Whenever I think about the project as a whole, I get overwhelmed. It's just so big. Back when I led wilderness canoe trips, I told kids to focus on each paddle stroke or each step of a portage. If you put enough of the small steps together, you end up going quite a ways. I feel like that applies to me here.
My focus has been sealing up the roof so that when winter comes the snow stays outside. There are still some big holes, but I completed a milestone today. I filled and sealed the old AC hole with a brand new Fan-tastic Fan.
In the photos below you can see the progression from old monstrosity to sleek technology. I'm planning on stubbing in 110-VAC and a drain line to the hole between the skins, just in case I want air conditioning in 10 years. For now, the old had to go!
I'm sealing everything with Trempro 635 - it is the modern version of Vulkum. A polyurethane-based sealant, it is supposedly better than anything else for aluminum. (I'd like to shake the guy who used tar.) I put new rivets in all the old, unneeded holes from the AC support plate that I removed from the roof. Then I caulked the inside with the Trempro. I think this is the best way to fill those holes. If anyone knows a better way, please let me know!
I have the front astrodome hole to fill, the fridge and heater vents to cover and/or patch, and several plumbing vents to recover. Then all I need to do is seek out and caulk every last seam leak. No problem! (Ugh. One paddle stroke at a time.)
I had to hit the pause button on the airstream project for a little while, though not completely. I purchased several tubes of sealant and I am working on sealing the many leaks of the exterior skin. Funny how there is a perception that Airstreams don't leak -- I sure thought that was the case. It turns out that from everything I read the exact opposite is true -- they ALL leak. The best thing to do is what I'm doing; remove the interior skins and seal the outer from the inside. The other task I'm picking away at is continuing to deal with the old AC hole. It turns out that the gentleman (I've used other words this past week) who installed the AC in the first place chose to seal it with tar. Nevermind that the perfect sealant for aluminum has existed since before the 1960s and is just about as cheap as tar. It was called Vulkum and worked great on aluminum. I had to order it online, since it wasn't local. It has been reformulated and is now called TremPro 635. Tar, as you might imagine, is a wee bit harder to get rid of. In fact the old Vulkum, where the Airstream used it, peels off in my hand, despite still being relatively pliable and a good seal after 50 years.
The main reason for my slowdown is the start of the school year. I teach 1st grade and today was our first day of school. If you ever wanted to see the work a teacher puts into the classroom before the kiddos arrive, look no further! My time lapse video from the airstream make me think to do the same for the several days it took to set up my classroom. I apologize for the tangent:
I finally finished removing the interior skins! There were a ton of rivets to drill out! The worst rivets were the solid "buck" rivets along the top of the centerline. The drill constantly wanted to walk off the rivet and the thicker rivet was tough to get through. I could only drill a dozen or so at a time before having to do something else; it was so hard on my arms and shoulders. But it is done now!
Looking forward, I need to get the exterior skin watertight. It turns out that there are zero suppliers of aircraft grade aluminum in the Billings area - shocker right? I called the Edwards Jet Center and the mechanics there were graciously willing to put my order in with theirs!
I also need to fill the two vent holes in the top. The center hole (formerly an air conditioner) will be filled with a Fan-tastic Fan. It seems they are aptly named, having a thermostat to come on automatically and even a rain sensor. When we are out of the trailer (hiking or whatnot), it will close itself in the rain. The front vent was originally an astradome - a double-sized vent. Somewhere in its lifespan, an owner removed it and put in a terrible skylight. The frame was made of wood. Seriously, wood on the exterior of an Airstream? Have you no soul?
I could retrofit this vent back to the original, but that would take a ton of work and no small amount of money. So I called up a local company, Associated Glass. They are making me a custom, double-pane, heat-reflective, laminated-glass window. It will end up costing less than the plastic cover I'd need to retrofit. Win! It won't open, but since the Fan-tastic Fan is significantly better than any option of 1963, I think it balances out.
I sure hope freon is as nontoxic to humans as I remember my high school chemistry teacher saying. I'm also really sorry for the Ozone Layer. Yesterday, I managed to douse myself in a freon shower and vent the rest to the sky. I'm receiving my penance since, despite three showers in 12 hours, my skin still smells a bit like gasoline (and I'm a speaker at a conference today).
So the story is this: I freed up the AC from its mounts two days ago, but it was massively too heavy. Way too hard to move without destroying the fragile aluminum skin of the Airstream. So, I decided to take the unit apart in pieces. Makes sense, right? My brilliant idea was to crimp the copper tube between the radiator and compressor, cut it between the two crimps and keep the gas inside until I could take it to be recycled. (Sorry the picture doesn't show the tube. Covered in freon, I forgot about photos.) You've guessed already, being smarter than me, that 50-year-old copper tube is not as flexible as the new stuff. When I went to crimp it, I got a shower. It was more like a freon-pressure-wash. I'm really happy that I didn't fall off the ladder.
My neighbor, Kyle, spontaneously came over and helped me lift both pieces down. He said it was because he didn't want me to die. Regardless, I'm pretty sure I would not have been able to do it myself. I'm always jealous of tall people. And strong people.
Another friend, Mike, came with his truck and helped me take the interior furniture scraps, wood cabinet pieces, and metal tanks to the dump. I saved a few pieces to make patterns, but most was garbage. The old stainless steel freshwater tank was a two-man lift; it was so long and heavy. I'm happy to be putting lightweight plastic tanks back in. We recycled the metal that we could, but much of it was sent to the landfill. Now all the garbage is out of my driveway! Another task that would have been impossible without a friend. I'm thankful for those two friends.
Hopefully the freon smell on my skin goes away soon.
Actually, it was Wyoming and not all that far. Out west, drive time is always measured in hours. I found our 1963 Airstream TradeWind via Craigslist on Monday (today is Saturday). I was lucky to be the first person to respond and see it because there were many folks lined up behind me. On Tuesday we found it in a farm field in Wyoming and agreed on the purchase price of $2,500. I'm told it was a steal. That bull seemed unhappy to part with it at least.
Yet, it's not in the greatest shape. The floors are rotted and since it has been parked in a field for a year, mice have left their mark. I'm certain the inner walls will need to be removed and the insulation redone. It's rough.
The previous owner had big plans for it and started the process of gutting it, but plans change and her next adventure with a tiny house is very exciting. So my start with this Airstream begins with all of the furniture removed and an empty inner shell. Lots of the hard work was already done by the last owner. I hope she reads and enjoys this blog.
The previous owner's work:
I'm not an Airstream Jedi, yet. Airstream Jedi would have sounded presumptuous, like I know what I'm doing. That couldn't be further from the truth. Padawan is a title I can hope to live up to.
Knots Per Hour
My friend Mike is building an airplane. Check it out.