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, October 21, 2005


This is the last post of the Project Vintage Thunder blog.

We found a lousy old Argosy and made it into something really great and fun. It was a huge learning experience, a lot of fun, and a lot of stress. I'm glad we did it.

Here's a final note to the entire episode. Vintage Thunder's new owner has published an article about his new old trailer. See

Now that the Argosy is sold, we're off on a new adventure. Come see us at our new site as we travel across America, with family, working and exploring!

The Tour of America

Sunday, October 16, 2005


I think yesterday should count as our first official day of the Tour of America. We headed out from South Bend in the morning and (after a harrowing ride through Chicago on I-90), stopped in Rolling Meadows IL to visit with a few folks. Tom King and Joyce Cutsforth of Internet-in-Motion dropped in to see our trailer and catch up a bit. Tom has some great ideas for a mobile webcam that we may integrate into the upcoming Tour website.

Brad Cornelius also dropped in. He designed the great graphics you see on the exterior of the trailer. (Brad also painted the Fall 2005 cover of Airstream Life, which should be in the mail to you in about a week.)

While we were giving these tours, we happened to be parked at a Wal-Mart. People kept coming by and taking photos of the trailer, so we invited a few in. We met some nice guys from Holland who have a "mobile bakery" that they run out of an Airstream there. They were excited to see the Tour trailer and promised to email photos of theirs as soon as they get back home.

After that visit we hit a local IKEA to shop for some trailer accessories. Eleanor found a fine aluminum wine rack that we plan to mount on the wall. It looks like it belongs there. This is an accessory every Airstream should have, if only because it looks so right.

Our next stop was 90 minutes west, somewhere along I-80 in the plains of Illinois. We hit a Cracker Barrel for dinner (our friend Gary was right, you CAN eat every meal at Cracker Barrel if you stick to the highways), and then parked overnight. Our neighbors happen to be in an Airstream Classic with the WBCCI # 5883. We haven't seen them yet but perhaps we will before we go.

There's an axiom I was taught by the fellow who sold us our first Airstream: The propane always runs out in the middle of the night. For some reason I was up at 4:30 this morning when I heard the furnace cycle on and off a bit too quickly. Sure enough, we'd just run out of gas. That's why we have two bottles and an auto-switching regulator, but of course I forgot to open the second bottle, and so I had to get out there in my bare feet in the dark to flip the switch. At least it wasn't too cold...

Speaking of which, poor Emma is really down with a cold. She's a trouper about it but there's no question it has taken her down a peg. I expect she'll sleep late and so it will be hard to reach our next goal today. But that's the nice thing about traveling this way. She can stay in bed while we catch up on work and phone calls, have breakfast, etc. When she wakes up, we'll be all set to go.

Friday, October 14, 2005

When in Elkhart ...

Our philosophy is that you take advantage of what each local area offers. So today we headed off to meet our friends Henry and Danean for a tour of the RV industry -- past and present.

Elkhart is the center of the RV universe, and it's only about 15 miles down the Indiana tollway from South Bend. Our first stop was the factory that Henry works at, which makes RV parts. Riding around in a golf cart, we got a great tour from Henry of robotic welding machines and manufacturing processes. Even Emma was interested. And at the end of the tour, everyone got a company baseball cap!

Next stop was the RV/MH Heritage Museum in downtown Elkhart. This place is basically a collection of really special antique RVs from the 1920s through 1970s. You can walk right into most of the units, and they are mostly in superb condition. The only Airstream in the collection is a early 60s Bambi. My 1968 Caravel and 1963 Serro Scotty would have fit right in.

In the front hall is the Hall of Fame. Wally Byam is there, of course. If you've ever wondered what Theodore Bargman (manufacturer of the infamous Bargman locks and lights) looked like, or Art Costello (Airstream's president of the Los Angeles factory in the 1960s), you'll find them too.

Then we headed off to Henry and Danean's house. Henry has an interesting race car, which happens to be more or less street legal. It's a Buick with a 454 engine. So we took it out for a spin around the block. When I was putting the five-point seat belts on, I started to sense that this might be a mistake, but it was too late to back out. Sure enough, Henry demonstrated the car's ability to run the quarter-mile. Uh, 110 MPH in 12 seconds. A bit better than the Nissan Armada/Airstream combo I'm driving these days.

Emma got a chance to drive, too, but not the race car. She steered a golf cart while Danean worked the pedals and Eleanor hung on for her life. It made for an interesting ride around their front yard. The dog raced around in circles while Emma careened around, narrowly missing shrubs and ditches. She wants to tow the Airstream now, but I sense she's not quite ready.

The day started with a little spin in one of Dr. C's collector cars, a 1950s Mercedes 190. He took me for a top-down ride through the quiet cornfields and suburbs of West South Bend. A very pleasant touring car, that Mercedes, and as the doctor told me this morning, "It's great for picking up chicks."

That's Elkhart/South Bend for us. Tomorrow morning, we head over to the northern Chicago suburbs to meet more friends.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Decals on!

We've got the graphics on! Man, it looks great. This picture doesn't show the other side, but I'll get one of those up soon. Already as we drive around, I see people giving us long looks. I think that's a good thing.

Trailer's getting dressed!

Two developments today:

1) Episode 3 of The VAP is available for download at If you have iTunes and you've previously subscribed to it, just launch it and choose "Update podcast". It features the second part of an interview with me.

2) We are heading off to get our cool new "Tour of America" decals put on today. I'll post a picture tonight of the result.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


One of my favorite blogs right now is "The Adventures of Tioga and George" at . George is a hard-core RV traveler who, with his trusty class C (Ms. Tioga) and a "team" of other equipment, roams the western states. George's major claim is that he never stays in campgrounds (well, hardly ever). Instead, he makes camp at roadside parking lots, hidden turn-outs, industrial parks, repair shops, and virtually anywhere else that he thinks he can park overnight.

For all his quirkiness, George has captured the spirit of the way Airstreaming used to be, back in the 1950s. Airstream manuals from the 1960s to present day contain some variation on this statement:

"You'll learn the knack of finding wonderful out-of-the-way parking spots in fields, filling stations and just about anywhere that the ground is level and firm." Back in the 1950s, campgrounds were scarce and it was common practice to find a parking spot in any convenient spot, for overnight stays.

Today we live in a more crowded world and it is correspondingly more difficult to find quiet, safe spots to sleep. We are supposed to stay in commercial campgrounds. But a lot of us who are traveling through find the campground experience to be annoying, with lengthy and invasive check-in procedures ("names and ages of everyone in your party, please, also make and model of your car").

Besides, we have no interest in "camping" when are staying for one night -- we're just PARKING. I don't use the mini golf, the swimming pool, the fire ring, or even the water hookup when I'm just passing through. Little wonder Wal-Mart, Camping World, K-Mart, Flying J, and other businesses who welcome overnight RV parkers are finding such popularity.

In our more complex world, George still manages to find his free night camping spots and enjoy them, by staying below the radar of society. His blog tells it all. He calls it "vagabonding."

As we have matured in our traveling sophistication, we too have started to learn how to skirt the traditional and often irritating campground infrastructure. Our version of vagabonding is to courtesy-park wherever we can. Fortunately with an Airstream (and a certain amount of gregariousness), that's not so hard.

Basically, we are opportunistic. Our friend Dr. C made it known for some time that we were welcome to visit his driveway in South Bend. When we found a vinyl graphics shop (to put decals on the new trailer) in nearby Mishawaka, a trip was born. We'll stay for free here in the driveway until our mission is complete.

It just so happens that Brad Cornelius, who works on the magazine from time to time, and Comprehensive Communications (distributors of the Internet-in-Motion box I'm using to connect to the Internet right now) are both in the Chicago area. Chicago is only about 90 miles west from here, so guess where we are heading next? Brad can't offer us courtesy parking, but he has researched a Wal-Mart nearby that will welcome us. We'll spend a night or two and move on.

Our next destination is probably Denver. This is not a random choice, either. We have friends and relatives in the Denver area. That means plenty of options for courtesy parking, or at least local tour guides and meals out. It also means money saved for all those night we don't spend in campgrounds, more entertainment, and a better look at the local area. These are some of the things that make full-timing great.

So when we get to California, do you know who we'll look up? George and Ms. Tioga!

South Bend, IN

We fled Jackson Center yesterday afternoon. We had a final bug on the new trailer (water heater shutting off), which was simply a matter of adjusting the air mixture, and then we spent the rest of the morning getting organized. We were finally ready to hit the road by 4 pm.

Normally I'd hang back and go the next morning, but let's face it, there's not much going on in Jackson Center. The factory closes up at 3:30 and I think they roll up the sidewalks at 9 pm. On Mondays "JC Pizza" (one of the three restaurants) is closed, and that leaves a pair of greasy spoons and the local movie theater. We went to see Wallace & Gromit in the old single-screen theater Monday night, so we'd pretty much blown through the local entertainment scene.

So it was with great eagerness that I hitched up the new 30-footer and hauled it outta there. Nice trailer, no problems. Tows as well as you'd expect an Airstream to tow. We had a pleasant four-hour tour through cornfields of Ohio and Indiana and then arrived at the home of our notorious cohort "Dr. C" in South Bend. We'll be here a couple of days.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Manic Monday

Today things went nuts. I ran out at 7:30 a.m. to tell Service about a few bugs in the new trailer. They said they could get on it right away, despite the fact that Monday is their busy day. So I made a quick run over to Marketing to schedule the signing of paperwork relating to the loan of the new trailer, and then back to the trailer to tell Eleanor that Service was coming for the trailer RIGHT NOW. We had 10 minutes to grab everything we needed including a sleeping child, and stuff it all in Vintage Thunder.

It went downhill from there. I had to do a last-minute fix on the Argosy's water pump, then run over to Service to get more stuff out of our trailer, and when I got back Vintage Thunder's new owner was standing there waiting for me. Of course the Argosy was a mess -- littered with our junk, and not cleaned yet. I took the buyer and Emma for a walk around the campus so Eleanor could work on the Argosy in peace. Every 20 minutes we swung back by the trailer and Eleanor would tell me of yet another item she needed from the new trailer, so we made lots of trips back-and-forth between the Terraport and the Service department.

At noon we took a break to start some laundry at the local place, and have lunch at "Hobo's" restaurant. (Not the most promising name, but it's either that or JC Pizza and JC Pizza is closed on Monday.) Then the Service guys needed me (and the truck, to get the hitch adjusted) so Eleanor had to walk three blocks to the laundromat to put stuff in the dryer, and later make a second trip on foot to get all the laundry out.

At 3:30 the trailer finally came out of Service, the buyer had done the factory tour, and the laundry was done, so we all converged on the Argosy and tried to simultaneously (a) entertain Emma; (b) clean up the Argosy; (c) get the new owner hitched up to go. Of course, the hitch on the Argosy needed adjustment to fit his truck, and the tools required included two enormous wrenches which we didn't have. Amazingly, right then one of the Service guys walked up to bring us our power cord, and he volunteered his personal tools to get the job done!

We finally got a chance to walk the buyer through the Argosy about 4:30 pm. Then we had to take our Bill of Sale over to the corporate offices for notarizing and also sign some paperwork related to the new trailer. A SNAFU ensued regarding my insurance company's failure to fax a declaration page, and by 5:30 pm we gave up on that process and headed back to get Vintage Thunder on the road. The new owner was headed off to the KOA in Dayton by 6:30 pm, with a grin on his face, and then I had fifteen minutes to check voicemail & email, and then walk downtown once more to see "Wallace & Gromit's Curse of the Were-Rabbit" at 7 pm -- something we promised Emma we'd do tonight.

So here we are, sorting out the mess in the trailer we made today, having eaten only popcorn since Hobo's, and a bit stressed out all around. Thank goodness for Wallace & Gromit, otherwise Eleanor and I would have exploded.

I need to resolve the insurance paperwork tomorrow, find the Owner's Manuals that go with the new trailer, return Dan The Service Guy's tools, get the interior set up for traveling, and do a few hours of real work too. With all that I don't know if we will get out tomorrow, and at this point we are all thinking a day to catch up might be a good idea.

So we are re-thinking whether we will head to South Bend IN. We might just head southwest toward Denver instead. I need to settle in somewhere for at least two weeks to catch up on work. What a life! We all hope it gets easier after this.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still tweaking, right down to the wire!

The weather certainly hasn't improved much here, but we are making terrific progress on "taking over" the Safari 30. About 80% of our stuff is in place, and the rest is mostly food. (Yes, we travel with a lot of food -- Eleanor is a serious cook.) She's packing it right now, and I expect that effort to take half the day.

Last night we capped off the evening with another thrilling trip to Wally Mart, for a final selection of bins plus some sheet sets. I got orange sheets for the master bedroom. Love 'em! They add some desperately needed color to the completely neutral interior of the Safari. Emma got sage green sheets, which also look very nice.

I also got a memory foam topper for the mattress. We needed it -- the standard mattress is pretty firm, like a lightly padded sheet of plywood. But this topper absolutely reeks! A little slip of paper in the box said, "New memory foam may have a slight odor ..." Yeah, like rotten eggs may have a slight odor. It was so horrible we left it out all night to air. Still stinks today. The same optimistic slip of paper tells us the "slight odor" may persist for "several days". I'm thinking that's code for "a month or two." If it doesn't smell better by tomorrow, it's going back to Wally -- or into an exterior storage compartment.

We'll spend the rest of this morning packing and then around 2 pm we need to head out to a party. This evening I guess we'll get back around 7 pm and start cleaning up inside Vintage Thunder. That's a lot less time than we had planned for, but it should clean up pretty easily with everything out.

I've got to do two last repairs on V.T. before I let it go to the new buyer tomorrow morning:

1) The floor plate that holds the dinette table leg, has cracked. They make those things out of cheap thin metal. I bought another one while were at Camping World in New York. It just screws into place, so it's an easy fix. But I've warned V.T.'s new owner about this issue and suggested that the dinette mounting may need to be re-engineered.

2) The water pump is still noisy. I think the back of it is touching a copper water pipe and transmitting noise. I'm going to re-mount it forward a half-inch and add some extra padding under the feet as well. This is easy too, except that all the work has to be done under the confines of the kitchen cabinet.

My guess is that all this work will be done early Monday morning. Let's hope I can be done before 10:30, when the new owner arrives. Otherwise, he is going to start his vintage ownership with a quick repair lesson!