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Old 01-14-2004, 12:31 PM   #1
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total overhaul need advice

hello and thanks out there to the folks who answered my other posts.

i have a 1963 safari that my husband and i are making and/or customizing to be groovy and wheelchair accessible. not the traditional type of wheelchair accessible you might be thinking of -we are both architects and young. most people imagine sterile looking bathroom equipment and electronic devices and such. no way, that is not us. here is what we want to do and i need to know where to start first. we are still unemployed from graduating over a year ago (yes i know we live in oregon) and i would like to overhaul our trailer in the next two months. (great project for our portfolios!!!) and if we never find work at least we will have a place to live!!!

what we need/know and want:

1.)we already know his power chair fits through the doorframe, but we would like to lower the frame on an airbag suspension system so when we pull up into a campsite we can drop down the frame and attach our ramps (the lower the incline the better) and he can wheel up inside without assistance.

2.)we have ideas for interior design, but that is a long way off so i won't talk about now and i'll get to the matter at hand:

exterior condition:

the body of our airstream is in good shape. some dents. needs polishing and minor work.

interior condition:

the floor is totally gross. it had major interior damage from desert mice and whatever other animals were living inside. i have gutted the entire thing and now i am at a crossroads. and it still smells.

WHAT DO I DO NEXT???

we want to take off the interior panels.
change electric
change plumbing
change insulation
strip panels
rivet panels back on
change out plywood floor
frame????(don't know about condition)
install a new floor
the windows leak and i have the parts to reseal
the roof vents leak
the air conditioning area leaks

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO TOUCH NEXT!!!

Can anyone offer me suggestions and/or a plan of action and timeline. I am pretty much working by myself in rainy Oregon. I can try to schedule a friend or two to help on a sunny day (if i ever see the sun again)

I can probably borrow the tools i need from family and i have access to a welder.

WE NEED TO MAKE A STEP BY STEP HANDBOOK.
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Old 01-14-2004, 12:49 PM   #2
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Talking Major project

You have taken on a major project and my suggestions are two...

1. The cost could be prohibitive as opposed to investing in a coach in better condition. Put another way, it might be less expensive when you figure the cost of repairs to sell yours and find one in better shape and end up with a lower investment.

2. Most of us here don't take our own advice though and thusly you should fix the worst items first and " if it ain't broke don't fix it" or at least fix it last. Some items can be lived without, i.e. no a/c.

Another #2...if you have the help and money search and read the older posts and almost all your questions will be answered.

We like to help...jem
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Old 01-14-2004, 12:58 PM   #3
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thanks jem.

we do have some money put aside for the project. we knew it was going to be a big overhaul, but we decided to purchase this one anyway. we knew we would have to take the whole thing apart to do the things we wanted to do, so we were aware of that. its ok, we love the safari and the challenge. i have been reading the other posts, too. i have been getting bits and pieces of what to do, but can not seem to find a "make sure you do this before that" type of thing.

take care! i went to usf in tampa. my family lives on clearwater beach.
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Old 01-14-2004, 01:20 PM   #4
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To take Jem's point just a bit farther - it will cost little, if any, more to do what you are trying to do with larger coach. If I was in your situation, I would want more space than a 22' has available.

But, moving right along....

The "kneeling" coach is a problem. If I remember correctly, '63 was about the time Airstream went to the torsion axle. The torsion axles have no space left to drop. If you have the leaf spring axle, you will need a good suspension shop to set it up for you, but the maximium drop available is whatever is currently between the axle and the bottom of the frame. And it's not much! There have been some posts on this topic - do a search on "air bags". Most of the hits will concern motorhomes, but you should be able to find the ones you want.

When you say the floor has "major" damage, are you talking cosmetic, or structural? It is not uncommon for a total floor replacement to be necessary in a coach such as you describe. Do a search on "floor rot" and "floor replacement" or "replacing the floor".

You aren't going to believe how much wiring there is in your coach. You just will not believe it. One thing that should be stressed is that the interior panels are structural members. You need to carefully block up the frame all around in such a way that it does not sag at the ends or in the middle before removing the interior skins.

The smell is fungus and mold. You've got to get at it and kill it. But if you gut the coach and remove the panels, you will be able to get into all the little nooks and crannies.

Frames can be repaired, even replaced. As I recall, most of the posts on frame work are contained in the posts on floor replacement.

Good luck!

Mark
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Old 01-14-2004, 01:24 PM   #5
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I think the reason it still smells is that the floor may be rotted, the insulation is "bad" and the fact that animals had made it their home.

Check the floor for rot and replace it entirely or at least the portions that are damaged. That along with removing the wall panels, which will make changing out the electrical, plumbing and insulation much easier. this way you can determine if the smell is from the wood floor &/or the insulation which may have absorbed animal waste. Yuck! These two projects really need to be done together, to be out with the old!

The ideal would be to find a place to work on it indoors during your rainy season, so you can protect it from further water damage from your leaks, until you can get around to fixing those.

Sounds like a big project!!! Good luck!

Shari
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Old 01-14-2004, 01:57 PM   #6
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Total Overhaul

A couple of items for your checklist:
1. Do you intend the home to be mostly stationary? If you only plan to move it from job-to-job every couple of months, and have full hook-up available, you can simplify the plumbing and electrical requirements. One of the most expensive decisions you need to make is whether you will be 'boondocking', which requires lots of 12volt power and grey tank/black tank capacity. If you are going to be park-bound with hook-ups, you can use less expensive 120V power, and standard (apartment size) appliances.
2. Look at the major appliances that need replacement, such as refrigerator, furnace, toilet, water heater. Know what these cost in both 12V, propane, and 120volts. Again, the cost will depend if you are parkbound or boondocking. If you are comfortable with the cost at this point, proceed with the floor replacement.
3. Take off the lowest interior panels so that you can inspect the floor, and how well it is attached to the body. If all the channels and floor at the bottom are rotted and corroded you will need to replace the floor. Do not take off the upper sections of the interior walls, they are important for structural stability if you need to lift off the chassis to repair the floor.
4. If the floor and attachments are in good shape, you are VERY LUCKY. At this point I would go ahead with the interior restoration, check the axle brakes and tires, and hit the road.
5. If the floor is in bad shape, you will want to check the axle, running gear, brakes, and as much of the frame as you can see. If the running gear and frame need major work, I would consider doing a 'frame off' restoration, because it is easier to repair the frame and running gear if you are working on a bare frame. If the floor is bad, but the frame and running gear are ok, you probably want to consider a floor replacement with a simple "lift and slide-in" method others have described elsewhere.
Hope this helps you get started. Much admiration for a young couple starting a great adventure. Our first trip next year will be to Vancouver WA to visit my folks.

Don in Wayzata
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Old 01-14-2004, 01:59 PM   #7
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we like the 22' so we are quite happy with the size, but thanks anyway...

the floor does not seem "rotted", just old and musty, but once we redo it, we don't want to do it again! (as you all probably understand)

i have peaked under some of the panels and the insulation looks ok, but you never know

the smell is probably mold-

as far as the window seals-

do i replace them now on a sunny day? is taking off the interior panels going to cause problems with redoing the window seals first? i was thinking about replacing the window seals first, then resealing the vents and the ac unit. at least it would be more water tight before i mess with the interior. unfortunately, i don't have a place to work on it inside.
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Old 01-14-2004, 02:25 PM   #8
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Did you check your last Post on the Suspension? I had a couple ideas that I think will work to help lower the coach and are reasonably economical especially if you can weld.

I love chalanges like this. Wish we were on the same side of the country and I would lend you a hand. I have done some work on odd projects for others with chalanges. I almost went to work for a gentleman who owned a buisness specializing in this sort of work. I applaude you and your husband for not sitting around and taking on a project like this. It's unique but I don't see any reason why you can't do it.

Onpersonal experiance with the floor and the smell. It's the wood and it's the insulation under the floor.

Do you have soft spots?
Where?
Have to looked in the belly pan?

My wife and I just replaced the floor in our 59. It is no small job. It took 4 times as long as I thought it would. It took 5 times the amount of money I expected. Most of that is because Plywood prices have gone through the roof. Reguardless I am pleased with the end result and I am confident our coach will have another 40years in her and I don't regret taking the time and money to do it.

There is 3-4 of use currently doing ground up restorations on older coaches. Mark, Greg and I have a post that will show you whats inolved if you find your going to have to do the full Monty.
http://www.airforums.com/forum...&threadid=6554

That's worse case. I was pretty lucky and only ran into one major frame problem with a rusted out crossmember. Mark didn't do to bad. He had some A-Frame repairs and he also did some custom work to add a grey water tank. I wish I had done the same but ran short on time. Greg is building a new frame.

That post is worth looking at because it will give you an idea on wht it's going to take to modify the suspension to make the coach kneel to ease the access ramp lenght and angle.

One thing I thing will make this work best on a Airstream is it's already a low to the ground coach. The way it is constructed is gain 2. You should have no problem adding a set of tracks under the door for the ramp to slide on and stow under the coach. I think you could get the coach to kneel down to an entry hight of 13-15 inches. I think you should be able to get a reasonable angle on a ramp 4-5 ft in lenght. That will make the ramp managable weight and size. A little creativity and you can get it to pull out about 10 inches and drop about 4-5 and make a step for nore access.
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Old 01-14-2004, 02:39 PM   #9
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Floor rotted?

Be cautious about determining whether the floor is rotted. I did'nt think my floor was rotted until I got the panels off and looked at it. The most critical area is in the rear right at the junction of the wall and the body. Remove the access panel in the belly skin and try to poke a screwdriver in it, right where the floor joins the wall.
This area is critical because the 2 inch strip under the wall is all that holds the body to the floor. The rear is the area that gets the most abuse due to flexing of the frame as you bounce down the road, and it's also the area most likely to have water damage from leaks in the bathroom or rear window.
Here's a picture of my rotted floor behind the toilet.
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Old 01-14-2004, 03:03 PM   #10
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well i will go investigate the floor further...

the reason i think the structure might be ok is that the airstream was sitting in tucson since 1973 (and maybe before, but i only know back until then) - sometimes inside and for quite a few years outside. so the only real rain it is getting is currently (thank goodness)

we went down to tucson to pick it up and bring it back. we replaced the tires/brakes/towing equipment and it towed beautifully except we did lose a window due to a dryrotted seal- we might be moving back down there in a couple of months so that is why we want to work on it quickly

rich has moved around in there and he and his chair weigh about 550 (the chair weighs about 375) and the floor was fine in the main body

the funny story is that we just got married this past summer and we asked everyone to chip in for our airstream fund instead of buying us gifts - we love to camp and camping is not very wheelchair accessible friendly - so we had enough to buy the A/S we liked and do the repairs- we did not take a honeymoon yet, but we are planning on doing so in the airstream this summer!
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Old 01-14-2004, 03:54 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by nevisstudio
we like the 22' so we are quite happy with the size, but thanks anyway...

the floor does not seem "rotted", just old and musty, but once we redo it, we don't want to do it again! (as you all probably understand)

i have peaked under some of the panels and the insulation looks ok, but you never know

the smell is probably mold-

as far as the window seals-

do i replace them now on a sunny day? is taking off the interior panels going to cause problems with redoing the window seals first? i was thinking about replacing the window seals first, then resealing the vents and the ac unit. at least it would be more water tight before i mess with the interior. unfortunately, i don't have a place to work on it inside.
I hate to say it but I think you may find the window seals and gaskets are not the source of your leak. I think your coach runs the same hehr 1009 style windows as ours. They could have no seals and unless it was a driving rain they would not leak. The way they are lipped they simply do not leak. The seals are for air not water.

Here is where I think the problem is. When the coach is constructed the window frames rivet in from the outside. Now that I have the coach apart I see the water is coming in above the acutal window an it's mechanisim. With the window garnish in there the water would appear at the bottom of the window sill and apear to come in around the window.

Where I think I have isolated the problem to is the sealent used when the window frame is installed into the body. The sealent used is about the same thing as plumbers putty and 40 years of the sun beating down has dried it out. The same material is used to seal the rain gutter to the body.

Because the gutter is so tight to the top of the window frame you can't easily get in there to use Velkem. I have not had a chance to resolve this because My windows that leak have damage (actually they have been removed and I have plexi in one and a window A/C in the other) and I'm atempting to find replacements.

It appears to properly fix this problem will require removing the gutter, digging out the sealent on the top and sides of the window frame, pump some Velkem in with a syringe, install gutter with velkem.

Other place to check foir leaks is the vent of the plumbing on the roof. There is a foam rubber gasket that will dry out. The water cane get between the inner pannels and make it to the floor and you neve see it. www.inlandrv.com can help you with that seal. www.airstreamdreams.com can also help with some of the vintage stuff.
Eric
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Old 01-14-2004, 04:03 PM   #12
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Late 50`s Chevrolets had an air ride suspension system; and i think some present day heavy trucks also have same; for ideas.
I seriously doubt the practicality of this Herculean task without mega bucks to support the project. And what about a return on your investment?.
I sincerely hope that you find meaningful employment soon.
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Old 01-14-2004, 04:20 PM   #13
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i know its herculean, but we think it will be worth it! when you are in a wheelchair and want to travel, what a better way to go! traveling is tough for us and we are only 30. we plan on keeping this one forever! does anyone have an idea on cost estimates? we can always scrap the fancy stuff for the future and try to do most of the work ourselves.
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Old 01-14-2004, 04:26 PM   #14
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"when you are in a wheelchair and want to travel, what a better way to go!"

Of the wheelchair-campers I have seen, the vast majority of them have been in Airstreams. Perhaps the low step-up is a major factor?

Mark
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Old 01-14-2004, 04:45 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by Navigator
Late 50`s Chevrolets had an air ride suspension system; and i think some present day heavy trucks also have same; for ideas.
I seriously doubt the practicality of this Herculean task without mega bucks to support the project. And what about a return on your investment?.
I sincerely hope that you find meaningful employment soon.
Dick
You would be surprised what is redily available in the aftermarket that could be used for this and cheap. Next time your at the supermarket pick up any of the hot rod mags like Truckin in the magazine rack and flip through it. There is 30-40 companies out there that could sell you anything you could ever want and have it on your door step the next day. Tjhere is probably a shop in every town that has most of what you need in stock. 2600lb Firestone air bags are dirt cheap and sturdy. Most places that service Semi's will have a few on the shelf.

I have no doubt I could build a set up to kneel that camper in a weekend. It's so incredibly simple to do once you get the frame ready to handle the change in load points. Fact of the matter is your not really changing the load point. You could locate the bag at the same mounting point that the factory axle bolted on. The problem is then you need to add the pivot point where there was nothing before as well as a track bar.

If their trailer is old enough to have a full box frame rails like my 59 it's no problem. If it's a C channel then the belly pan is going to have to be dropped and a couple peices of 2x2 welded in with a cross brace for side to side. The cross brace will keep the 2x2 from rolling on the side where the open end of the c channel is. The cross brace can also be used as a mount for a track bar. The 2x2 in the frame rail will now become the suport for the airbag once the axle mounting plate is cut off. It would extend foward enough to also brace for a pivot point for the control arms.

I'll play aound with paint brush and see if I have the artistic ability to draw something out.
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Old 01-15-2004, 01:00 PM   #16
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thanks toaster! we will poke around out there and see what everything looks like.

question (probably a dumb one)
is there any way to figure out what is going on beneath the floor without taking the floor off just yet- i know that sounds dumb, but can i peek from underneath?? what is under the floor? insulation?

thanks everyone for all your help. i am starting to see the big picture and it doesn't scare me yet so thats good.

too bad everyone doesn't live in oregon. we could have a trailer lifting party. too bad because we host fabulous luaus!!!

when i have time i am going to start to put all the photos in our photo album. we want to document the whole process. i did find a thread from srgnt pepper about a floor renovation in his 1963 safari (same as ours) and i want to find out how it went-
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Old 01-15-2004, 10:25 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally posted by nevisstudio
thanks toaster! we will poke around out there and see what everything looks like.

question (probably a dumb one)
is there any way to figure out what is going on beneath the floor without taking the floor off just yet- i know that sounds dumb, but can i peek from underneath?? what is under the floor? insulation?

thanks everyone for all your help. i am starting to see the big picture and it doesn't scare me yet so thats good.

too bad everyone doesn't live in oregon. we could have a trailer lifting party. too bad because we host fabulous luaus!!!

when i have time i am going to start to put all the photos in our photo album. we want to document the whole process. i did find a thread from srgnt pepper about a floor renovation in his 1963 safari (same as ours) and i want to find out how it went-
The best thing I can advise on how to look in the bottom is there is a seam down the middle of the belly pan. You can drill that row of rivets and th rivets on the floor crossmembers (spaced 24inches on center). You will also have to make a new seam front and rear. That will give you good access from below. Fair warning....it's going to be a real fight to rerivet. That belly pan was installed before the body. It was installed with the frame upside down so gavity wasn't finghting you.

From the top go around the corners and edge with a Ice pick or a awl and look for soft spots. The places where ours was rotted worst was under the bathroom JUST like Marks Front under goucho and water tanks. I had rott at all access points for water heater, Reefer service door and entry door. Also check around the wheel tubs.


It's critical that the perimiter edge be solid. The coach is frame, Deck bolted to frame, body bolted through and too deck.

I do agree...where the coach spent the majority of it's life has been a BIG help. Even if it did leak it was so dry there that it didn't stay wet long. The fact that Rich has not found anyproblems with how high of concentration of weight the wheels would place on the floor is a great sign. Might want to tarp it till you can get it sealed. Replacing a floor is no fun.

Hit the photo albums and look for William Hensel's album. He has HUNDREDS of pictures posted of rebuilding his coach.

Other then when they used Tube pole frame these coaches are all built in a simular manner. Any of the information and pictures you find of the coaches apart are going to be the same thing you find in yours. Some did have box main rails (like Mine and Mark's ) and some had C channel main rails (like Greg's). That is the only difference.

As far as what to do to get rid of the smell. If you find that floor is solid then seal it. www.westmarine.com has a epoxy Resin that I used and I am happy with it. That should get most of the smell sealed out. Then use a sheet flooring.

Now you will notice I at no time mentioned removing that tile. There is a reason.......it's aspestos. Sealing it with the epoxy will prevent it from putting any fibers into the air. The sheet flooring will make it safe.

In a home with aspsetos tile the approved methode of dealing with it is to put a underlayment down and a sheet flooring over. Weight is your enemy so the underlayment should be avoided if possible. You could pull the cabinets and appliances if you feel real industrious and run the sheet flooring to the walls. It would look better taking the time to do that but a LOT of work to do it. The wheel tubs are inner and outer. you can remove the inner without any problems of breaking the seal. They are cosmetic and hide a peice of fiberglass insulation.

I lifted the body off by myself. The heaviest thing I lifted was the 70Lb floor jack into the door. It's not hard getting it off. Just a LOT of rivets to drill. Getting it back on took a little while but not as bad as you would think.


Here is the new floor in our Coach before we put the top on.
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Old 01-16-2004, 09:29 AM   #18
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I know you are set on an air suspension but I'm not convinced it will be all that easy or effective. The wheel wells will limit the drop even if you went all out and made new spindles with a dropped mount. Before you get into this measure from the top of the tire to the inside of the wheel well, that is the maximum drop without new wheel wells. One other real problem I have with this is failure. What happens in the event you loose air pressure? It needs a bottom stop, and that is going to raise the lower limit.

I still think a lift in place of the step well would be a whole lot easier, quicker, and cheaper. One area of the frame to reinforce and all motion would be vertical; make 2 stops, one flush with the existing floor and one at it's current location, and it can drop to the ground. Design the moving assembly to bolt in and installation would be easy. With some planning cylinders and guides could be concealed in cabinetry.

If you do go with the air suspension you need to do a lot of planning right now. From what I have read you are doing a total redesign of the interior. All the plumbing (tanks and drains) and gas line routing must work with the suspension link locations. The longer the links the more vertical the motion of the tire in relation to the frame/body. If it is too short the tire is going to rotate into the wheel well before it reaches full drop. Granted vertical loading will be at the same location, but all the other forces have been transferred to new locations at the end of the links. Brakes generate a huge amount of energy in a panic stop. I would be reluctant to use the frame as it is without serious reinforcing.

IMO to do this you need to have a bare frame and very precisely layout all mounts. Flipped would be a definite plus. A couple of degrees is a lot in suspension geometry; if both tires are toed in or out tire wear will be excessive. If the tires are off parallel to each other (one toe in, one toe out) it will not track true to the tow vehicle and you will have excessive wear. Camber and caster will probably not affect handling as much other than the smaller tread print and excessive wear.

There is adjustment in the rod ends, but everything should be square to start. It is very easy with a little here and a little there to run out of adjustment. Rod ends, links, and mounts will all loose strength off the centerline. Besides there is a lot of welding to do and it is a lot easier (and much more accurate) from the top than laying on your back with only a few inches of clearance.

John
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Old 01-23-2004, 11:32 AM   #19
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Hi there,

I haven't taken the time to do a search for similar topics, I just thought I'd throw out this idea. Hopefully I'm not rehashing something already thought of.

I'm against the airbag concept, and the heavy motorized lift system. I think both will be super-expensive and heavy to drag around, and in the latter will make one side hundreds of pounds heavier than the other. You could call it the leaning trailer of Pisa, though.

I think there's an easier, quicker and less costly way to facilitate easy entrance/egress to your Safari. I'm thinking of two simple designs: the medieval drawbridge, and the extendable aluminum ladder.

In the interest of using the existing elements of the Airstream, I'd bet you could have a new hinge custom fabricated that would attach at the bottom, allowing the door to lower like a drawbridge. The door knob and locks may have to be doubled up on the other side, so both sides would be secure. You're thinking, "The door can't take the weight of a fully grown man and a wheelchair - not what it was designed for at all!" Here's why you wouldn't need special struts or re-engineering of the door:

Once opened, the door would be lying on the ground, exposing your ramp. Here comes the ladder concept: the ramp would be in two pieces (the full width of the door) that would be attached to the frame through the floor just inside the door. If both pieces of ramp were the full height of the door, I'm guessing you could get about 10 foot long ramp. I don't know what the percent grade is for a 2-foot rise over 10 feet, but I'm imagining it being pretty reasonable.

Two drawbacks:
First, you'd obviously have to have a lot of extra streetside, flat real estate before you picked your camping site.

Secondly, the door would be inoperable when the ramp is extended, and therefore you'd need another way to keep out mosquitos, rain, etc. Perhaps a mesh screen on a windowshade concept. Haven't thought that far ahead.

Hope something here sparks an idea that will be a solution for you. It's a wonderful plan on your part, and I know it'll work out.
Brad
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Old 01-23-2004, 12:04 PM   #20
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Brad,

You have me thinking and I wonder why the door could not be de skinned, additional bracing welded in and reskinnned. This would make it more rigid. Then you just add the necessary runners to the door itself. You may want to add a section of thicker aluminum to the top of the door so while it is on the ground the thin skin does not get damaged.

Or you mount the "ramp" on a hinge to the bottom of the door, have the ramp fold just below the top of the door. The ramp would have legs that sit on the ground when folded out. Taking much of the stress off the door. This could all fold up into the door opening hook on the door, and the door could still be closed. Using the original screen while the door is closed is not a problem on a 63 because it has a door within a door.

There are magnetic screen doors that are available that could be mounted inside so the bugs cannot get in while the ramp is deployed. I think I saw one in one of those Airline shopping mags.
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