Maintenance day

Perhaps as a reminder of how quickly things can change, the river behind our campsite has nearly dried up. Apparently it is dam-controlled, and the water releases are only Monday through Friday.  By Friday night, it was a mere trickle about two inches deep, but still pleasant to be camped near.

Super Terry and Marie arrived, and on Saturday morning the ladies all headed out for a day of activity around Asheville while Terry began his maintenance checks of our Airstream.  The first task was a four-wheel brake and tire inspection.  I’ve been anticipating this for a long time, since we’ve historically fought with our disc brakes and tires.  At nearly every previous service stop, we’ve found the disc pads wearing unevenly, once to the point of catastrophic failure, and the repeated belt separations on our tires are embarrassingly well-documented on this and the Tour of America blogs.

rutherfordton-disc-brake.jpgSo I was extremely happy to find that on all four wheels, the brakes are only lightly worn, wearing perfectly evenly, and need absolutely nothing. At last!  Super Terry gets all the credit, since he did the last four-wheel brake job in January.  With these Kodiak disc brakes, it seems critical to properly lubricate the slider pins and some mechanics (in our experience) don’t do it right.  Given the light wear on these semi-metallic pads, we should have many more miles of use ahead, but I’ll check again every 10,000 miles or so.

rutherfordton-michelin-tire.jpgAt the same time, we examined the new tires.  Readers of this blog may recall that, after years of frustration with various brands of ST (Special Trailer) designated tires, we finally ditched them for a set of Michelin LTXs.  They have performed beautifully. The wear is very light and even, at about 9,000 miles, and we’ve had no punctures. They look good for many more miles, and should easily outlast the STs they replaced.

As each tire came off, I took the opportunity to look at the axle torsion arms, the shock absorbers, and the wheel wells.  Everything looked good (undamaged, clean, dry, tight).  So with no repairs needed, we turned our attention to other projects.  I hadn’t realized how many little things we needed to do until we started going over the trailer.

The first project was to install a zerk (grease) fitting on the hitch coupler.  This allows me to grease the hitch ball without removing the Hensley hitch.  I have to grease the hitch ball about 4-5 times a year, and before installing this zerk, the job took about 15 minutes because of the labor involved in loosening the hitch and then re-installing it.  Now, it takes just a few seconds with the grease gun.

rutherfordton-drilling-zerk.jpgThis is a simple job but it requires one specific tool.  We hitched the Hensley to the car, loosened the strut bars, then released the ball coupler and raised the trailer off the hitch ball, using the power jack.  Then we covered the ball with a piece of plastic wrap to keep metal shavings from getting all over the greasy ball.  Super Terry drilled the proper size hole through the very thick metal of the hitch coupler, and threaded it using a thread tapper.  He screwed in the zerk, and the job was done. Total time: about 20 minutes.

The steel step by our entry door is bent somewhat toward the rear of the trailer.  This was probably caused by hitting a curb long ago.  It hasn’t been a major problem but lately we’ve noticed that the bend makes the step difficult to raise.  Lubricating it helped only a little bit, so Terry applied a prybar and bent the step back into alignment enough to alleviate the issue.

For some time, our water heater has been intermittently screeching as it heats, which was caused by a poor air-fuel mixture.  Adjusting the mixture is a simple matter of loosening a bolt and sliding a vent until the flame burns strong and blue.  I should have done that one a long time ago.

Another bug was our entry door.  After we had the entry door adjusted to close more smoothly, last summer at the factory, we noticed that the door lock no longer worked.  We’ve been using the padlock exclusively ever since.  So today Super Terry removed the lock, diagnosed the broken part, “convinced” it to behave, and re-installed the lock, all in about two minutes.   Like the water heater fix, it’s one of those things that is easy when you know how.

A few days ago Eleanor was plugging in our Doran 360RV tire pressure monitor and the 12v  cigarette lighter adapter broke in her hand.  We really rely on that monitor to warn us of tire problems, so its absence was felt.  Terry and I picked up a replacement 12v adapter at Radio Shack today, and he wired it up in a few minutes.  Another problem solved.

Since we were rocking along so well, I went looking for other bugs to fix.  Bugs … hmm … stinkbugs … and then I remembered, our center Fantastic Vent was absolutely disgusting with greasy dirt and dead bugs.  That vent is the closest to the kitchen and gets all the cooking smoke, so it gets the dirtiest. It’s impossible to fully clean the vent without getting on the roof of the trailer, so I borrowed Terry’s folding ladder and got up on top, with a roll of paper towels and some orange cleaner.  Cleaning the vent cover, fan blades, and surrounding area took only about ten minutes.

While I was up there I noticed that the black rubber gasket of the vent had come loose. Super Terry to the rescue again!  He had a tube of 3M Weatherstripping Adhesive, which I applied lightly to the gasket.  We closed the vent for a few hours to hold the gasket in place while the adhesive cured, and the problem was solved.  I got all the dead stinkbugs out of there, too.

While Terry was inspecting my work on the roof, he pointed out that the white caulk surrounding the Fantastic Vent is cracked and approaching failure.  Long-term sun exposure will do that.  That particular vent was factory installed, so the caulk is older than the other two vents on our trailer.  I’m going to have to buy the appropriate caulk and a scraper, and get up there in the next few weeks to correct that problem before we get a roof leak.

That was the last of the work for today, but there was one other thing I should mention.  A few days ago we noticed that the shower was leaking at the wall next to the toilet.  This has happened before. The silicone caulk eventually loses its grip in this spot, probably because it is trying to adhere to a wood wall with waterproof wallpaper covering.  This needed immediate attention, because the leak could quickly cause a much more significant wood rot.  I did the fix on Thursday afternoon before we left Clemmons, and the shower was ready to use again by Friday night.

It’s a good feeling to have done the checkup on the running gear, and especially to remove the little annoyances like the screeching water heater, the filthy fan, and the disabled door lock.  You don’t realize how those things begin to weigh on you until you resolve them.  Letting problems accumulate tends to make people feel that their investment is slowly turning to junk, and then the self-defeating idea of “trade in” begins to appear.  On the other hand, fixing the little bugs and doing a little cleanup can make you feel good far out of proportion with the actual effort involved. I’ve advocated that a single Airstream can last for your entire life, so I have to take my own advice and keep ahead of the creeping crud of neglect that will defeat even the best-made product.

Tomorrow we will begin our trip to Florida with a good feeling about our equipment.  We’re out of time for our east coast tour, and need to get down to Florida (for many reasons), so the next 450 miles or so will be covered at an uncharacteristically quick pace. But now, we’re ready to get going.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine