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, May 28, 2005

Those @#$! Lights

We're courtesy parked at Rob & Zoe's house in Plymouth NY. The weather is abominable but the scenery in this part of central NY is lush and green. It would have been a pleasant drive down except for one annoyance: the clearance lights have failed again.

This is the exact problem we had on Thursday when I picked up the Argosy from Plattsburgh. We thought we had it fixed, and the lights worked perfectly -- for a day. Today, they don't work at all, and once again activating the lights will blow a fuse on the tow vehicle.

So tomorrow, Rob and I will be out early trying to diagnose the problem. We've talked to Colin and he's emailed a list of things to check. But honestly, this one is a mystery. There's no obvious reason for this to be occurring and of course since the problem is intermittent it's exceptionally maddening. At this point we have two leading theories: a chafed or pinched wire in one of the clearance lights or the license plate light, and corrosion in the 7-way plug. I'll be checking both tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2005


Spent the morning getting the decals put on. We've got Airstream Life on the front and back, and all the sponsors on the awning side. Looks good!

The pre-trip prep is unbelievable. Cleanup, systems testing, packing ... and we have to start from scratch because almost everything was removed from the trailer before I took it up to Plattsburgh. We'll be at this until late tonight.

T minus 17 hours and counting ...

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Last Minute Snags

With any large project, there are snags. So why should the pickup of Vintage Thunder today be any different?

I headed over to GSM Vehicles this morning. Things started off well. Colin walked me through the many small upgrades they made on the trailer, including the new belly pan, the installation of the wireless Internet system, new cable ends at the battery, clearcoated bumper, etc. Everything was top notch.

(There was almost a disaster yesterday, when they tried to remove the trailer from the garage. With the two new axles on, the trailer sat so high it would not clear the garage door. They finally had to lower the tires to about 10 lbs each to get the trailer to squeak through. They've since been refilled to 50 lbs.)

After the tour, I bid goodbye to the crew and prepared to go. Just before leaving, I turned on the lights to test them. Of course, Colin's guys had checked them the day before ... but now, they didn't work. Worse, something blew a fuse on my truck a few seconds later.

So we spent two hours trying to figure out what was going on. The problem turned out to be stray "hairs" of copper inside the 7-way trailer connector. Adam stripped down all the wires and re-connected them -- problem solved. Meanwhile, we pulled fuses on the Honda Pilot trying to figure out which one had blown (the owner's manual was no help). We finally found it, a fuse cryptically labelled "Small light" in the manual.

But alas, we had pulled the SRS (Supplemental Restraint System, aka "airbag") fuse in the diagnostic process. And that turned the SRS light on, meaning that the airbags were disabled. This is where a simple problem becomes a complex one, thanks to modern technology.

A call to the dealer revealed that if you pull the fuse for even a second, the SRS turns itself off, and can only be re-set by the dealer. This requires half an hour in the shop while they diagnose the problem, to verify that it is in fact just a fuse issue. The dealer is too concerned about liability to accept my explanation that we pulled the fuse for a moment, so they have to check it themselves. And of course, being the day before a holiday weekend, the shop is fully booked and they can't get us in before we have to leave. So we are going out without airbags. We'll have to get it fixed along the way.

We also turned on the Internet-in-Motion system and it locked onto the cellular Internet signal right away. But the Netgear router was not communicating. I decided to shelve that problem until I got home.

I made it home without other incident, and as I promised before, shot a picture from the upper deck of the ferry to compare to the one I took (and posted to this blog) on April 23. See below. Looks a little bit better, doesn't it?

When I got home, I re-booted the Netgear router and it started to work normally. In fact, I'm posting this blog from my dining house, using a wireless Internet signal emanating from Vintage Thunder! It works better than my normal connection at home, which is Direcway Satellite. If you are parked at a campground and spot a wifi signal with the SSID "AIRSTREAMLIFE", you'll know we are nearby.

The only other bug was the gas lines from the propane tanks. One was leaking badly when I turned on the gas this evening (so I shut it off). I'll take another look tomorrow -- hopefully when it's not raining as it has been constantly for the past week -- to see if it needs replacement or just isn't seating correctly.

Tomorrow is cleanup and packing day (and decal installation). 36 hours to blast-off!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ready to Roll

Vintage Thunder is just about ready to go!

The wi-fi system is installed (but not yet tested). The new axles are on, the brakes are adjusted and wired, the new rear belly pan section is attached, and the trailer has been cleaned inside. Numerous other upgrades have been completed as well, so our bug list is only a fraction of what it was when we drove up the East Coast in April. It should be a real pleasure to use.

We didn't get to a few cosmetic tweaks inside, but all the important stuff is done. They'll be testing the clearance lights and brakes later today, and I plan to go pick it up Thursday morning.

Thursday and Friday I'll get the last of the sponsor decals attached to the outside, load up the personal gear, test the wifi system, and fill the propane tanks. (We switched to 20-lb propane tanks because the 30-pounders we brought up from Florida were earmarked for the Caravel. These little tanks should be plenty, especially in summer when we don't use the heater.)

On Saturday we'll hit the road toward Homecoming. It will be great to get back on the road!

Monday, May 23, 2005

In the Home Stretch

The A/C cover has been repaired, and it looks pretty good considering what happened to it. GSM has also sprayed the bumper that I sanded Saturday, with clearcoat, and it looks nice too. It will go on later today or tomorrow.

This morning the guys wired up the electric brakes that came with the new axle, and adjusted them. I have to say, watching the process of axle replacement, it's not terrifically intimidating until something goes wrong. That's when the pros earn their money, removing stubborn bolts, cutting out metal, etc. Fortunately, in this case the old axles weren't too stubborn, and the new ones were no problem at all. It will be nice to be driving to Ohio with new brakes.

It looks like we will be ready to depart next weekend without much trouble. There are a lot of minor things left to do, which will take time, but for the most part the heavy lifting is done. By tomorrow I expect the belly pan to be back on, and we should have the Internet-in-Motion system installed as well. We also need to get the propane tanks back on (easy), and test all the systems. A lot of stuff has been disturbed in the past two weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised to find a few glitches.

Starting Saturday I expect to begin blogging our next adventure. We'll be stopping at the Corning Museum and Watkins Glen State Park along the route, and we'll be using courtesy parking twice. (Courtesy parking is a great way to make new friends and save money at the same time.) Then we'll report from Jackson Center, where Vintage Thunder will get the final touch of a new Zip-Dee awning, courtesy of our latest sponsor. While we are in Jackson Center, we will take the factory tour, watch the Trailer Park Troubadours play, interview some Airstream personnnel, and browse the new units. So the fun is about to begin again!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Axles, Visitors, Details, George & Martha

I finally got a chance to head over to Plattsburgh on Saturday. Vintage Thunder's new paint job looks great, and when I arrived the guys were already fitting the first of the two new axles on.

It was a hectic day. The belly pan has been removed from rear bumper forward to the axles, so I took the opportunity to get under there and clean up the frame members and paint them. New insulation and new belly pan will be installed on Monday.

I also spent an hour or so sanding the aluminum bumper with progressively finer grades of sandpaper. It now has a smooth satin finish, and will be clearcoated in the paint booth early this week, and re-installed.

In the middle of the day, about seven people from a nearby WBCCI unit rally (on Grand Isle), dropped by for a shop visit. Colin regaled them with stories of restorations (including my '68 Caravel) and photos from his album. Everyone toured Vintage Thunder and a couple of other trailers in the shop. This knocked at least an hour out of the day but it was fun.

I installed black insert into the lower rub rail, which adds a subtle but classy detail to the lower side of the trailer. You can see it in the last picture in today's entry, and I'll have more in the gallery at in a couple of days. This was an easy job, taking 15-20 minutes for the entire trailer. It just snaps in.

Then, a small disaster happened. We were backing Vintage Thunder into the garage (because it was getting too cold to work outside) and failed to notice that the overhead door had slipped down a few inches. CRUNCH! The A/C cover got slightly crushed. The damage isn't too bad, but there's a hole about 1.5" in diameter on one corner. Adam is going to try to fiberglass it back together. It will never look perfect but it should at least be intact. I'd try to find a replacement Armstrong A/C cover but we don't have time to locate one and re-paint it before deadline. It's a vintage part and I doubt it can be found off-the-shelf. We'll have to try to salvage one later.

It's interesting how much the paint color changes. Outside under gray skies, the paint looked blue-green. In the shop (under fluorescent light) it appeared to be even more green. In bright sunlight, it appears much lighter blue.

The last job of the day was to attach one of the two big vinyl graphics from our major sponsor, George M Sutton RV. George and Martha Sutton are lively, fun-loving folk, as you can see from their choice of design. This should give people following Vintage Thunder something to think about ...