Archive for August, 2010

I Am Vulkem Man

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Now I know how Ozzie felt. Well, maybe not. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have to walk around covered in polyurethane sealant like I am having to do for the next week or two.

What happened today was John, our company gopher (for a better description, see the definition of “appendix”) dredged up an air powered caulking gun from a long forgotten storage bin at the shop. He wanted to try it out, to see if it worked, but didn’t have any open tubes of caulk lying around. What he did have was a fresh tube of Vulkem sealer (the gray stuff we use to seal seams on Airstreams). He popped the tube in the gun, hooked it up to an air hose, and tried it. The first attempt worked out okay, so he came and got me. “Look, Lug, I found this cool caulking gun!” Before I could tell him I knew all about that gun, and why I had hidden it, he squeezed the trigger.

He found out why it wasn’t used, and I was painfully reminded, when the piston of the gun extended fully in about a quarter of a second. The nozzle wasn’t big enough for all that Vulkem to exit that quickly, and it found the path of least resistance. Namely, the cardboard sides of the tube. It blew out, spraying Vulkem all over John, me, and most of the shop. We then spent the rest of the day cleaning Vulkem off walls, tools, the floor, trailers, and, of course, ourselves. Even after a bath in parts cleaning solution, I’m still gray.

Maybe I can get a temp job resealing travel trailers, all I’ll have to do is roll myself across them. In the meantime, I’m going to dig a hole to put that caulking gun in. A really deep hole. I may even put John in there with it.

Hold Black Water

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Today we’ll take a look at a potentially unpleasant subject, but one that will eventually need to be addressed if you ever use your RV holding tanks. That is, the care of your trailer’s dump valves. You can get many years’ use out of them, with just a little attention. That’s good, because when they do fail, somebody, either you or the poor schmoe at the RV repair shop, will have to deal with them.

The easiest way to care for them is simply to use one of the commercially available tank additives poured into the trailer’s waste water system.  In many cases, this has the added side effect of masking the evidence of what you had for dinner last night. Most products contain a “slide valve lubricant” that will keep things, well, sliding. If for some reason  you choose not to use one of these products, you can put a small amount of liquid clothes detergent into the system, which will keep things moving. Just don’t add too much, or you could well be impersonating Lawrence Welk as you travel down the road at the head of a sea of foamy soap suds. When you park your trailer for a few days or weeks, you can put a small amount of your favorite product in the tanks, which will also help keep the seals and valves from getting too sticky.

Of course, there are some people out there that would rather pay me to fix their valves rather than using an ounce of prevention. One of those people came into the shop a few weeks ago, and it was obvious I was not the first dance partner of his valves. At some time in the past (he was kind of vague about how far in the past), he had one of the valves replaced, but not the other one. Naturally, now the other one was leaking. He told me the previous tech had cut an access hole in the cover for the holding tanks, and it should be a simple matter of removing the cover that had been installed. So, I got to work, removing said cover. What the previous guy had done was cut a hole barely big enough to remove the valve he was replacing, and not big enough to access both valves. So I cut out a larger hole for access, in the process slicing my hands open on the raw edges of the metal cover the previous guy had left when he did the previous repair. I also discovered he had used copious amounts of glue to put the plumbing back together, including the part that goes on the valves. So I had to go after everything with a hacksaw to get it out, and had to replace both valves as well as all the piping from the valves to the slinky connection outside the trailer. I got everything back together, using proper attachment procedures (ie no glue on the valves), cut a new cover for the access hatch, and installed the new cover. The customer showed up about that time to see how it was going. I was standing by his trailer, smelling like the contents of his holding tanks, battered and bloody. I looked like I’d arm wrestled with Edward Scissorhands.  At least it wasn’t raining. I let the customer know he should be using an additive to keep his valves working better longer, and his response was “yeah, yeah, okay, can I go now?” I didn’t think I smelled that bad…

In a previous blog entry I mentioned something about date codes on tires, and have been asked to expand on this. So, in brief, here is how you can tell what you have, as far as tire age:

There will be a number along the bead (where the wheel meets the tire) that starts with “DOT” , has a bunch of letters and numbers, and will end with a series of numbers. Prior to the 1990’s, this was hit and miss, but during the 90’s this became standard. If you look, you will see either a 3 digit or 4 digit number, that will be the two digit week and either one or two digit year the tire was manufactured. If your tire says “031” it would probably be a good idea to gently remove the tire and wheel and carry them to a tire store to replace the tire. The code shows the tire was manufactured the third week of 1991.

Starting in 2000, the code was expanded to 4 digits, and a code of “0301” would mean it had been made the third week of 2001. “2610” would be the 26th week of 2010. This system will work until 2099, and I hope by then we’ll either all be driving tireless rocket cars or whoever looks at the tires will have to determine if the tire is new or 100 years old…

See you next time.


If It Doesn’t Fit, Force It.

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I stood gazing at the forlorn Airstream trailer sitting in the shop.  It leaned drunkenly to one side, battered and beaten, though not broken, quite. The awning hardware hung off at strange angles, the air conditioner shroud was askew, the steps were mangled beyond operating, and the bumper was bent into a misshapen frown. In short, the trailer looked like a prop from the movie “2012”.

My boss, Buck, stood beside me, shaking his head.  The owner of the trailer stood next to Buck, looking slightly embarrassed. I turned to the trailer’s owner, and said, “Mr. Fenster, how long have you worked for the demolition derby?”, ignoring a muffled choking sound from the direction of my boss.

Mr. Fenster replied defensively, “The brochure said trailers up to 30 feet long would be okay!”

I glanced at the proffered brochure. “Campgrounds Of The US 1987 Edition” was emblazoned on the cover. That meant it would be the most up-to-date edition in 1987, unfortunately it was 2004.

“Mr. Fenster, when you noticed the trailer not moving, you probably should have checked to see why.”

It turned out things had changed in the 18 years since the guide had been published, such as trees had grown larger, driveways had become correspondingly smaller, overhead branches had gotten lower, but Mr. Fenster’s Airstream had remained the same size. Rather than taking stock of the situation and maybe not trying to go where no Airstream should, he had blindly put his faith in an outdated publication, and now was going to have to pay the price. His Airstream could be repaired, a new guide would certainly be purchased, but his pride had taken a huge hit, a combination of misplaced trust in obsolete maps, lack of good judgment, and, of course, yours truly performing the coup de gras on his battered ego.

So, if you are in doubt, remember, Get Out And Look. The Airstream you save could be your own.

Feeling Tired

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

This time, we’ll be taking a look at some RV owners that maybe shouldn’t be out in their RV.

The first was an elderly gent that has been RVing for over 50 years. He really has it all together, but occasionally misplaces it. He is the original owner of a 1974 Airstream, and still hauls it out every Summer for a couple of trips. Recently he came in with  his trailer for repair from a blowout. He was complaining that his tires weren’t any good, they didn’t make ‘em like they used to.

I went out to view the carnage under his trailer, and just happened to take a look at the date codes on the remaining three tires. All three had the same code, “067”.  Translated, that means the tires were manufactured the sixth week of 1997, tires manufactured in this millennium have  a four digit date code.

me: “Uhh, Mr. Fitzwhopple, when did you buy these tires?”

him: “Well, let’s see… I got ‘em the last time I had the bearings packed. I think it was a couple of years ago.”

me: “Sir, do you have the receipt for when you got them?”

him: “Of course! I keep all the receipts for what I get done to the trailer!”

He goes into the trailer, opens a cabinet under the front couch, and pulls out a bin filled with papers. Some of them look like they could be receipts for when Noah took the ark in for an oil change. He pulls out a handful, blows the dust off them.

him, coughing: “Cough! Here it is! Looks like you folks put them on for me.”

I look at the receipt. It’s from April of 1997.

me: “Sir, I think I know what happened to your tire”.

him: “!”

End result was a new set of tires, a wheel bearing repack, and some body work.  And an appointment for next April for checking over the trailer before he goes out for his two camping trips next Summer.

Next up, we have a trailer owner  that should hire somebody else to tow his trailer.

A fairly new Airstream travel trailer came into the shop yesterday morning. What set this one apart from most of the others was the fact it looked like it had been used in a demolition derby. There were dents and scratches on all sides, the bumper looked like a horseshoe, and the shroud had been torn off the air conditioner. Holy crap, how many people got hurt in the wreck?

It turned out the owner was not experienced at backing up, refused all offers of assistance, and parked by braille. If he doesn’t get better, he could become my best customer. While I’m happy taking people’s money to fix their RVs, I don’t want this one trailer to become my career.  So, I made a rather firm offer of free towing and backing lessons before he picks up his trailer, when it is completed. He accepted, then proceeded to back into the corner of the shop when leaving. He may be beyond reclamation. If he fails his driving lessons, I’ll probably post his license plate number in my blog as a reader safety bonus so you can steer clear of him on the road.

Last, we have another customer that had two blowouts on their trailer, and brought it in for repair work. In addition to almost a thousand dollars of repairs, I noted someone had installed passenger car tires on the trailer. Upon questioning, I found out the customers had bought them, since trailer tires cost more than passenger car tires.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell anybody about the hazards of false economy.

That’s all for this time, Drive and tow safe.


About the Author

Lug Wrench is a long-time mechanic, multiple Airstream owner, and dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist. All tales guaranteed 100% true, although names and certain details may be altered to protect the guilty.