A Day in the Life

August 13th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

This time out, I thought I’d allow you to accompany me through the course of a typical work day. There are many little things that happen, that “never make it into the blog” for one reason or another. Usually the reason is it isn’t a part of the day’s lesson, or may just be too mundane to include. So, without further ado, I present Monday:
6:45 AM: Alarm is supposed to go off.
6:52 AM: I wake up with a start, and a glance at the clock shows why it didn’t wake me up. The batteries in it are dead. I climb out of bed, take one step, and fall over a doggie toy, hitting my head on the night stand, and gashing my forehead.
6:55 AM: Stumble into the bathroom, blindly fumbling for a Bandaid for my head. “Blindly” because blood is running into my eyes.
6:57 AM: Find a Bandaid large enough to cover most of the gash, and I set about trying to staunch the flow before I bleed to death. I really don’t want to be found like Elvis, draped over the toilet in a pool of blood.
7:02 AM: I follow the trail of drying blood back into the bedroom, wiping up the evidence of my early morning lack of coordination. My wife wakes up as I enter the room, and asks, “What happened to your head?” “I hit it on the table,” I reply.
7:20 AM: I finish getting dressed, and ready for work.
7:24 AM: I try to start my truck, and find out the battery is dead.
7:36 AM: I jump start my truck using my wife’s car.
7:55 AM: I walk into a local fast-food place for breakfast, since my normal breakfast time was taken up by the dog toy incident and dead battery. The girl behind the counter recognizes me, and says, “Good morning, Lug. What happened to your head?” “I fell over a dog toy, and hit it in a table.”
8:10 AM: Wife arrives at fast food place to re-jump start my truck after I forgot to leave it running.
8:37 AM: I arrive at work, only 7 minutes late. Rusty greets me at the door with “Good morning, Lug. You’re late. What did you do to your head?” “I fell over a dog toy in the bedroom, and hit my head on a table. I’m going to call the battery dealer so they can send out a new battery for my truck. Do you need anything from them?” Rusty doesn’t.
8:45 AM: I walk into the office to call for a battery, and Buck is on the phone. “Hi, Lug. What happened to your head?” “Morning, Buck. I tripped over something, and hit my head on a table when I fell.” Buck responds with, “Did you damage the table?”
8:55 AM: I finally am able to call and order a battery.
9:00 AM: Sally walks into the office as I’m heading out to the shop. “Hi, Lug. What happened to your head?” “I hit it when I tripped and fell.” “Oh. Well, you didn’t break any furniture when you fell, did you?”
9:03 AM: I finally escape to the shop, where my first job of the day waits for me. I read the work order, and it says “Check for short.” The Airstream is unplugged, so I reach down and plug it in.
9:10 AM: I come to after getting kicked by a mule when I plugged in the Airstream. I stagger to my feet, and head into the bathroom to get the first aid kit. I look in the mirror while I’m in there, and notice I’ve gashed the other side of my head.
9:20 AM: After cleaning myself up and applying another Bandaid, I head back out to the shop, where I approach the evil Airstream warily. I find a wire rubbed raw, and bleeding 120 volts to the skin of the trailer. Apparently, it wasn’t bad enough to trip a breaker.
9:45 AM: As I finish the wiring repair, John comes walking up to me. “Hi, Lug. What did you do to your head?” Sigh. I spend 5 minutes explaining what happened.
10:30 AM: I start the next trailer, “replace dump valves.” Oh, joy. Naturally, the tanks are full.
11:00 AM: The tanks are empty, and I’ve flushed all the stuff out of them I can get. I pull the trailer back into the shop, and start disassembling the plumbing.
12:00 PM: It’s lunchtime. I walk out to my truck to go get something to eat. Of course, the truck won’t start, since the battery is dead..
12:50 PM: The battery delivery guy shows up with my battery. I install the battery, and head for the nearest place that sells food. The guy behind the counter asks, “What happened to your head?”
12:57 PM: I get a hot dog and a bag of potato chips. On the way back to the shop, I take a bite of the hot dog, which promptly squirts out of the bun, and lands on the floor of my truck. I’m basically a clean person, but there is no way I’m going to eat a hot dog after it’s rolled around on the floor.
1:03 PM: I finish the bag of chips, and go back to working on the dump valves.
1:10 PM I smack my head on a protruding piece of aluminum, gashing my head in yet another place. Not only am I starting to get a little honked off, I’m feeling woozy from blood loss.
1:20 PM: I apply a third Bandaid to my head, and crawl back under the trailer for more punishment.
2:50 PM: I finish the dump valves, and pull the trailer back outside. As I walk away from the trailer, my sleeve gets caught on a piece of aluminum sticking out, and is torn nearly off.
3:15 PM: A customer comes into the shop to ask some questions about a repair. Of course, the first thing they ask isn’t about their LP regulator. “What happened to your head?” Good grief.
4:00 PM: I’m sweeping up after the day’s misadventures, when Pop strolls into the shop. He walks over, looks at me, and says, “Hi, Lug. What happened to your head?” ARGH! “I cut myself shaving!”, along with one of my patented “looks”, causes Pop to perform the better part of valor. I can almost see smoke coming off his shoes from his rapid departure.
5:20 PM: I arrive home. My wife greets me at the door, “Hi, Lug. How was your–What else happened to your head?”
7:00 PM: I finish dinner, and decide I’m going to post a blog entry.

And so it goes.

Of Anvils and Airstreams

August 6th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

Hello again. I guess my message about not trying to take it with you isn’t getting out to all that need to take note. So, one more time:
Don’t overload your Airstream! A customer came in to the shop a couple of weeks ago with an Airstream Classic that was supposed to have a GVW of 8300 pounds. He said he was having trouble with his load range E tires not holding up. I went out and looked, and sure enough, all the tires were in various stages of advanced failure. I had some other work to perform ion the trailer, so I called and ordered new tires, and went to work on the rest.
I should say I tried to go to work on the rest. The first clue there was something amiss was when the customer dropped the trailer, and had to let a lot of air out of his truck’s aftermarket air shocks. This was on a 1 ton truck, so his springs alone should have been more than enough to carry the Airstream’s weight.
I then opened the door, and jumped back as an avalanche of stuff came spilling out. Wow! Fifteen minutes later, I had removed enough stuff to gain access to the interior of the trailer. The customer had gone on an errand, and I had to locate some things I was supposed to repair. This turned into a “Where’s Waldo?” game inside. Every drawer, every cabinet, every horizontal space was filled to overflowing.
Finally, I had enough unloaded to perform the work requested. When the customer returned with even more supplies, I decided to try to explain about the consequences of overloading his Airstream. I couldn’t get him to understand how severely overloaded his trailer was, and how dangerous this condition can be. I finally talked him into going over to the local truck stop and get his rig weighed. Without all the stuff I hadn’t put back in the trailer, it weighed 10,400 pounds. It’s no wonder his tires were failing, they were committing suicide in order to get out from under the load.
So, I think I educated one customer how much damage he was doing to his trailer, as he started going through all his excess, and weeding out what was not going to be used on that trip.
Of course, this week, in came another Airstream Classic that was also overloaded, though not as badly. It also had tire problems, but I hope this customer also saw the light.
If you see somebody using a plunger to pack their Airstream, try tactfully letting them know what they’re doing. If they won’t listen, send them to me.

The Parts Falling Off This Airstream Are Of The Highest Quality

July 23rd, 2011 by Lug Wrench

Today we’re going to take a look at some of the things that tend to become separated from the Airstreams they were originally attached to. Some leave because of old age, some get shaken off, some torn off, and others, well…

First up, an Airstream came in looking a bit like  a pirate sporting an eye patch, with one of its smoke colored side rock guards MIA. I looked carefully at the mounts, and found the rubberized catches behind the center rock guard had deteriorated and allowed the guard to shake around until it was caught by the wind, and away it went. I’m glad I wasn’t in the car following that trailer. I checked the rubbery mounts on the other guard, and they were ready to lose their grip on it. So, change the mounts, new hardware, and a new rock guard.

Next, we have an A/C shroud that decided it was tired of touring the country, and left the air conditioner to it own devices. They get all crumbly from ultraviolet light, and seem to enjoy launching themselves off the top of trailers with appalling regularity. Surprises aside, these make for excellent anti-tailgater devices. Usually an annual check of the shroud is enough to make sure it isn’t getting ready to leave.

Yet another item that seems to like to abandon ship is the coach battery. Usually a combination of a loose lock or broken rivets that hold the cover in place leads to the battery bouncing out of its little hole in the trailer. When this item gets jettisoned, it can cause all manner of interesting events, from watching following cars trying to play “Dodge the Battery” to not being  able to run any of the 12 volt items after you get where you’re going. Usually, a visual inspection is all that’s needed to keep your Airstream from “passing a battery”.

Then we have vent covers of various pedigrees trying to ruin your vacation by jumping off the top of your Airstream, leaving it open to the elements. Usually those elements include rain. Lots of rain.  And the vent that does this is usually the one directly over your bed. I think they get together while you’re sleeping, and plan this.

Another thing that tends to disappear is the sewer drain cap. You would think something that feels like it was installed by an 800 pound gorilla when you try to remove it could never fall off, but they do.

And last, for this time, is an Airstream that came in without its rear roll-out awning. No, the arms and tube were there, and all the hardware, but the awning fabric itself had decided to seek asylum in another place. The customer told me he lost the awning fabric with a straight face, and there were still a few shreds of fabric on the tube, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. If anybody finds a hunk of Blue Fancy Zip Dee fabric blowing around out on the highway, let me know, I’ll try to reunite it with its owner.

The Perils of a Hasty Departure

July 10th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

Or, why checklists are so important.

This time around, I have a pair of Airstreams  whose owners forgot a couple of little things before they left their campsite. The first one, the customer was trying to hurry to beat a rainstorm, and simply hooked up and left without raising his stabilizers or unplugging his trailer from the campground’s power. He managed to knock out power to half the campground, and the sparks from the steel sand pads on his stabilizers added to the festive pyrotechnic display.  At least it was raining, so he didn’t start any fires when he left.

The second customer managed to endear himself to me when he left without unhooking from city water or disconnecting from the sewer.  Naturally, the first corner he went around, the sewer hose caught an obstruction and tore off his dump valves. Have I ever mentioned how much I enjoy working on holding tanks?  Especially ones that still have “stuff” in them? No? Well, I’ll tell you now. I don’t.

Yet another customer left without rolling up his awning. Yes, the big one over the door. It’s kind of hard to miss, and he didn’t miss it when he tore it off on the tree at the end of the driveway.

I’ve also had customers who had television antennas and roof vents  go missing after they forgot to take care of them. Probably the worst case, at least for the customer, was when he drove off with his wife still in the trailer, using the bathroom. That trailer is currently on our lot, for sale as part of the divorce.

There have been steps left down, and left along the road. Windows left open, toilets unflushed, main doors left open, even a sink left running.

So please, make a list, and check it twice. You will save yourself a lot of embarrassment, and possibly your marriage. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pair of LP tanks and regulator to replace, because the owner forgot to clamp them back down when they refilled them.

Like A Rock

June 19th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

Today’s story of things that go wrong, and how to make them not go wrong, is a study in both my customers and fellow employees. First is a simple reminder to watch where you are going, and where you put your feet.

Ronnie was installing a new air conditioner on a Land Yacht motor home, and needed some help carrying it over to the spot, and placing it on the roof where it was supposed to go. So, he got John, who seems to be our regular crash test dummy, to help with this minor chore. Things were going well, with both men each taking an end of the air conditioner, and walking back into position. Ronnie was walking forward, John backward.

Well, that is, until John didn’t see the hole the air conditioner was supposed to be placed over. John took one step backward, and, with a thin scream, disappeared from view rather abruptly, leaving Ronnie standing on the roof, holding half an air conditioner, at least for a second. Then, he, too, dropped it. Right on John’s head, like a pile driver, and driving John, like a pile, the rest of the way into the motor home.

John was only slightly injured, with scrapes and scratches all over from getting shoved down a hole he really didn’t fit in, and, of course, a large knot on top of his head. Damage to the Land Yacht was minimal, consisting of a splintered table, and needing another air conditioner. For some reason, they don’t take kindly to being dropped. So, watch where you put your feet, the table you save may be your own.

Next up, a customer showed up with a late 1970′s Airstream trailer with a strange request: They wanted a riser installed under their full-height toilet. I drew this customer, and was scratching my head as to why they wanted this, since the customers were not that tall. I found out why when I began removing the toilet. It seems the floor had rotted out around the toilet, and it had dropped below floor level. The customer wanted the riser so the toilet would sit at the correct level, directly on top of the black tank. After explaining to them this would likely only work once, and briefly, before they and their toilet joined the contents of their black tank inside said tank, they decided it would be a good idea to repair the floor instead.

Whew. Sometimes people are too clever for their own good, and when their cleverness exceeds their smarts, things can turn out badly.

Next time, I’ll tell you what happened when a customer decided to haul gravel in his travel trailer…

Sixteen Tons

May 13th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

This little missive is more about people that try to take it all with them when they go camping, and less about that classic song with the same title.

Two weeks ago, a trailer came in for repairs to the brakes and new tires. This in itself wouldn’t normally trigger a blog entry, but the fact I had to go find a pallet and forklift to unload the camping gear out of the trailer before the trailer was light enough so the floor jack would pick it up would. The highlights of the cargo included 6 complete sets of china dishes, and three boxes of utensils. The trailer also sported 4 cases of RV antifreeze at 6 gallons per case, and eight 70 quart totes full of towels, sheets, and blankets. The bed was groaning under the weight of 3 televisions resting on no less than 16 pillows.

After I spent an hour unloading all this treasure, I found the jack still struggling to lift the trailer, and took a look in a couple of cabinets. The galley cabinets were crammed top to bottom with canned goods, and the ones under the kitchen sink had hundreds of pounds or pots and pans. After another trip to find another pallet,  I finally off-loaded enough stuff I was able to get the trailer off the ground and perform the work it came in for. New brakes and new tires all the way around. While I was finishing up the trailer, Pop came wandering out to see what I was voicing my opinions about so loudly. He asked what the problem was, and I told him. “There can’t be that much stuff in that trailer! You’re exaggerating!” he opined. No, far be it for me to bother exaggerating. Look at that stuff you’re sitting on, Pop. Now look behind you. Now look at that pallet next to you. That all came out of this trailer. “!”, he said. Actually, he said more than that, but I try to hold my blogs to a PG rating…

So, we got all the stuff loaded back in the trailer, and the late-middle-aged couple came by later that day to pick up their trailer. It turned out they don’t travel with anybody,  and that load of anvils was for them, in case they needed it one weekend. I guess if they came across a lost Army platoon at a campground, they would be able to provide provisions for a week or two.

It’s good to be prepared, but sometimes you can be over prepared.

Economy in Motion

May 1st, 2011 by Lug Wrench

This latest entry in the life of Lug comes to you courtesy or some really, really, I mean REALLY cheap RV manufacturers.

First up, a trailer came in with a severe water leak in both slide outs, but only when the slides were extended.  After some investigation, I found that the manufacturer hadn’t bothered to put any seals or gaskets around the slideouts in this trailer. I can only guess they thought the trailer would only leak when used, and who would use it? The manufacturer saved quite a bit of money on gasket material, probably all of a hundred dollars, and it will only take several thousand dollars of the customer’s money, and probably the better part of a week’s work to rebuild the damaged slideouts and install the gaskets it should have had in the first place.

Next, we have a trailer that had no brakes. No, really, it came with no brakes. The drums were there, and the brake wires were there, dangling in space, but there was no brake hardware on either axle. I guess it was the guy that installs the backing plates day off when that trailer went through the assembly process.

Then, I had to replumb a trailer whose bathroom sink drained into the fresh water tank. I guess they thought they were saving water as well as plumbing materials when they built that trailer.

Last, a new trailer came in with the LP detector screaming bloody murder, reeking of that LP additive smell, and a non-functional furnace. On that one, they saved the cost of some copper line from the LP manifold  to the furnace. They also saved the cost of a cap to block off said manifold as well.

All these trailers were what are called “SOB’s”, or Some Other Brand than Airstream. Next time you hear complaints about the quality of Airstream products, you can remember these rolling testimonials to quality control, and smile…

Showering With Gas.

April 21st, 2011 by Lug Wrench

Hello, again. In today’s diatribe we take a look at what happens when you have more determination than knowledge, and a vintage Airstream with copper plumbing.

A 1975 Airstream came into the shop with some strange problems, like water running out of the stove, and a shower that issued forth some bad tasting and smelling water.  In the grand tradition of the shop, I won the lottery, and was given the work order to check it out. Initially, I didn’t really see anything obvious, and was considering replacing the LP tanks if they turned out to have water in them, and passing off the smelly shower as an olfactory hallucination of the owner. I did notice the stove didn’t leak water unless the trailer was connected to city water, and decided to dig further. I disconnected the gas line to the stove, and got an immediate bath in water. Lots of water. Like a pipe full of water, and it didn’t smell good, either. Hmm….

I crawled out from under the stove, and turned on the city water into the trailer. I was rewarded by the sound of running water, and pressurized water coming out of the gas line to the stove. I started checking other appliances, and the furnace also had running water. What the?… I then checked the water heater, and got no water from the LP line. Well, that’s good. Umm, I think that’s good. But, why does it not have water running out of the gas line when everything else in the trailer does?  Hmmm… I then checked the shower for odorous water, and sure enough, it smelled like something died in the faucet. Okay, something is screwy here (a blinding glimpse of the obvious). The water smells like the additive they put in LP to make you notice a leak. Uhh… I then started checking both the water and LP lines all through the trailer. Both systems use copper lines. An hour and a half later, I found the copper LP line had been cross-connected to the hot water outlet on the newly replaced water heater. After some intense questioning on my part, the trailer’s owner admitted to replacing the water heater himself, and that both the water line and LP line had not “fit” the way they should. So, he made things fit by using several clamps and connectors to force the two systems to join, even though the LP lines were a slightly different dimension than water lines. In order to fix his repair, I had to remove the water heater and remove the creative plumbing job he had done in combining the two systems (imagine the Three Stooges shower repair), and spend several hours replacing the piping and drying out the LP system. Now, instead of having hot and cold running gas, and trying to cook with cold water, his trailer has a chance of leading a normal life again. Until the owner fixes something else…

The Curious Case of the Posessed Airstream

March 13th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

A few weeks ago, a customer brought in her front kitchen Airstream for a plumbing repair. It was one of those Airstreams that its owner had neglected to Winterize, and had a profuse leak under the galley sink, among other leaks. Rusty wrote up the work order, and turned it over to one of our technicians to be taken care of.

A couple of hours later, the customer returned to her Airstream to retrieve a book she had left inside. Less than 30 seconds after she entered her trailer, I heard an ear-piercing shriek, and looked up to see the customer, white as a sheet, running out of her trailer as if the Devil himself was chasing her, screaming at the top of her lungs. Rusty and Buck both took off after her in hot pursuit, and managed to head her off just before she ran across the busy highway in front of the dealership. When they finally got her calmed down enough to be coherent (barely), all she could do was tell us her trailer was haunted, and she wanted to be as far away from it as she could get. When I heard that, I wandered over and checked the calendar. Nope, not a full moon…

So, with my talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was told, “Lug, go check it out.” Terrific. Why do I always get the “volunteer” jobs? I walked out to the Airstream, which was resting quietly in front of the service department. Cautiously, I opened the door. I peered inside. I didn’t see anything bad, except for a couple of pictures of questionable taste screwed to the wall. I then stepped inside, and shut the door. I didn’t see anybody, and it was eerily quiet. then, out of the stillness, I heard “‘Hello, Lug.” I nearly jumped out of the nearest window. I looked around, and still didn’t see anything or anyone. “Hello?” I asked. “Hey”, the trailer replied. I walked up to the kitchen, and opened a cabinet door under the sink. There, curled up around the drain pipes, was Randy, the tech that had drawn this trailer to repair. “Randy, what the *&^^&%T! are you doing in there?” I asked. “You scared the lady that owns this trailer half to death!”

It turned out that Randy found it easier to crawl inside the cabinet to get to the broken fixture, rather than try getting to it from a more conventional location (like outside the cabinet). When the customer came inside to get her book, he said hello, and asked for a light because it was dark in there.

He soon had the plumbing operating properly again, though it took us longer to convince the customer there were no ghosts in her Airstream than the repair took. I guess it could have been worse, the customer could have jumped in her tow vehicle, and driven off with Randy still inside. That would have required some explaining to his wife…

Sometimes you just have to let them pee on the electric fence…

February 8th, 2011 by Lug Wrench

This tale from a couple decades ago is offered as a humorous reminder that advice should at least be considered before being rejected out of hand. No one was seriously injured, though it could well have turned out much worse.

We had received a very used, very neglected, very old motor home as a trade in. It only had about ten thousand miles on it, but it was almost 20 years old, and had spent at least 15 of those years sitting in a back yard under some trees. I’m sure you’ve seen the motor home, or one just like it, many times as you drive around. While the appliances, carpets, drivetrain, was all like new, the body was pretty much on death’s door. I felt like I needed a tetanus shot before going into it. Our sales manager decided to put it out front as a “Cash Special”, with a strong emphasis on the fact it was a good candidate for being a parts donor.

So, I gingerly pulled the Mildew Queen onto the front line, and placed the “Today’s Special” banner across the windshield. I then went back to my office to fill out some warranty paperwork.

Late in the afternoon, a guy showed up to look at the poster child for Rot Doctor. All he saw was the odometer reading, and the good condition of all the peripherals. He whipped out a stack of hundred dollar bills sufficient to pay for Moldy Mary, and didn’t want to hear a word about the condition the rest of the motor home was in. “You’re just trying to upsell me! There’s nothing wrong with that motor home!”  At that point, the salesman opted for the better part of valor, and wrote up the deal, again emphasizing the poor condition of the rolling Rustoleum can.

The customer signed everything, went out and climbed into his new home on wheels, fired up the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot. There was a short driveway leading from the lot to the road out front, with a sidewalk and curb at the end. The customer drove down the driveway going faster than he should even if the motor home had been structurally sound, and turned the corner onto the road. As he turned, he made the typical newbie error in judging distance, and climbed the curb while turning. This would have had the dishes flying out of the cabinets of a healthy motor home, and this one was far from healthy. I happened to come out of my office in time to witness the motor home lurch to the left, then crash down to the right.Then, with a splintering groan, the entire structure just kind of slid off the frame to the left into the middle of the road, leaving the customer sitting in the driver’s seat of a pile of kindling and aluminum siding. Three hours later, the mess had been shoveled up, the frame had been towed away, the customer had his cuts from flying debris bandaged and had left for home with his wife, who was (loudly) giving him what-for the whole time. I didn’t hear any more from the guy, but I can only hope he learned to listen to people when they try to tell him something.

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.