LT versus ST Tires

October 17th, 2014 by Forrest McClure

I was going to switch from the ST (Special Trailer) tire to the Michelin LT (light truck) tire for my Airstream, but found that it is no longer made for 15″ wheels. So, I would have had to go to the additional expense of purchasing 16″ wheels to mount LT tires.

If you are considering switching, first check out the new Carlisle Radial Trail ST tire. It has an 85 mph speed rating as opposed to the 65 mph speed rating of nearly every other Special Trailer (ST) tire. The lower speed rating I believe has been one of the major causes of ST tire failure. It only takes one minute or less travel in excess of that rating to damage the tire, so Carlisle has addressed that with their new design.

I bought the Carlisle Radial ST225/75R15 for my 32′ Excella (GVWR 8,300 lbs.) and just returned from a 3,000 mile trip. They preformed well and though I normally only tow at speeds below 65, there were several segments of the trip when I exceeded that. There appears to be little wear on the tires and they are looking really good, whereas I replaced my previous Goodyear Marathons with only about 7,000 miles on them because of poor wear patterns, and indications of impending tread separation. That was despite taking very good care of the Goodyear tires, as I used the Pressure Pro tire pressure sensors, never drove over their speed rating, used tire covers when not in use and even put the trailer on jack stands when storing to keep the tires off the ground.

The Carlisles though, do appear to be performing much better. I bought them from Discount Tire, $99 each plus replacement, fees, and balancing.

But now for my review of the Michelins I now have on my 3/4 ton 1985 Chevrolet Suburban. It is a good tire and appears to be wearing and holding up well with only the 3,000 miles on them. I did have to go with a slightly wider and lower profile to find a fit for my 16″ rims. I thought that would be a good thing to do anyway, for better performance, and the carrying capacity was not reduced by doing that. I was hoping also for a more comfortable ride and the tires have done that, except for one disconcerting characteristic – the more flexible sidewalls give a more pronounced sensation of sway, especially when towing. So, the jury is still out on these tires as far as I’m concerned, but perhaps I’ll eventually get used to that unpleasant effect.

From Land Yacht to Ocean Liner

October 2nd, 2014 by Forrest McClure


Monday, the 8th.

Today we began our road trip from Aurora, Colorado to Seattle, Washington. There we would board ms Amsterdam, a Holland America Line passenger ship and go on a seven day Alaska cruise. Could hardly wait to get away but still only managed to pull out from the curb at 9:30 a.m. The usual heavy traffic was present all the way to Fort Collins on I-25, but we exited to continue on US 287 hoping to stop at the Virginia Dale rest stop near the border. Really wanted to do that, as the new hitch needed some tweaking. Very light steering and the head winds really bad, but Colorado had closed the rest area! Why is my state closing all its rest stops? I really needed a break and a place to make adjustments.

Continued on 287 – the Blue Star Memorial Highway – until Rawlings, Wyoming where we stopped at the port of entry at about noon. Had lunch in the trailer and then made adjustments to the hitch that resulted in a big improvement to weight distribution, but was disappointed that it didn’t control or prevent sway. The friction principle only slows sway down and dampens it a bit. We continued being pushed around in the bow wave of big trucks and motor homes when they passed us. Admittedly, this was under some severe wind conditions.

We stopped for the night at Little America, Wyoming after driving through much rain. We had a late night dinner there. It was okay, not great. Service was pretty slow. But we slept for free in the trailer out in the parking lot.

Tuesday, the 9th.

State border markers can be artful and informative.

State border markers can be artful and informative.

Crossed over state lines from Wyoming to Idaho on US 30 and stopped for photos. Secondary roads are nice that way. If we were on the Interstate we probably couldn’t stop and that’s too bad. Some of these out of the way crossings have artful markers.

Not too far into Idaho we ran into road construction. Traffic halted for one-way traffic and so were stopped for ten minutes or so. But it gave us the opportunity to enjoy the scenery and take a picture. Bear Lake county is pretty. Maybe the prettiest in southern Idaho judging from the dry and barren looking terrain we saw later.

I never could find a name for this river and according to maps might simply be part of an irrigation canal system. I think that is Bear Lake Plateau in the background.

I never could find a name for this river and according to maps might simply be part of an irrigation canal system. I think that is Bear Lake Plateau in the background.



Spent the night in Carmela RV Park, a winery, at Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho. Almost stayed in the neighboring state park, Three Island Crossing, but wanted full hook-ups. This was very nice and either place is a great place to camp.

100_5049croppedOn one side of the RV park are the vineyards and on the other a golf course. On weekends it is a busy place, but mid-week we nearly had the place to ourselves. There is a sign near the entrance that says, “Please check in and pay… across the street at the winery.” There is also a restaurant there. Oh, the temptations! Shouldn’t every winery have an RV park?

Oh, Hell

October 1st, 2014 by Forrest McClure

When I got out of the shower and opened the bathroom door, I heard my wife shouting, “Hell, Hell, Hell!”

“What’s wrong?” I shouted back.


“Okay, but what’s the matter?”

“Hell! Get my potted plants inside! Hell!”

“What the?” I wondered. I was naked but walked into the living room to figure out why my wife, who seldom curses, couldn’t seem to stop. Then I saw and finally, heard it – HAIL. My wife who has mobility issues was trying to get up out of her chair, but her panic for her flowers on the lanai prevented her. She has to focus to get up and walk. It is when she gets distracted that she falls.

“Get my plants!” She demanded.

“I’m naked.” I protested. But I ran to the bedroom, threw on some pants and a tee-shirt. By then she had managed to get out on the lanai to save her two plants and was getting plenty pelted by the hard and not so little ice balls. “Just let me get them!” I pleaded. She carried in the smallest then I went out to get the big pot. Goodness, hail hurts to step on barefoot. It’s like walking on marbles.

The plants are safe. Thank God for small miracles. But I knew, and there was no guessing about it, my Airstream was taking a licking. The hail not only continued for about ten minutes, but kept getting bigger, up to three quarter of an inch in diameter. My trailer has been through some hail storms before, but not like this. I knew that anything dime sized or larger would pound the aluminum like a child playing with a ball peen hammer. It made me want to cry.

It was as bad as I thought it would be and think the insurance company is going to total my trailer. I have an appointment to meet with the adjuster on Thursday.004reduced

Putting on solar

September 2nd, 2014 by Forrest McClure

One thing I sorely miss by storing my Airstream in an RV lot is no shore power to keep the house batteries charged. The solution of course is solar panels and I finally got around to installing them. They were not expensive. I got them as a kits from Harbor Freight. Some on-line experts belittle the kit. Usually, the biggest criticism is the included wiring is too thin a gauge. But most reviews are very positive. With the 45 watt kit on sale for about $190 (with coupons) I felt it was a reasonable gamble. So, I bought two kits.

What I like about the panels themselves is that they are fairly streamlined and mount within about a half inch from the surface. In other words, they don’t have the house hold aluminum sized frame. Of course that’s the other criticism leveled at the kit – that the frame is plastic and isn’t as substantial as the more expensive panels. I also liked the dimensions. Each panel is about 13″ in width, and 36″ in length. So, they ride in the draft of the air conditioner in addition to having a low silhouette.

Each kit came with three panels, so there are six altogether, but I’ve only installed four. That produces 60 watts. So far, that seems quite adequate for my two AGM house batteries. At some point, I’ll install the remaining two panels in front of the air conditioner. But maybe I’ll just keep them in reserve in case one or two of the four I installed gets damaged.

Another thing I like about the kit is the regulators. They are unlike anything else I’ve seen. Each is designed to handle three panels or 45 watts. To handle more than that I had to either use both or buy a higher rated regulator. I read that they could be wired in parallel though. That is what I did and it is working well. The way I have them wired each regulator handles one battery and gives me a digital readout on just that battery. What makes these regulators different though is the various outlets they have: two 12 volt cigarette lighter style sockets, two 12 volt charging ports, small 6 and 3 volt charging ports and a USB charging port.

Regulator and accessories come with the DIY kit.

Regulator and accessories come with the DIY kit.

Although the kits came with most of the wiring, I did replace some of the run with 10 gauge low voltage wire. I did that mostly because the run was over 20 feet.

The kits also came with four 12 volt 5 watt CFL bulbs. I rewired a couple of 110 volt clamp on desk lamps with cigarette lighter style plugs to run the 12 volt bulbs. I’m pleased with that. The big problem in the long run is that I can’t find out where to order replacement bulbs. I wrote Harbor Freight asking about it, but have not gotten a response. That shouldn’t be a big concern though, since I have two spares.

I’m happy with the results. My house batteries are staying charged even though I’m running ceiling fans all summer to keep the heat down in the interior.

This shows the panels low profile and how they are tucked neatly behind the air conditioner so as to not produce much drag. You can also see where I left off polishing.

This shows the panels low profile and how they are tucked neatly behind the air conditioner so as to not produce much drag. You can also see where I left off polishing.


New Towing Experience

August 23rd, 2014 by Forrest McClure

I took my Airstream to the Hitch Corner in Littleton, CO this past Wednesday to have an Equal-i-zer Hitch installed. The men there were very competent and professional. They installed 1,000 lb. “arms” or spring bars as I call them, since that comes closest to matching my trailer’s tongue weight (varies from 850 to 900 lbs. depending on load) with the entire set-up being a 10,000 lb. hitch to accommodate my Airstream’s GVWR spec of 8,300 lbs.

This is the fourth weight distributing hitch I’ve used in the past ten years. The first was a Draw-Tite, then a Reese Trunnion, then a Reese Dual-Cam, a Hensley, and now Equal-i-zer. All pretty much do as advertised. The Draw-Tite seemed to me the simplest to use, the Hensley the most complicated. I gave up the Hensley soonest. It just didn’t seem a good fit for my needs. I’ve used the Reese Dual-Cam the longest. My major complaint isn’t its design, which I liked, but the fact that the only spring bars available for my needs were either 1,200 lb. or 800 lb. The first too stiff, then the other not quite enough. Equal-i-zer  on the other hand offers bars in 200 lb. increments.

The day before the installation I had new tires and wheels installed on my Suburban. I went with a slightly wider wheel and tire, but the tire also had about a 1” lower profile. My thinking here was to improve handling and get a bit lower drive ratio. I may have achieved that, but I didn’t change the Reese Dual-Cam hitch setup to accommodate those changes.

After all, I was simply going across town to get a new hitch, so why bother? Well, it was a white knuckle drive – really scary, with the trailer going into a sway at the slightest provocation. I’ve never had that problem before. Obviously, the new tires and wheels changed the relationship between tow vehicle and trailer. Likely, the trailer had a slight nose down attitude, putting more weight on the front axle and removing some weight from the rear. Effectively, that may have given it a longer “tail” to wag. Although I expected there would be a difference, I was surprised by how much.

Compared to that one bad experience, the performance of the new hitch was dramatically better. Of course, it was set-up according to the Suburban’s new stance, but I have to admit the towing was nearly perfect. It even improved braking. So far, I’m very happy with it. Granted, the tow home was only 27 miles, but I’ll be giving it a long distance test in a couple of weeks when Patrice and I go on a road trip to Seattle, WA.

Reese Dual-Cam setup. Notice the head is tilted to the fullest extent and the bars are using the shortest number of links, but with just 800 lb. bars I couldn't quite achieve the weight distribution I wanted.

Reese Dual-Cam setup. Notice the head is tilted to the fullest extent and the bars are using the shortest number of links, but with just 800 lb. bars I couldn’t quite achieve the weight distribution I wanted.


Polishing Grinds To A Halt

August 19th, 2014 by Forrest McClure
First they ground up the old and now they're laying new asphalt.

First they ground up the old and now they’re laying new asphalt.

No sooner did I start making progress polishing away oxidation, than I had to stop. Road crews began grinding up the old asphalt only fifty or so feet away from my Airstream. That resulted in a daily layer of gritty dust that has to be washed off prior to polishing. I keep hoping for a really hard rain… so far it seems we’re back in a dry spell.
Now the grinding is over, and they’re laying fresh asphalt. They make good progress while they’re working, but then seem to do nothing for days in between. I wonder if they run out of asphalt and have to wait for supplies?

Tomorrow, I have an appointment to have a new hitch installed. The 800 lb. spring bars on my old Reese Dual-Cam have taken a set and have a permanent bend in them. I already have the head tilted as far as it will go and can’t get adequate weight distribution. I’ve liked the Dual-Cam, but want spring bars that are closer to the weight I need. Reese only offers 800 lb. and 1,200 lb. bars. I need 1,000 lb.

I had a couple of squirrelly moments using 1,200 lb. on undulating road surfaces. The two combined to cause the rear wheels to lose traction for just a moment, but one time that happened while going around a curve in the mountains. I didn’t like the trailer steering the car.

So, I went to the 800 lb. bars and that solved the problem. Except that my hitch weight is 850. Over time, I think the bars took a set and now I can’t adjust them enough to get the weight transfer I need.

I going to try out the Equalizer brand because they offer 1,000 lb. bars. I’ll let you know what I think of them in about a month. September 8th we leave on a long trip from Colorado to Washington. That should give me a pretty good opportunity to evaluate their performance.

Long Overdue

August 6th, 2014 by Forrest McClure

Just like this blog, my Airstream Excella has been long overdue some of its larger maintenance issues – larger but not necessarily serious. Large, as in, thirty-two feet of oxidized aluminum.

The current trend of course is to polish older Airstreams to a mirror like finish. I doubt I’ll ever accomplish that, but I’d be very happy to get the grey out. Some Airstreamers actually like the oxidized look – gives it character they say. For me it is more a matter of practicality than aesthetics.

That dull oxidation is actually black. Don’t believe me? Rub the surface vigorously with a white towel and you’ll see. Black absorbs heat from the sun much more than those mirror finishes. So, a polished trailer stays a little cooler.

Also, dirt, dust and debris tends to adhere to oxidized finishes. Polished and waxed surfaces stay cleaner longer.

Oxidation off - first pass with coarse buffing on the left. Oxidized on the right.

Oxidation off – first pass with coarse buffing on the left. Oxidized on the right.

Stored in an outdoor storage lot, in full sunlight, my trailer has been one hot tin can. I’ve been wanting to do something about that.

The first thing was to cut aluminum foil covered bubble pack insulation for the windows. That helped considerably, although when I go over to work on the interior I have to remove it because it darkens the interior so much.

The other has been to start polishing. I did not appreciate just how badly oxidized the roof was until I tried taking it off. No amount of elbow grease was going to due the job. Battery powered tools couldn’t handle it. Fortunately, I have a portable generator, nothing fancy, but an easy to start Champion that has been very reliable.

It produces just raw electricity though, no advanced inverter technology. It has quirks that remind me of a 1967 Honda motorcycle I had when I was young – leave the fuel valve open when the engine isn’t running and gasoline starts dripping out from an over full carburetor fuel bowl. Once that happens the engine is flooded too and is really hard to start. But you develop a process and as long you don’t forget the Champion starts up on the first pull. As a generator it isn’t that old – I bought just a few years ago. But technologically, it’s vintage. And that’s okay, it powers a vintage rig and some old power tools.

I’m glad I’ve kept it. I’m using it to run those tools. Still, the oxidation comes off tediously. I can do about a 3′ x 3′ area in 2 hours. I’m getting better with the technique but there is a reason the professionals want $125 per foot. I also get up at six thirty in the morning to work while it is still cool enough.

One thing I’ve already notice though is that in full sunlight the oxidized areas of the roof are hotter by five degrees or more. That’s the inside measurement. Doesn’t sound like much, but 85 is a lot more tolerable than 90.


March 27th, 2014 by Forrest McClure

Six years ago I wrote about towing with 1985 Chevy Suburban. It was 23 years old then. Now it is 29, but is still not considered vintage or collectible. Instead, it is called “neo-classic.”

Colorado legislated that only cars made prior to 1975 are collectible. Just last year that was revised and now any car more than 32 years old is collectible (vintage). I envy the pre-1975 group. No emissions controls. No emission testing, and they can modify their engines without permission. The only catch is that those vehicles can not be driven more than 4,500 miles a year, and that is on the honor system. The neo-classics are between a rock and a hard place.

We still have to pass emissions testing even though in most cases we don’t use our cars any differently than the pre-1975 group. And before anyone flames me, let me say that I’m not against passing an emissions test. I don’t want pollution anymore than anyone else. It’s just that I feel stuck using 1985 pollution equipment – vacuum hoses, air pump, etc. There are after-market options, but I can’t change any of the equipment unless I first submit and have a proposal approved by the Air Care Colorado engineers. Unlike the pre-1975 group, the neo-classics are at their mercy.

It might sound as though I’m whining, but two years ago I was held hostage at the Envirotest emissions test center for 45 minutes. The employees refused to give my vehicle an emissions test because they thought I’d removed emissions equipment. They couldn’t find a catalytic converter. That’s because it has never had one. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t believe me. It was their attitude. They were angry with me and acted as if I was poisoning the planet. One yelled at me to mind my own business and return to the waiting area. Eventually, they tested the Burb and it passed the test, but even then they were sullen about it and never apologized for the way they’d treated me.

Complicating the problem is that it is so hard now to find anyone experienced in tuning an engine equipped with a carburetor. This year I found one that I want to recommend, The Carburetor Shop in Englewood, Colorado. They rebuilt my carb and tuned up the Burb for a reasonable price and now it runs better than ever. Friendly, fast, courteous and competent – it doesn’t get any better than that.

I was still apprehensive about this years emissions test. I was confident the Burb would pass, but not about how I’d be treated. Once again one of the employees seemed skeptical. His distain was obvious but this time his attitude changed as the testing progressed. He was surprised by the results and this time I wasn’t held hostage.

It occurs to me that maybe my old car is the exception instead of the rule. That would explain some of the attitude. The manager at the Carburetor Shop thanked me for having such a clean engine. The technician at Envirotest congratulated me and encouraged me to continue keeping the Burb in good condition.

Well, I am encouraged. So much so, that I’m looking forward to 2017 when the Burb will be eligible for collector plates.

My 1985 Suburban, "The Beast," with my32' 1986 Airstream Excella.

Going Backward?

October 11th, 2013 by Forrest McClure

Twenty five years ago we visited the Fort Garland Museum with our three children. I was towing a 1986 Apache pop-up trailer with a 1987 Ford Aerostar mini-van.19880600 A few days ago we repeated a portion of the trip and revisited the fort with two of our grandchildren. This time I was towing a 1985 32′ Excella with a 1985 Chevy Suburban. 20131010The Aerostar got about 18 mpg, the Suburban 8 mpg. The digital photo is much better, but other than that, am I going backward?

Fall Trip

October 1st, 2013 by Forrest McClure

Tomorrow, we leave for Albuquerque to attend the Balloon Fiesta. This time, we’re taking two of our grandchildren with us. Actually, they are the reason for going. When we were there before, the one thing we thought of was that they should be there to see it.

I never feel like I’m ready to leave. It seems there is always some little (or big) project that I want done on the trailer but at some point I simply tell myself that what I’ve done is good enough. For instance, I wanted to polish the trailer this year, not to a mirror finish, but simply get the oxidation off and brighten it up a little better. But I haven’t gotten around to it.

I’m going to blame the weather. I did have a timeline for the project the weather here in Colorado  interfered. Earlier in the summer we were in a drought and fighting fires. That turned completely around during our four days of rain. Heather Gardens got nearly 15″ of water, far more than we normally get in an entire year. And it did keep me busy. As a board member I surveyed the damage and we had an emergency meeting. I met with some residents who were in real distress.

For me, personally, the storm came just as I was starting to polish. I was up on the ladder, working a small section just above the back window. I thought it was the perfect day to work. For most of the summer it was just too hot and sunny for me. On this day, it was about seventy degrees and overcast. I knew the forecast was rain and I did look over my shoulder from time to time. But when it actually came, I was caught off-guard by its speed and strength. One moment it was peacefully overcast, the next I saw a bank of clouds whirling and rushing toward me. Wow, I thought, I’d better get things picked up and put away. I just barely made it.

And then the hail came!
 And then the hail came!

Sitting in the trailer with the wind rocking it and the heavy rain and hail pounding it, I thought I might be in a tornado. It nearly was. I figured I simply had to wait it out. So, I stopped fretting and watched TV. Of course, the only thing on were weather reports. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone by the front door of my daughter’s house (I keep my trailer parked there). I couldn’t believe it. It was my daughter and she was frantically bailing water from her basement window well.

So, I put on a poncho (that did little to keep me dry) and went out to help. We bailed as fast as we could. I dug a trench to help the water run away from the house and got up on an aluminum ladder in the rain, hail and lightning to clear pine needles and leaves out of the roof gutters. Better I get hit than my daughter. An hour later, the first wave of the four day storm had past. We looked like drowned rats.

035Back in Heather Gardens the ground became so saturated with water that by the third day there was no where else for the water to go other than into basements. Sixty town home and patio home residences were flooded just in our association. The garage in my six story building had six inches to a foot of standing water. Fortunately for us, we live on the third floor. If the water ever got that high it would be time to man the lifeboats and row to the mountains.

We came through just fine, both condo and trailer. But it sure messed up my polishing. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.