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.


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.


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?)


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!


Restoration Wrap Up

When you are a little behind, a good list is often just the trick. Here are a few of the highlights from the last several weeks:

Solar: Nearly every minute of every day out here in California, the sun is shining. Maybe that’s what pushed us from the camp of, “Wow, getting solar panels for the Airstream some day would be cool!” to the camp of “Why let all this sunshine go to waste? Let’s do it now!” We quickly realized AM Solar had the product we wanted, and their list of local recommended IMG_0416installers lead us to Brian at Advanced RV just outside of Thousand Oaks. With Brian’s input, and after a close inspection of our roof, we settled on four 100 watt panels. We missed the Airstream while it was away for over a week, but are very, very happy with the work and the new system. Seems like no matter how many things we have running – fans, lights, etc. – the panels keep the battery bank at 100%.  Good stuff.

Floors: We went back and forth a bit on the type of flooring. We settled on cork and

Threshold newly cork floor'd

Threshold newly cork floor’d

Looks a little like sheet music, no?

Looks a little like sheet music, no?

are really happy with it so far. The product is called Green Claimed, made for Cali Bamboo. It’s made in Portugal out of recycled wine corks-cool, huh? It comes in planks (maybe tiles too) and is a click to install kind of thing – no glue. Planks are 3/8 thick and bottom is also cork, with some kind of material sandwiches in the middle, and a light coating of some sort on the outside. We just love it – it is so comfortable on the feet, and the look sort of complements the industrial/natural vibe we have going.

Propane: Propane was the last system we installed, maybe because itIMG_0582 was one of the hardest contractors to find. Ultimately we found Randy and team at Rooter Buster – a mostly plumbing oriented outfit that also does natural gas lines and propane. Randy has a travel trailer himself and tracked immediately with what we wanted. I did not ask permission to take this picture of Randy and his colleague, but I don’t think they’ll mind!

There are many schools of thought about how best to run propane lines, but we settled on what Airstream used originally on our trailer: soft copper lines exposed on the bottom of the trailer and flared fittings. Randy wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement, saying the soft copper is vulnerable to rocks, etc.,, but he understood that this had lasted almost 50 years on our trailer and that that was what most restorers still did.

And now, a small gallery of things powered by propane:

A final thought as we wrap up the restoration and get ready to hit the road – THANK YOU to all the people who have helped us to make this happen. From the

Thank you Aunt Mary Jane for the fabric: some gifts for our cats' host families.

Thank you Aunt Mary Jane for the fabric! Used my mad sewing skills to make some gifts for our cats’ host families.

contractors, our cat “sitters”, my parents (x infinity) and brother who have hosted us, old friends who tirelessly reply to my email updates, new friends and experts on Instagram, our renters and neighbors back in Maryland, our woodworker friends here in California, etc, etc. we are are grateful to all! Next post – an update on the shakedown cruise we just completed, and the post after that – from the road!

A Plumber and an Electrician walk into an Airstream…

…is either the beginning of a very promising joke, or a (brief) summary of the last couple of weeks in Airstream restoration. But seriously folks, it’s sooooo wonderful to be far enough along for systems work, and pleased to be able to hand most of it over to real experts. (Ben’s edit: Huh? What are you saying??) WARNING: This blog post will rank high with Airstream renovation enthusiasts, low with others. But to tide others over (eg my closest friends), here is something pretty – I machine appliqued the sailboat (a yawl like one we used to own) and Airstream onto the napping couch pillows. The reading light is newly installed and you get a good look at the bathroom sink cabinetry in the background.

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OK, back to the boring stuff. First the plumbing. You may recall in our prevous post that Ben had laid the groundwork for final connections by running all the PEX lines. My parents had scheduled their plumber Jaime to come over and do some maintenance (leaky faucets, a no-no in drought stricken California). They sung his praises, so we arranged to talk to him about doing the Airstream connections. The main requirement is that he be comfortable with PEX tubing, which is becoming more popular in home applications (it’s less labor intensive and thus cheaper to install), but still raises a few eyebrows among old fashioned Jaime-The-Plumber types because it’s, well, not copper.  Turns out Jaime and crew did know how to handle PEX, had all the right high-tech tools, and even signed off on PEX philosophically as perfect for a trailer.  All went great. A real feeling of progress when we hooked up the “city water” supply (i.e. attached the garden hose to the newly-installed inlet in the back of the trailer) and the system was pressurized!  Faucets all worked and everything drained properly!

Jaime the plumber at work

Jaime the plumber at work

Meanwhile, we’d been hunting around for an electrician and found Soren, the electrician who works with Brody Travel Supply in Ojai, CA. Brody is one of our favorite follows on Instagram. Collin, of CFDetailing knew we were looking for an electrician and suggested we call Geoff (“who knows everyone!”) at Brody, who then kindly hooked us up with Soren who works out of their shop about 90 minutes north of Glendale.

So, we prepared to take the trailer out of the driveway for the first time (since we arrived here on May 6th) to head up the road. Woot!

We battened down the hatches, confirmed we were paid up on our insurance, and put some notes on cars parked across the street – asking if they’d move their cars so we’d have all the room possible for leaving the driveway. The hitch scraped a bit when we had backed in and we have since installed our water heater; its exhaust pipe (see pic below) sits lower than the hitch, on the side. If that pipe scrapes, we are doomed. So, Ben built some hefty wood ramps to deploy under the tires if we needed some extra height to avoid scraping, and I positioned myself in the rose bushes to watch carefully as he moved out – alas no scraping, so the hefty wood ramps have been set aside to be used in the zombie apocalypse.


Water heater pipe in foreground, hitch in background. Zombie apocalypse ramp at left.

Airstream, after successful launch fro our driveway, in our

Airstream, after successful launch from our driveway, in our “staging area” a block away on a quiet street adjacent to ours.

We took the easterly route (the 210 to the 5 to the 126, y’all!) to Brody’s in Ojai (avoiding the 101) and had an uneventful drive through mountains and valleys and lush (thanks to irrigation) fruit and vegetable farmlands. It WAS great to be on the road, even for a short time. After arriving, we killed a little time before meeting with Geoff, taking pics of our shiny trailer and tangling with a junkyard dog (not really).

Geoff kindly gave us a tour of the other trailers in his lot – some works in progress, all interesting and made more so by his enthusiast’s perspective and details. He and Ben exchanged some sourcing ideas. We quizzed him about solar, etc. We made plans to return two days later to meet Soren once he began the work,

Though we didn’t have much time to explore Ojai, we did have a delicious outdoors lunch at Boccali’s with an oak grove behind us and farms and mountains in the distance – fresh lemonade, Italian subs, and their signature strawberry shortcake.

Then we headed, sans Airstream, west to Santa Barbara for a couple of days of R&R. We’d been looking for an excuse to get up north to visit my cousin Nancy there (my aunt and uncle also have a vacation place there). We stayed two nights, had two fabulous dinners with Nancy and Peck (that’s him manning their backyard pizza oven below while dog ‘Stache keeps an eye out for scraps), breakfast burritos both mornings (Jeannine’s had the edge on taste, Daily Grind on value) and a very restful and rejuvenating time looking at this view (far right) from Uncle Ron and Aunt Mary Jane’s place.

When we returned to Brody’s to go over everything, we were introduced to Soren, electrician and, naturally, vintage Airstream enthusiast.  Where do all these people come from? Everybody out here loves old trailers! Anyway, Soren knew immediately what we had in mind and he proceeded to do an awesome, super-neat job connecting all the wires Ben ran beneath the walls to the fuse box and new batteries.

So for now, while we await next week’s appointments for propane (Monday), solar (Wed) and floors (Friday), Ben has a ginormous punch list to go through – installing electrical boxes and light fixtures, finishing woodwork, and who knows what else. I get to go shopping – snagged tons of cool stuff for storage/shelving at Ikea yesterday – showcase to come. Later today I’ll be putting on ratty clothes so I can polish up the bad boys below before they begin their lives supplying life blood to our fridge, stove, water heater, and bbq.  Sigh. Only Ben (and polisher Collin, of course) would demand such aesthetic perfection.

Propane tanks about to get clean.

Propane tanks about to get really shiny.

Some Quintessential LA Experiences (alongside, of course, Airstream restoration)

Despite getting our first noise complaint from a neighbor (and so agreeing to limit the use of all saws to between the hours of 930am and 4pm, Sundays off), we’ve made major headway on our respective projects. Ben is well into the dinette/bed project which started as the sketch below. Getting the measurements to fit within the space but also the norms for sitting, eating, sleeping, etc has been challenging but fun – gets you really thinking about and imagining using the space.

Rough sketch of bed/dinette

Rough sketch of bed/dinette – just turn your head a little to the right….

He zipped the framing together pretty quickly, puzzling over the joints and posts the most. After a casual conversation with Mr. Peplow on a trip to borrow his band saw, Ben came away with the idea to use birch plywood for the panels instead of luan and to clear finish them instead of painting. Ben gave the birch panels the beadboard treatment by running them through the table saw at 2 inch intervals (as he did on the closet and bathroom doors) and as of this very moment, the two side benches are complete and permanently installed. He’ll tackle the back bench next, and oh, those corner curves. Between 930 and 4, not on Sunday.

In the meantime, my cushions have seen much progress, with help from Rebecca at Sew LA, where I went to an open workshop class.  She thoughtfully pointed out not only what was wrong with what I had done so far, but two ways to improve- cramming more piping into my corners, so when you turn them right side out, there is plenty to go around; and more painfully, in order to get more accurate measurements on my cut pieces, I had to make and use paper patterns. You’d think a rectangle is a rectangle – how hard can it be to cut accurately? But fabric is slippery stuff, whereas paper isn’t. If you pin your fabric to paper, then cut, you’ll do better. Rebecca (with a third tip!) also suggested I up the quality of my fabric to something thicker, with a denser weave. So, my Project Runway dreams were, I won’t say fulfilled, but explored as I first trekked to LA’s garment district for better fabric, then patterned up.

Finally, we had some visitors this week, and while they are all special, some were actual celebrities! (A quintessential LA experience!) All agreed to pose for pictures below. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, who live up the street and I used to babysit a ton for, came by for happy hour and Mrs. A. was the first to sit on the completed napping couch cushion! Cousin Michele Steele, based in Boston for ESPN but also a sub on SportsCenter, Uber’d over from work meetings in LA. (When I drove her back, traffic piled up because of a brushfire – sadly, like earthquakes, another quintessential LA experience.) A friend from high school was in town to give a book reading – you can purchase Liam Callanan’s latest on Amazon or preferably your local independent bookstore. And finally, Michelle, my neighborhood BFF from when I was a kid, was in town. I hadn’t seen her in years and hadn’t ever met her kids, to whom she is a celebrity, and to me too because she is getting her Masters in Math! Lots of catching up about our whether or not purple and red were still our favorite colors, Little House on the Prairie, bike riding, candy eating, Dodger games and Barbies. And about who dared who to eat (dry) cat food (she dared me, and I did). When Michelle was nine and I was eight, she moved four miles away (ugh) to a house with a pool (yay!) and we wrote each other letters. How sweet!

Last but not least in the construction updates, below is a little project that turned into a medium-sized one. Ben put the cabinet doors on the aluminum overhead cabinets. We used the same Union Jack aluminum sheeting that’s on the endcap shelves. Somehow completing this project just makes the interior look a ton more finished. Don’t you think?

Knobs and latches still to come on those upper cabinets.

Knobs and latches still to come on those upper cabinets.

And to round out the recreation and shopping department, we finally made it to the Rose Bowl flea market – say it with me: another quintessential LA experience! It was not overwhelming, as we were fortified with breakfast burritos and lemonade. Some scenes below, including a few items that caught our eye, but were not purchased.

We DID however purchase the lovely Pyrex refrigerator dishes below. Prices really varied, but we were happy with the collection and deals we got. They will be put to good use, starting with looking pretty in this little vignette with a finished cushion and the dinette in progress, atop the now restored Westinghouse cabinet from last month’s flea market! So much progress! Until next time….