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 10) – New Carpet

The old carpet was 20 years old and had done it’s job, it was getting pretty rough. Plus the new dinette requires carpeting in places that used to be covered up, so new carpet was needed. I went to Lowes and found pretty much the exact same carpet in the rolls of carpet they have there against the back wall, and for $40 got a 12 x 7 piece cut and rolled up.

I made room on the back patio as it is the only place big enough to roll this out. I put it face down, and laid the old carpet on top of it. Then I traced around the old carpet with a sharpie. Then I went to the trailer and carefully measured the new dinette and marked it on the carpet too. I measured the width of the aisle in several spots and ended up with what I thought was pretty close.

I don’t know why it looks so dirty in the picture, it was quite clean!

And then I cut it out.

When Dave got home we wrestled it into the trailer, lined up the side that went against the kitchen cabinet and entryway, and it all kind of fell into place, leaving just a bit of trimming around the new dinette.

And I’d say that looks like a success!

We are just over one week until our first Airstream Rally of the year, and just a bit of this and that left to do!

Airstream Remodel (Part 9) – Exterior Electrical Port

The current setup for plugging the trailer into electric when parked is to run an extension cord down through a hole in the floor and bellypan and plug that into the outlet. One of the downsides to this is that there is a hole which mice can use to climb up the cable and enter the trailer. So over the years I try to plug it by stuffing it full of steel wool scrubbie pads or whatever, but it isn’t a great solution. Also, feeding that extension cord out is a PITA, it is thick and stiff and hard to wrestle down through that hole, and so I usually just use a lighter weight cord which I can run up through the hole. You know what, it would be nice to just eliminate that process all together. So I purchased a marine exterior electrical port.

NOTE: Do not take my word for how to do anything, I just followed the instructions. I am not an electrician!

Step one – I cut a hole in the trailer. There was not much space to play with, but it just fit between the existing electrical fuse box, and an interior rib.

Honestly, getting up the guts to drill the hole was the hardest part, and then I had Dave do it! He cut through the interior aluminum first, then confirmed there was no wiring in the way, then continued through the exterior aluminum.

Next, install the mounting bezel. I don’t know why I used pop rivits, I have Olympic rivits in my toolbox, I just forgot about them.

So far, so good. Now, cut off the existing cord, which is already wired into the fusebox – this way I don’t have to open up the fusebox and do anything with it. The color coded wires in the cord matched the color coded ports in the socket, so no problem wiring it up.

Getting the whole thing snapped back together was tricky because I think the cord is thicker than intended for this outlet, but I got it.

Fastened down, nothing here is going to be moving around. That wire wrapped up behind the box is a pre-wire for an air conditioner, it’s not hooked up to anything.

The only trick fastening it down was that there were pre-drilled holes in the bezel, but because I turned it a little to miss riviting into the rib next to it, the holes did not line up to have the port oriented the way I wanted it. I drilled my own holes and got it mounted. I pre-painted it silver so it wouldn’t stand out so much.

Next – attach the new connector to the remainder of the cord.

This was also pretty self explanatory. No issues.

The new plug has a waterproof casing that screws onto the outlet, so the whole thing is very secure once plugged in.

Another benefit is that now that heavy cord, which used to take up the entire side access area, can be stowed in the rubbermaid tub I carry in the car with other stuff for setup, and that will leave more storage space in the utility area.

One last check to make sure everything is hooked up correctly:

Repainting the Airstream/Smoked Out

Pre-Covid (in the before-times) I had big plans to make some improvements to our little Airstream Caravel (grey tank, new wheels and hubcaps, new front window guard, glass side window to replace the plexiglass one) and get it out more this year. So much for that. But, now that I sold the Mustang, I figured I had a little Mustang money saved up that I could allocate to it and make those upgrades – except now everything is indefinitely out of stock.

The tongue and the bumper have been slowly getting cruddier looking, and they needed some work, and that was something I could easily do with things I could find at the hardware store. So I removed everything off the tongue and got to it, scrubbing every place with a degreaser to get it ready for paint. Luckily the rust was just mild surface rust.

I used this stuff to try and assure any rust that was still on there would get stopped. I tried to get all the nooks and crannies, especially around the equalizer bar hooks, and underneath.

Once that was done I dug around my spray paint collection and found a metallic silver, and decided to go for it. If I hate it, I can repaint it later.

I wish I’d masked off the jack before I sprayed!

Since this was going so well, I moved on to the rear bumper. It looked pretty crusty from multiple layers of paint over the years. So I grabbed the Mouse sander and smoothed it all out. Paint flakes were flying everywhere!

And then I laid on a couple coats of that black rust-killer paint.

I got more serious about masking back here.

And finally another layer of the silver metallic. At first I thought it was too metallic, but it’s starting to grow on me.

Then a foul wind blew in, and we were suddenly in a crisis caused by a windstorm and wildfires all around us, and the air was hazardous to breathe, and things were quite apocaplyptic!

Well, shit…

So I popped on my respirator and ran out and reassembled the tongue in case we needed to grab the trailer and get out of town in a hurry.

Ready to roll!

So for a week we were stuck inside, trying to keep the smoke out.

Eventually it was over 500, which is just nuts. It’s terrifying to be inside your house, knowing you shouldn’t breathe the air outside. We kept the pets in, and just let the dogs out for potty breaks, then shooed them right back inside, which made everyone unhappy. Our cat, Mighty, started attacking out feet just because she was pissed about staying inside. The dogs were bored. Luckily we could still work, and Dave went out and photographed a few houses, and wore the respirator when he had to be outside. Crazy times. Finally the winds came back and blew it away.

A few days later we got wind and rain, and were back to normal. This will do for now. None of those other trailer projects HAVE to get done right away. The trailer is ready to use as is, and we have reservations coming up soon for Deceptions Pass, which is exciting because it’s a new part of WA for us. Off to the San Juans we go!

Spring trailer trip

We started off spring by breaking the trailer out of hibernation well before Memorial Day for a change.

Everything was ready to go, except for a very tiny leak at the new water hammer prevention device. The good news was that the device worked very well.

We headed out to Cape Disappointment. You are guaranteed a good time with a name like that!

We got a nice spot in the campground, but it was very narrow, and we could barely set up the dog yard. All the space was behind the trailer.

Barclay, stealing stuff

Dave had a talk to him about his behavior, and how we expect better of him now that he’s 11.

Navi was a good girl, as always.

No complaints, it was a very pretty weekend. We hiked up to a WWII defense installation and saw the bunker and where the cannons were mounted. Looks like a goldfish pond now.

We had lunch in town at our favorite diner – located in a caboose! We explored a bit and stopped at the grocery store. I waited in the car with the dogs and I felt a bump – someone had backed into the side of the Flex with an old pickup truck! Before I realized what happened they drove off! How annoying!

We had two lovely days and then it was time to head home.

When we got home the trailer was rewarded with its Spring Bath

I hope we get it out more often this summer!