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, June 04, 2005

JC Day 3 Mid-day Report

So much is happening ... I keep forgetting things, so I'm doing a mid-day report.

We just wrapped up an interview with a freelancer who is working on a lifestyle article for British newspapers. Airstream Europe will be launching its first model this fall and the press is interested in the story. We talked extensively about the American Airstreaming experience, and why we do it. It's hard to express the concepts to someone who has never done it.

I met Jane Schreier Jones, a freelancer who will have her first article in the upcoming Summer issue of Airstream Life. Jane is a former Airstream employee. She's here today interviewing people for an article that will be published hopefully in Fall or Winter.

Brett and I met a fellow who used to design and build interiors for Airstream in the early years. We'll be interviewing him and photographing his personal trailer, later today. Fred Coldwell and David Winick (who is designing the upcoming Airstream 75th Anniversary trailer) will be coming along.

We also dropped by the service center to check out Dicky Riegel's personal 1954 Flying Cloud. It was just completed today, complete with a gorgeous interior (zolatone and birch wood), a few modern amenities, and a mirror-polished exterior. It will be in the local parade on Sunday, being pulled by his green '54 Ford pickup. We may have pictures in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

... and it's only noon ... more later!

Jackson Center, Day Three

Friday was a fine day here in Jackson Center. We were up so late last night that I never got a chance to blog before bed. It all started with a foggy quiet morning -- but the silence was soon broken by the roar of factory equipment at 7 a.m. Did I mention that we are parked right next to the assembly building? The people in there start early ... and they use diesel tractors to pull the new units out of the assembly building to temporary parking.

Henry Spilko and Jim Burns (Art Director) headed homeward, but on Friday Brett G (Marketing Director) and Tom King of Internet-in-Motion arrived. Tom spent a couple of hours here trying to figure out why only I could connect to the wireless hotspot that surrounds Vintage Thunder.

It turned out to be a combination of a cable in the wrong place, plus incorrect settings on the Netgear router. You might recall that in my first blog post about the Netgear router I mentioned I had to re-set it to factory defaults to get it to work. Well, that was "user error" as it turned out. Tom fixed it up. So now we have free wifi for everyone who swings by. Airstream also has offered free wifi this week, but the system has been unreliable this week. They're still working out the bugs. When it works, it works well.

Other than that, Vintage Thunder has performed flawlessly. We are still tweaking little things like interior trim and minor cosmetic issues, but for the most part it has been a trouble-free trip. I'll be hitting the factory store later today to shop for trim pieces and parts.

Brett and I met with various Airstream and WBCCI personnel about our future plans, and Emma headed off to the miniature pig races and her usual practice of bicycling around the campus, with her mother jogging alongside. With the sun coming out and temperatures back up to the low 80s, everyone was out and we gave many many tours of Vintage Thunder. Everyone who visits gets a button that says "I Saw Vintage Thunder -- 2005 Tour". Quite a few of our visitors were Airstream personnel, some of whom helped build our Argosy in 1977.

As a result of yesterday's tours, I have to add another question to the Vintage Thunder FAQ:

"Why did you pick that color?"

It would seem obvious why we picked the color: because we liked it. Why else would you paint your trailer blue/green? But everyone asks, so we have been trying to come up with different answers just for fun. "Because it is the Vermont state color." "Because it was already painted cream and we needed something to cover it." "Because the squashed bugs on the front don't show as much."

We did run into a few grumps who were quite offended that we had painted what appeared to be a new Airstream. They would come over and ask gruff questions along the lines of, "Why'd you paint it?" or even, "You can't be parked here in the front row -- it's only for (WBCCI) presidents." They wouldn't come in for a tour. When such folks found out it was a vintage Argosy, they seemed even more offended -- perhaps because they had been fooled?

In addition to the new models I mentioned on Thursday, we also spotted the following on the grounds or in the factory: (1) A new A37 motorhome, in deep green. (2) The Coors Light Skydeck, which is open to all and quite beautiful inside. Great woodwork. (3) Two Airstreams used on the TV show "The Apprentice." Since I never saw the show this made little impression on me. The trailers have not much interior -- no kitchen, bath, or bedroom. They would make great cargo carriers or mobile interview rooms, but that's about it.

In the evening, we all walked downtown and watch Otto the Sword Swallower and Charon Henning perform fire breathing and sword swallowing. (See Airstream Life, Fall 2004 for an article on them.) They always put on an amazing show and I recommend it to those who have strong stomachs. (Otto and Charon certainly have strong stomachs, or at least esophagi.)

They opened for the Trailer Park Troubadours, who put on their usual excellent show. It was a capacity crowd under the tent -- easily 400 people -- and great fun to watch. If you haven't seen or heard the Troubs, check out

Today is shaping up to be another busy day. We've got an early pancake breakfast downtown that I'll probably miss since I've spent the morning catching up on the blog, numerous events on the schedule, and undoubtedly more tours to give.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Jackson Center, Day Two

It was a quiet day here in Jackson Center. The weather has gone downhill, with overcast skies, wind, and temperatures only in the low 60s. I think a lot of people hibernated in their trailers, because there was not a lot of visible foot traffic much of the day (except at mealtimes).

Still, there was plenty to do: factory tour, showing people Vintage Thunder, and visiting with Airstream staff. Jim Burns, the Art Director for Airstream Life, was here for his first time. Henry Spilko of Axis Products spent most of the day with us, as well as Fred Coldwell. We received badges from Brett via mail today, which say "I saw Vintage Thunder", and we handed out a lot of those. We're thinking about having a t-shirt made for people who give us courtesy parking, too.

We also hunted around for hints of new products. I found a new Quicksilver Limited Edition sitting in the parking lot among the new trailers, and spotted several Safari Special Editions on the production line, as well as some of the last gas low-profile Land Yachts to be produced (it's being discontinued this year). The 2006 model year changeover is in full swing and all the staff in Engineering and Production are busy with that.

We couldn't use the new awning because of the wind. There was always a threat that a thunderstorm would show up, but since there was no sun most of the day we didn't need the awning anyway. By dinnertime, right after Dicky Riegel told the assembled crowd that they should all subscribe to Airstream Life, I gave up on the hope that the temperatures would rise and went back to the trailer to get warmer clothes.

More friends arrived tonight, so the evening is lively despite the cool and humid weather. There's a bit of a wine and cheese party going on at Hunter Hampton's trailer, I can hear them attempting karaoke in the big tent, and lots of people are standing outside chatting, even at 10 pm. The karaoke is scheduled to go to midnight unfortunately. I think we'll be sleeping with the windows and vents closed tonight.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Jackson Center, OH

Vintage Thunder has landed in Jackson Center, Ohio. Under a beautiful summer sky we pulled onto the grassy field right next to the assembly building. The parkers had reserved a special front-row spot for Vintage Thunder, right at the corner of Bambi Lane and exactly where everyone would see us. We didn't even have time to set up before people started showing up and asking questions.

Here's a Vintage Thunder FAQ list, based on what we were asked today:

"Why did you paint it?" It's an Argosy. It was already painted. We just changed it to something more dramatic.

"What year is it?" It's a 1977, although you can't tell from the outside anymore.

"Why didn't you put the Argosy logo back on?" Because we like to confuse people!

"Where did you get that cool aluminum for the interior?" Airstream, of course.

So far today we have given at least a couple of dozen tours. There has been a near-constant parade of people, especially when the Airstream staff showed up to install our Zip-Dee awning. Yes, Zip-Dee has become an official sponsor of Project Vintage Thunder, and we are grateful to Bob Miller (president) for his generousity. The awning went on in about 40 minutes with two guys working on it. It looks great, and it's a terrific finishing touch for the trailer's exterior. I expect we'll get a lot of use out of it this week, with a mixture of sunshine and thunderstorms expected.

The nice thing about an awning is that it basically doubles your entertaining space. It's really an outdoor living room. I have never enjoyed my own awning before, so it's a special treat to have one now. It's also surprising how people congregate in the shade of the awning as soon as you deploy it. This Zip-Dee awning is going to change how we enjoy Vintage Thunder -- in a good way.

Now it's 9 pm and the band playing under the big tent has packed up, and the sun has set, so things are quieting down. We've had fun riding bikes (Emma and I) around the grounds, meeting subscribers to the magazine, and chatting with Airstream associates from every department of the company. Tomorrow promises to be another big day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Lagrange, OH

Here we are, in the new gravel driveway next to Lou and Larry's house in Lagrange, Ohio. We're courtesy parking again, and once again our hosts have rolled out the red carpet (well, in this case, new gravel) and made us feel more than welcome.

Lou and Larry were a joy to find at the end of a long day of driving. Lou had roast beef slow-cooking in the crock pot, and the whole family (adult children, grandparents, and friends) came over for tours of Vintage Thunder and a generally nice evening. Lou even had a little gift for Emma, with art supplies, and Lou's mother gave Emma a hand-painted enamel trinket box. You don't usually find courtesy parking hosts that go that far!

We got to check out Lou & Larry's cute little Argosy Minuet 6.7 Metre, and a fellow forum member (sfixx) dropped by to share information about Argosies as well (he's working on an Argosy 20 right now).

As has been the case for the past few nights, the Internet-in-Motion system has worked like a charm. Although Larry pointed out that Sprint cell phones don't work here, our system found a signal right away, and I was able to post this blog entry. The system has also worked beautifully in Watkins Glen NY, Plymouth NY, and Plattsburgh NY. I'm very impressed.

I am sad to report that Vintage Thunder suffered some paint dings from stones kicked up on the heavily-trafficked I-90 through Pennsylvania and Ohio. They are easily remedied with touch-up paint, but it was painful to see them. The largest ding is about 1/8" in diameter, and most of the others are much smaller. At least the metal beneath won't rust -- it's aluminum!

The trailer was also covered with smashed bugs. Tis the season. Larry was kind enough to lend a long-handled brush, bucket, and car wash soap (and his labor) to cleaning up Vintage Thunder this evening before dinner. Like I said, you can't expect courtesy parking hosts to do things like this ... but these are special people. That's why we courtesy park. It's not just a way to save a few bucks on campgrounds -- it's a way to make new friends.

Tomorrow Larry and I will head out to get a propane tank refilled, and then we'll head to Jackson Center! Homecoming, here we come!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Watkins Glen, NY

It's a beautiful day in Watkins Glen, NY. Or should I say, it's a beautiful day except during the three or four times each day when little rain showers have dropped by. Nonetheless, we have fallen in love with this area.

Watkins Glen State Park sits near the southern end of Seneca Lake, one of the eleven finger lakes in central New York. The park itself is a one mile steep climb from the center of town, but with a speed limit of just 25 MPH it was really no trouble at all pulling the Argosy. The park's central feature is a truly spectacular gorge, with over a dozen waterfalls and a 3 mile walking trail (roundtrip). The trail even goes under a waterfall at some point.

The area is loaded with things to do: wineries, little ice cream shops, antique stores, lake recreation, river fishing, and hiking. Best of all -- and for no reason we can determine -- there are absolutely no mosquitoes. Being Memorial Day weekend in the northeast, that's a minor miracle.

The other big draw of the area is Corning NY, which is anchored by the world-class Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG). Before you roll your eyes and think, "How dull," you need to know that the CMOG is a fantastic visit: part entertainment, part science museum, part hands-on workshop, part art museum. There's something for everyone. With a 5-year-old in tow, we spent four hours in CMOG and nobody in our group was ever bored.

Back at the State Park, we drew quite a bit of attention from the Memorial Day campers with our deep blue-green camper amidst the sea of white boxes. We stuck out, that's for sure, but in a nice way. Everyone was amazed at the paint job. As we towed through the park, fingers were pointed and (with the windows rolled down) we heard many passing comments, " ... never seen one of those ..", "...those Airstreams are really cool ...", and "... a lot of money ..." It's true, Vintage Thunder looks like a million bucks, but a couple that came by for a tour was amazed to find out that it cost less than their white-box SOB trailer. Now they want to go check out the nearest Airstream dealer.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Fixed the Lights ... Next, the Leak

Well, it wasn't as hard as it could have been. Rob and I spent a couple of hours this morning playing around with the lights and we finally solved the issue. First I removed and re-wired the 7-way connector, using a spare connector that Rob had. This didn't solve the problem but it eliminated the connector as a cause.

Then we went into the house and had breakfast with everyone (scrambled eggs, sliced strawberries, muffins and maple coffee). With our brains fortified, we conferenced with Colin via phone, and came up with a methodical approach. We removed all ten clearance lights one at a time and tested by turning on the remaining ones. On the seventh one, we found the problem -- a pinched wire.

The fix was simple (electrical tape from the toolbag), and then it was just a matter of screwing all the lights back in and testing as we went to ensure there wasn't a second issue.

But we're not done yet. Last night it rained from about 5 pm to 11 pm, and about 11 we noticed water dripping from the forward Fantastic Vent -- AGAIN!

I can't believe it. Brett was up on the roof adding caulk and replacing rivets, Colin was up on the roof replacing caulk and inspecting, and the entire roof was painted and clearcoated. And STILL we have a leak somewhere. It should be impossible.

Given the tilt of the trailer last night (slightly nose high), the leak point can only be one of two places: the vent itself, or the air conditioner. All we can do is inspect again and rectify anything -- no matter how small -- that might be causing the problem. My personal guess is the air conditioner. Although it has been inspected with the cover off, and re-caulked, it may need to be removed. The odd thing is that water has never actually dripped from the air conditioner.

Well, we can't do much from the road. I may have the Airstream guys look at it in Jackson Center, or we may ignore it and hope it doesn't rain much until we get home. Depends on the weather forecast, and on whether Airstream can shoehorn us in during Homecoming. They are fully booked already, but we've got a slot for our awning to be installed so they may take a look for me then.

Now we're heading out for Watkins Glen State Park, just north of Corning. It's a beautiful day and it's supposed to be a beautiful park. Let's hope for dry weather and no more bugs along the way!

Here's a shot of Vintage Thunder parked at Rob & Zoe's house, just before we left.