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, August 20, 2005

Reflecting on Sounds

While in our five-week "hiatus" at Whispering Pines, we have hardly traveled at all. Except for this week's trip to Plattsburgh for tweaks, Vintage Thunder has sat in the same spot, killing the grass beneath the tires and gathering a few spider webs in the wheelwells.

But when we did hitch up and haul for 80 miles up through the Adirondack Park, it felt exceptionally good. As always, Vintage Thunder pulled silently behind us. I drove the first ten miles with the window down, listening to the faint hiss of the tires on corners, and hearing nothing else.

Your trailer should be silent most of the time. Clunks or squeals in the hitch mean you may have missed an important lubrication point (check your hitch manual to be sure what points are safe to lube, and which are not). Rattles and clatters could mean loose parts on the trailer, perhaps the belly pan, or even a propane tank.

I used to hear a distinct THUMP-clatter on my Caravel before we took it in for major renovations last fall. The axle was petrified (the THUMP occurred on every bump in the road) and the floor was rotted. Never having had an Airstream before that one, I didn't know how quiet a properly-maintained one could be.

It was perhaps a strange thing to enjoy: the silence of towing. But since I spent so much time carefully chasing out squeaks in the hitch (ordinary grease works best but Reese Hitch Lube attracts less dirt), and we had gone through the trouble to replace the entire axle and brake assemblies, replace huge sections of floor, and weld up bad frame members, silence was the only reward.

This morning, I woke up early and reflected on the ambient sounds of an Airstream. When they are in use, they do make small sounds: the click-click-click-WHOOMP of the water heater firing up (and same from the refrigerator when it is running on gas); the ticking of the metal sides warming in the morning sun; the soft hum of a Fantastic Vent running; the whoosh of a warm summer breeze against an open window.

All of these sounds remind me of rallies. For whatever reason, I always wake up early on the first morning of a rally. I guess I want to wake up and see the new neighborhood -- a gaggle of silver shapes covered in dew, newly arrived. Who are the neighbors, what cool trailers are parked nearby? Time to get up and explore!

In five days we will be heading out again, and it's about time. Vintage Thunder is ready. All systems are 100%. I need only check the tire pressure and hitch up. If we didn't have an unavoidable obligation today, we'd be joining the caravan that is heading to Quebec from New Hampshire right now. The spider webs will blow off on the highway ...

By the way, our mouse has departed. After the one night of scritching noises, we have neither heard from him, nor seen any sign of him. I suspect he found the traveling life less than ideal, probably about the time we got up to speed on I-87 Thursday night. Not everyone likes Airstreaming.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Final Final Work Session

Well, we got it done and we're back "home" in Panton VT.

Pat painted the tongue in the early afternoon. The first topcoat I installed back in March failed utterly, and peeled off. Turns out that I waited too long after putting the POR-15 undercoat on. If you don't topcoat the POR-15 within 24 hours, it sets up so hard and smooth that the topcoat paint can't "bite" into it. I can vouch for that.

So Pat sanded what was left of the topcoat off, and that left a gritty surface of POR-15 for his Rustoleum topcoat to adhere to. But the stuff took hours to set up (it was still a bit soft when we hitched up to go home after 6:30 pm). Pat says the longer it takes to set up, usually the better it is.

We adjusted the cabinet doors that were coming open in transit. The rivets holding these Argosy hinges in place tend to work loose. Then the hinge itself starts to get bent out of shape. Colin removed three doors, straightened the hinges, and riveted them back. I also re-riveted a few of the little plastic tabs that the door latches lock to. When those rivets come loose, the latches don't engage properly.

I finished grinding the last of the old door seal and screen door weatherstripping off, and attached new seals. The entry door now closes with a firm push, rather than shutting with virtually no effort as before. But that means the seal is working properly.

We also took the opportunity to do some deep cleaning in the corners. 8000 miles of towing generates a bit of dust, sawdust, and aluminum oxide (black dust). Some hands-and-knees time is required to get it all out.

And finally, we may have a stowaway. On Tuesday night we heard the unmistakeable rustling of a mouse. I don't know if the mouse dropped in for a visit and has since left, or if he's still here somewhere.

If he has come along for the ride back from New York, he is a doomed mouse. Hopefully, for his sake and mine (since I'm the guy who has to dispose of mice caught in traps), he decided to stay at home in Plattsburgh. I like pets, but not in my Argosy ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Final Work Session

Is it ever really done with a vintage trailer?

We are now back in Plattsburgh, NY for a final work session at GSM Vehicles. I posted our bug list a couple of weeks ago, and now at last we are checking off those items in preparation for our final tour with Vintage Thunder.

Black tank work is notorious for being expensive and unpleasant, so we took some steps to make the job easier before we headed over. We dumped the black tank, then refilled it nearly full with fresh water mixed with Calgon water softener and enzyme black tank chemicals.

We also added a couple of bags of ice cubes -- a popular piece of advice that I think accomplishes very little. The idea is that the ice cubes will slosh around and "scrub" off anything that sticks to the sides of the tank. I think the Calgon does a better job of that.

Whatever it was, the system worked. After 50 miles of driving, we pulled into GSM's parking lot and dumped the tank again. Then we filled with fresh water again and it came out virtually as clean as it went in. So once Colin disassembled the valve and piping, there was nothing particularly objectionable to deal with.

Anyway, the job got done in reasonable time. Colin's comment was that he expected "a nightmare job ... and this was only half a nightmare!" Now the black tank valve is new and most importantly, it no longer leaks.

Meanwhile Eleanor and I teamed up on the fuzzy seal on the screens -- removing the previous fuzzy seal, stripping old adhesive with a power tool, and gluing down the new stuff. It took about 2 hours to do four windows. It's not hard, just time consuming.

Up front, Pat was busy removing the old corroded belly pan in the front and replacing it with new aluminum. This was a bit time consuming too, but the results were superb. He also pinned up some other spots where the belly pan was OK but the rivets needed replacement.

We've still got some work scheduled tomorrow. With luck, we'll have it all done by early afternoon.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Vintage Thunder is under agreement, as they say in the real estate world. We have accepted the offer of a private buyer in Texas for an amount I can't disclose. Rest assured, he got a good deal, and I think it was a fair price to us as well. I'm very happy for him.

We will hand the trailer over in Jackson Center, OH (at the Airstream factory) sometime in the first week of October. That will be the end of this blog, too.

But there are six weeks of good travel between here and there. We are heading to Quebec next week, then Maine, then central NY, then Vermont again, then Ohio. Will we see you along the way?

We'll be headed to GSM Vehicles tomorrow night, too, for those last minute tweaks I've mentioned. (Anyone who wants a tour of their facility is welcome to join us at the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base, 36 Florida St. It's pretty cool if you are interested in how Airstreams are refurb'd and repaired.)

10 days to launch (to the Region 1 Rally in Quebec).