Archive for February, 2011

Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

When we last left off in the blog, there was some drama surrounding Brett’s lost luggage.  I am glad to report that it arrived at Palm Springs Airport on Friday morning, intact after a small tour of the southern United States. While we were glad to finally get it (and the important items it contained for Modernism Week’s Vintage Trailer Show), it was a small hassle because Brett had to take off with the car while we were in the middle of shoe-horning 19 trailers into a small space.  This was far more logistically complex that you might think, since we had to juggle trailer spaces and vendors based on access, preference, electrical needs, and parking skills.  Our parking plan had gone through six revisions before the show, and there were still several last-minute swaps required to squeeze everyone in there.

In the midst of this, I got tapped by a videographer to talk about the trailers, so I quickly winged a few comments and they spliced them together later. You can see the video here on YouTube.

palm-springs-mw2011-reception.jpgStill, it all got done by 2 p.m., and we got a short break to deal with our sunburns and hunger before meeting up with everyone at the Riviera’s “Bikini Bar.” We grabbed three of the curtained cabanas poolside and got a chance to chill out with the group.  In the photo:  Doug and Mona Heath, Kristiana Spaulding, me, Rob Super (with his homemade POP-rivet cap), and Kristiana’s husband Greg with his back to the camera. This was to be just one of the many socializing events, since Palm Springs is all about socializing.

I had been feeling pretty ragged from lack of full sleep the previous few days, and combined with the hectic schedule and a sunburn, it was really starting to heap up on me.  I managed to stay awake for Charles Phoenix’s show at 8:30, and it was worth it, but as soon as it was over I grabbed my chance and slept for nine hours.

palm-springs-mw2011-hawaii.jpgThe weather forecast for Saturday was dismal: 90% chance of rain, and temperatures only in the upper 40s.  In Palm Springs, that’s parka weather, and indeed we saw a few people in poofy down parkas and fur-lined hoods.  In the morning things were wet with fresh rain and the low clouds made the desert mountains look like Hawaii.  We figured it could be a washout, but by 10:00 the rain was over and we started seeing patches of sunshine, then more and more until finally it was a fairly decent day.  And the Californians started to arrive, hundreds of them.

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The trailer owners were in their element, talking restoration technique and historical details to everyone who came by.  I spent the morning shooting interiors (many of which you can see on my Flickr album), which was great in the morning with nice even light and few people crowding the trailers.

By afternoon there wasn’t much for us organizers to do, so Brett, Alison Turner, and I snuck off for a leisurely lunch in the hotel.  This was the first time we’ve ever been able to leave a trailer event that we’ve been organizing.  Usually we don’t get a chance to breathe, much less eat, so this was a huge treat. It felt like skipping class.

The show was scheduled to end by 2 p.m., but of course nobody wanted to leave, so it was well past 3 p.m. before the doors started closing.  We recruited some help from David Winick (pictured above with John Long in front of John’s fabulous 1935 Bowlus) and his daughter Rebecca to count the ballots for the evening’s presentation of the Airstream Life “Wally” awards.

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By 5 p.m. we were at the hotel’s Starlite Lounge for the next private reception (again, it’s all about the socializing here), complete with saxophone player/singer Johnny Reno and a four-piece band.  The big screen was playing a slideshow of the day’s events, and between sets of the band we presented the awards:

“Excellence in Modernism” went to Marty Snortum and Neveena Christi for their incredible 1960 Holiday House.

modernism-week-award.jpg“People’s Choice” went to Doug and Mona Heath for their beautifully redone 1969 Airstream Tradewind.

“Owner’s Choice” went to Eric Bescoby for his amazingly restored 1948 Spartan Manor.

All of the trailers were incredible, well-received, and well worth seeing. Congratulations to the winners for their exceptional trailers!

And this evening we went out for dinner with our friends the Fabers, in downtown Palm Springs, with a stop at Lappert’s for ice cream.  Not a bad day at all, and the best part is that we get to do much of it again tomorrow.

Cars, planes, and trailers

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Finally my long-awaited trip to Palm Springs for Modernism Week 2011 has begun.  I was sort of chafing the last few days, eager to get on the road, and filling my time by triple-checking lists and over-preparing the car for every possible contingency.  Yesterday morning I was up at 5:30 a.m. even though I didn’t need to leave until 9.  After a few hours of trying to pace myself as I completed the final pre-departure tasks, I gave in, stuffed the last few things in the car, and set off up I-10 toward Phoenix.

Now, one of my few concerns about this trip was whether the old car would make it.  There was really no reason to think it wouldn’t, given that it has been well-prepared and recently serviced, and I will cut to the chase by telling you that it did just fine for the 380 miles to Palm Springs.  The real issue turned out to be the airlines.

The plan was for me to meet Brett at Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport around noon, and head out from there together to Palm Springs.  I got into Phoenix early of course, so I had plenty of time to swing by one of the local biodiesel producers and pick up 5.5 gallons of B99 to top off the tank.  Brett landed only about 10 minutes late, so all things looked good until we went looking for his luggage, which of course …  (do I have to even tell the rest of this story)?

Well, I’ll spare you the ugly view we got of the workings of an airline’s baggage handling system.  In short, we went on to Palm Springs because the bags were in Houston and not likely to arrive soon enough for us to keep our schedule for the day.  We were told that the bags, which contain a few vital items for the Vintage Trailer Show, would be forwarded on to Palm Springs by transferring them to another airline.

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When we arrived in Palm Springs we found John Long and his stunning 1935 Bowlus already set up on the grass display area behind the hotel, a day early.  He worked out special permission to set up early, unbeknownst to us.  (I believe that is the first time I have ever written the word “unbeknownst” in a blog entry, and I think after looking at it in this context, it will be the last.)  John surprised me by looking admiringly at the old Mercedes, which was idly clattering away behind us as we greeted John.  I think he appreciated it as a piece of industrial design much like he appreciates his own Bowlus travel trailer.

Brett had by this time received two phone calls from his airline with various explanations and plans related to the retrieval of his baggage.  The ultimate solution — so we thought — was to drive over to Palm Spring International Airport and pick up the bags from the 7:15 flight of the “other” airline.  But when we got there, we discovered the flight had been canceled.  So, back to the hotel, and another round of phone calls.

At 9:15 we were back at the airport.  I sat in the car curbside for a few minutes (thinking this would be a quick errand), but when the police chased me away a few minutes later I realized that things were not going well inside the terminal for Brett.  I sat in the Cell Phone Lot until 10:30 while Brett went through these stages:  (1) Looking for bags on the carousel; (2) Realizing the bags were again lost; (3) Dealing with an unhelpful “other Airlines” representative who told him he knew nothing about the situation and could not track the bag without a claim number; (4) Calling his first airline multiple times only to be told, “The other airline has the bag now, in Phoenix, and we don’t have a tracking nunber for it”; and finally (5) Conceding defeat at 10:30 pm, and heading off to the grocery store to buy a toothbrush.

At dawn he was at it again, and the latest word is that the baggage will arrive sometime today on some flight to Palm Springs, and it will either be delivered by courier to the hotel or Brett will have to take the Stuttgart Taxi to go fetch it. In other words, we know nothing except that in theory the bags still exist on some existential plane of the universe.

But hey, I won’t tell anyone Brett is wearing all the same clothes from yesterday.  All we’re doing is parking trailers and greeting people today, so he doesn’t need to look sharp until tonight when we have a private reception for the trailer owners.  By then, the baggage might be here, and we can concentrate on the thing we are here to do, which is to put on an awesome vintage trailer show this weekend.

When yellow labs attack …

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

There’s always something to be learned from even the most unfortunate circumstances.  Last night, cruising in the car near sunset, my black Mercedes 300D was whacked by a dog.  No, I didn’t hit him — he hit me.

The dog, a yellow labrador, was off leash and ran out onto Broadway, which is a busy five-lane thoroughfare in Tucson.  He crossed the centerline and actually rammed my car on the driver’s side front fender.  I saw only a brief glimpse of him and then — WHAM! — and my first thought was, “Oh no, I’ve just killed a dog.”

But he wasn’t killed.  He bounced off the car, and ran back across the roadway.  I stopped, but again I only got a glimpse of the dog as he high-tailed it back to the side of the road.  I grabbed a piece of door trim that had been ripped off the car and then made the first possible U-turn back to the scene.

mercedes-300d-dent-1.jpgThere I found a lady who was holding the dog by the collar and petting him reassuringly, while talking on her cell phone to the owner (the dog had good tags).  He appeared not only completely uninjured, but quite happy about his circumstances, doing all the usual yellow lab things like grinning foolishly and panting and inviting me to pet him too.   There was some concern that the dog might have a concussion, especially after we got a good look at the large dent his head put in the steel fender of my tank-like Mercedes, so when the owner arrived we encouraged him to take the dog to a vet for a good check.

But really, he’s a yellow lab.  Does he even have a brain to bruise?   (I’m going to get grief from my friend Al B for that remark.  He trains yellow lab puppies for Canine Companions for Independence. But those dogs are carefully bred and selected for ability.)

mercedes-300d-dent-2.jpgWell, I hope he’s OK.  He seemed like a nice dog, even if not too savvy about traffic. And I suspect his owner has learned a lesson too.

But wouldn’t you know, the damage estimate came in at $785, which will not be covered by insurance since I carry only liability on that car.  So now I have a good reason to have a chat with the dog’s owner.  At the time of the incident I got only a phone number, because (stupidly enough) I didn’t have a working pen in the car.  We were in a hurry to see the dog off to a vet, so I didn’t press further.

Thanks to the scary miracle of the Internet, that was sufficient.  With a few minutes of careful Internet searches, I was able to turn up not only the owner’s name and address, but also:

  • personal and office email addresses
  • religious associations
  • mailing address
  • colleges and degrees, including GPA from undergrad and his current program of study
  • photographs
  • names of some friends
  • where he had lunch last week

Yes, it doesn’t take much to leave a big footprint on the Internet.  (I’m sure mine is far larger than I want it to be.)  But with Facebook, Twitter, mySpace, etc., some folks are especially discoverable.  The relevant info will go to my insurance company and they’ll see about getting some compensation for the damage.

In the meantime, I have decided to take the 300D to Palm Springs tomorrow as planned.  I was able to reattach the door trim with new clips from the local dealer, and with that in place the rest of the damage isn’t terribly embarrassing.  The paint is mostly OK, and this is the desert anyway, so rust won’t be a big issue.  I’ll get it fixed in a couple of weeks.  If you are coming to Modernism Week to see the Vintage Trailer Show, please avert your eyes from the driver’s side front fender and help me pretend that my car didn’t just get rammed by a hard-headed labrador.

Hike to Picacho Peak

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The first and only time I hiked Picacho Peak, that impossibly towering mountain alongside I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix, I did it with Brett on a 100-degree day.  That was perhaps not the best choice for a steep rocky climb that offers very little shade.  This time, I vowed to do it in the ideal season, which is about now, when we are getting lots of days in the low 70s.

picacho-peak-1st-half.jpgAlex and Charon have been visiting Tucson for about a month in their 1960s Airstream Safari, and they wanted to take on the challenge of Picacho, so I said, “Let’s do it now, before it gets much warmer.”  I had wanted to get Eleanor and Emma up there too, since they’ve never hiked all the way to the peak, and Emma is now tall enough that she can make it up the tough spots.  We had hiked to the halfway point back shortly after Emma’s seventh birthday, which is hard enough, but now it was time to go for the gusto and bag that peak.  (The full hike is not recommended for kids under age 10, for good reasons.)

The Hunter Trail is 2.1 miles.  The first half is an ascent composed of many switchbacks up the steep eroded slope of the mountain’s south side.  It is in some ways the hardest park of the hike only because the slog up is fairly dull, and this presents a psychological challenge to some.  But if you get discouraged, you need only pause and look back down at the increasingly vast view of the desert floor for a little encouragement.  You’ll see the dual ribbons of Interstate 10, the parallel Southern Pacific railway, and a wriggling stretch of the Central Arizona Project canal that feeds water to Tucson.  Most people will need to pause frequently, just to catch their breath, so the excuse of “taking in the view” is pretty useful.

picacho-peak-steep1.jpgThe mid-point of the hike is a spot called “the saddle.”  From this point, you face another psychological challenge: after all that climbing, you must now begin to descend the north side along an extremely steep and rocky “trail.”  It is so steep that a cable line is provided, and you quickly give up a couple hundred feet of hard-won altitude as you proceed.  Just a look at this descent is enough to scare people into deciding that they’ve done enough for the day, and to begin heading back to the car.

The second half of the trail has nothing in common with the first half.  It’s mostly solid rock, jagged and rough, with many ridiculously steep sections that are closer to rock climbing than hiking.  Cable lines are everywhere, and for good reason.  Those prone to vertigo or fear of heights should stay home. But spectacular views and the exhilaration of overcoming the tough spots are the rewards for those who persevere.

picacho-peak-steep2.jpgThere were a few points at which I wondered if our entire group was going to make it.  Of all of us, I think Emma did the best.  She showed no fear at any of the tricky stuff, never ran low on energy, and managed even the most technical bits with little help.  Eleanor had to deal with asthma on the way up, and Alex was having some pain in his knees.  But we all made it:  We reached the summit in about two hours without loss of life or even minor maiming.

picacho-peak-eleanor-top.jpgCharon seemed the most psychologically stressed by the hike, yet she was the one who suggested we make this an annual ritual.  That’s the kind of person she is.  Faced with something that pushed her personal boundaries, she decided not only to finish it, but also commit to going back for more.  Admirable.  I understand how she feels about it.  Climbing Picacho next year will be kind of a reminder to all of us to keep challenging ourselves.

The summit of so many mountains is nothing special, usually just a view and a chance to eat a few snacks while cooling off, but it’s a great feeling to bag a peak that you’ve worked hard on.  Even little Picacho, at about 3,300 ft, is a great achievement if you weren’t sure you could make it.  I think that it doesn’t matter how tall the mountain is, or how easily other people have reached it.  Getting there is your achievement, forever.  Well worth a Saturday and a little sweat.

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Road-tripping, vintage Mercedes style

Friday, February 11th, 2011

I’ve got a roadtrip coming, and I’m psyched about it.  You’d think that after years of traveling by Airstream I might be a little jaded by the thought of yet another cross-country drive, but not so.  The fact that I’m always looking forward to the next trip tells me something good: I like what I’m doing. That’s kind of my ideal for life, to have a sense that most days I am doing what I want to do.

This trip is particularly exciting because I’m taking the vintage Mercedes 300D for its first big highway excursion.  We’ll be going to Palm Springs, California for the Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show.

No, I’m not going to be towing a trailer this time. I would have brought the 1968 Airstream Caravel, but through a series of events we ended up with 20 trailers in the show instead of the 18 we had space for, and I had to give up my own space so that we could fit them all. So I’m staying in the Riviera Resort & Spa (the venue for the event) and won’t be bringing the Caravel this year.

mercedes-roadtrip.jpgBut the loss of my trailer space was a blessing in disguise, because the old Merc should fit in better with all the old trailers.  I’ve wanted to get that car out for a good stretch of the legs anyway.  My recent trip to Phoenix showed that these W123-chassis sedans deserve their reputation as fine highway cruisers.  A 350-mile run across the desert seems like a great roadtrip to me, and this is the ideal time of year to do it.  Once the heat arrives in May, the old car’s air conditioning will be severely challenged.  Late February and March in the low desert is the season to roll the windows down and let the wind blow into the cabin.

I have to admit that this time I’ve had more trepidation about the possibility of a breakdown than I’ve ever had towing an Airstream.  On the day of the trip I have to drive 100 miles up to Phoenix, pick up Brett at Sky Harbor International Airport, then continue to Palm Springs and arrive by dinnertime.  There’s not much room for sitting beside the road waiting for roadside assistance.  A 27 year old car with 167,000 miles on it is perhaps not the best choice when you absolutely positively have to be in Palm Springs to coordinate 20 trailers.

But the old Mercedes diesels have a fantastic reputation for running even when they should by all rights be having parts stripped off them at a junkyard.  And with good maintenance, there’s absolutely no reason this car won’t go across the USA and back with 100% reliability.  It’s really a matter of taking care of your vehicle and proactively maintaining things rather than waiting for them to break.

So I’ve had the car looked over twice, by two different mechanics, and asked for specific opinions about potentially problematic parts.  Since my last blog about “The Bug List”, I have narrowed down the remaining issues to only cosmetic and inconsequential items.  I even sprang for a new set of Michelins (thanks for the push, Tom!)

mercedes-roadtrip-toolkit.jpgBut still, it’s good to be prepared.  And as I’ve noted before, prepping for a roadtrip can be a huge part of the fun.  This time I’ve been researching common problems and the tools needed to overcome them, and gradually collecting the tools I might need along the way.  The old Mercedes are very well designed for servicing, to the point that it seems 90% of the repairs you might need to do along the road can be accomplished with a socket wrench and an extension, three or four sockets, and a couple of fuel filters.

I’ve added a few Mercedes-specific items, like a lug bolt guide tool to help with tire changing, some of the odd “festoon” light bulbs used in interior lamps, and the unusual ceramic fuses, plus a quart of oil. With the addition of my well-stocked Airstream kit bag, I can pretty much disassemble and reassemble half the car, and that should be much more than I’ll ever use on this trip.  In fact, I will be surprised if any of the tools come out of the trunk at all.  I’m just being overly cautious.

One of the fun bits is that I will be running the car on biodiesel for at least the first half of the trip.  Biodiesel is amazing stuff.  It’s made from vegetable oil, so it’s almost carbon-neutral.  Running B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% dino diesel) cuts most pollutants in the exhaust considerably, which is nice since this is a 1984-era car that isn’t nearly as clean as my 2009 version diesel with the built-in chemical processing plant.

Biodiesel is biodegradable and completely non-toxic, so spills or human contact are not much of a problem.  It makes the car run a little quieter, cleans out the fuel system (because it is a solvent), and — best of all — it makes the exhaust smell like vegetable oil (reminds me of making popcorn). The only problems I’ve found is that 100% biodiesel is a bit expensive, currently $3.94 per gallon in Tucson, and  it will require me to replace the rubber fuel lines soon with a different type that isn’t degraded by contact with it.

Well, there’s one other problem, too:  I haven’t been yet able find a reliable source for biodiesel in Palm Springs, so on the way back we’ll have to run dino-diesel.  (UPDATE:  I got the new biodiesel-compatible fuel hoses and am talking to California biodiesel producers about how I might get a refill near Palm Springs.)

See? I’m geeking out about it.  I love it when, rather than mixing business and pleasure, business is pleasure.  It’s not always that way, and in fact I can think of a lot of times I’ve hated what I had to do, but on balance the times like this make up for it.  Just a simple roadtrip — but it’s going to be one of the highlights of February and a memorable experience for years to come.  I can’t wait to get rolling.

Insane

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

OK, I’ll keep this short and sweet.  All of the time I run into people who are full-timing in an RV, and who don’t have health insurance.

Sure, you may be young and healthy.  Sure, it’s expensive. But you have to keep something in mind:  our health system is insane.

We were lucky during our three years on the road.  Our medical issues were few.  But nothing lasts forever.  I went to see the local doc for a routine checkup in December.  No procedures were done.  I had a 15-minute exam and some blood tests and urinalysis, all routine stuff.

The physician’s office billed my insurance company $1,046.09 for that.

No typo.

We are still in the deductible of our “high deductible health plan,” so theoretically we’re on the hook for the whole thing.  But there’s a trick.  Simply having health insurance, even if it isn’t covering your bill, is what’s really important.  See, the insurance company has negotiated rates with the medical providers (meaning in this case, the doctor’s office).  Their pre-negotiated rate knocked the bill down to $238.00.  That’s what we’ll actually pay.

So what happens to the $808.09 that the doctor’s office forgave?  No worries — it will get passed on to some poor sap who doesn’t have medical insurance.  Sooner or later they’ll find someone who doesn’t have a negotiated rate, and if necessary they’ll garnish his wages to get it.

That’s why people who don’t have health insurance in this country are screwed.  A huge percentage of bankruptcies in this country result from being what is termed, “medically indigent,” meaning sucked dry by medical bills.   No health insurance?  You’ll go down fast.  At the rate of $1,000 per simple office visit, it won’t take long. Imagine what happens when you get hit by a car, or have a heart attack.  You’ve never paid as much for an Tylenol as you will when you buy one from a hospital bed.

Don’t kid yourselves.  Get health insurance and join the club of people who pay 80% less.  This has nothing to do with “socialized medicine,” or Obama — it has been the system for decades.  The health care system in this country is rigged, and the only way you can survive the cost is to join the game.  Or, you can move to France.

The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming

Monday, February 7th, 2011

When you’re the editor of a magazine, or a serial novelist, or an egg-laying chicken, your workload tends to rise and fall as your products are eventually completed and released to the public.  It’s a great relief when a particularly tricky project is finally completed and off the desk (or out of the henhouse, as the case may be).  That’s where I find myself right now.

No, I don’t mean in a henhouse.  I mean I am in the final stages of finishing a new project that I am particularly proud of:  “The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming.” It is a 104-page book designed to give new Airstream owners a “quick start” to traveling, camping, and owning their shiny Airstream travel trailer.

newbies-guide-p1.jpgI’ve been working on this book for about eight months, with help from a few friends.  The job has been to collect as much useful and accurate information about Airstreams (how they work, how to maintain them, what to expect) and summarize it into a format that people will actually find useful.  There’s lots of information out on the Internet, but much of it is based on conjecture, or just plain wrong.  Likewise, the Owner’s Manual provided by Airstream is full of useful facts, but it’s very dense and certain important facts are well obscured, so few people actually bother to read it.  Rather than having to search hard for the basics, new owners will now have an easy guide to the stuff they need to know first.

Right now the book is in the final draft stage.  Review copies are being printed this week and will be fact-checked by a team of experts at Airstream and in the Airstream community.  Once I have the review copies back, I can make the final edits and release the book.

I expect we’ll have it out by April 2011, and it will be for sale at the Airstream online store, the Airstream brick-and-mortar store in Jackson Center OH, Amazon.com, and select Airstream dealers, for just $9.95.  (I worked hard to make sure we could keep the price reasonable.)  You can pre-order it now in the Airstream Life store for April 2011 delivery.  We’ll have a Kindle edition, too.

newbies-guide-p2.jpgA lot of thought went into this project.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for several years, ever since I first saw the Airstream Owners Manual.  It’s a bit rough, and has needed some updating.  I have a small collection of manuals ranging from 1968 to 2005, and each of them uses nearly the same wording in places, the same advice, and the same checklists.  There are bits of advice that go back 40 or 50 years, some of which are timeless and others which are … uh, not so much.

From a recent manual: “Avoid cash.  Use Travelers Checks …”  “Pack camera and film.”   Yeah, along with those traveler’s checks and film camera, be sure to pack a spittoon, typewriter, and spare buggy whip.  These days people are more concerned with carrying the iPhone, Gameboy, and laptop.   Film? What’s that?

Teasing aside, I have to tip my hat to the Owner’s Manual.  It does have much more info in it than I could ever get into a 104 page book, so in a few places I’ve deferred to it.  But in most of the book I gave my best shot at succinct, practical and tested answers to the most commonly-asked questions and typical “newbie” problems. That’s what made it fun — finding the best possible answers so that people can get up to speed on the Airstream as quickly as possible.

The book has sections on all kinds of newbie topics: understanding all the systems, camping, towing, solar & generators, maintenance, winterizing, simple repairs (like changing tires), packing, backing, dumping, filling, winter travel, Internet, cleaning, tools, myths, and a few sample checklists.  I think one of the best parts is the “Jargon Guide,” with eight pages of definitions of commonly used terms that newbies have probably never heard before.

I’m also really excited about the wonderful illustrations in the book.  Brad Cornelius, who has been a regular contributor to Airstream Life for years (and also designed the Alumapalooza art for 2010 and 2011) agreed to make over 30 illustrations for the book.   You can see one of them in the sample page above (that’s me).  Brad invented a pair of great little characters who demonstrate their Airstream as I explain things in the text.  I like looking at the pages just to see what they’re up to.

So I’m feeling good about my project now.  It took as long as making a baby, and the birthing process will probably be just as exhausting, but like a baby, it’s well worth the effort.  If the book does well, I’ve already got plans for a sequel on “Advanced Airstreaming” to produce next year.  Time to go start another egg …

Winterizing in Tucson?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

We have never winterized our Airstream Safari.  We took delivery in October 2005 and from there on we made a point of keeping it out of winter weather.  Sure, there were chilly nights below freezing on many occasions (usually at high altitude in places like Yosemite) but with the furnace or the catalytic heater running the trailer would never get anywhere near the freezing point.

Years before, when we lived in Vermont, “winterization day” was an unhappy day for me because it meant the end of the camping season.  Winterization is the process of preparing the trailer for months of freezing, by removing all the water and replacing it with pink RV anti-freeze.  Once you’ve done that, you’ve admitted that there’s no chance of going camping again for months.  For me, up in Vermont, it meant the start of a long season of staring out the window at my poor Airstream, frozen over with snow and ice like a sad aluminum popsicle.

Once we bought a house in Tucson, I knew we were home free.   Never again would I face the end of the season, because it doesn’t freeze here — much.  I have not winterized a trailer in six years.  Even on those occasion winter nights when the skies are clear and the wind is high, and the temperatures dip below freezing for a few hours, the Airstreams don’t get cold enough to require winterization.

And so you can imagine my consternation this week as Tucson, deep in the Sonoran Desert, is facing deep freezes three nights in a row this week.  Not the mild sort of freeze we toy with for fun, just to be able to say, “Hey, it’s cold here too,” to our northern relatives, but a real frigid, put-on-the-long-johns kind of bitter cold that lasts all day and all night.

I know you folks up north and east aren’t too sympathetic, given that you’ve been getting pounded by snowstorms and all that stuff, but really, we can’t take it.  Our house is a barely insulated stack of adobe blocks with drafty single pane windows.  The cactus will die, the citrus will wilt, and worst of all our Airstreams aren’t winterized.

This horrible thought struck me this evening as we were heading for yet another cold night, this time all the way down to 20 degrees.   No longer could I scoff at a light freeze — this is cold enough to turn the water pipes in our Airstreams into solid blocks of ice, splitting them open and causing all kinds of other damage.  Just a little ice in the electric water pump is enough to wreck it.  So this evening I grabbed an electric heater from the house and stuck it in the Airstream Safari that sits in our carport.  Running all night, that 1500-watt unit should be enough to keep the interior of the trailer safely warm.

The Caravel, however, is away from home in a locked indoor storage facility.  I debated whether to go over and give it a heater too, but eventually decided that the storage unit probably wouldn’t freeze … until about 11 p.m., at which point I couldn’t sleep for wondering if I could be wrong about the storage unit.  Finally I got dressed and drove over to the storage facility with another heater, just to be on the safe side.

As it turned out, the interior of the Caravel was a balmy 43 degrees, but I was still glad I had gone over to give it a heater too.  Tomorrow night we are expecting 18 degrees — another record low — and I think by then the storage unit will have chilled down quite a bit.

Well, at least it’s no worse than that.  In a few days this strange weather episode will be part of meteorological history and I can go back to pretending that it never freezes here.  I won’t have to buy RV anti-freeze and  my record of never having winterized the Safari will remain intact.  I guess there’s no place in the USA completely safe from freezes except Hawaii (and ironically there are no campgrounds there), but at least our frigid season is limited to just three days.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine