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Old 01-27-2020, 04:47 PM   #1
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Airs-dream's Avatar
1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
Lost in translation

Iím a novice (you know nothing Jon Snow) owner of a 1960 Overlander Land Yacht. Originally, the point was to find a trailer of any brand to remodel. I didnít yet know the magic of airstreams. I certainly never intended to completely renovate a trailer. But one mysterious Facebook market place ad later and poof, Iím an airstream Junkie. (The owner had taken down the posting a month ago and it was deleted, she double checked. Some things are meant to be.) Needless to reiterate the common knowledge that each older airstream is a bottomless pit of more projects to complete. Itís been an adventure of learning. Electrical however, hahaha...HA!... is just laughing at me. The more I learn the more I realize I am clueless.
So hereís a basic run down of where I am at right meow!

I finally figured out:

1. How to check the continuity of the wires. Most everything had already been dismantled. So I had to take 26í of stranded wire, splice it to the wires throughout and use that as the negative conductor to check with the multimeter. Score!! Most of them work!
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2. You have a better chance of finding detailed pictures or the Lochness monster than a 1960 electrical diagram of the OG system. Why? Because Airstream didnít make manuals until 1964.... but has no one else made one as they updated their own? Hmm? Is it really that elusive?

Wait! Found it!!!

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Youíre welcome!

3. Airstream most likely used romex in the early 1960s. Just after that they began using ďtwo strandedĒ. They didnít use ground wire in either application. This was made obvious by the two prong outlets. (Do I sound like I know anything about anything yet? Smoke and mirrors folks!) They would ground receptacles straight to the aluminum cutout. Not to the frame. My airstream, which will be hence forth be refereed to as Nessie, had 12g two stranded wiring. Along with random wiring throughout.

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(What is the crank for? Is that to control the awning?)

Except the shore power clearly has a ground. Where did it go to panel? And then just stopped?

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Iíll ask about other random wiring throughout below.

3. Airstreams used a Univolt system... which should also be called the magic pixie dust system. Here is where my confusion(s) begins to set in. What is the Univolt? Was it the converter with a built in surge protector?

Let the questions begin.... again.


I intend on adding ground wire to the two stranded wiring. I believe the wiring must have been updated because I donít see any romex at all. I bought bare 12g solid copper.

1. Does the ground wire need to be the same gauge as the two stranded already in place?
2 If I run the ground wire along the two stranded, will it be safe since it runs through insulation?
3. Why would romex not be safe in an airstream?
4. What should I use to secure the wiring in place? Currently itís taped onto the aluminum exterior panels. (With ground wire seems like there would be no point.
5. Should I be adding ground at all? Or does it work to ground it to the panels since they are aluminum and attached tot he frame?

I will add grommets any place the wires pass through the aluminum. I am of course going to be replacing the electrical outlets to three prongs.

Trailer lights electrical:

Iíll attach a picture. Iím lost in the sauce.
Half of the multitude of red wires I traced to the back lights.

1. So what are the rest of the wires too?
2. Does anyone know about the 1960 brake system? Where does the electrical run? I know there is some wiring under the sub floor. Which is only half exposed because the other half was in great condition.

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Do you like the knots? They are custom...

There is what looks like romex under the subfloor. For what I assume to be breaks. One yellow, one green.
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On that note.... what is happening here? Is that a splice?

Any and all help would be immensely appreciated.
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Old 01-27-2020, 04:56 PM   #2
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
What is the general patter I need to run the electrical.

Shore power - surge protector - converter - distribution panel - 2 circuits - 1. AC 2. outlets and refrigerator. A gfci in the kitchen and one in the bathroom.

Battery - converter - same distribution panel - 3 circuits, refrigerator, water pump, heater, lights, extras (TV, Microwave, Coffee maker).

I read that you canít have the distribution panel connect both the shore power circuits and the battery circuits. Yet most of the modern RV distribution house both?

Why do I need circuit breakers with two gfci outlets on that circuit.

Can someone please help me understand what these pictures are all about?

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Also next to the seven prong inlet is a four prong.. but itís not a flat four prong. It was all disconnected when I got to it so I donít know what itís for.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:14 PM   #3
Half a Rivet Short
2017 30' Classic
Carlisle , Pennsylvania
Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 9,126

Backing off a bit:

One A/C, two A/C's, no A/C at all? Electric furnace?

Those "big users" will determine how big an electrical feed you put in the beast. One A/C gets you a 30A feed. I would work that out before pulling wire. You need to know where the wire is going ....

On any RV that has been around for 50 years, I would question just about everything. If you have weird spaces in wires they likely were not meant to hold up this long. If you are going to the trouble to pull ground wires, why not just pull new wire (with no splices) to each location? Hassle wise it's not that much more trouble. Cost wise, there's not a lot of wire.

There have always been "mixes" of 12V and 120V "stuff" in RV's. If you will *always* be on shore power, 12V does not make a lot of sense. If you are trying to run on batteries, anything that is on 120V will need conversion (and wasted power).

LED based lights are a good way to go these days. That's true for 120V or for 12V. Either way you can get "dedicated" fixtures or stuff with some sort of changeable bulbs. The whole 12V / 120V / LED / Incandescent thing needs to be worked out ahead of pulling wire.

Will you run an inverter? Big battery bank? Solar ? Generator? Again things that need to be worked out ahead of pulling wire.

Obviously you may have all this figured out and planned. If so great. If not, stop and think a bit ahead of pulling this or that. You will be replacing various old school connectors / sockets and might as well only do it once.

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Old 01-27-2020, 05:26 PM   #4
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
Hi Bob! All advice is good advice.

Itís one AC. I thought about upgrading to a 50amp but I donít see the point.

I also thought I was going to complete rewrite it. Except the two stranded conductors are in perfect condition. Which I assume means that the wiring was updated not too long ago. Just not the receptacles.

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Old 01-27-2020, 05:26 PM   #5
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
There is no furnace in it. But it was propane. Not sure if that still means itís an electrical.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:28 PM   #6
dropped rivet in grass
2019 23' Flying Cloud
Tarzan , Texas
Join Date: Nov 2019
Posts: 68
You got a great opportunity here to upgrade everything, I would certainly forget about trying to make old stuff last longer. There is a point where electrical components age to uselessness and become actively dangerous to continue to use.
What you should do now is make a road map of what you need to do to meet what you want to do. If that made sense.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:40 PM   #7
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
I am intending replacing all of the trailer light and brake wires.

Iím also updating the lights to LED lights. I assumed with new outlets, lights and switches that I would be splicing it all within the electrical boxes.

Please feel free to let me know if Iím way off base.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:45 PM   #8
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
And, no solar as of yet. But it might be a good idea to run any wiring needed in case I want to add it in the future. Will add an inverter at the end of this. No generator. Normal rv battery bank. Iím trying to keep it simple.
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Old 01-27-2020, 05:57 PM   #9
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2018 27' Globetrotter
Elbert , CO
Join Date: Oct 2019
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Unless you are trying to return it to original condition, I would suggest that just about everything you have and what it used to do is moot (BTW, the crank may have been for raising/lowering a radio antenna. Heard about them, never saw one so this is speculation). Instead, I would start with a blank canvas. You've already decided on one air conditioner. I would look at replacing all outlets, switches, lights, brakes, heating, water heater, etc, only keeping those components that might still be useful. If you go this route, the wires you have in place now might be useful for pulling new wire through conduits/raceways. When you are done, you can probably sell old components to help pay for the rework, and you will have the peace of mind that all of your wires, circuit breakers, etc are new and state of the art. A lot has changed for the better in the past 60 years!
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Old 01-27-2020, 06:02 PM   #10
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1960 26' Overlander
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Dec 2019
Posts: 8
Makes sense. I suppose I wanted to use the current system as a template.
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Old 01-27-2020, 06:15 PM   #11
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1958 26' Overlander
Battle Ground , Washington
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 614
Images: 22
Your desire to move things forward is admirable. Uncle Bob and Tall Grass are giving you good advice to consider. Now is the time for planning what will be in the electrical system and possibly where it will be installed. Here's the list I started with as an example.


I agree with Tall Grass that using any of that existing wiring is not a good choice.

Do you have any of the original interior? In case you haven't found the document archive yet here is one doc on a 60 Overlander.


I would recommend reading through some of the threads on rebuilding a few trailers to better understand the order and planning that you'll need to do.
(Forums tab/trailers/orgainized by model)

Look forward to seeing your progress.
Harold & Rebecca

Our thread:
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Old 01-27-2020, 07:04 PM   #12

2003 25' Classic
Zanadude Nebula , Milky Way
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 16,846
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Welcome Aboard...👍

Interior lighting.

Our 63 Safari had both AC & DC lighting. The fixtures had two bulbs and two switch's.
PITA...reaching for the rong switch half the time.
Now is the time to go to 12v LED's.🤔

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ďIíve always thought that over planning was just a firewall against not being sure of what you really want to do.Ē

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Old 01-27-2020, 08:55 PM   #13
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1962 22' Safari
2016 30' Classic
Southeast , Michigan
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 2,721
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Quick reply to a couple of your questions as there was too much to read in one sitting.

The crank was for an optional TV antenna that is likely long gone.

The Univolt was the battery charger that made 12V DC from 120V AC. Airstream first put them in 1964 trailers, so your 1960 won't have one unless a previous owner added one. You'll want to use a modern multistage charger in you "redo".
Wally Byam Caravan Club International Historian
Vintage Airstream Club Historian

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Old 01-27-2020, 11:46 PM   #14
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1964 22' Safari
modesto , California
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 1,051
Some good advise so far. We are full of it! Free advice that is.

I commend you on the job your doing. There is a lot to do on a project of this scope. It looks like you are getting a handle on it, just don't give up.

Electrical is really pretty simple, It may be easier to understand electrical issues in your trailer if you break them down to there individual components. It will give you a starting point to trouble shoot or run new wire. I like to visualize it in my head then draw it out on paper (old school).

There are three separate electrical systems. Possibly four if you include solar.
The first two are the 120v AC and 12v DC supplied by shore power, your converter and battery supply. Solar works with your 12v DC system supplied by solar panels and a separate solar charge controller, etc.

The last system is separate from the others and consists of the running lights, turn signals, brakes, brake lights and backup lights. These are supplied from the tow vehicle through a modern 7 pin connector. (not that 4 pin connector).

If you do some research on Utube you can do this.

Best of luck,
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:05 AM   #15
Half a Rivet Short
2017 30' Classic
Carlisle , Pennsylvania
Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 9,126

Ok, if you are going with LED lighting, I think the approach in the "modern" trailers is the thing to use as a guide. They run 12V LED lights with the LED's built into the fixtures. Nothing. to fall out and not a lot of points of failure.

That means all your light wiring (power and switches) will now be 12V wiring. What it once was / now is / might be .... who knows. At one point it likely was all 12V. For a while they ran 12V's back to the battery through the shell of the trailer. Eventually they found that had some issues and did less of it. If you can, run everything back to the battery. Don't use the shell for negative ....

While you are playing with 12V, USB outlets likely were not part of the standard install back in 1962 . They probably need to be today. I like the Blue Sea single hole mount units. There are an *amazing* number of things that seem to need charging.

The amount of 120V wiring needed is pretty small. You will need to feed the A/C and the furnace (once you get one). The 120V to 12V charger/ converter will need a feed. Past that, you need an outlet about every 10' or so / outlet in each "room". Quick list:

1) Kitchen ( single outlet on the breaker)
2) Sleeping area (chained)
3) Bathroom (chained)
4) Outside (maybe)
5) Dinette area (chained)
6) Seating area (chained)

(That's a big vague since there is no single floor plan ...).

Keep in mind that this is all advice from the guy who:

1) Does not have to pay for it
2) Does not have to do the work
3) Does not have to listen to all the problems that came up that day
4) Lives far enough away that a drive by shooting is unlikely

All of this is very much up to you. It's *always* a balance between great ideas that involve lots of work and a simple decision to "just get it done". There is absolutely nothing at all wrong with deciding to get the job done.

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Old 01-28-2020, 10:16 AM   #16
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1973 21' Globetrotter
Houston , Texas
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 2,835
I'll offer my 2 cents: When I redid my '73 I did much of what you have done, checking continuity of all the wires. The other thing you will want to do is to check the insulation. This can be done by putting your Ohm-meter at one of the free ends of the wires and putting the other VOM lead to the shell. You should not see any continuity (ie., you should see infinite resistance) between your wires and the shell. If you have good continuity and insulation, then maybe you don't need to replace the wires themselves.

That being said, figure out what your wires are made of. There are trailers out there with aluminum wiring. If your AC wires are made of aluminum, then that is one more vote for replacing them.

My trailer's wiring had good continuity and insulation, and wires were all copper. I didn't intend to change the location of any of my outlets, light fixtures, or appliances, so it just didn't make sense to me to rewire the whole trailer, and run the risk of nicking a wire in the process and creating problems that I don't already have. Besides rewiring will require you to remove all of your interior skins. There is no such thing as using your existing wiring to pull the new wires through, as the wiring tends to be configured in a "spine and ribs" sort of arrangement where the main bundle of wires goes from the fuse box, up a wall, along the center of the roof, and then branches come off that bundle to go vertically down the wall to the outles/appliances.

But, also, take a moment to look ahead to the appliances you will be installing. For example, my trailer originally had a propane only water heater. The new water heater I intended to install has an electrical heating element in it as well, so I needed to run an additional AC wire over to that area of the trailer.

It is easy to set foot to the slippery slope of "as long as I am here..." but try to avoid extra work when possible.

good luck!
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