Archive for May, 2008

Hazmat!

Friday, May 30th, 2008
3m-mask
Take me to your leader!

It’s crunch time and I don’t know if I’ll have PT back together and ready for travel in time to go to the International Rally in Bozeman. My wife, Patrice, asked why I don’t just stop with the repairs and take PT as is. First of all, I like to be thorough. Translation – I’m a perfectionist, or so I’m told. Second, I’ve found not just a maintenance issue, but a health issue.

diamond-plate-on
Diamond plate in place.

I’m not too keen on using diamond plate aluminum sheet in the storage areas. Yes, I know it is popular and looks nice, but doesn’t it do the same thing that carpeting and floating floor does? That is, trap moisture underneath and create an ideal environment for rot and mold? So, I pulled some up, took a peek, and yech! The diamond plate was hiding more than just rot and mold. It was hiding large holes in the floor.

diamond-plate-off
Diamond plate removed.

It is obvious that there have been persistent long term leaks in several places in the back of the trailer – under the rear window, under both storage hatches and under one tail light. Even the steel chassis has rusted through in places. The subfloor is either gone or is mulch throughout most of the rear perimeter floor channel. That can lead to the infamous tail sag and other structural problems if not corrected.

But I was really surprised by the mold. Curiously, it was worse beneath the under-bed storage cabinet. There was a large colony of fluffy white mold (and black) growing luxuriously, not just on the sub-floor but also on the underside of the cabinet.

Molds can and do cause respiratory problems and are a significant risk for those whose immune systems are in poor shape. That would be my wife, still recovering and trying to get stronger a year and a half after her stroke. One of the things that happened to her when she was first hospitalized back then was pneumonia.

So, I suited up for combat. I installed the heavy duty filter in my little shop vac, and put on a particulate mask rated for mold spores. Since the vacuum really screams I also donned my ear protectors.

My first attack was to physically remove as much mold as possible using the vacuum and a steel wire brush. Before doing that though I created negative pressure in the trailer by setting the rear Fantastic Vent to suck air out and the front one to push air in. The last time I didn’t take precautions with mold I had a sore throat for a week.

I worked the wire brush in concert with the vacuum to create as little air born dust as possible. No doubt some people will think I was going overboard, while others will criticize me for not taking it more seriously. There have been some instances where a mold colony was so dangerous that eradication efforts required workers donned in moon suits. I personally know of one such infestation in the bowels of Denver International Airport where several workers were hospitalized.

Mold colony
Fluffy white mold colony covers black mold.

Anyway, I did what I could. When I got home I immediately put all of my clothing in the clothes washer, and then took a shower. Molds can be a hazardous material situation and should be treated with respect. Tomorrow, I think I should have all the damaged areas cut out and hopefully I can start with the rebuild.

Goodyear makes good on tread separation.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Just a short follow up on the tire with tread separation — I took it into a local authorized Goodyear tire dealership and was given a new Marathon to replace the bad one. Total cost was $23 for mounting, balancing and new high pressure valve. I was told that the tire originally came with 10/32″ of tread and that only 1/32″ had been worn. So, the tire, even though it was five years old, was completely covered!

Tread Separation In the Driveway!

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

We’ve been on the waiting list to get a space at our community RV storage lot. A couple weeks ago we got one, and I wanted to move our ’66 Globe Trotter over to it. It wasn’t fair to park two trailers at my daughter’s house and with one parked behind the other it made it a real chore to get the GT out.

I finally got around to making ramps for the Excella so that its tail wouldn’t scrap the driveway at the curb. I made them out of 2×10 treated lumber and a landscape log. Each ramp is 4’x4’. What I really like about them is that when they are not being used as ramps they can be used as a deck next to the Excella. It makes getting in and out of the trailer much easier and gives the pad a finished look.

Ramps
Ramps that double as a deck.

A few days ago I jockeyed the Excella out onto the street and left it parked at the curb for an hour or so. Then I hitched up the GT and took it to the community RV storage lot. Then back to the Excella where I moved it back onto its pad. The grand total of distance it was moved that day was perhaps a couple hundred feet. Once it was in position I chocked the wheels and noticed that the tread of the front curb side wheel was disturbingly close to the edge of the wheel well.

Goodyear Marathon tire.
Tire bulge nearly touches wheel well.

Upon closer inspection I saw that the tread was separating! This must have happened before to a previous owner as there is a small amount of damage to the wheel well in that same location. I consider myself really lucky that I noticed it in the driveway instead of having it happen on the highway. This tire wouldn’t have lasted more than five miles – just enough to get us out onto the freeway. And likely then it would have really torn up the wheel well. The bulge in the tire was scary enough that when I took it into the tire shop the workman there wanted to deflate it right away. If left alone, I think it would have had a blow out all on its own!

Goodyear Marathon tire.
Profile of tread separation.

The DOT manufacturing date on all four tires is the 26th week of 2003. So, they are five years old. I can’t complain too much about the tread failure. The tires are old and I have no idea what their history might be. The remaining three appear to be in good condition, but at the very least I’ll be keeping a close watch on them if I decide to keep them.

Another good thing that has come from this is that I took a better look at the spare tire. It’s newer, made in the 13th week of 2005, but I noticed that it didn’t have a high pressure metal valve stem. It only had a rubber stem rated up to 35 psi. Since the tire is normally inflated to 65 psi I had the rubber stem replaced.

I needed to take the wheel off anyway to fix the earlier damage to the well, and I should also check the rest of the running gear. So, I’m keeping my chin up and thinking of this as fortuitous and not nearly as expensive as it might have otherwise been.

Dry Docked in Colorado

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I know I haven’t been keeping up my blog very well, but I’ve been busy. Our new to us trailer has some issues (what vintage trailer doesn’t?) and while everyone else appears to be on the road, camping in wonderful places, we are land locked with P.T. in dry dock.

I’m hesitant to say what the issues are. I don’t want to hurt Patti or Tom’s feelings. They thought the trailer was ready to go, but just when I thought so too I discovered that P.T. had a pretty good leak. Fortunately, I was sitting enjoying the pitter patter of rain, feeling warm and comfortable, when I saw standing water in the furnace compartment. It’s a good thing that I saw it.

Tom installed a really good looking wood laminate flooring. It was the kind that is free floating (no joke intended). This kind of floor cover has lately become very popular with Airstream owners. It is relatively easy to install in that there is no gluing or nailing. Each piece locks together and has a thin foam cushion backing.

When I saw the water though I knew the flooring had to come up – immediately. The water in the furnace compartment had to be going somewhere. It was being wicked up under the flooring. Instead of a localized wet spot the wicking action was threatening to spread the water throughout the trailer.

It’s my theory (but not mine alone) that any kind of floor covering with plastic under it, such as the laminate flooring and carpet padding, is in large part responsible for floor rot. Not only does the floor treatment wick the water, it traps it. It also hides it. Most owners don’t even know they have a leak. The water isn’t visible because there usually isn’t any standing water. It’s amazing the volume of water that the wicking action can collect.

So, I consider myself fortunate to have noticed. I just happened to have the cover off the furnace compartment. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known.

The first thing I did was get the wet vac going to suck up as much water as possible. I gathered about two quarts. The next thing I did was try to figure out where the leak was coming from. It appears that the awning rail was at fault. Patti had taken P.T. to the Airstream factory – twice – to seal the roof and seams. But for some reason Airstream didn’t caulk the awning rail.
The awning on P.T. is big. I haven’t measured it, but it must be at least a twenty foot awning. That’s a lot of canvas for the wind to catch. The force exerted on the awning rail can be considerable and it is often the source of leaks.

There wasn’t anything I could do about the leak until the rain stopped – which was the next day. In the meantime I put down towels and wet vac’d, but I also pulled up Tom’s beautiful floor. It had to be done. It is the only way to dry out the subfloor.

Sure enough the plastic sheeting under the laminate had wicked water out into the center of the trailer, and apparently not for the first time. Still, I consider myself lucky. The worst of the damage to the OSB subfloor was repairable with fiberglass and resin.

There appears to be considerable controversy about the use of OSB in Airstreams. OSB, for those of you who might not know, is an acronym for Oriented Strand Board. It is negatively referred to by some as “flake board,” or “wafer board.” Regardless, it is composite wood chips held together with an epoxy. It has its advantages and disadvantages. I take no position on it in that regard. It is what it is, and likely 30,000 to 40,000 Airstreams have been made with it since the early 1980’s.

The thing to do is deal with the issues and move on. I’ll write more on that later, but for now I’m busy working on them and hope to be on the road in a couple weeks.

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.