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!


Bulkheads are Essentially Interior Walls


Painted bulkhead, aluminum channel – no gaps!


Finishing touches on bulkhead; the job started with a tick stick.

Lots of progress in the last week – highlights are really the bulkheads – essentially the interior walls – to separate the bathroom, and form the combo (little) clothes closet / home for the air conditioner. First we (recall I use the term “we” very loosely) measured using an old boat builder’s technique to take curves off the Airstream walls. The tick stick transfers the curve of the wall onto the bulkhead.  Note, like a boat, few things are plumb, level or square, so these measurements are not exactly precise, but definitely taken with care.

After much remeasuring and cutting, we were satisfied with the fit to the curves. Then, we cut lengths of aluminum channel which we were using to attach the bulkheads to the trailer walls. Ben did most of the fitting, attaching, sliding, pounding, shoving, pushing, etc to make them fit. I was occasionally brought in for support roles to stand on a board, pound a hammer, push or rivet, sometimes helping, often not so much, but consistently providing food and taking the lead on social media updates!

In the end, the aluminum channel was riveted to the interior walls, and the bulkheads were inserted into the channels, so the channel serves as a very cool and clean trim for the walls. Where there were a few gaps between the channels and the walls, we’ll just “throw in some silver goop” says Ben.

We decided we wanted to paint the bulkheads and knowing the overall color scheme will be blue, gray, and green, with of course lots of metal and wood, we settled on what we are calling a celery green. I’ve liked it from the start, it’s growing on Ben. The actual color is … I’ll look it up! from Dunn Edwards.

Other progress includes – framing out the napping couch – just long enough for me to recline on diagonally, as Old Abe had to in his boarding house death bed. Ben will be doing most of the napping anyway, so no loss.

Napping couch - perfect size for someone shorter than me!

Napping couch – perfect size for someone shorter than me!

We also borrowed a thickness planer from our longtime neighbors, the Peplows. Mr. Peplow has a wood shop (which Ben toured while Mrs. Peplow and I talked travel plans) and has most recently gotten into turning – he has quite a collection of pens he has made – look for his Etsy shop soon! It was super nice of him to not only lend the planer, but walk it over to our house and leave it with Ben for a spell.

Last weekend we visited my young and dear friend Clare and her family in Santa Monica. They have an awesome little guest house, and their girls, 4 and 1, were full of energy and fun.

Family fun! Will get their own Airstream some day!

Family fun! Will get their own Airstream some day!

Their kitchen/dining room is shaped sort of like a very large Airstream – I predict they’ll join us on the road in 15 years, or maybe sooner.

Branzino, beans, and super corn!

Branzino, beans, and super corn!

Robin made Branzino on the grill and I ruined the “food porn” photo of it with this giant lemon wedge straight from the ladies’ grille at the Country Club!

Ben is currently doing more trim carpentry – right in his wheelhouse – pure woodworking, so truly fun for him. He picked up some redwood to build the bathroom door and what we think will be sliding doors for the closet. Redwood is lightweight and beautiful! He’s also working out a cool way to mount an extra cutting board next to the stove – one that will lift and lower on hinges.

Airstream Restoration Actually Begins

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Working to achieve the necessary angles on the gray water drains.


Measuring, cutting, and trimming pretty lauan plywood for bulkheads.

The last couple of days have seen a lot of trailer progress, but days must have better eyes than we humans, because we have had a hard time seeing it.. Huh? In other words, Ben has been doing lots of time consuming bulkhead fitting, tweaking of cabinetry, gluing of plastic drain pipes … zzzzzz … this stuff is entirely necessary, but rates at the rock bottom of the crowd-pleaser scale. Just not a whole lot of visual payoff. I have helped a little bit but always end up having to take breaks to rub the sawdust off my nose and eyelashes. This afternoon we did a dry fit of our cool kitchen sink faucet just to liven things up (it looked pretty cool).IMG_7937

We have covered a lot of ground in the valley gathering materials – North Hollywood and Burbank seem to be home to the majority of the hardware/metalwork/plumbing experts and FullSizeRender (2)supply places so far. The sheet metal guy we visited had a picture of Brad Pitt hanging in his office! Metal worker for the stars! But all the stories we pulled out of him were about Mickey Rourke. Everyone is very nice out here in LA. We knew that going in, but are constantly amazed by the pleasant customer service interactions. We’ve also been searching online for materials related to tip out trays, 12 volt LED bulbs of various shapes and sizes, and table spiders. Hm.

Dinners have included Moroccan chicken thighs with yogurt sauce, and salmon coconut curry. Dad has become more interested in eliminating sugar from his diet, so he and I cooked eggs side by side this morning. All my time growing up, Dad never cooked, and hasn’t ever really. But he knew a lot, learned a little, and

Food photography tips courtesy of Pam!

Food photography tips courtesy of Pam!

we’ll cook some more for sure in the weeks ahead. I’ve been swimming at the Y, and taken our bikes in for some tweaks. Since our last post, Washington’s hockey and basketball teams have been thumped out of the playoffs, but the Nats continue to do well and we are listening to this west coast swing on west coast time. Not bad.

Oh, and it rained! A ton – an inch or two. Lightning, thunder, the whole nine yards. Drought restrictions imposed aren’t as tough as I expected – or as I remember when we were kids. Basically, you are restricted to watering your lawn on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Other than that, there are suggestions, eg a 3 minute shower at the gym and general sounds of alarm emitted by my mother when we let the water run while washing dishes. Good training for the 30 gallon tank in our future.