New shoes for the Airstream

I replace the tires on the Airstream every 5-7 years, because it doesn’t get used enough to worry about wearing down the tread. My only concern is sun damage and just plain deterioration from age. I’m pretty serious about this, because with a dual axel trailer, you can have a tire go flat and still limp to someplace where you can get it fixed, but a flat on a single axel trailer will be a much bigger deal, and a blowout on an Airstream has the potential for a lot of damage. I’ve seen people sustain serious damage to the aluminum sides and the underside of their Airstreams from a blowout. And as Dave likes to say, as long as the Airstream is rolling along behind us, we can make a good trip out of anything else that goes wrong, so we’ve got to keep it rolling!

It was time to get new shoes this year, but my usual tire guys were not much help. I wanted to replace my old steel wheels and go to something powdercoated, with trim rings and hubcaps, but they said they couldn’t get the right wheels. I tried the biggest tire place around, and after spending an hour waiting to talk to someone and explaining everything I wanted to do, in person, they never called me back, even after I tried to contact them again several times. So I finally turned to mail order, and found exactly what I needed on https://www.vintagetrailersupply.com/

15 x 6 black powder coated wheels with new tires mounted and balanced, and dome hubcaps.

They arrived all aired up and ready to roll!

The dome hubcaps are nice and shiny, but very thin.

My friend Scott came over and helped me install them. We moved it to the driveway so we’d have a solid place to jack it up. You have to be really careful when jacking up these old Airstreams and only jack from the approved spot which is on the frame behind the wheels, or the axel mounting plate. I always go for the mounting plate, because the old frame doesn’t need any extra stress put on it if I can help it!

And, tah-dah, the new wheels and tires look great, and I love the hubcap. The only downside is that hubcap is so fragile it got dented just from popping it on by hand. Anyway, it looks better than the old set, so I’m happy for now. And now I can swap one of the old wheels onto the spare carrier on the front, because the current spare is from 2004 and I really wouldn’t want to rely on it in a pinch!

Airstreaming at the beach

For my next trip of the season, I headed out all by myself for the first time ever! Dave was doing a play, and I already had this club rally scheduled, and I wanted to go. I feel like it’s not fair to make Dave feel bad because I have to just sit home when he’s in a play, and it’s not fair for me to have to skip doing things I want to do while he does his stuff. So he gave me some lessons on backing up the little beast, and I packed up and headed out on my own.

First stop was in Newport, Oregon for lunch where it was so foggy I couldn’t even see the sea!

I had planned my trip to take this little break, stretch my legs and have lunch at our favorite spot at Nye Beach. I was a little nervous leaving the trailer parked over by the performing arts center, but it looked like the easiest place to park a trailer. Luckily it was still there when I got back.

I got to the park in Florence, OR, and the hosts had warned us all the night before that a scheduling mix up had changed us from each having our own spot, to sharing a big parking lot. This actually worked really well. All the tow vehicles were parked over in a corner, and we got to camp in a semi-wagon-wheel formation. It was great! The host helped me back into my spot, and we were all set!

I was the oldest trailer there by far that weekend. The whole point was to be a boondocking rally, which was more nerve wracking for some of the campers with new trailers who were used to having hookups. I was used to boondocking anyway, and have very simple needs, so it was no biggie for me. It got a little warm one day, but I popped open the windows and put on the awnings, and it was cool and comfy inside.

I went South on the first day and explored the dunes a little bit. I huffed and puffed my way to the top of a dune for a view up and down the coast, and even saw whales spouting not too far out to sea!

Then I headed down to the marina for lunch at a chowder shack on the marina, which was delicious, and walked around on the docks looking at the cool boats.

Also watched this bird successfully catching it’s lunch.

I have this plan in the back of my head that someday I am going to do a photography project where I go photograph all the arch bridges in Oregon, particularly up and down the coast.

I finished up my day at an overlook near my campground, and you can just see the dunes stretching off into the distance. What a unique part of the beach! This is very different from the Northern Oregon beaches that I am used to!

The next morning I headed out early to visit Heceta Head Lighthouse. I wanted to beat the weekend crowds, and it worked, there were very few people at the beach. I wasn’t expecting this, but there were tidepools to visit, and a couple volunteer rangers hanging out to answer questions.

A few years ago we heard a lot about the starfish suffering from a wasting disease that was destroying the populations off the Oregon coast, so it was nice to see these big healthy specimens. These were quite large, bigger than my hand! The rangers said they are recovering nicely.

I think they are really cool looking!

I hiked up the short path to the lighthouse. First you come to the old keepers house, which is run as a B & B now. It was a really cute house.

And then finally to the lighthouse, which wasn’t open yet because I was too early! I saw the ranger going up the hill as I was going back down!

I headed up to Yachats to visit a popular bakery (the line was out to the street!), had lunch in a historic pub, and then drove back towards camp, stopping at every wayside along the way. The clouds parted and it was beautiful! Also, the crowds weren’t nearly as bad here as they are on the Northern beaches. I think it’s worth the extra drive to have a little more solitude! This was on a beautiful summer Saturday!

Almost back to camp, I parked on this overlook and just relaxed in the car watching for whales. It was really peaceful.

That was the whole adventure. Every evening we had Happy Hour back at camp, played some cornhole, and sat around the fire after dinner chatting. The next morning folks started heading out and I headed out fairly early too, just so I wouldn’t feel like I had to rush. I stopped at a rest stop along the way, and another random Airstreamer pulled in after me and just waved to check and make sure I was ok with my little vintage trailer! Very kind! Later I stopped at another rest stop to cook some lunch in the trailer, and one of my fellow campers stopped right after me and said hello.

Finally I made it home and backed the trailer into the driveway all by myself, and it only took 3 tries! My first solo trip was over. It’s always more fun if Dave comes along, but it’s nice to know I can go out on my own if I have to also!

North Cascades VAC Rally

About a week after returning from Camano Island, I had fixed up the problems I found with my remodel (all minor), and we headed back up North to Rockport, WA for a Vintage Airstream Club rally. It was at Howard Miller Steelhead Park, a beautiful county park right on the Skagit River. We had two loops mostly full of Airstreams, with a big field and picnic shelter in the middle.

I was hoping to get some fishing in, I brought my fly rod and gear, but the water was so high from the spring rains, there were no banks to fish from!

The hills around the campground were beautiful, with their heads in the clouds.

This is at a nearby campground we explored while wandering. Beautiful moss covered trees!

We stopped at the Oso Landslide Memorial. I remember watching this on the news. It’s so sad. Such a beautiful area, my heart goes out to those people killed, and the survivors, of the sudden, enexpected landslide that wiped away their neighborhood. That hill in the distance is where the land slid off the face of the hill, and came all the way out to the highway behind us, wiping out everything in its path.

I don’t know what this mountain was called, I was thinking it was White Horse or something. There are amazing mountains everywhere around here. We headed South and did a loop drive around through Granite Falls to Arlington on Hwy 530. At one point we stopped for a quick nap and I took Navi for a quick walk, and there was a deer right by the road watching us! We stopped for lunch at a little thai place in some town and Navi was able to join us on the patio.

Her first time eating out!

I think this was Dave after we got back from an afternoon of wandering, doing tech support for his Dad.

The next morning Dave woke me up at 5:30am to tell me there was a siren going off! Indeed, it sounded like an air raid siren, Id never heard anything quite like it!

It went off for a couple minutes then stopped, and silence! What does that mean? Was the river next to the park about to wipe us out? Did we need to evacuate? I looked outside and expected to see people standing around discussing it, but nobody was up.

So I dressed and took Navi out, and saw lights on in a neighbor’s trailer and knocked, and asked if she knew what it was, and she said she didn’t, but figured we would hear more if it was important. I tend to think a siren is always important!

So Navi and I wandered down to the next loop where my friend/coworker Janet was camped, and knocked to see if she was up, and she was, but she didn’t know anything either. Meanwhile Dave was looking online for emergency alerts and couldn’t find any. I ended up chatting with Janet about work and stuff for a bit.

Later that day my neighbor had gone into town and bought something at the hardware store, and the clerk told her a log truck had crashed, and the siren was how they call the volunteer fire dept out! Mystery solved!

We decided to head East on Hwy 20 and explore more of the North Cascades National Park. Last time we were here we went as far as Diablo Lake, and turned back. Well, it turns out the best roadside views are juuuuust past it: Like, literally around the next bend.

Oh my goodness, so pretty! The turquoise water is caused by glacial runoff. The mountains are so high and craggy! And this is only half the view!

Stunning!

Looking at the tourist brochure, I saw something called the Liberty Bell, and I wanted to see that too, so we kept driving. The good stuff is always just a little bit farther! And when would we ever be out here again? We kept driving until we were on the dry side of the state.

Totally worth it!

We stopped at a roadside viewpoint, and Navi did great walking around all the people, even with the narrow pathways at the stop.

We went all the way to Winthrop for lunch. It’s a little old-timey looking tourist trap. Old buildings and wooden sidewalks. It was packed even though it was a Friday. We got a lunch and went and sat in a shady public area with picnic tables to eat. We could watch people playing mini-golf down below the deck. And of course, on the East side, it was HOT, so I tried to keep Navi comfortable.

On the way back we stopped to play in the snow. I couldn’t believe there was still snow!

Dave being a goofball

We got back too late to join our fellow campers for potluck, but boy did we have a full day!

Navi did super on this trip, but by the end she was getting pretty tired of the whole thing. Tired of strangers coming into HER trailer to check out the remodel, tired of people trying to pet her, and tired of going for rides in the car! She really did good though. It is asking a lot of her.

Concrete is just down the road from Rockport, and they are, obviously, very proud of their concrete.

On the way home we stopped at a McMennamins and thought we would just grab lunch to eat in the trailer, but then saw they had a patio, and dogs were welcome! So Navi got to eat out for a second time, and she had a nice safe little corner next to our table. the hostess brought her a little cup of water, and even came back with a piece of bacon for her later!

So other than getting through all the usual Seattle traffic (which runs roughly from Everett to Centralia it seems) we had a nice safe drive home, and another adventure was in the books!

Camano Island

Our first planned trip with the newly remodeled trailer had to be scrapped because the Flex broke down and was in the shop having it’s rear end worked over. But finally we were able to make it out and try somewhere new – Camano Island, WA.

Because it was close to July 4th, Scott & Sherry were out camping, so Navi got to go camping with us. She doesn’t get car sick anymore, but she really doesn’t enjoy it, so we try to leave her home as much as possible, but this time she was trapped with us.

We got an amazing spot at Camano Island State Park. No hookup, and it could only fit a smallish trailer, but it was perfect for us, and look at that view! The park was pretty full, and this mid-week opening was the only one I could find all summer.

This spot was tight! I would not have wanted to try and squeeze a big trailer in there, the spot was curved and uphill. It was tricky even with the tiny trailer. The tow vehicle ended up side by side with the neighbor’s picnic table, but our spot, being behind the trailer, actually felt very private. The only thing we would have enjoyed more was if there weren’t so many mosquitos!

The new layout was a hit. It was really nice to have a bed always available for lounging, and the table for meals.

What a view from the door!

It’s hard to see but if you look out on the horizon you can see Mt Ranier.

We really enjoyed watching the boats go by on the straight. We spent a day cruising around the island from end to end, found a nice park to picnic in with a view one day. Another day we picked up lunch at a nice resteraunt at the golf course and took it to a nearby beach to sit on the logs and eat, but it was a bit awkward. I guess we are grown-ups now, we’d prefer a picnic table, at least! Still, we had fun exploring.

Seattle, on the way home. I always get a kick out of seeing the Space Needle!

Airstream Remodel Complete

And here it is! Just for a quick reference, here’s how it looked before – Dinette in the front, couch/pull out bed on the side:

And now…

So there we go! It took me all winter, but I think the result is a layout that looks like it could have come from the Airstream factory and will be more practical, and more comfortable to use. Hopefully the composting toilet will prove it’s worth as well! Next winter I will do the kitchen countertop to match the new table, but this time I did all I could with the time I had available, because now it’s time to go camping!

Airstream Remodel (Part 12) – Finishing up the details

Just a few things left to go – first off, venting the composting toilet.

The plan is to vent it out this hole in the floor, which is where we used to feed the electric cord out of the utility area. The rim on this hole stands up about 1/4 inch, which is a little bit of a problem.

So I measured it and cut a 1/4 inch riser for the fan – just enough to lift it up and clear that lip.

I took that out and it fit perfectly over the hole.

Ignore that gaping hole in the floor, it is stable. That is the original floor, everything forward of that was replaced in 2004.

I attached a couple more wires to the fan so it would reach over to the junction block. I wrapped them in a plastic wiring loom to protect them and tucked it into the channel below the door opening, and fastened them down to the floor.

Over at the junction I added them to the last open spot on the fused block, and attached the ground to the ground block. I also finished hooking up the 12v plug over the bed and got it plugged in and fastened down as well. I don’t want anything shaking loose while going down the road.

I know it looks chaotic, but it’s all pretty stable. The stupidest thing there is that towel, which I put there to soak up some water from a tiny leak in that water hammer device, but putting the towel under it lifts it up just enough that it makes it stop leaking, so as long as the towel stays there, everything stays dry!

Looking down on my new fan install, I was able to hook up the vent tube, which goes to a section of hard PVC back to the battery compartment:

The flexible tube then goes through the wall into the closet:

And goes out through a hole I cut in the fiberglass bathroom shell to the toilet. And I’ll just add that hole was hard to cut, in fact the hole saw gripped that fiberglass and STOPPED and the drill body turned so hard I thought I’d sprained my wrist, but it seems to be ok. Scared me though! I turned the clutch way down on the drill to stop it from doing that to me again as I finished the cut, and went at it very gently.

And then the vent attaches to the composting toilet. The fan at the other end will pull air from the toilet, to help keep the composting container at the right level of moisture. It’s also supposed to help keep bugs from finding it. There are screens on both the intake on the other side of the toilet, and inline in the ventilation hoses close to the fan. So that completes installation of the composting toilet.

While I was hooking up the fan, I looked over and decided that the new electrical outlet needed to be sealed around the edge to help keep water from leaking in and getting inside the walls. So I carefully put a bead of Par-Bond around it, which is an aluminum colored sealant.

The cushions arrived last week, so now that everything is finished, I can do a quick clean up, get the water refilled and check for leaks, and put everything back together.

Airstream Remodel (Part 11) – Composting Toilet

Let’s talk about toilets! Our Airstream’s original owners manual from 1968 explains how to find a campsite by pulling up to a farmer’s house and asking them if you can have a spot in their field for the night. And it also tells you how to dig a ‘gopher hole’ and put your trailer over it so the black tank can empty directly into it! And because this is how they camped in 1968, they must have thought they wouldn’t need a very big black tank – 8 gallons ought to do it.

Well, in this modern world where you can only dump at dump stations, 8 gallons is not going to last you very long when camping without hookups, which is how we usually camp since we frequent State Parks and other semi-wild places. Even when camping for a long weekend at Trout Lake, the toilet would be full by the end of the trip. It was definitly limiting how long we could stay without needing to hook up and go find a dump station.

Over the years I have heard more and more people talking about Composting Toilets. Most people sing their praises, and say they would never go back. Years ago when I first started looking into it I discovered Gone With The Wynn’s videos about their composting toilet on their RV which they used fulltime.

I was pretty convinced that this seemed like the thing we needed to free us from Black Tank Anxiety on our trips. From what I was hearing, although you still have to empty the urine tank regularly on trips, the poo tank can go all summer for people who are only occasional weekenders, as we are.

So last year I ordered an AirHead Composting Toilet. There was a long wait to get it delivered, but that gave me time to ponder how to install it. The bathroom in the Caravel is small, and the black tank is above the floor, and the bathroom has a fiberglass shell that goes above it, and the toilet sits on top of that. So the toilet is up high, and the composting toilet is even taller. I was going to need to not only mount the toilet somehow, but I would need a footrest as well.

The other consideration was that I did not want to permanently change the original toilet mount. Because I might end up hating the whole composting toilet thing! Or I might sell the trailer someday and the next owner might not want a composting toilet. So I wanted to mount this in as non-destructive a way as possible.

I removed the toilet and plugged the hole with a device that is made for pressure testing pipes, but it worked just as well to plug that hole, and it tightens down, so it was sealed.

I started plotting how the toilet was going to fit in this space. I used cardboard to mock up a platform, and tried it on to see how it felt to sit on it. I wanted to push the toilet back farther, but you need a little room to move around, so really it had to come forward a bit. Also you need room to turn the crank on the side.

I was concerned about building a platform out of wood because it is bound to get wet from time to time. There is a place over in Portland called TAP Plastics, which is where I got the thick Lexan for my front window guard. I went over there with my template and talked to them and ended up buying a 3/4 inch thick industrial cutting board plastic. This stuff is very stiff, it doesn’t flex at all, and it can be cut and drilled like wood, and of course will be easy to clean and sanitize. It is waterproof, so if we wanted to take a shower in the wetbath (we never do, it’s too small), it would not get damaged.

I cut it to shape, and built a support to lift it up above the existing toilet flange. Then I added a couple supports for the footrest where it will be touching the existing fiberglass tub.

I mounted it using the same 4 screws on the flange that the original toilet mounted with. I made inset holes enough for the nyloc nuts to be recessed so the toilet can sit on a flat surface. Then I mounted the toilet/urine bucket brackets, and screwed the whole thing down. It is nice and solid.

Next I have to figure out how to mount the venting tube so it can vent out through what used to be the electric cord hole up in the utility area. Looks simple enough!

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.

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!