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 ...

Friday, September 16, 2005

The VAP Podcast

I did an interview last Monday for a cool new audio program called "The VAP". This program is specifically for Vintage Airstream owners, and started last week. If you haven't checked it out, go to The first interview is a discussion with Colin Hyde of GSM Vehicles, and Rob Baker, a good friend.

Colin's shop painted Vintage Thunder, and he talks a bit about that experience in the 40-minute interview.

I'll be on the second program, which I expect will be released in a week or two. We had some problems with sound quality when recording it, but hopefully Tim Shephard, who produces The VAP, will be able to clear it up enough to broadcast.

The VAP looks like a great source of information for all Airstream enthusiasts, and I strongly recommend you subscribe to it, so you'll get each broadcast as it comes out. It's FREE, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Budgeting Fuel

Over the next six months, during the "Tour of America" I'll be writing a lot about trip planning and budgeting. But for today, I just want to make mention of something particularly relevant to the recent rise in fuel cost.

AAA maintains a database of actual prices paid each day by their members at gas stations across the country. They do this by capturing the price paid per gallon from card swipes. The data is available to you at a couple of sites, so you can see the local gas prices.

The site is

But the cool feature of this site is that it will estimate your fuel cost for a trip based on this data. Click the "Fuel Cost for a Trip" button at the top of the page and try it out. I'll be using this for trip segments as we start roaming across the country.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Bug Lists, New and Old

I have seen people spend literally years renovating their vintage Airstream trailers, only to find that they don't know what to do with them once the job is done.

It would seem to be unthinkable, yet it is common. Many people relish the project more than the destinations. They lavish attention on the details, but when the day comes to travel, they have a hundred objections to actually pulling the trailer somewhere: no one to camp with, gas prices too high, family or work obligations, no time to "go somewhere interesting," etc.

That has to be frustrating, and I have sympathy for folks in that situation. But perhaps there's no need for that. I've noticed that people often turn their attention to another project, while others just bask in the glory of a well-done restoration and feel no need to actually use the thing. If that works for you, who am I to object?

Obviously we're not in that category. We couldn't wait to get Vintage Thunder on the road last February, even without a stove, paint, or curtains, and with (as it turned out) several leaks. Six months later, without much repair or upgrade work left to talk about, our focus has changed from the trailer to the places we take it. For some that would be boring, for us, it is liberating.

So, when problems do crop up, it's always a small shock. "Oh yeah, it's a 28-year-old trailer. It used to live in a swampy backyard in Florida, abandoned for seven years." It's easy to forget how awful it was once, and how fraught with trouble it was.

I received an email from a friend last week, who is on a caravan at the moment. He asked if, after starting our next adventure this October in a 2006 Airstream, we would comment on quality control issues in the new trailers. He wrote, "The word on the caravan is not very favorable."

I am really looking forward to investigating that. From time to time, I hear complaints from people about problems with their new trailers, but I often can't tell if the problems are real or imagined, if they are serious or exaggerated. From having done Vintage Thunder, I have a new sympathy for Airstream when, for example, they are berated because "after 500 miles, sawdust and metal shavings keep coming out from under the cabinets when we tow."

Well, we had that same problem with Vintage Thunder. It's impossible to vacuum up every shaving you create when building or renovating a trailer. We would vacuum three or four times a day during the interior renovation, and still we found bits of metal and wood creeping out weeks later, after towing. So when someone tells me it's an example of poor QC at the factory, I usually come to the factory's defense. I know better now.

I've also seen too many situations where someone posts a list of 40 "defects" in a public forum, of which 2-3 are really significant problems that could be readily fixed by the local dealer and the rest are minor imperfections that do not affect the product's performance. Inevitably that person can't get along with the dealer, is unsatisfied, and wants a complete replacement trailer or cash compensation.

I'm a bit more pragmatic about it. I don't expect a perfect product. I do expect a product that works as advertised. I expect Airstream will stand behind it when there is a real problem. And yes, if we need service along the way, I'll blog it and talk about what we had done. You can decide for yourself if Airstream QC and Service up to snuff, based on our experience.

It's a diverse world: some people like to fix problems in their trailer, and some people can't stand the slightest imperfections. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. This upcoming six-month Tour should help me contrast the work required to maintain Vintage Thunder against the work required to maintain a new model. It should be very interesting !