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 23, 2005

Across the Lake to Plattsburgh

Vintage Thunder was on the road again today, riding the ferry across Lake Champlain to GSM Vehicles for a few tweaks and a long-awaited paint job.

I must confess that I have occasionally been embarassed by the appearance of the trailer (on the outside). The paint is awful: mildewed, scratched, flaking, and uneven. At our vacation place in Florida I was apologizing to people I didn't even know for it's appearance. In St Augustine I thought the campground neighbors were giving us dirty looks; in Beaufort SC I hid it behind pine trees; at the Cherry Blossom Rally I was quick to say, "It's going to get painted!" over and over; and I apologized to friends across New York and Massachusetts for darkening their driveways with such a scuzzy-looking thing.

But then today, as I boarded the ferry, the ticket-taker exclaimed, "What a beautiful camper!" -- and she was serious! Some people can see the inner beauty ... It's a gift. Looking at Vintage Thunder from the upper deck of the ferry, even I was stretched to see the inner beauty.

But that will soon change. We have selected a former Jaguar color, "Mistral Blue" for the new color of Vintage Thunder. This is a metallic, which changes appearance slightly in the light. It should lend the trailer a sense of depth & uniqueness, and yet fit in among shiny Airstreams at a rally, or at a state park.

GSM Vehicles, an Airstream restorer in Plattsburgh NY, will be doing the deed. I met up with Colin Hyde (owner) at his shop today to review the trailer and talk about some of the other items to be tackled at the same time. Here's the list:

-- replace two outriggers (a welding job)
-- install the Internet-in-Motion system, including roof antenna and wifi router
-- prep the body and paint

The last item is the major job. We have left a few small issues on the exterior to be dealt with. There are mysterious holes in the body in a few spots, too large to be filled with ordinary rivets, and yet too small for metal patches. There is a "mystery blob" of some sort of caulk high on the curbside. There are deep scratches near the entry door where a prior owner used a stick to secure the door. There's a bit of rust along the galvanized steel domes. I have left Colin the task of figuring out the best solutions to all these problems.

While I was there (along with Steve Hingtgen of Airstream Dreams and Rob Baker), Colin showed us an extreme case of floor rot (below). It's best to address your floor rot problems before they become this serious.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


With unusually fine weather here in Vermont, I took the opportunity to replace all the weatherstripping on the windows of Vintage Thunder. The process is easy -- once you know how. So let me tell you how I did it.

PART & TOOLS: 3M Weatherstrip Adhesive, 3M Adhesive Remover, cordless drill, small round wire brush for the drill, 13mm wrench, flat-bladed screwdriver (large), an empty yogurt cup or metal coffee can, window gasket material (available from Airstream through dealers), scissors or carpet knife, latex gloves, stepladder (optional), chemical gloves (optional).

Step 1: Remove the window. On a 70s trailer with the "classic" style windows, you just remove an acorn nut on the support arms that lift the window. I used a 13 mm wrench. This is done from the outside, after you've opened the window fully. No need to remove the screens. Once the arms are disconnected, the only thing left holding the window in place is the hinge. Lift the window up as far as it can go, and it will drop out of the hinge.

Step 2: Place the window on a soft clean surface (I used a painter's dropcloth on the grass). Get a flat bladed screwdriver and work it under the old weatherstripping. Then work it along the weatherstripping to remove the bulk of it. This is the hardest part. You'll probably spend 10 or 15 minutes at this, less with practice.

Step 3: With an ordinary 1" paintbrush, brush on a coat of adhesive remover. I used 3M Adhesive Remover, which is great stuff for this job. Read the directions on the can! Don't brush it repeatedly, just dip the brush in a cup of the stuff, and run it along the weatherstrip & adhesive remnants. Then let it sit for a few minutes.

Step 4: Scrape the remnants off with the screwdriver or a paint scraper. It should come off easily. Repeat Steps 3 & 4. (If you are going to touch the adhesive remover, wear chemical gloves. It contains known carcinogens.)

Step 5: The metal surface should now be mostly cleaned up. Take a cordless drill with a wire brush attachment (available at hardware stores) or a Dremel tool, and run it along the metal edge to get it completely clean. This will also brush off the remaining solvent, so the metal will now be chemically clean. Dust it with a paper towel once you're done.

Step 6: Measure and cut a length of weatherstripping for the window you are working on. Allow a few extra inches to be safe.

Step 7: Read the directions on the 3M Weatherstrip Adhesive! This part is easier with a helper. Put a small bead (or thin coat) of the adhesive along the flat back of the weatherstrip. The weatherstrip will twist and make this difficult. Don't worry. Have your helper hold it up while you put the adhesive on. You will get it on your hands, so latex gloves are nice to have for this step.

You'll have to put the weatherstrip down somewhere while it dries. Just lay it gently on the dropcloth or any clean surface, and don't worry it the adhesive touches. You can fix any bare spots later. While you are waiting for it to dry, apply a similar bead of adhesive to the window frame.

Step 8: Orient the first few inches of the weatherstrip so the flat backside (where you put the adhesive) will go on the window frame, starting at the bottom center of the frame. Make sure the two flanges of the gasket are pointed outward and downward, not inward toward the glass. Now carefully apply it a few inches at a time, working your way around the frame. DO NOT STRETCH THE GASKET. Be especially careful at corners. Make sure the gasket is laying flat and not stretched or compressed. This is also your opportunity to add a little adhesive to any parts of the gasket where the adhesive came off.

Press the gasket down as it is applied, to help the contact adhesive bond. Your helper is invaluable here, feeding you the gasket and keeping the rest of it from touching until you are ready to apply. Trim off any excess length when you are done. If the last 1/2" inch isn't sticking, just put a dab of extra adhesive on it.

Step 9: Put the window back in, and close it tightly for 2-3 days. This will ensure the gasket seats the way you want. Some windows might not want to close without someone pressing on the outside to "squish" the gasket. That's normal.

I did all five windows on Vintage Thunder in an afternoon, with a helper for the tricky parts. On the next nice day, I'll do the refrigerator access door (it takes the same gasket), and the entry door. Take your time and good luck!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Home At Last

Vintage Thunder has arrived "home" in Vermont. We've unpacked and are now getting ready to relocate the trailer to Plattsburgh, NY for the next round of work. On the list:

-- replacement of two outriggers in the wheelwells (one each side)
-- prepping for the big paint job
-- replacement of all window & door gaskets
-- replacement of the battery box
-- "fuzzy seal" in two more windows
-- misc adjustment/replacement of a few screws
-- tweaking of certain trim pieces
-- additional hull liner in the bedroom area
-- a bit more caulking along the awning rail

I've also got to order some parts from Airstream (through the local dealer): fuzzy seal, beltline insert, a new battery box.

Most of this will be done next Saturday, April 23. Look for some good info about painting your Argosy or Airstream in upcoming blog posts. We'll probably have some initial info by Sunday.