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, April 02, 2005

Now I know how Dorothy felt ...

I can sum up today in one word: WIND!

The entire east coast had high wind warnings following passage of a cold front. The forecast was for 20-30 MPH winds, gusting to 40 MPH. Seeing the weather reports gave me some concern, but our campground in St Augustine couldn't offer us another night, and everything else was booked. So we headed out on I-95 with to join about a million snowbirds migrating back to the northeast.

The winds were just as fierce as forecast, blowing RVs all over the road and giving us a few nervous moments. But overall, Vintage Thunder pulled along just fine ... until we took a detour.

I should explain that I-95 was clogged with traffic through the entire state of Georgia. The annual Snowbird Migration is an awesome sight, with equally awesome repercussions for traffic on the Interstate. After spending two hours to go 35 miles, we decided to bail out and try Rt 17.

At first, all was well. Then we encountered the bridge pictured below, the Sidney Lanier Bridge. What you can't see in this picture is that the bridge passes over a broad expanse of marshy land and a river -- a giant flat plain unobstructed by anything that might slow down the wind.

The bridge rises abruptly about two hundred feet. Halfway up, we suddenly we slammed by an enormous gusting wind, hitting us broadside from the left. The truck/trailer combination began slewing like an elephant on rollerskates. I realized, too late, that I had been suckered in to a seriously dangerous situation. The wind was incredibly powerful up there on this high, exposed bridge. But we had no choice but to continue onward.

We immediately slowed to 40 MPH, then 35 MPH, then even slower. Handling improved to the point that I could keep the rig in one lane, but really nothing was going to end this situation except getting OFF THE BRIDGE as soon as possible. I can't emphasize enough how stupid I felt being up there, looking two hundred feet down. There was no posted wind warning ... but I felt I should have foreseen this situation.

Here's where having an aerodynamically efficient trailer and a darned good Reese hitch paid off. I think any white box trailer would have probably toppled over. The gusts were easily above 40 MPH, and probably much higher. We had a scary moment, but by slowing down we got safely down the bridge and into town, where we saw streetlights and smokestacks blowing sideways. (See picture). Even down there, the winds were fantastic. We continued on our way for several hours longer, humbled by the powerful impact of weather even on a sunny clear day.

Friday, April 01, 2005

St Augustine Leak Test

St Augustine is a city of contradictions, both in architecture and weather. The downtown is filled with marvelous architectural examples from Florida's railroad era, tightly surrounded by a ring of the most generic strip/chain development one could imagine. And the weather has flipped between gorgeous beach weather and gully-washer thunderstorms every 12 hours.

One positive aspect of this is that it has allowed me to check for leaks. Brett nailed them, I think. The refrigerator-area leak turned out to be something around the fridge vent. We didn't ever see a "smoking gun" (an obvious leak entry point) but Brett took off the fridge vent and re-sealed it anyway. Problem solved.

That's a good deal, because it seems likely we'll be towing through some weather tomorrow. Towing in rain is the toughest leak test of all. In my Caravel I had a few leaks which only appeared when towing. You can bet I'll be doing a thorough inspection with the flashlight after towing tomorrow.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

St Augustine, FL

Vintage Thunder has arrived at the beach in St Augustine! Already we have run into fellow Airstreamers. The guy was wearing an Airstream hat, and in front of their Classic 25 was an Airstream door mat. I commented, "All you need now is the magazine!" and the guy said "We get that too -- Airstream Life!"

So I introduced myself and invited them over to see Vintage Thunder. I expect we'll meet up again tomorrow morning.

The picture below shows one of the neat little features we added to Vintage Thunder: the white board. A shelf at “kid height” allows my daughter to access her washable dry erase markers and draw on the wall anytime she pleases. This is a great indoor activity for rainy periods, such as this evening, when a large rumbling thunderstorm passed over our campground. I was enjoying listening to the new four-speaker stereo system and reading a magazine below one of the halogen reading lamps. It was almost too cushy ... but I can take it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Safety checks, weight, and fuel economy

The gas leak we found on Monday morning was easily detected with soapy water and remedied with a 1/4 turn of the fitting, but it reminded us that it's time to do some final safety checks. I mounted a new CO (carbon monoxide) and smoke detector on Tuesday morning. It's hard to find the right spot for one of those, since the manufacturer recommends avoiding exterior walls, horizontal surfaces, windows, doors, drafts, and fuel-burning appliances. Meeting all those recommendations in an RV is just about impossible, so you do the best you can ...

I also bought a propane leak detector and ran it over the gas fittings inside and outside the trailer. No leaks. I plan to re-check the fittings regularly to make sure nothing has worked loose during towing.

Over the weekend we mounted the fire extinguisher (near the door, so you can grab it on the way OUT). We have also carefully read the safety instructions for the heater, refrigerator, range, and water heater. It's a useful exercise for anyone who wants to really understand how their appliances work, and especially to avoid possible problems.

A few weeks ago, when I was re-screening the windows, Brett also showed me how to properly set the bathroom screen so it can be used as an emergency exit.

On Tuesday I increased the tire pressure from 40 psi to 50 psi. The new tires appeared to be getting more wear on the edges, and we were well below the maximum recommended pressure of 65 psi. Basically, the higher the pressure, the more load the tires can carry, up to the max. The manufacturers provide load-inflation tables you can check for your particular make. We were a bit on the low side at 40 psi.

I'm hoping for a slight increase in fuel economy as well. Prior to the increase in pressure, we got 10.8 to 11.8 mpg during towing. That's comparable to a lot of rigs, but of course there's always room for improvement.

Finally, we weighed the trailer at a truck scale during our last trip. Believe it or not, the Argosy still weighs only about 4260 lbs loaded with full water tank and full LP gas tanks. That's about 2000 pounds less than a comparable new 25-foot Airstream, and the Argosy still has over 1500 lbs of useful carrying capacity left!

It's also impressive considering all the upgrades we made. Part of the reason is better technology -- the new Intellipower weighs 3 lbs versus the 40-lb Univolt it replaced, and the new Dometic refrigerator weighs only 20 lbs more despite being twice as large as the old one. The new catalytic heater is much lighter than the furnace it replaced.

We also had little or no net weight gain from switching materials such as flooring. The old carpet was surprisingly heavy. The 30-lb aluminum tanks have a net weight about the same as 20-lb steel tanks. And we took pains to make new items, such as shelving, extremely light weight.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

iPix Update

OK, two pictures to share with you.

First, the "before" shot. This was the trailer as found, last summer. (You have to mentally add in the smell of it since we can't convey that via Internet.)

Today we took a shot with the iPix camera and fisheye lens. I think this picture says it all ...

... but if it doesn't say enough, let me narrate, from left to right:

Amana range with stainless steel front
NuTone Food Center (built-in to countertop)
halogen undercabinet lights
round bar sink with Moen faucet
new countertop with metal trim edge
on the wall beyond the window: tank monitor, 12v and TV outlet, digital A/C thermostat
ceiling: Winegard TV antenna, halogen chandelier
inside upper cabinet: stereo receiver and XM satellite receiver
new curtains by Edie
behind curtains: Polk Audio speakers
hull liner on front wall below windows
3-4 person seating at dinette (removes easily for "living room" effect)
maple laminate flooring
Dometic NDR1062 10-cubic ft refrigerator
(not visible: fire extinguisher, key & rally badge hangers, magnet board, white board, flashlight mount, junk holder)
atop refrigerator: spice rack

So, was it worth it?

Gas leak

This is what a lot of people dread: the silent spill of propane gas filling the trailer at night. And it happened to us, last night.

But we weren't in the trailer. We were sleeping in Brett's house last night, and had left the trailer closed up tightly for the first time in a couple of weeks. Opening the door in the morning, we were hit with the unmistakeable smell of propane.

We did buy a propane detector months ago, but it hasn't been wired in yet. Fortunately, the nose still works.

The culprit is one of two new compression fittings installed for when we hooked up the catalytic heater on Saturday. The gas valves to everything else were turned off last night, including the heater itself. There are only two fittings inside the trailer which we have touched recently and which had gas in them last night. Both are on the line to the catalytic heater's shut-off valve.

We're going to carefully do the "soapy water" test again on those fittings this morning, but also we are planning to swing by Camping World for a handheld propane leak detector. Sneaky Barry has one and he recommends it as being fast and easy to use.

While I'm at it, I will get a carbon monoxide detector and install that tonight. No trailer should be without one, in my opinion, but all too often I see vintage trailers completely "made over" that lack them. If I were sleeping with a 30 or 40-year old furnace in my vintage trailer, I'd sure as heck want a CO detector, even if the furnace has been refurbished.

The picture below shows our new catalytic heater mounted on the aluminum sidewall between the kitchen cabinet and the dinette. The Formica on the kitchen cabinet and dinette side can easily withstand the heat output. A big red shutoff valve is located inside the kitchen cabinet. (The copper line below is the main water line.)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Encore Performance

I guess we didn't get enough, because we hung around and finished up a few things today. I got new tires on the tow vehicle, and after a few hours of catching up on work, I cleaned up the interior. We made a lot of sawdust and aluminum shavings during this work session, and they had migrated to every corner of the trailer despite frequent vacuumings. You've got to be careful about those aluminum shavings, because they will damage the floor if they are stepped on.

This evening, Brett and I tweaked a few cosmetic issues in Vintage Thunder. Our first piece of upholstery went in -- a padded bolster alongside the edge of the bed. It looks great. (Pictures later.) I can't wait to get our permanent upholstery on the dinette.

We also set up a spice rack, fixed some shelving, added some flooring to one of the closets, and did a little trim work. The rest of the evening was spent loading up all the personal cargo.

Earlier today, I tried taking photos with the ipix camera but there were problems with lighting. I'll try again in the morning before we head back to home base. If we can't get a good ipix image, I'll post panoramics of the interior from my Nikon.

On Thursday, the next phase of Project Vintage Thunder begins. We will take the trailer on a two-week trip up the east coast. Expect more blog entries and pictures. We'll test all the systems again and make notes for future improvement. Planned stops include St Augustine FL, Beaufort SC, Colonial Williamsburg, the Cherry Blossom Rally near Washington DC, Kingston NY, Bridgewater MA, Lincoln MA, and finally Vermont.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Work Session, Day Three

Ugh. ... another long day. Let's see, plumbing vent replaced, curtains installed (see picture), hooks & holders installed, fire extinguisher, completed stereo wiring, installed vinyl tile on bathroom floor and transition strip, fabricated and installed closet shelves, catalytic heater installed, shower plumbing leak fixed (we think), shower re-assembled and caulked, toilet paper holder re-installed (first attempt didn't hold up), screen door tweaked, more rusty screws replaced, and I think I forgot a few other things we did as well ...

We also added 18 inches of flexible line to the Shurflo water pump inlet. According to the manufacturer's recommendations, this should help reduce the noise of it. In our test it was a bit quieter, but nowhere near "silent" as advertised.

Now it's past 11 pm and we're beat, and of course there's still more work to be done. We still haven't finished the hull liner and associated trim, there's one more window needing "fuzzy seal", we still need to replace the weatherstrip on all the windows and entry door, there are two outriggers needing replacement, etc.

But this is the end of the work for now. Both Brett and I need to get back to our day jobs for a while, and I also have to transport Vintage Thunder northward for the spring and summer season. The trailer is perfectly serviceable and quite comfortable, so I'm sure we'll enjoy the trip up the east coast. We will blog from the road starting this Thursday, so keep checking for updates.

There's also a bonus coming! Tomorrow we will shoot an iPix interior view of the living room, and we'll post it online in a week or two. You'll be able to take a virtual tour of Vintage Thunder, right on the website. Check back here for details.