Archive for the ‘vintage’ Category

Putting on solar

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

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

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

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

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014
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

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

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.


Thursday, March 27th, 2014

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?

Friday, October 11th, 2013

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

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

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.

Bucket List

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Some people have skydiving or climbing mountains on their bucket list. You know what that is. If not, a bucket list is all those great things you want to do before you die. I only have one thing on mine – grow a beard. No, it’s not dangerous or exciting, but I’m kind of over those things. Nope, I just want to grow a beard and it’s because I’ve never, ever, in my entire life had one. So, here’s how I’m doing.

I think this growth is about three weeks - not particularly impressive.

I think this growth is about three weeks – not particularly impressive.


I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep at it. I went for a bicycle ride last week and because it is just now Spring there were few insects out flying about. But there were some gnats and they got caught in my beard. I think that will be the end of it when more flying insects hatch out. I’m pretty sure I don’t want my beard to be a bug catcher. That’s when I’ll shave it off.

In the meantime, I have been doing a few things on my 32′ Airstream Excella. There is a cabinet in the galley that houses a microwave oven and has drawers below and storage above. Between it and the triple wardrobe down the ‘hall’ was a vinyl folding door. I haven’t liked where it is positioned. When we have guests camping with us, the door provides privacy for the bedroom in back, but it closes off the bathroom from the front where the guests sleep. So, I move the door between the bathroom and bedroom. It restricts the ‘hall’ a little, but then the corner of the bed sticks out anyway so it doesn’t make too much difference.

However, that left an unsightly gap between the microwave cabinet and the wardrobes. What to do with that? I thought about putting a rollout pantry there, but the gap was not uniform in width or depth. Installation would have been problematic. Plus, the right side of the microwave cabinet wasn’t attached to anything. The bottom of the panel simply rested on top of the wheel well cover (and was sawing through it). I decided to keep it simple (KISS). Since the gap had to be filled with custom cut pieces, I wanted to keep the number of pieces to a minimum. So, I simply installed two simple shelves. I already know of one item I’ll store there – my laptop computer (in its travel case).

No longe a wardrobe, it is now a utility closet. One shelf filling the gap is seen lower left.

No longe a wardrobe, it is now a utility closet. One shelf filling the gap is seen lower left.


We have never filled the triple-length wardrobe with clothing. Not that we haven’t tried, and we discovered that many of the clothes we didn’t wear. In fact, we forgot about some altogether. Later, we’d find an item and say, “so that’s where we put it!” Because of this, I decided a double-length wardrobe was sufficient, and would partition off the third for use as a utility closet.

 Another item that annoyed me was the all-plastic toilet. I recently replaced it with one made of ceramic.

 My most recent eBay find is a lighted period (circa 1988) world globe. It is going to take the place of a table lamp in the bedroom. The table lamp is rusty, the brass coating falling off and because it is 120 volt AC we hardly ever use it.

That’s what I’ve done so far this year.

Lighted world globe with cool Lucite stand.

Lighted world globe with cool Lucite stand.


More Balloons

Thursday, August 9th, 2012


Fire in the sky.

Last weekend we attended a hot air balloon rally in Loveland, Colorado. Dubbed the Sweetheart Balloon Festival Rally there were about twenty Airstreams parked in the traditional Wally Byam circle. The hosts are balloonists themselves. They call theirs Serenity.

This was the first time they had ever organized and hosted a rally. By the end, I suspect they were disappointed with the results and even apologized to me and I imagine to others, but there was no need for that. I told them that all the great annual rallies have a less than perfect beginning and that we have to accept that some things are simply beyond our control.

Like the weather. Colorado’s is unpredictable and sudden. One moment the wind can be a gentle breeze and the next can be a microburst. And that’s how it happened. The hosts hoped for all of us to gather in the middle of the circle for happy hour and socializing. They erected some shelters and tables there all weighted down with bricks and big containers filled with water.

It came at siesta time. I’d just laid down for a nap when the microburst hit the campsite. Tables flew into the tents, which then collapsed and bent the frames. The tents acted like kites in the wind and in my mind I pictured them lifting off, bricks in tow, flying across the campground into the surrounding Airstreams.


Half the circle in panorama

It is in times like that when people come together. Men, women, and children sprinted from their trailers to the center of the circle to hold everything down, collapse the tents, pin down the tables. Most of those items were damaged beyond use, but the trailers were saved.

The punishment continued that night. A weather front moved into the area with seventy-five mile-per-hour winds just as hundreds of cars were being driven away from the fairgrounds to the north. All that traffic moving through the dirt parking lots kicked up a tremendous amount of dust and the wind drove it through the campsite and into the trailers.


Two of my grandsons watching Serenity being filled.

Mercifully, once the front passed us, the temperature dropped and the air calmed. The next morning was perfect flying weather and about twenty balloons lifted off. It was the highlight of the event. At the end of day, we were treated to a magnificent sunset – courtesy of smoke from the forest fires in Montana. Then that night, we were treated to a very entertaining fireworks show.

This was the first outing for my son, his wife and their two children in their new-to-them 1966 Globe Trotter. It was sink or swim in a dry camping situation but together we pulled it off and the best part is that our grandchildren all said they had a great time. I got to visit with old friends, see a really nice and very original, rare, 1961 single-axle Trade Wind and have quality time with my family. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Serenity ready to lift off.


My thanks to the hosts, Susan and Von Campbell, for all their hard work – keep your chins up you two, this rally goes down in the books as a success!

Serenity airborne.



Sunday, July 29th, 2012

We’ve decided what to do about having “two” many Airstreams. We should have done it three or four years ago. We’ve given our ’66 Globe Trotter to my son, Brian. With two children under the age of ten it will be a good fit for his family. We’re looking forward to our grandchildren having that kind of experience.

One couple I know are continuing their Airstream family tradition. Randy & Margie have two children and a ’64 Globe Trotter that Margie inherited from her parents. When she was a baby they used the little bath tub as a crib for her to sleep in. Many of her childhood memories are from that trailer and the annual vacations taken with it. Several years ago at the Denver Modernism Show they were offered $20,000 for it. They couldn’t sell it no more than they could sell a member of their family. It’s their heirloom.

We feel good about passing ours on to my son now instead of selling it or waiting for him to inherit it. This way, we get to share in the start of a family tradition.

Keeping in the family.


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.