Not cool

Things looked hopeful in the morning when our refrigerator was reading 42 degrees, but as the morning sun rose, so did the interior temperature.  By 11 a.m. I had conceded that it wasn’t cooling properly on gas yet, and Paul switched it over to electric to see if that worked better.  I also turned on our fridge vent boost fans, which we normally use whenever the ambient temp is above 90 degrees.

No joy.  By 2 p.m. the refrigerator had risen to 52 degrees inside, which suggests the worse possible scenario.  These units don’t have a lot of failure modes. When the fridge won’t cool on electricity or gas, and the circuitry has been eliminated as a cause (as proven by use of Paul’s testing device), it usually means the cooling unit is a goner.  They aren’t field serviceable, so the only solutions are either a replacement cooling unit or a whole new refrigerator.  Either way, it’s bad news.

Before we go to the replacement scenario, we’re going to try “burping” the fridge, which basically means turning it upside down for a while to try to work out an internal clog of the gasses and liquids that are essential to the cooling process.  That’s a desperation move.  We’ll also remove the topside vent cover to see if perhaps something nested in there during our stay in Vermont.  The refrigerator will be removed during this process.  If this doesn’t work, we’ll have to consider various replacement options, which are dependent upon shipping and availability.  We might have to go home with no refrigerator and donate all of the frozen goodies Eleanor has collected over the summer to Paul & Anne.

To add to the fun, this is the hottest day we’ve experienced in the trailer without air conditioning since we dry camped in Death Valley in May 2006.  (In fact, that was the trip that inspired us to later install a pair of boost fans in the refrigerator vent, which have worked very well since. Until now.  There’s no compensating for a dead refrigerator cooling unit.)

It’s 100 degrees outside as I write this.  Because we have no air conditioning, the trailer interior is also 100 degrees.  It would be hotter but our three vent fans running at full speed are keeping us on par with the outdoors.  Eleanor had the excuse of grocery shopping for tonight’s dinner as a reason to drive off in the air conditioned Mercedes to an air conditioned store, but Emma and I just toughed it out.  Emma worked on math, and I worked on Airstream Life.

When the interior of the Airstream reached 100 degrees, Emma and I went into full-blown Death Valley Cooling Mode.  It’s dry here, so evaporative cooling is the trick.  We took cold showers and then put on wet cotton t-shirts.  I wiped down the dinette seats with wet cloths and rigged up a makeshift evaporative cooler for my laptop too, using a wet rag and a plate.  All of this made the heat somewhat tolerable.

Good thing, because it would be easy to lose my cool given two expensive appliance failures.  The air conditioner is gone after six years, and now the refrigerator is gone after just three years.  This will be our third refrigerator.  I’m not impressed with the quality of RV appliances — never have been, but this really seals it.  I said earlier that they don’t make ‘em like they used to, and I meant it.  We replaced the original refrigerator in our 1960s-era Caravel after 37 years, and it was still working. (We replaced it only to get a larger modern unit with better cooling control, but now I’m wondering if we made a big mistake.)  It’s not uncommon at all to find vintage Airstreams with original refrigerators in them.  In twenty years, will anyone with an early 2000s-era RV or travel trailer have an original appliance left?

This afternoon we relocated all of our refrigerated items to a spare refrigerator Paul & Ann have in their house.  We were too late for a roll of biscuit dough, which popped spontaneously in the refrigerator, and our milk is also history.  But at least we are in a friendly place with resources.  Eleanor is making dinner for Paul & Anne in their kitchen, which will use up some of our food.  I know for sure we are having biscuits with dinner.  Meanwhile, we’re working on Plans A, B, and C for the next few days, dependent on whether we fix the fridge, replace the fridge, or skip it until later and head home with an ice chest.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine