd be right there with an 8 inch frame!

jeftamm - I don't have a lot of experience with the 110v welders, other than having used ours to do some TIG. I know they've come a long way, but I'm not sure they'll get the penetration you want for the thick parts of your frame. Either way, upgrading to 220v won't be a bad choice.

One of the biggest concerns I have when I see videos of people welding Airstream frames online is that I see a lot of vertical position welds, which is difficult to do correctly and requires the right filler metal. I definitely understand why people do it, as it is very difficult to rotate the entire frame onto it's side. When I get to that point, I may attempt to rotate the frame to weld those positions flat, or at least offer some advice for welding in the vertical position. The welds might look good, but getting the proper penetration is the important part.
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Old 05-28-2020, 08:28 AM   #7
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1994 34' Excella
North America , Earth
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Posts: 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by boger View Post
Hello all - first ever post here.



I've been wanting to renovate an old Airstream for a while now, and ended up finding one nearby last fall, a 1969 31' Sovereign. The shell is in great shape, everything else....not so much. But that's okay, because my plan all along is that I want to build a whole new Airstream from the ground up, especially when it comes to the frame.



I am a mechanical engineer by education, but I now manage a metal fabrication company and am a certified welder (and working towards certified welding inspector later this year). My Airstream, like most of the era and size, has pretty severe back end rotting of the floor, and almost assuredly, the frame as well. My company specializes in heavy, structural steel fabrication, and we galvanize over a million pounds of steel every year. Therefore, I am looking forward to (hopefully) custom building a new, beefy frame and getting it galvanized, as I have yet to find anyone out there that has successfully accomplished this. Galvanizing is the best protection for this type of application, and I am looking forward to sharing my experience doing this so that hopefully others can learn more about the process and gain some ideas for their project(s).



Right now, I am in the middle of the demo process, having torn out all the furniture, carpet, etc but not yet the interior skins, windows, or roof mounted appliances. My plan is to hopefully accomplish the rest of the demo and shell lift off this summer, followed by a detailed frame design and fab this fall (I reserve the right to be waaaay too optimistic in this timeline, FYI).



The reason for the post this far in advance is because I would like to get feedback from those of you out there that have been through this type of frame build so I can be prepared. As of right now, my plan is to use at least 5" x 3" x 3/16" HSS (rect. tube) for the main structural members, with every inch of my being pushing me towards using 1/4" wall thickness for added rigidity. I don't plan to go less than 1/8" thick bent plate or C-channel for the crossmembers and outriggers, which I plan to custom cut and bend all new parts. In short, I plan to go heavy on this frame, mainly because my response to most problems is, "Build it bigger/stronger." Yes, I have read in many threads that Airstreams are monocoque shells designed to hold up the frame and that too much rigidity can shear off rivets and bolts. However, I am yet to "see" this in pictures and experience. So, if you have good experience in this field, I would love to hear your story and advice.



If you have other out-of-the-box or fun ideas for the frame that you've kicked around before, I would love to hear it. I've read a few suggestions to fabricate a metal strip that follows the outline of the shell and sits on top of the outriggers in order to help with support and water intrusion, and I thought that was an interesting idea I may pursue. I am versed in 3d modeling and have heavy equipment and CNC plasma cutting at my disposal, so right now is the time for interesting ideas.



After fabrication, I will plan to do some detailed posts about galvanizing the frame and why I think more people should consider it, based on their location and budget.



Looking forward to sharing my progress with you all and getting your insight.



Thanks,

Jared


If you haven’t found and read the multi year journal by Truckasauras as he attempts a complete ground up rebuild...you should. The man does amazing work.

Search for Truckasauras forum name.
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Old 05-28-2020, 12:32 PM   #8
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1994 34' Excella
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Per the Truckasauras rebuild comment above, it's easier to find his project by name. Search for "Super Sized Sixty Sovereign"
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Old 04-07-2021, 09:24 PM   #9
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 8
Belly pan and shell removal issues

After a long winter hiatus, things have thawed out here enough to get back at the trailer. I've had the interior completely demo'ed already and am ready to start in on removing the belly pan and detaching the shell from the frame.

I started removing the exterior trim on the outside of the C-channel, and I was surprised to find that on the sides of the trailer, the exterior skins extend all the way under the frame and overlap the belly pan. Is this normal? I was thinking the trim was hiding a seam and there was a curved piece that would be removed. My concern is that if this is one continuous piece, I will not be able to set the removed shell on the ground after the frame is removed. The other issue is that the Carefree Awning bolts through the trim, so it appears I will need to remove the awning. I haven't yet researched that, but if someone has some quick advice on that task, I'd be all ears.

While inspecting the belly pan and making plans for removal, I noticed the belly pan sheets run nearly the entire length of the trailer including under the axles, with the seam running lengthwise down the middle of the trailer. I was a bit surprised by this, and will need to do some research on how to best remove the pan sheets. I don't mind replacing the pan with new sheets if needed - I'm more worried about the logistics of just getting the current pan out. Needless to say, the grinder will be within arms reach during the removal.... Worth noting - I was able to peek under the belly pan in a few areas and see the insulation under the floor is spray foam. Is this original? That would make for another surprise if so.

See pictures. Hoping to spend the day this Saturday making some progress!

Jared
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Old 04-07-2021, 10:07 PM   #10
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1951 18' Clipper
1965 17' Caravel
Currently Looking...
Ballarat, Victoria , Australia
Join Date: Apr 2018
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G'day Jared. Our 1970 clad wrapped underneath to form the edge of the belly pan too, and ours had glass insulation. We just left the shell hanging in the roof of the workshop while waiting for the chassis work.
We galvanised the original chassis and were very happy with the result, even though we had to straighten it up a bit due to warping from the big dip.
Good luck with the resto!
Stu
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Old 04-08-2021, 10:55 AM   #11
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 8
Stu - thanks for the response. Sounds like we had very similar situations in year of trailer and wanting to get the frame galvanized. I will come up with a system to support the shell instead of setting it on the ground.

Your frame looks great! I have scoured the message boards looking for others that have gone with galvanizing and hadn't had any luck. I am going to build a sturdier frame than the original, so I'm crossing my fingers I won't have the warping issues you speak of.

Thanks again,
Jared
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Old 04-13-2021, 11:12 PM   #12
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
Join Date: Jul 2019
Posts: 8
Progress

Made some progress this weekend.

First, I had to remove the awning from the trailer, as it was in the way of the lower exterior trim. I had to cut the awning fabric to release the energy in the torsion spring. My nearby oscillating fan did not survive to read this post.

After that, it was pretty straightforward to remove the banana wraps at the corners and the exterior trim. My side panels extend down and under the belly pan, so I drilled the rivets out there as well.

After that, I did a lot of head scratching. Most threads I've read would say it's time to remove the belly pan. Even as a semi-young, halfway-mobile individual, I was looking for excuses not to roll under a 5000 lb trailer and drop a 30 foot sheet of aluminum and 3000 mice turds into my face/fogged up safety glasses (such a wuss). After taking stock of the situation, I can't see any good reason not to wait to remove the belly pan until I pull the shell and drive the frame out. I will then be able to get the whole frame assy up on supports and either flip the frame or remove the belly pan with much more clearance underneath. I am planning to do some measurements and layout ideas before pulling the shell, and will be able to access the roof after pulling the shell (it will sit on rigid supports). If you think I'm missing something, now is a great time to let me know .

I am planning to spend a few weeks doing some detailed planning (interior layouts and subfloor measurements, furnace ducting, new holding tank locations and sizing) before hopefully pulling the shell sometime before June 1st. Using my oscillating tool, I test cut two of the bolts holding the bottom shell channel to the subfloor, and I'm happy to say they cut like butter. The 'Amazon Recommended' blades will go fast, but it still looks like the best method without having to go medieval with the grinder.

I'll try to post updates along the way. (Don't wait up)

Jared
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Old 04-14-2021, 12:25 AM   #13
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1951 18' Clipper
1965 17' Caravel
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G'day Jared, Since we were replacing the floor anyway, I just chopped the floor out and jumped on the exposed belly pan from above. Insulation, belly pan, acorns and mouse nards could then be cleaned up after the TW was rolled away. I didn't bother keeping the floor to trace a new one, just dropped the body back on and made patterns. When I rebuilt our '51 Clipper chassis I did trace the floor though.
Good luck!
Stu
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Old 04-14-2021, 08:59 AM   #14
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1958 26' Overlander
Battle Ground , Washington
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I'll add a couple suggestions to your frame design. I added a 1.5X1.5 steel perimeter to the frame for the shell to bolt to. It's welded on top to the frame rails/outriggers. I wanted the plywood subfloor removed from the shell-U channel-subfloor-frame sandwich. My subfloor sits inside the perimeter tube.

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I also built floor patterns before removing the shell so I could replicate the footprint of the U channel for building the perimeter frame. I also drilled 1/4" holes in the patterns at each corner through the frame rails to make sure I duplicated position once the shell was off. The end patterns are odd lengths (front to rear) but the middle ones are all 48" front to rear so I could use them for patterns to cut the subfloor plywood and maintain the factory edges of the plywood. Layout of crossmembers were changed to match this so the subfloor joints (side to side) always are on a crossmember (replaced with 4X2 rectangular tubing). This can get complex so that tanks (fresh, grey, black) all fit also.

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Last idea is not about the frame, but requires work on the frame to complete. I added conduit to the outriggers to take the bulk of the wiring away from the interior. (My outriggers are solid, Yours may have oval openings.) Obviously wiring in a 58 is minimal. Adding modern mechanicals adds a lot, plus I didn't want to daisy chain much electronically. We rebuilt/refinished the original interior panels/cabinets so I didn't want to cut a lot of access for wiring. Enough mods would occur with adding multiple tanks and plumbing. I used 1" pvc, recommend you go to 1.5" or 2". I could have used more space.

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The large junction box is where most of the wiring runs to (first conduit photo). I hid most of the controls were the old panel heater was. Kept the face panel to hide it all.

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Old 04-15-2021, 07:32 AM   #15
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1969 31' Sovereign
Des Moines , Iowa
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Stu/Harold - thank you guys for paying me a visit and the quick insights. Both of your threads look to be chock full of the type of information I am looking for for my project, and I will be reading them in short order. Based on your advice, I'm thinking I will get floor templates before pulling the shell. I might try to put them into my 3D modeling software that I use for work, so I can visually match them up with my frame design.

Harold -

I had considered that same idea about a perimeter piece of steel to rest the shell on, but had not found someone that had done it before. I'll read more about the details in your thread, but as of right now I'm leaning towards doing this.

Furthermore, you and I are on the same page in terms of frame design. I'm planning 5 x 3 x 1/4" rect. tube right now for the main members. Moving crossmembers is also in my future as I was going to make custom tanks like you too. One of the questions rolling around in my head, however, is how to handle furnace ducts under the floor to keep the tanks warm. I won't likely do much cold weather camping in the near future, but I like the idea of heat to the tanks in some fashion, both for resale down the road and change in lifestyle if we do more cold weather camping later in life. I see your design does not have heat below the floor - did you consider it, and were there any reasons you chose not to? I'm still torn on what I want to do on that subject, which will affect my tank and electrical design below the floor.

Jared
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Old 04-15-2021, 08:38 AM   #16
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I'm not familiar with the underfloor furnace ducts, so I can't help you there. I know there are also electrical heating pads that can be placed with the tanks as an alternative. Hopefully someone will step up and help you there.

Since I'm in the NW I don't have your winters (familiar with them, grew up in Minnesota, nine months of winter, three months of bad sledding ). I not as concerned with cold weather camping. There is so much plumbing in my unit that insulating under the floor seemed futile. If I was going to insulate down there I'd definitely go for rigid insulation. The belly is going to get moisture one way or another.

Clarification: I didn't make custom tanks. I used ones from Vintage Trailer Supply. Keep in mind my stock frame rails are only 4X2 so that limits what fits. You shouldn't have any problems finding stock units considering your frame rail size.

I would reconsider your 1/4" wall thickness. That's a lot of weight. I made my perimeter frame with 1.5X1.5X.125. In hindsight I wish I had used a thinner wall tubing. Considering the shell is only a few hundred pounds and its designed to 'flex' I didn't really need that much rigidity. My main goal was to get the subfloor out of the sandwich.

Looking forward to watch your progress. I'd suggest another thread by Truckasaurus. He built a new frame so you might find his take of benefit.

https://www.airforums.com/forums/f36...ign-84829.html
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