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Old 08-30-2016, 10:04 AM   #1
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Axles: Dexter, Leaf Springs, Coil Springs, Straight Axles

There are 1120 Threads on Axles. Most concern repairing those used on Airstreams using Dexter Axles.

There are Threads describing the 'interior rocking and shaking' while being towed and containing a brave Airstream Owner, wanting to experience what happens in an Airstream, as it begins to be torn apart on any kind of road.

Has there ever been a discussion or a 1930's or later Airstream using Leaf Springs?

I had 4x4 pickups with leaf springs up front and in the rear. Four on Straight Axles.

Then 4x4 pickups with front coil springs and the rear leaf springs.

Both rode just fine for me. Maybe softer with the coil springs up front, but maybe the older four leaf springs were stronger and rode stiffer.

Airstream is stuck with Dexter Axles. They survived, no doubt, old technology and the improvement in modern suspensions... unscathed. Why discard a good thing, even though it seems that every other major Trailer manufacturer uses leaf springs and axles. Why is that?

Older Corvettes, I like the 1963 to 1967 having a rear leaf spring called 'independent' suspension with ONE leaf spring running from wheel to wheel. Sure was nice for cornering and control. I did not like the rear end sag due to needing one or maybe a second leaf spring for suspension. The fiberglass did not come apart during the Winter when vulnerable, or the Summer when the fiber glass was more... flexible.

WHY the persistent use of a outdated, and possibly obsolete, axle with rubber inserted for... support? Obviously from some brave individuals riding within their towed trailer... it is chaos. Lots of Shaking and Vibrations to loosen bolt and pop rivets alike.

Of course I am thinking outside the Aluminum Shell of my Airstream.

I figure that the Dexter Axle system is a cheaper alternative to a better... modern and tested axle or support with Leaf Springs running side to side as Independent Suspension. If it worked for Corvettes... why not Airstreams.

Has anyone tried anything different, or is this what we Airstream owners have to accept as a part of the purchase price? One or two stiff axles that disassemble our trailers, so you can purchase another in the near future, that has not rearranged the interior cabinets after several years of use?

Rivets have been around since Airstreams were being designed. What happened to the Axle and support structures? Maybe new Engineers from Porsche need to help design a trailer that can ride the Interstates and Boondock off road equally well.
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Old 08-30-2016, 01:49 PM   #2
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Vintage Airstream website Axle question & answer

Vintage Airstream: vintageairsteam.com

A Google search of... Axles use on Airstreams
Check this site out. I have just started.

Q: What style are these axles on my trailer?

A: Until 1962, axles used on airstreams varied greatly, from the cast cross member leaf-spring “Model A” type axles of the ‘40’s and early ‘50’s, to the heavy duty leaf-spring tubular type specialized trailer axles of the mid and late ‘50’s, usually by Hadco. In 1961 Airstream introduced their own unique suspension assemblies which were called Dura-Torque. Later, the suspension manufacturing unit was sold along with the design and rights. It became Henschen Mfg, and is located in an old building several blocks from Airstream in Jackson Center.
This new design was a square tube (axle) with a smaller square steel shank with two 90 degree angles (suspension arm) inserted into the larger tube. Cushion and support is provided by four approximately 12″ long round rubber rods of approximately 1/2″ diameter inserted between the flat side of the suspension arm and the corners of the square axle tube. The rods are temporarily placed in a super cooling freezer beside the work station, using liquid nitrogen to shrink the rubber rods. The rods are quickly removed from the freezer, placed by a gloved hand against the suspension arm, and the arm with rods are shoved into the axle tube. The weight ratings of the Henschen Dura-Torque axles are determined by the diameter and hardness of the rubber rods. To this durable but smooth riding system, conventional shock absorbers are then added for additional ride dampening.

Q: Do these Dura-torques wear out?

A: Yes. The rubber rods eventually will take a set from their own weight and just sitting. High-mileage trailers, or those left out in the elements can suffer from deterioration of the rubber rods will wear out even faster. There isn’t any hard and fast rules. There are early ‘60’s trailers with plenty of spring left, and 1970’s trailers that are shot. When the ‘spring’ goes from these axles, going over bumps and pot-holes can result in the torsion arm coming up and hitting the stop there to prevent the wheel from contacting the wheel-well or the rubber rods from being displaced. This jolt and not only shake up your packing, but can weaken the frame and trailer structure and skin joints.

Q: How can you tell if the Dura-torque axle is worn-out?

A: This is going to vary depending on who you talk to. A good rule of thumb is that the trailing torsion arm shouldn’t be angled upwards past horizontal when the trailer is fully loaded. A good second opinion verification is to put masking tape or sealant on the up stop. If the stop gets hit during routine travel, you will be able to tell, and your axle is a candidate for replacement.

Q: You had a 1965 Axle break on your Caravel. Do you recommend replacing the Dura-torque Axle precautionary?

A: If you have a pre-1967 axle with non-tapered inner bearings, I would recommend replacing the axle. More info in this restoration topic section. Also, any axle older than ~1978 is going to have the rubber rods pretty much worn out and should be evaluated for replacing anyway.

Q: If I have to repair/replace my Dura-torque axle, what are my options?

A: Henschen no longer repairs the older Dura-Torque axles, replacement is the only solution (Airstream Dealer). For experienced restorers, you can spec out a new torsion axle from Dexter or Axis Products, but you cannot order, say “an axle for a 1968 Safari”. More info in this restoration topic section.

Q: What about the older leaf spring axles?

A: Here you have many more choices. The axle components can be replaced or repaired using conventional auto/trailer parts, such as leaf springs, brake drums and brake parts, shocks, hubs, bearings and wheels. If an axle is too far gone (rusted or broke) a new Dexter or Hadco axle can be attached, or a new torsion axle can be retrofitted. See this Restoration Resource section for alternatives and the replacement we did on our Flying Cloud.

Q: Are two axles better than one?

Aepends. Modern trailers usually always have 2 for a couple of reasons. Manufactures can use 2 lower cost, lighter weight axles, wheels & tires than the more expensive heavy duty single axles. 2 axles are more stable and the trailer tracks straighter. A tire blowout can result in a easier to manage condition, you can even remove a blown tire and proceed slowly on the remaining tire to a service station. The downside? You have 2 of everything. Twice the cost of maintenance – tires need to be replaced every 7-8 years, bearings repacked every 3 years. When fixing up an older trailer you may have to replace the axles – again twice the cost. Single axle trailers are more maneuverable and have more interior storage (less wheelwell size). As you can see, there is no clear answer.
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Old 08-30-2016, 01:59 PM   #3
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Vintage Axles 1950's and 1960's

For the Curious, as myself... wonderful site:

Henschen Axle (1960's)

Dexter Axle (current)

Kelsey-Hayes Axle (1950's)

Hayes-Lemmerz Axle (1950's?)

Dura-Torque Axle (1960's)
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Old 08-30-2016, 02:03 PM   #4
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Now, I am still curious as to which Axles were considered better or worse than the next as far as interior vibrations and towing stability.

I have not found when Dexter became the nameplate Axle on Airstreams... but that will be just a matter of more prowling the Internet.

Axles, Brakes and Bearing information

Dexter also has Axles with... Leaf Springs... hmmm.


Some Frequently Asked Questions and answers on their website.

Warranty on the Nev-R-Lube bearing package is for a period of Five Years or 100,000 miles from date of purchase by original purchaser.
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Old 08-30-2016, 02:18 PM   #5
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Idle time setting in. Rock Docking excursion is over. Wow Ray you really have axels on the brain.


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Old 08-30-2016, 02:28 PM   #6
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On the Capetown to Cairo Rally, only Wally Byam's trailer had torsion axles. All other trailers had leaf spring axles. Only Wally's trailer had no problems with the axles, other trailers had broken springs and axles. Hence Airstream started installing torsion axles on all trailers in 1960. For the Around the World Caravan it was mandatory for all trailer to have torsion axles.

Torsion axles are more expensive than spring axles, and they have fewer moving parts.

Bill Kerfoot, WBCCI/VAC/CAC/El Camino Real Unit #5223
Just my personal opinion
1973 Dodge W200 PowerWagon, 1977 Lincoln Continental, 2014 Dodge Durango
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Old 08-30-2016, 02:34 PM   #7
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I always assumed that the rubber band axles are used to keep the trailer lower to the ground. Leaf springs require more vertical space that would either reduce useful volume inside the AS or lift the AS too high and reduce its claim of low wind drag and increased stability. But if the rubber bands are cheaper, then that might be the current reason for their use by AS.
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Old 08-30-2016, 03:23 PM   #8
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Torsion axles are independent suspension. I plan on converting my utility trailer to torsion.
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Old 08-30-2016, 03:34 PM   #9
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I have no complaints about my torsion axles. If there is an improved alternative Airstream should be using it, but it works and I don't know of any axle that would be an improvement.

As to a rough ride:
On our last trip I somehow left the box of baking soda from the fridge on top of the fridge, about eye level. You would expect the top of the fridge to move side to side more than the floor due to the distance from the axle. We drove on highway, secondary roads, city street, and a dirt road up a hill to the campground and backed in to our site. The baking soda didn't move!

My enclosed car trailer also has torsion axles so other manufacturers agree the torsion axle works!
1977 Safari Land Yacht
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Old 08-30-2016, 04:24 PM   #10
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Dexter Torflex Axles... Q&A from Dexter's website

I have ran out of interior hardware ideas to upgrade for our next trip. It gave me time to consider Axles and why Dexter. Apparently Dexter makes thousands of various axles to the specifications of their customer's needs.

Tire Load Ratings and air pressure is always blamed for popped interior rivets and wood screws dropping out of cabinets. Since I knew nothing about Dexter Axles and now, just a bit more than nothing... others might find this interesting. At least I found it interesting.

Curiosity killed the cat... now it is my turn to take chances.

TORFLEX - Can I change my Torflex start angle?

No, the different start angles are achieved with different components that can't be changed once the axle is built.

TORFLEX - Can I use 3 Torflex axles under my trailer?

Dexter does not recommend triple Torflex applications of our standard axle because Torflex axles are totally independent and not equalized like a typical leaf spring set of axles. There is no ability to transfer loads from one axle to another. When traversing uneven operating surfaces such as driveway entries, railroad crossings or speed bumps, the entire load can be put onto one axle causing severe overload. It isn't reasonable to expect one axle to carry the entire load of three axles when these conditions occur, even though these instances cause only momentary over-loading. Dexter Axle does offer a specially designed 7000, 8000, and 10,000 lbs. Torflex axle that can be used in triple applications. We refer to these axles as our T series of Torflex axles

TORFLEX - Can I weld to my Torflex axle or move the brackets?

No, the Torflex axles contain rubber cords to provide the suspension system and can be damaged by the heat generated from welding on the bracket or the tube.

TORFLEX - What are the advantages of Torflex versus Leaf Spring axles?

The Dexter Torflex axle carries a 5 year warranty vs. a 2 year warranty on our sprung axles, which demonstrates how confident we are with the Torflex suspension. There are no suspension parts to wear out (spring shackles, hangers, etc.). Rubber cushioning eliminates metal-to-metal contact. The axle capacity can be closely matched to the trailer requirements by the amount of rubber assembled in the axle. The independent suspension allows each wheel to travel totally independent from the others. A smoother ride, less sway and reduced noise is achieved with the rubber suspension. The axle can be built with various start angles to achieve desired trailer height.
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Old 08-30-2016, 08:35 PM   #11
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Interesting thread, thanks for the research Ray.

I installed two new Axis axles on my 66 Trade Wind. I had several starting angles to choose from, but I stayed with the stock 22 degrees. I also installed new shock absorbers. My old axles were quite stiff as I think the rubber takes a set with long storage periods. My swing arms were about horizontal when the trailer was on the ground, and remained about horizontal when I jacked the trailer up.

I let the "experts" spec my axles based on the year, model and VIN of my trailer. This allowed the correct configuration for frame spacing, mounting height, mounting brackets, mounting holes, shock mounts and the like. Even with that, I had some axle plate modifications to perform. My new axles were each 2800 pound rated. They came standard with 10" drums, which I understand is standard fair until about 3500 pound rated axles. This was fine in the flatlands of Minnesota, but I worry a bit about the long downhill grades here in the Colorado mountains. My trailer weighs about 4500 pounds. The 24' Trade Wind was the shortest dual axle Airstream in the 66 model year. At least I have four 10" brakes working to dissipate the stored energy of gravity and velocity.

I read about quite a bit of trouble with leaf spring trailer axles, especially shackle wear. And I like the independent suspension effect with the dura torque style axle. I wonder why they are not used more often.

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Old 08-30-2016, 09:06 PM   #12
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Because SOBs don't last as long as Airstreams?


Originally Posted by dbj216 View Post
Interesting thread, thanks for the research Ray.


I read about quite a bit of trouble with leaf spring trailer axles, especially shackle wear. And I like the independent suspension effect with the dura torque style axle. I wonder why they are not used more often.

Bill Kerfoot, WBCCI/VAC/CAC/El Camino Real Unit #5223
Just my personal opinion
1973 Dodge W200 PowerWagon, 1977 Lincoln Continental, 2014 Dodge Durango
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Old 08-30-2016, 11:03 PM   #13
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I disagree with the SOB comment. There are thousands of "Canned Ham" trailers still on the road. Most if not all had leaf springs and were not equipped with shocks.
My son has my '69 Shasta Starflyte. It still glides down the road just fine.
I tend to think tandem axle trailers ride smoother and tend not to sway as easy as a single axle unit.
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Old 08-31-2016, 07:17 AM   #14
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Axles: Dexter, Leaf Springs, Coil Springs, Straight Axles

Ray, get ahold of Andy at Inland RV on torsion axles. What AS does and Dexter says you can't are in conflict. Go with experience in TT and repairs, etcetera im0. .

The final years of Silver Streak used triple torsion flex on the 35. Same for Avion in 1988-89.

And keep looking. The HADCO axle on mine is a solid beam. Latest Dexter is hollow round tube with leaf arrangement.

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Old 08-31-2016, 02:23 PM   #15
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Air Bag suspension

At this years Airstream international rally, the vintage concourse best engineered feature was an airbag suspension built out of of the shelf, readily available components from the hot rod crowd. It was a single axle with top and bottom trailing arms, a Panhard rod (crosswise location), sway bar, tube shocks, airbag springs, a 12v on board compressor with the ability to raise or lower either side independently up to 8" to eliminate leveling blocks when parked. They said the parts for a single axle cost about $500 and that it rides better than any other axle system. They use these on hot rods all the time and the air bags can be bought in many load ranges. You could build this on a sub-frame that just bolts in place of the existing axle!

There is a good picture of the suspension in this months Vintage Airstream club newsletter. http://vintageairstreamclub.com/wp-c...JulAug2016.pdf
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Old 08-31-2016, 02:59 PM   #16
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The fact of the matter is all springs wear out or loose their spring. And t the Airstream design isn't old! It is far newer than leaf springs.

Torsion axle design with rubber rods has several advantages as noted above.

Torsion axles incorporates the axle and springs assemblies in a smaller space. That space is used to expand the coach and storage in the coach. Another reason why shocks went from vertical mounting to horizontal mounting in 1967.

Torsion axles offer a soother ride. Yes each wheel is independent from side to side and from front to rear in multi-axle set ups.

Torsion axles can offer a lower ride height and/or center of gravity.

As noted above torsion axles are very simple in design with much fewer moving parts. Less parts to go bad. While it isn't a totally radical design as Chrysler Corporation used torsion springs in the late 1950s across the entire car line up. Packard used torsion springs before that.

Down side to the Airstream design -
They are much more expensive than a leaf or coil spring designs
The axle assembly in not serviceable. If the springs need to be replaced it is done by replacing the axle too.
For trailer that sit unused for long periods of time the torsion rubber rods loose their flexing properties. The rubber tends to harden.

The use of this axle type is on a much smaller production level than most other springs. So many of the companies listed above failed due to the lack of sales. Especially in the economic down turn that occurred in the last almost 10 years.

Hope this helps.

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Old 09-01-2016, 09:48 PM   #17
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Some of you might be aware that some aircraft also have 'trailing beam' axles on the landing gear.
This style gives a much smoother touchdown compared to straight oleo.
Examples are: Aero Commander 112-114 series; Mooney, Cessna 414, Bombardier 'Global Express', Gulfstream, all high end or top business aircraft.
Obviously those who spend the bucks want the most comfort.
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Old 09-01-2016, 10:32 PM   #18
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Im a big fan of my torsion axles on both my AS and my snowmobile trailer. Both of which were made by Dexter axles. But I would really like to install an air ride suspension from Kelderman.
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Old 09-02-2016, 05:58 AM   #19
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Thanks for starting this thread, Ray, ...also for the research work!

I must say that there is some incorrect information out there from the "experienced" group. The Dexter axle on my 2008 22' Sport has a negative trailing link angle. This is not an indication of needing replacement. This is NORMAL. It's designed that way. There are a number of different angles offered by Dexter, and one should consult their catalog specifications before arbitrarily deciding anything other than a downward (positive) angle is bad.

I suggest a simple way to determine if your torsion-axle is past it's prime:
Load the trailer to GVW, then get on-board, and walk through the trailer...while jumping up and down... and observe if the axle still has "spring" and/or if it's bottomed-out or refusing to flex.

I don't see how that wouldn't be a valid test, (although admittedly is subjective.)

I am curious about how the design assures the axle stays within the axle-housing and avoids/prevents drifting laterally out of the hollow axle-housing.
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Old 09-07-2016, 08:44 AM   #20
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If you are looking at new axles, keep in mind that if you switch to the Kodiak disc brakes and you have the original wheels, they will not fit. You will need to buy new rims. Contrary to what Andy might say.
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