Project Vintage Thunder

The latest on Project Vintage Thunder, by Airstream Life magazine. Sponsored by George M Sutton RV, Reese hitch, Dometic USA, PPG Paint, Axis Products, GSM Vehicles, and Zip-Dee. Vintage Thunder is an "honest" RV refurbishment and travelogue. We tell you what really happens ...

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Cheeseburger Break

Brett just took off on a hardware store run. We pressure tested the water system and found two small leaks, one by the water heater, and one on an elbow he sweated under the kitchen cabinet. The kitchen leak is going to be a bit of work since we've installed the cabinet already, but we can't do it now. The trailer is parked off-level by the side of the house and until my wife gets here with the truck we can't level it up. Without it being level, we'll never get that particular pipe drained so it can be re-sweated. But in the meantime Brett is getting some parts for those issues, and some other bits and pieces we realized we needed.

One surprise is the shutoff valve to the toilet. We opened it today and no water came out. We also need more spray paint, since I drastically underestimated how much we'd need to get all the plastic parts in the bathroom covered. Plus we need cheeseburgers ...

By the way, I queried and all I got back was a one-line email saying that the oven "should arrive mid next week." So if it does arrive, we'll install it at the rally.

I'm going to tally up the final toll of parts and stuff later, but already I can tell you that this project has eaten over 500 rivets, 100 square feet of aluminum, 15 yards of fabric, 100 sf of flooring, nine cans of spray paint, a cube of paper towels, half a gallon of Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner, and about 200 man-hours -- most of which was consumed in the past two weeks. On the good side, we both have probably gained a year's life expectancy. Brett has lost quite a few pounds and my heart has gotten a workout it doesn't usually get sitting behind a computer.

Brett started at 7 a.m. today with a store run, and I started about 8 a.m. So far today I've cleaned the remaining cabinets, trim, and overhead lockers; spray-primed the shower pan; rebuilt the black tank dump valve; and helped Brett wrestle the big sheets of laminate and 3/4" plywood through the table saw.

Brett has laminated the ends of the dinette, and the top edges, cut the dinette & kitchen countertop, installed all most pieces, and probably a lot more -- I haven't been watching closely. Our list for the rest of the day is downright scary. We'll be at this till midnight for sure. More later.

Friday, February 18, 2005

My own rubber room

Now that I have come down off the fume high I can post to the blog. I was able to get the foam I was heading out for in my last post.

Tonight we painted and glued hull liner, and cut foam for the dinette and reassembled part of the front end cap. The paint fumes mixed with the contact cement fumes got quite potent at times. When it did we would move out and do something else while the fantastic fans did their thing. We also started on the cushion disassembly.

At one point I decided to install the valves I bought today. I am going to have to make four trips. They are still the wrong size………

Rich got a bunch of stuff done today; all of the window frames are cleaned and sealed with clear. He masked off the bathroom dome and front dome. Primed and got one coat on both of them, while trying to work on magazine related things at the same time.

All of the paper is pulled and the paint looks good! This is really an easy enhancement to do and makes a big difference in the interior look of the coach.

Wire? I thought I had enough wire????

Unfortunately I still have a "real" job but I was able to run some errands today. I got more glue, some cabinet hardware we need and the missing cut off valves, finally!

I am about to run out and get the foam for the dinette, but the stove is a no show. I will check back later to see if it comes in late.

Three days to go

We're down to the wire here. I've moved back into Brett's house so we can work every spare minute. Last night, as you can see from Brett's post time, we worked until midnight. And I expect to do the same today.

It looks like the oven isn't going to make it this week, so I'm preparing to borrow a Coleman camp stove from Sneakinup. If it arrives next week, we'll pick it up in Tampa and try to install it right at the rally. Should be plenty of help there!

I spent the morning cleaning misc areas and masking off the ceiling end caps in the bathroom and above the dinette. Tricky masking, but we should be ready to spray paint both areas later this afternoon.

As usual, something happened.........

Tonight we made some more progress, not enough mind you, but some.

The hull liner was waiting on the doorstep along with the dump valve kit. I had not gotten time during my normal workday to make it to Lowe's, so after Rich and I met up at the house we headed off. We returned some of the non necessary plumbing items and got a bunch of stuff we needed and things we forgot we needed and headed back. It was only after the store was closed that I realized we forgot to get the valves that were the MAIN reason for the trip, DOH!

We get started right away installing the hull liner so I could reset the dinette. I needed the dinette set so we can calculate the overhang at the end of the kitchen counter. The left side of the dinette is now in place. We need to laminate some panels before we finish the reinstall but that will be easy. I was able to calculate that I can get the new counter top and the new dinette top out of one 4X8 sheet of plywood. That also means one 4X8 sheet of laminate.

There are a few to do's with the dinette, but it will need to wait until I get the counter top laminate cut and I need some additional hardware for the tank cover. That will be a tomorrow project.

We hull liner-ed the front under window wrap and started on the wall next to the bed, then ran out of glue. Need to get a couple of cans if we are going to make it to the end of the project!

Rich finished removing the screens in the rest of the coach and did a 80% stripping of the front window screen frame. There was still a bit of cleaning to do, so he dove in there and got that done as well. I installed the replacement monitor panel, and did a little clean up before we called it a night. Tomorrow is a painting day!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

All plumbing takes three trips.

Another late one. I actually spent more hours today on the coach than I did yesterday, but I finished a bunch of things and got some of the nit picky stuff done too.

One of the things on my to do tonight was to get the supply side of the plumbing system sealed so I can test all the new connections. I was able to finish hooking the water side of the water heater to the original pipes. I had needed some connectors to go from ½ inch FIP to ¾ inch FIP.

Let me explain the title of tonight’s post.

When you are doing a plumbing job you walk into the home center in the morning thinking “I know exactly what I need, I will be done with this in time to have an afternoon nap”. You buy all the things you think will allow you to get the job done and head home. Once there you start trying to use all the new parts to connect your new sink/toilet/faucet. But what you realize is you got a bunch of stuff that was the wrong size/too short/too long. You use what you can, and pack up for another trip to the store to swap parts. This is trip number two for those that are counting. Now this time you really prepared, made a list even. You head out and think “Ok, this time I will be able to get-r-done”. Once home you pat yourself on the back as every part you bought was exactly the one necessary to do the job. But you forgot to get ______ (fill in the blank). Without ______ the project is not complete, so back to the store you go again, your plan for a nap is a distant memory. You get the last part you need, while you take back the rest of the ones you don’t need and head home again. This was trip three. Once home you install the part and are done just in time for dinner.

It does not seem to matter how well I plan I always have to make three trips.

The connectors I mentioned a while back, that was trip number two. I got the cut off valves for the bathroom fixtures when I got the reducers so I should be good to go, right? Wrong. I bought the wrong size valves. 3/8 vs. ½. So tomorrow is trip number three and I could not pressurize the water system.

Things I did get done: The floor is finished except for the bathroom. The refrigerator is properly restrained so it cannot tip forward. The new wall that will make up one side of the refer cabinet is cut and currently set in place. The overhead that was over the refer is back in and installed. The bulkhead wall that is across from the one I did last night was removed and laminated today, and reinstalled. I also took the time today to add some additional heat reflecting metal (flashing) to the gap behind the refrigerator where the wall curves away for the back of the unit. I took it one step further and used foil duct tape to seal the flashing to the refer and the wall at the back of the compartment. My goal is to minimize the transfer of heat into the coach when the refer is in use on LP gas. The kitchen sink base is fully installed, and the old stereo has been removed. I got another box of rivets from Grainger; I also picked up a new fan blade for the kitchen exhaust fan. The old motor was dead/dying so I used an old Airstream vent fan motor in its place. I had a few lying around. I was unable to get the old blade off the old motor, so we went new. It has been installed and tested and really moves a lot of air.

Minor trouble we had today. The hull liner was not here yet, and I need to work on reinstalling the dinette. The hull liner needs to go in first on the walls before install the dinette. I called the place we ordered it from, and they said it shipped today, we should have it tomorrow. We shall see.

For those of you that want to see the progress, you will have to wait until Rich gets back with the camera. Hopefully tomorrow night he will upload some shots so you can all see the progress. If you are going to be in the area, the trailer will be at the Florida State Rally, so come find it and see it in person!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

My kingdom for a box of rivets......

When we started the project I got a box of 500 1/8 inch pop rivets. Tonight I ran out of rivets! Even so, I was able to get a ton of stuff done. I finished installing the final Aluminum panel in the kitchen, so the walls are DONE!

I laminated the bulkhead wall that will be at the end of the kitchen counter. This required removing the wall, attaching the laminate and reinstalling it. I also built a end panel end for the kitchen sink base from Luan and Laminate, and a filler panel that had been damaged for the bathroom sink base cabinet. All of the panels have been installed either in the coach, or back in the cabinet frames.

Once I realized I was out of rivets I looked at the punch list and realized that much of the list required the floor to be installed, so I started working on that. We are installing a click together laminate floor. I was able to get about 80% of it installed tonight. The floor is installed, all but 3 pieces in the hall. I had to shutdown the table saw at 10:00 PM to keep the neighbors from coming out with pitchforks and torches.

That was when I realized I was going to have to move the kitchen sink base cabinet off the drive where I had repaired it to start my clean up. Once I picked it up it was just as easy to load it in the coach. Other than where I need some rivets to finish attaching it to the wall the base is re-installed too.

Check back tomorrow, who knows how much I can get done...........

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Thetford Valve

It's the little things that are going to screw us up ... Both of the dump valves were stuck (which we expected), so we hunted around for a repair kit. This is just a plastic bag with a couple of gaskets in it. You unscrew the dump valve body, clean the interior parts, lay in the new gaskets, spray with silicone, and re-assemble. Easy.

Except we couldn't find the repair kits anywhere. It's called a Thetford "blade seal" for plastic-bodied dump valve. Our friend Pick found one at JD Sanders (an Airstream dealer) in Alachua FL, which I installed on the gray valve earlier this week. But we couldn't find another one. Camping World didn't carry them nor did any other local dealers we called. One dealer told us they had it, then changed their story after we drove over to get it.

The problem is that without this kit we'd have no black tank, which means no toilet, all next week at the rally. And we had to rebuild the gray valve first because of the way the pipes run. (If we did the black valve first we might have to disassemble the entire bumper to do the gray valve later.)

Fortunately Thetford has good customer service. I was able to call and order one, to be shipped UPS 2nd Day Air so we can get it installed by Thursday night. Once that's done (as we've tested the new Tank Monitor), we can finally close up the back bumper.

The other disaster-in-the-making is the oven. RVaddons is having it drop-shipped from the manufacturer, and they don't guarantee a delivery date or provide tracking numbers. It may not arrive this week at all, which means no cooking at the rally. If it hasn't arrived by Saturday, we'll have to get a Coleman portable camp stove or something.

To keep it all straight, we're keeping a "punch list" taped to the inside of the trailer. This lists all the tasks to do and parts needed for each, plus the status of each ordered part. You can see it in the picture below.

I'm back at home for a couple of days, so Brett has to work alone tonight. That means I'm looking forward to this evening's post as much as anyone. Make us proud, Brett!

Burning the midnight oil

Lots to do and maybe not enough time to get it done so the late night sessions are going to have to happen.

Tonight I was able to get one of the interior panels we saved for last installed. we have been referring to it as the "swiss cheese" panel because it needed holes for 120 volt outlet, the TV antenna plate, the monitor system and the thermostat. I cut out all of those holes and have it installed. I was also able to finish the wiring to the entry door switches and add the telltales for the exterior lights. This way you know from inside if the light is on outside at a glance. One more small panel to install and the interior walls will be 100% again!

Rich was able to get the bath ABS primed and 2 coats of color on yesterday. I applied the final coat and they are now smooth and shiny. I was also able to get the final coats of paint on the AC inner cover and reinstall it. Tonight I am going to prime and paint the bathroom dome liner.

Rich installed the water tank, and I finished the wiring to the monitor panel, all that is left is installing the anchor blocks so it cannot move and the water tank is done.

Time to hit the shower and get some zzzz's

Monday, February 14, 2005

Mid-Day Report

We're so under the gun that I took another day off to get some work done on the project. So here's a mid-day report: between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., I went to the hardware store for more luan, some plumbing parts, and spray paint; then cleaned, sanded, and dusted the ABS plastic parts of the bathroom so they can be painted (see picture); washed the water tank; cleaned up all the front interior floor so we can lay flooring tomorrow; dumped the shop vac; and washed the brown storage bins. Prepping the ABS plastic was the toughest part. There were bits of rivets, silicone caulk, and some very stubborn hardware attached, not to mention some genuine filth. But I got them cleaned up and even sanded them down with fine (00) steel wool.

The wind is too high to paint today, or I'd have a coat of primer on these bathroom components already. They should look MUCH better tomorrow. Stay tuned.

I'll spend the rest of the day doing some final cleaning in the closets, and misc other tasks like stripping window trim. We plan to finish the last of the interior aluminum tonight, install the water tank, install new valves in the bathroom, pressure test the water system, and be ready to start the dinette flooring. With luck, we'll have the kitchen almost entirely done by Friday. That means cabinets re-installed with replacement pieces, plumbing connected, new countertop, sink & faucet installed, refrigerator connected, flooring in, and all walls finished. Think we can make it, working evenings only?

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day to my wife, who is forgoing a romantic date tonight so I can work on the trailer yet again ...

It's Time to Quit When You Start Destroying Things

After dinner last night, we dragged our weary bodies out for another work session. With all the lights installed, it's easy to work inside the trailer now. We finished gutting the bathroom (sink/countertop, vanity, black tank cover) and I got in the corners with Purple Power degreaser and the vacuum to get everything cleaned. We've now cleaned the entire trailer at least once, and I'll be returning to it this week with Lysol/water mix to get it finished.

Brett filled the gray tank and tested the valve I rebuilt yesterday (worked fine), and we also tested the Tank Monitor. Wow! I've never had one before. Very cool ... But it was 10:30 pm at that point, and I let the Monitor control panel touch a fragment of aluminum, and POOF! (insert whiff of smoke here) ... Dead Tank Monitor.

Well, that was the fastest $80 I ever spent. You can't get just the Monitor control panel as a replacement part. So we'll order a new one this week. If that's the only disaster we encounter on this job, I'll consider us lucky. But it was a sign that we needed to get some sleep, so everyone cleaned up and knocked off for the day.

(Picture below shows tank probes installed in the fresh water tank.)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I hope I did not get my wires crossed…..

Today was a big push to finish up some of the wiring projects. I finished the routing of he wires to the entry door, installed a scare/patio light and installed the panel next to the door. We also completed the lighting installation in the front of the trailer on the new aluminum center panel. There are a total of 7 recessed halogen, 2 recessed fluorescent and a 34 halogen fixture as a chandelier over the dinette. When we reinstall the cabinet over the Kitchen counter there will be 2 under cabinet halogens there as well for task lighting. The 7 halogens in the center of the coach all run off a common rheostat, but there are individual switches to allow you to run either the front or rear ones individually. Needless to say , we got lots of light!

While I was replacing one of the interior panels today I found the source of our battery drain. The antique radio that was installed was feeding 12 volts into the speaker wires while it was off. Needless to say that was promptly disconnected.

Rich dropped the belly skin under the dinette so that foam board insulation could be attached to the underside of the floor and also so we could finish bolting the front U channel to the frame with carriage bolts.

We also completed much of the install of a new tank monitoring system. The Argosy came without any kind of monitoring system. Now on one panel we can see the level of all 3 tanks, know the battery level, and control the pump. The pump switch also has a telltale so we know it is on. The tank monitoring system was from Adhoen and is in the budget @

I installed the outside weatherproof cable inlet and we will install the inner wall plate, but the antenna will have to wait until after Florida State to be installed. We have 3 more interior panels to install and the interior will be whole again!! Then we get to do the floor, and build a cabinet around the refer, and install the dinette, and install the bed, and paint the bathroom and………………

7 days left ....

This has got to be some sort of record. We are trying to refurbish this trailer, stem to stern, and complete 80% of the work in about two weeks, while pretending to hold down responsible full-time day jobs. This trailer has to be functional for the Florida State Rally week after next, because I and my family are going to live in it for a week. Looking at it today, it's hard to believe it can be ready.

But we are optimistic. The job is enormous, the hurdles are steep, and time is short, so the only way we can keep going is to be optimistic. Somehow it will get done. It will definitely not be 100% cosmetically complete inside (never mind the exterior, that's months away from completion), but it should have a working kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, electrical system, plumbing system, windows, and hitch -- all of which it lacks at this moment.

The kindness of friends and the support of family helps a lot. Edie G is working on the curtains this week. She plans to deliver them on Friday. My wife and daughter have pitched in to clean trailer parts, and keep us fed. This allows us to basically spend all day and night working like hamsters on a wheel.

Someday soon, we hope to look back on this period and say two things: (1) What a great experience. (2) I'll never do THAT again! ;-)

Look for more photos and posts soon. This is only a break for dinner. We'll be back at it tonight.

More Power & More Metal

We're dog tired, but it's been a good day. Brett got started around 9 a.m., running the last of the new 12v DC wiring for lights and fans. This trailer is now wired! He got the halogen lights installed, the dimmer switch, the fluorescent light, and the last Fantastic Vent running. I worked on getting everything staged for the work we had planned, and ripping the last of the upholstery off the bed bolster. (Took 45 minutes because of all the @$!@ staples.)

Things picked up around 11 a.m., when our friend from Airstreamforums "Pick" showed up and started welding up the last of the rear bumper/storage compartment sections. Soon after another Forum buddy ("Sneakinup") arrived and he pitched in by cutting new shelves for the closets. In the picture below, you can see one of the new shelves lying atop the old moldy one it replaced. They are made of luan with contact paper glued on, using the original hardware.

After ordering in a couple of pizzas, Pick headed home, Sneak got to painting the topcoat on the hitch and bumper area, and Brett and I turned to the big task of the day: setting up to cut new aluminum for the interior walls. Check the picture below, which shows what things looked like as of about mid-day today.

Installing new aluminum is a painstaking task which involves plenty of measuring and careful figuring.

We were at it until sunset. Good thing Sneak was there, because we often needed a third pair of hands. It took a full sheet of aluminum (51"x307") from Airstream (about $400) and about 20 man-hours to get the result you see in the picture. But it was worth it, wouldn't you agree?

Tomorrow we have another big day planned, so check the blog after 10 pm EST if you get a chance.