Airstream Remodel (part 8) – Re-finishing the woodwork

After I got the other new pieces of woodwork done, I was so impressed with the color of the new gel stain, and so disappointed in the color of the stain/poly blend I had used on the drawers, I decided to pull them out and re-do them. I wanted to get them right before I fastened the new pieces in place.

This stuff is THE STUFF!

You can see how dark these are comared to the wall, which is original.

I sanded everything down with 60, then back to 120, and then applied the gel stain. After wiping it off, I was much happer with the color.

I continued sanding them down between coats of poly, all the way to 400, then rubbed one final layer of poly on by hand. It is smoooooth now!

One other problem was the dinette seat closest to the bathroom was sitting on the edge of the wheelwell cover. This tipped it forward slightly. Since I had it all back in the shop, I took a dado blade and took off just a bit of the back of the frame to make room for the wheelwell lip, and it worked perfectly. The frame fit back into the trailer nice and flat.

Now I was able to reinstall them and install the backrest for the right side. The stain colors match really nicely!

The backrest matches nicely to the existing headboard.

And the piece by the door looks good and fits nicely.

That is all the major woodwork. Now I need to find some carpet.

Air Force One

President Biden made a trip through Portland yesterday, and I didn’t even realize it until later in the day after I got done with work and looked at the news. There wasn’t much time left, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do: Grab my camera and my longest lens, and head downtown to get a look at Air Force One as it flew out! I had missed my chance to see it a few years ago, and if we hurried, I might get to see it this time!

We went down to the waterfront by McMennamins, which was on the flight path out, assuming the winds didn’t change. Other folks were gathered up and down the walkway as well, including a very enthusiastic little guy who was VERY excited about it and kept telling everyone!

For a while there was nothing but eerie quiet, because all flights are stopped for a half hour before and after. Normally it is very busy here. We could see lightning off to the east past the airport control tower.

The only thing in the air was this Coast Guard helicopter.

Little bird chillin out in the bushes on the bank.

Time to ponder whatever was going on down there. Looks like a big boat being worked on!

Finally some action, about six of these guys came roaring down the river!

Coast Guard, with guns mounted on the bow! I wasn’t expecting that! There was a fisherman out on the river who moved out of their way, and a big yacht that was heading out and didn’t seem to be put off by the Coast Guard, maybe they just had to stay out of the channel or something.

And suddenly, there it was!

It’s beautiful! I have a crush on the 747 anyway, it’s always been my favorite plane, so distinctive with that second-floor cockpit and four big engines! Listen to it whine! And this particular one with it’s special color scheme, and of course ferrying around the President and other important folks and journalists. Pretty exciting!

What a beautiful airplane!

And just like that it was gone. What a cool thing to see! And I wasn’t expecting the Coast Guard activity to escort it out. That was a pretty neat thing to experience. I’m so happy I got to see it before they retire the 747 Air Force Ones!

Airstream Remodel (Part 7) – Electrical

There are a couple small electrical tasks to go along with this remodel. One is to put a light over the table, because nobody wants to eat dinner in the dark. The other is to install a 12v port by the bed so we can plug in our phones to charge them. Oh, and I will need a power source for the fan for the composting toilet. Oh, have I not mentioned the composting toilet. Oh yeah, we’re going to be doing that too.

I really got lucky with the light, because the Airstream has these nice square ceiling lights. I have three original ones, which I converted to LED a few years ago. Also a couple years ago, back before the pandemic, a friend with a 68 Airstream was cleaning out some extra stuff and gave me an extra light fixture. I didn’t needed, but she insisted, so it’s been kicking around my garage for a couple years. Well, well, it is exactly what I need now!

I contacted Dan at https://led4rv.com/catalog/index.php and ordered another LED set for the light – but he was out! Supply issues, you know? But when I told him I had hoped I could get it to match my other three lights, he scraped up the parts and put one together just for me! How awesome is that?!

I also had to order a couple 3 way switches, because this fixture didn’t have one and the one in the bathroom light had been acting a little funky for a while, so I got those from https://www.vintagetrailersupply.com/ because of course they are hard to find since they have a non-standard extra long post to fit this fixture.

It was handy to have the bathroom light out for switch replacement anyway, because then I could look at it to figure out what to do with the LED setup.

Out to the trailer we go, ready to run some new wires.

Oh, I hated to do this, but it had to be done. It will be hidden under the new fixture. I ran the wires through the upper cabinets back to the closet, where I planned to steal some power from the reading lamp. But then I realized the reading lamp wires were not long enough to splice into, and what I really needed was a junction box. This way I could take the power from the trailer, and split off the table light, reading light, and future composting toilet fan. It’s not as chaotic as it looks. I might tape those wires in place though. I don’t want anything in the closet to get tangled in a wire and pull it loose. Getting those crimp connectors on all those wires to extend them to the new junction box definitely was a challenge though. The closet is only a foot wide!

Functional light over the table!

For the 12v Power by the bed, I started out by making this super complicated little box. Then while waiting for it to dry it suddenly became clear what I should do, and I just drilled a hole in the original piece of woodwork at the head of the bed and put it there. The wires drop straight down to the front junction block, where there was an open slot just waiting for it. This is going to be hidden under the shelf of the dinette seatback.

I don’t know why I try to do things the hardest possible way sometimes.

Airstream Remodel (Part 6) – woodwork and staining

This remodel has required a few new pieces to be built around the new layout, and this one piece by the door, which used to be the end of the original dinette, just needed to be replaced, and pretty much has needed work since we bought the trailer, so it is finally getting replaced. It had many extra holes in it, old repairs, and was delaminating.

I used it as a template to cut out a new one, but with a shortened top. It doesn’t need to hold in a back cushion like the old one did, so it can be a little shorter. Also, I have always wanted a door there to access the stuff in that storage area. I need to get in there pretty much every time we set up, because I need tools out of the toolbox I keep there.

I stained it with the same all-in-one stain/poly I had used on the dinette seats/drawers, but for some reason it came out terribly blotchy, and sanding and adding more coats was just making it worse, it looked awful!

I asked on my woodworking group and one person recommended General Finishes Gel Stain, so I found some in Mahogany on Amazon (couldn’t find it loca) and waited a week for it to arrive. Once I got that in, I sanded the panel with 60/120/220 and then tried the gel stain.

Wow! It’s gorgeous! I was about to give up and toss the whole panel, I can’t believe how nice it turned out!

I glued the frame onto the door, and then gave both pieces the old sand-poly-sand-poly treatment until it was really looking good. Added a little hardware, and a few pieces on the back to help fasten it to the rest of the existing framework and the floor, and it’s ready to go in the trailer.

The other main piece is a new item – the backrest for the dinette. One side is the backrest, the other side faces the new bed and will have a shelf to hold phones and glasses. It will mate up with an existing piece of woodwork that is attached to the wall at the head of the bed, which will have a 12v power socket in it for handy phone charging.

I wanted the shelf to have a little personality, so I decided to make it curved. I cut it out to match the curve on the previous piece, and then took a thin piece of wood and soaked it in boiling water for half an hour to soften it up, so I could bend it to fit the shelf.

My first time bending wood, I was pretty excited!

Test fitting! I decided I didn’t like that pointy corner though. And the shelf needed edging on the flat side too or glasses might fall off onto the dinette side.

Much better.

I held off on staining this one until I figured out the problem with the first panel, so this one only got the gel stain used on it. And it was beautiful.

And then the ol’ sand-poly-sand-poly

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff! Look at that shine! The only problem I had was the bent wood on the shelf – where the clamps had pressed it into shape while drying, the wood did not take the stain well, and it has a light spot where each clamp was. Extra stain didn’t help. It’s no big deal, just something to think about next time I bend wood for something.

So now this piece is also done. It gets some pocketholes on the dinette side, which will be hidden by the cushions, and it is ready to install. Everything is coming together now!

Airstream Remodel (Part 5) – Cushions and a Bed

The old cusions were not quite the right size in any direction for the new dinette, so I consulted with friends who had done their own trailers, and ordered new cushions from FoamOrder.com The nice thing about this store is you can enter your exact dimentions and they will cut them to size, unlike some places that sell them like sheet goods. On my friends advice I bought hard foam seats, with a 1 inch layer of soft foam on top, and medium foam for the seat backs.

I carefully unwrapped the bundle and it sucked in a bunch of air and slowly started inflating itself – it was pretty weird!

There we go!

But when layed out flat they are tighter than I would like. I am going to need a little more room once they have batting and fabric on them.

Whipping out my handy-dandy vintage electric turkey carving knife, I lined up the edge of the bench underneith and a guide board on top, and slowly, carefully, trimmed a little off of each seat cushion.

And that gave me just enough room for them to lay flat and have a little extra space around them.

Much better. I think these are ready to go to the seamstress for covers now. I also took her a couple small throw pillows from the fabric store to cover to match the new cushions. I’m super excited to see how they all look!

Meanwhile, I think you can see what looks like a matress peeking in on the right. I was getting ready to go buy a double foam matress at Walmart to cut to size when I saw a post on my Airstream Club forum from someone selling (for cheap) the original matress from their 16ft Airstream. That caught my eye because I know the 16s have their matress in the end of the trailer, so it has two curved corners, which is just what I needed. We drove to Salem, Oregon and snapped that up. Brought it home, dropped it in place and …

Well, that is almost perfect! Let me get my handy-dandy vintage electric turkey carving knife…

Perfect! This looks ugly, but it will all be hidden under the bedding.

I made a lift-up center section to access the storage underneath, using the original table as a pattern.

I have a couple gas struts to fit on this to hold it open while we rummage around in storage. Im saving that for when the big stuff is all done. Getting close!

Airstream Remodel – (Part 4) The Table

My Wilsonart ‘Betty’ Laminate finally arrived, in a box as tall as me!

Grateful for my Mobile Workshop pieces, I laid my table saw, bench, and router table out to make a flat area big enough for the laminate to unroll and relax a bit.

First step is to cut this down to something approximately the size of the table, with a little extra on each side, which will be cut off with the trim router later.

I clamped a couple boards down to hold it still, and give my jigsaw something to ride on. I put a new blade in my jigsaw and carefully cut it. A few chips flew off here and there, but because of the excess this was not a big issue.

I put everything inside the house for a few days so it could warm up, because the contact cement warned it needed to be applied at over 50 degrees. Luckily we got a warm, if rainy, day a few days later, so I set up a sawhorse table in front of the garage (under the porch cover) for the table, and set the old trailer table on the table saw, covered in paper to protect it, and put the laminate on there. While wearing a repirator I applied the very stinky contact cement liberally to both the laminate and the table, rolling it out, and then set back and waited for it to get tacky.

No pictures of the next part, because I had my hands full, but I was able to apply it just like the instructions I had seen online, but putting dowels on the tabletop, centering the laminate, and then removing the dowels and pushing it down. Then I rolled the heck out of it with a laminate roller. Then I used a flush trim bit in my trim router and cut off the excess.

Tah-dah!

I filed the edges of the limoleum to make sure they would be easy on our hands and sanded the plywood edge of the table until is was silky smooth, and then finished it with a clear protective finish. I like the look of the bare plys.

After that all I needed to do was attach the old leg and mounting strip from the original table, and sand and refinish the mount that held the table to the wall. I’m reusing all the hardware from the original table to save some $$$, and it’s all good hardware, so why buy new? I installed the mount, with Dave’s help to get everything level, and…

..by golly, I have a new table! This is such a big step forward, I’m starting to think this project is really going to turn out ok!

Airstream Remodel (Part 3) – Utility cover

Covering the Utility Tunnel under the new dinette turned out to be trickier than expected, because there was one level I wanted to keep everything at, so the cushions will lay flat over the whole area. So I built the seats based on the height of the existing tunnel wall, and I want the covers to sit down in there flush with that.

The seats are actually 3/4 inch higher, because the tunnel covers need to be higher next to the seats, and lower in the middle area, because when the table is folded down, that is where it will go, and then the whole thing should be flat.

Because I am concerned about weight, I didn’t want to just use 3/4 Plywood for the raised part, so I used 1/2 ply, and 1/4 strips to make a frame under the ply to add up to 3/4. Maybe more work than necessary, but it also let me use some scraps instead of cutting into another expensive piece of 3/4 ply.

Then I did build the table out of 3/4 ply, because I want it to be strong and sturdy.

And by some miracle it actually all fit together and is nice and level on top. But when I looked at mounting the leg on the table, I realized I had forgotten the leg was long enough it would need to go under the table and back into the tunnel area.

This caused me a lot of headach as I tried to figure out how to remove the existing support, build a new support that would hold up the two tunnel covers, and yet make a little slot for the leg to fold up into, and there was also a limitation of how far down the whole assembly could go because the whelwell liner is in the way. I ended up needing to use my new dado blade to remove 1/4 off the bottom of the table, and then I could modify the tunnel structure just enough to get my piece in there, and by golly, it all worked, at least in theory, since the table is not fully assembled with the leg yet, but I’m confident I’ve got it worked out. Everything test fit ok.

A little bit off the table…
Just enough room for the folded up table leg.

And everything fit back together just right.

The hand slots make it easy to pull up those tunnel covers for maintenance.

Now to finish the table and get that all assembled. Waiting for my awesome retro Wilsonart Laminate to arrive…

“Betty”!

More to come…

Airstream Remodel (Part 2) – Dinette Seats

I started with the Dinette seat. They were going to be small, because they will butt up against the utility tunnel, and they will have drawers for storage. I followed Steve Ramsay’s Tablesaw Cart video because it was just what I needed, except mine was going to be even simpler. One big drawer. Or I thought it would be simpler. All the details actually got more complicated as I went along.

For one thing, things were complicated by it being so cold I had to bring everything into the house to glue up.

Super helpful, Mighty.

A little extra weight applied from the pantry.

I got a pocket hole jig which made assembly super easy.

And in no time I had two nice frames with drawers. Of course then the drawers tipped forward when you pulled them out too far, so a friend suggested rails at the top to keep them level, and then they needed to stay closed while on the road, so I added magnetic catches. I painstakingly stained them Bombay Mahogany, which I thought matched the deep reddish color in the trailer, but then I realized that the trailer was several different colors inside due to fixes done over the years. Well, now we are going with Bombay Mahogany.

Before staining I countersunk all the screws in the frame and filled the holes with a bit of oak dowel, just to hide the screw heads.

I added nice handles to kind of match what had been there before, and got them installed.

The final step was adding a piece that fit into the top for sitting on. Once that was in I could start test fitting the panels that will go over the utility tunnel.

But that is a story for next time.

Airstream Trailer Remodel (Part 1)

I have a 1968 Airstream Caravel 17′ travel trailer.

I bought it in 2003 and camped in it that summer. Then in 2004 I did a partial floor replacement, welded up cracks in the frame, replaced the axel and replaced the fridge and heater, and did a few other miscellaneous things, but left it as original as possible. I have been enjoying it like that ever since, with tweaks here and there. It is time for an update.


The original layout was a dinette in the front, and a gaucho on the side, which is a couch that pulls out into a bed. My issue with the gaucho has always been 1) we have to pull it out every night and put it away in the morning. 2) the bed design is terrible and the legs fall off frequently while you are on it and then you have to get up and put them back in. 3) If you sleep with your heads at the back end the heater blows in your face all night, and you are right next to the bathroom with it’s bathroom funk (we keep it clean, but be real, RV toilets can be funky sometimes).

We like the dinette for sitting at and eating, playing games, etc, but much of the time we will have it folded down into a lounging area.

Barclay enjoying the dinette lounge while camping.

So I decided to do some upgrades to the layout. This was a hard decision for me, because I have always taken pride in my trailer being original, and just how people have enjoyed it since 1968. But my choices were coming down to selling it and let someone else enjoy its originality, and buying another trailer to remodel to my taste, OR redo it so I could enjoy it more. I decided to stick with ‘the devil I know’ and do a remodel.

The plan is to build a two person dinette on the side, and put a permanent bed in the front. The dinette will also fold down into a lounging area, and will have storage in the seats. None of the existing utilities will be moved, so the dinette must work around the existing ‘utility tunnel’ against the wall where the wheelwell is, and the water pipes and wiring runs. The bed will not disturb the existing water tank, and will lift up for access to the two big storage areas in the corners. I think I will leave the center section of the bed open because it is handy to be able to store things under it for quick access, Well, maybe half of it anyway, if things go too far back you’d have to crawl under to reach them.

So that is my plan. It is not undertaken lightly, I put a lot of thought into it. Because I love my trailer, and all the good times it has given us. I want it to be our vacation home for many years to come.

I started by piling the entire interior of the living space into the garage, so I had room to measure and work in the trailer, and got started building the dinette.

Mighty guarding the pile of trailer interior that buried my kayak.

Off we go…to be continued.

Crater Lake National Park

One last trip before winter hits! We decided to knock off another National Park by heading to Southern Oregon and see Crater Lake.

We should have seen Crater Lake a long time ago. Both of us saw it on family trips when we were kids. We went to college in Klamath Falls, OR, and considered going to Crater Lake because it was really close, but we always ended up spending our free weekends at Tule Lake and the Lava Beds Caves. Crater Lake was always just something I had a vague idea of where it was, and we figured we’d get there sometime. We literally drove right by it everytime we drove to school and back home. But who knew after college we’d move to another state and not get around to it for <cough> 30 years?!

On the way down we stopped for lunch and Dave showed off our ability to fit into any parking lot where he can find two parking spots end to end. This is the real reason we will probably never move up to a bigger trailer. It is so convenient when travelling to know we should always be able to find a spot to park it.

On the way down the road climbed over a mountain and as it got higher, things got colder, and by the top it was sprinking snow on us, and Dave was getting skeptical about my trip planning. The weather said it was supposed to be nice all week, so I tried to keep the faith. The trip took a little longer than expected so by the time we got to Diamond Lake, it was dark. It was also only a week out from it closing for the season, and it looked buttoned up, and completely empty as we drove past the closed ranger station and wound through the empty park. We found a spot not far from the only other trailer there, right on the lake, and didn’t even bother to unhook for the night. We checked our phones and found we had no service. I made a quick dinner and Dave went out to get something from the cooler in the car, and walked back in and announced it was snowing! We went to bed and it was the darkest and questest place I think I’ve ever been, as the snow drifted down around us, nervous to see what it would look like by morning.

To our relief, the snow didn’t stick, and the roads were clear. If we had woke up to a foot of snow, with no cell phone coverage and no ranger on duty, I’m not sure what we would have done next. We decided to pull out and head up the road to my backup campground, Lemolo Lake KOA, which was even farther off the main roads, but for some reason had cell coverage and was staffed.

On the way we realized we were low on gas, and it was getting a little sketchy for driving even farther off the beaten path and then all the way back to the main highway. Luckily there was a gas station between the two campgrounds, so we stopped there first. When we got there there were two cars waiting at the pumps, and one person was walking back to their car from the building, so we figured it was open. One car left and we pulled up and waited. In Oregon you have to wait for the attendant to pump your gas. And we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally Dave went to the building and the person in the other car said she had used the phone to call the attendant, and he was on his way (from wherever he lived, apparently somewhere nearby). A couple minutes later a pickup truck pulled up and the gentleman got out and got us all gassed up! They probably don’t get a lot of customers this time of year!

We headed up to the KOA, and got all settled in. It cost a bit more, but now we had full hookups, electricity, cell service, and a little store on site. Everything we needed. I felt a lot better about leaving the trailer unattended there. There was even another Airstream.

We were finally ready to head off to see Crater Lake.

Crater Lake is inside of a mountain that has blown it’s top, leaving a crater in the middle, which filled with water. So at the slightly higher elevation of the mountain, the snow from the previous night stuck around a bit longer.

What a treat to see the rim covered in snow! I would not have planned a trip if I had known there would be snow, because we have had some bad experiences with snow driving, and the snow piles on up here in a hurry. In fact the East Rim drive was closed by snow just a few days after our visit!

For this beautiful, sunny morning, it was a winter wonderland!

The blue-green water around Wizard Island was stunning! Even more so than the photograph could capture. And..are those fish down there in the shallows?

We worked our way around the rim, stopping at all the overlooks and chatting with folks from all around the country who had come to see this natural wonder. Everyone was just so happy to be there, and amazed by the beauty of it all!

Sunglasses selfie!

We hiked up to the Phantom Ship overlook. This rock formation is apparently bigger than it looks – 16 stories tall! It is the oldest part of the original volcano – 400,000 years old!

Crater Lake is all about shades of blue.

As we went further East, we got a glimpse of cool rock formations and colorful bands showing different layers in the rock. I wish I knew enough geology to read what it is telling us!

On the east side of the lake we were eye-to-eye with Mt Scott. Looking at a map, and then looking at it later from Highway 97…(with help from Google Earth)

You could be driving down Hiway 97, see this little mountain, and not have any inkling that Crater Lake is right there on the other side of it! You are looking right at Crater Lake!

All you have to do is change your perspective a little. Imagine the view if Mt Mazama was still there!

From up there by Mt Scott we could see across the valley to the North, where we had come from. That lake in between the two mountains (Mt Bailey on the left, Mt Thielsen on the right), in the center of the picture, that’s Diamond Lake, where we stayed the first night. The KOA is a bit further North.

Between Crater Lake and the campground there was a lot of burned forest. Mt Bailey is barely visible between the charred trunks.

That night in the trailer I could just not get comfortable. The heater was squeeking, the foam matress was too thin, the leg kept falling off the gaucho (I’ve been putting up with that since we bought it), and I just wasn’t having it. I tossed and turned and in the morning we thought about what else we wanted to do down here, and decided…nothing. We came for Crater Lake, and we saw Crater Lake. We had it pretty well covered. So we packed up, and headed home.

So the next project on my list will be a remodel to fix several things about the camper which will make it much more comfortable to use next season. I’ll be sure and post to the blog as I do them.