Holiday Refit: 10 Airstream Fixes

After 11 weeks on the road, we pulled into my parents’ SoCal driveway with a medium size list of things to fix, tweak, switch out or alter. Here is the list, the first few in order of importance/annoyance; the rest are a bit “in the weeds” but we include in case those undergoing a restoration can learn from our experience!

1.Trailer brake lights. In Oregon, we had a “sudden stop behind a semi on the highway don’t know if we are gonna make it” scare, which made us think hard about how well the folks behind us could see our brake lights, especially obscured by the bikes. Ben wanted lights that would somehow blend in and found these bright LEDs to attach to the Airstream bumper. He spent a good amount of time making sure the install was clean, and of course, functional!IMG_4296

2. Closet renovation. At first we had a small closet with a hanging rod and one of those hanging sweater things. The “sweaters” always fell out, and of course we just don’t have a lot of clothes to hang. We do have clothes to roll up, stuff, and most importantly to store in a sort of purgatory when we are planning to wear them the next day. Hence the new closet with shelves only. We’ll get it a bit more organized, but as a quick fix I made a couple of “drawers” out of cardboard boxes, covered them with contact paper and made rope handles. It’s working out great! The purgatory “bins” are the bottom row – Ben added that wood divider at the last minute so we’d each have our own side. Good idea. IMG_4058-03. Curtain tabs instead of metal hooks. I made the curtains and I guess to save a little time/labor I attached them to the rods with metal hooks. Boy were those a pain. They were hard to open, close, the hooks were always coming off and when we drove, the rods would often fall off. I retrofitted them by sewing on tabs (much harder to do on a machine after the fact) and they are working like a dream now.

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4. Woodwork – a few things that a little woodworking helped to make better. Clockwise from left: a “dam” to block errant water flow in the shower (the eucalyptus is new too!); Ben fitting and making fiddle rails for the dinette/bed cushions; and a little platform to raise our pantry cabinet so the door opens / closes more smoothly – it had dragged a bit on the floor before.

5. A little metal work – hanging, bolting, etc. which really all come down to creating more/better storage. Left to right: Some new hooks in the shower to hang our dirty laundry bags. Also in the bathroom – Ikea had these nifty metal shelves and one is up now to hold my main toiletries bag to make more room on the counter top. Finally, we already had the bread box, but now it’s bolted down!

6. Trailer hitch The paint on the weight distribution bars had been coming off and there was some surface rust. Ben scraped the old paint off, sanded and repainted with  POR 15. It’s a Reese hitch system which we are loving overall, but we were surprised the paint deteriorated so quickly.

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7. Bucket We swapped our “Pacific blue” bucket (in which we keep chocks, stabilizers, etc) for a new gray one (from Target). For many (snobs) in the wooden boat community (from which Ben hails), Pacific blue is an obnoxious, thoughtless, in your face color for boat accessories. It did NOT blend in with the Airstream, especially in pics. Ben hated it. (Can you tell?)

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8. Polish And finally – in my mind we were only going to do it if we had time – in Ben’s it was gonna get done no matter what: a quick and dirty polish using S-grade Nuvite polish and the cyclo polisher. The truck got a nice washing as well. IMG_3991

9. Jettisoning some stuff So, our truck bed was crammed full, and we did some hard sorting and left behind stuff we hadn’t used and came to realize we likely wouldn’t miss: a foldable kayak and accessories, a metal detector, sewing machine, exercise bands (kept the yoga mat), some clothes (see pile below; but added my slippers, which I had foolishly thought I wouldn’t want), our tent (kept the sleeping bags).IMG_3987

10. Storage Hammock Where to store produce that doesn’t need to be refrigerated? We had tried everything and we bought and installed this gear hammock (from a marine store of course). It was hard to pick a practical spot that wouldn’t stick out too much – we settled for above the sink. IMG_4056-0

So, off we go, 2nd leg, Southwest here we come, on our way to Ben’s family in Dallas for Christmas, with hopefully a shorter refit list so we can enjoy family and put the rest of our time and energy into rooting for the Sooners (Ben’s alma mater) in the playoffs!

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Spit and Polish. And buffers, rags, spurs, muscles, and lemonade.

Casual observers of the Airstream restoration process might think polishing the Airstream would be the very last thing you’d do – sort of the icing on the cake after the cake was baked. Not so.

Cake awaiting icing

Cake awaiting icing

We chose to polish now – about midway – mostly because our polishing specialist, Collin of CFDetailing, was available to come down to Glendale from his home base in Santa Barbara for a few days; Ben was ready for a break from all the work requiring his brain power (designing, choosing materials, sourcing, watching Jeopardy reruns with my mom, oh and actually DOING ALL THE WORK); and I was back refreshed from several days off in DC visiting friends after a wedding back east. Ben and I would comprise the work crew, with Collin instructing and supervising.

When Collin arrived, he pronounced our Airstream “not that bad” and “in really good shape” compared to some that he has seen; many vintage Airstreams begin the process with layers of buggy grime, road filth, and deep oxidization to cut through. It’s true, ours just looked dull, as opposed to really dirty. He set out the tools of the trade – buffing machines, pads, spurs (for roughing up the pads when they get caked with polish), different grades of polish (think sandpaper in progressively finer grits), different rags for cleaning, wiping, etc.

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Tools of the trade: buffers, lambswool polishing pads, and spurs!

I won’t tell all of his secrets, but one of Collin’s most important instructions was to keep anything that would be in direct contact with the Airstream off the ground (eg rags draped on ladders) because gravel, leaves, rivet bits and other restoration detritus are likely to end up getting polished right into the trailer or, more likely, scratching it.

I made it through Day 1 – contributing a fair amount polishing aluminum panels at ground and eye level. It was hot. There’s really no shade in our driveway – just sun moving from east to west, from curbside to street side of the Airstream. And I quickly learned my muscles are only so big, and not even really that strong.

The three person team

The three person team, at our most productive, curbside (morning Day 1) in the shade.

By Day 2, I was so sore and spent, I did “prep work” on the trailer (with not-as-cool tools: masking tape and water soaked rags, some mineral spirits) then embraced my role as lunch chef and cold-drink bringer, a la the Amish women and children in the barn raising scene in Witness, and Nicole Kidman to Jude Law as he helps roof a house in Cold Mountain. (Great scenes in great movies.)

John Book's romantic rival passes the lemonade in Witness

John Book’s romantic rival passes him the lemonade in Witness

Ada and Inman

Ada and Inman in Cold Mountain, drinkin’ lemonade – he works wood (mostly)!

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After lunch, Collin and Ben took over completely, while I hid. Ben eschewed the work boots and jeans Collin wisely wears so his flip flops and feet looked like an Airstream in need of polishing. This picture and the foot behind it are really gross. (Instagram has over 5000 pics with #feetaregross).

Stay tuned for more after pictures but here are a couple from Days 1 and 2:

Ben and Collin getting to work, icing the cake.

Ben and Collin getting to work, icing the cake.

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The palm tree is my favorite!

Did you know…? Up until 1982 Airstreams used a type of aluminum called alclad which polished up to a mirror finish. After that, they changed to a different grade of aluminum that doesn’t. That is one of the ways you can identify an older Airstream as it zooms by you on the highway. Did you also know…? There was no spit used in the polishing of this Airstream! Did you also, also know…? We have a lemon tree in our backyard! I’m getting an idea…