Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Battening Down the Hatches

Hey all! How have you been? I've been taking advantage of California's epic drought by working on sealing up the exterior before the famed El Niño rains. For those of you considering the purchase of a travel trailer, this post is for you my dear friends.

Trailers can be great. Pinterest pictures of trailers with coastline overlooks and cute interiors are great. Sleeping in while listening to the rain gently coming down on the trailer roof is beyond great. But don't be fooled- that rain is downright insidious. If I have learned anything with this rebuild, it's that everything leaks and water will find a way. This is why it is so important to be educated about it before and after purchase. As a general rule, if someone tells you that a trailer (or anything, for that matter) does not have leaks, there are three possible realities:
1. There aren't any (at the moment).
2. There are and they don't know about it.
3. There are and they do know about it.

Unfortunately, water and trailers don't get along too well. Lots of trailers are stick built, meaning their walls and roof have wooden ribbing sitting on a steel trailer frame with wood flooring. Airstreams opt for aluminum ribs but still have wood flooring. Water that finds a way in accumulates and starts rotting the wood and causing mold, sometimes completely hidden.
Finding rotted flooring is the worst....
Are we doomed every time it rains? Don't worry, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The first thing I would recommend is to be obnoxiously thorough before putting your money down. Look for the signs- discoloration, previous attempts at sealing, moisture, damp smells, soft floors, etc. This is where having another experienced trailer owner in tow is awesome!

If you are going the complete rebuild route (or have found yourself there haha!) use it as an opportunity to hose test your trailer. Every time it rained I would go inside with a roll of black electrical tape to mark places that got damp. At one point it looked like a jungle of black vines hanging down. Sometimes, it was obvious where the water was coming from. Other times, it was difficult to track it down and I had to replace several rivets to find the one that was originally causing the leak. Just keep in mind that it doesn't hurt to replace too many- it's better than not doing enough! If using a hose, start from the bottom and work your way up the trailer and that way you'll know how high up the leak is on the wall.

Once you have gone through the whole process of getting rid of the leaks (without using silicone on aluminum right? right??) make sure you make it a habit to inspect everything periodically. It may seem like overkill, and it might be! But then you can really enjoy the pitter patter of raindrops on your snug as a bug trailer with the confidence of knowing that the water is staying outside.

On my silver bullet, the rub rail that runs around the back half of the trailer like a belt was growing science projects with the accumulated dirt and moisture. The Airstream letters, the brake light housing, and every little trim piece on Trouble had the same story. While the process is tedious, each time I put another trim piece on sealed with Tempro, I shout "one less leak!!" and take comfort that I won't have to do it again and it makes it aesthetically much nicer. You want pictures, you say?
A whole box of olympic rivets!!

Really? The banana wraps are lapped backwards!

Sealed up wheel well trim.
Don't do this! Say NO to silicone!!
Night rain testing the seals...
Dad cheerfully working away.
I'm on your roofs... fixing your leaks...
These little boogers had a lot of water in them! 
Where did the windows go??
There they are! And tinted, like a boss...
Trouble also now has fancy brake light lenses from Vintage Trailer Supply! The small rectangular lens is virtually impossible to find, so I was really happy when they started making reproductions. The brake light housing itself is cast aluminum (pot metal) and quite weighty.  It is attached with rivets on the inside of the trailer, so it involves taking off the inside panels to access the rivets. Because of the weight and positioning, it is definitely a two person job (you get to pick who gets to work inside). I figure all this effort is worth it since attractive lenses will attract attention when I need to alert the world of my braking... right? We already tested the lights themselves and we are good to go.
New lenses lookin sharp!
Trim off, teal on...
Clean up time.
Travel trailers are rather whimsical creatures at best. They're big, round, grey, and rather slow. Much like manatees. So why not make a little patch to match?
The irony is that it was the only place that didn't leak...
Happy manatee!
Fun times! Now the focus moves indoors- electrical, walls,  plumbing, and furniture! Exciting stuff, but that's for another day. Take care and stay dry!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Please Step into my Office

Hi all! I've got an exciting development in the technological side of things- my trailer is now my home office! Well, almost. But I do own an internets!

Since I depend on the interwebs for my work, internet is not optional. I also go through data like it's going out of style, so depending solely on a cellular network (AKA hotspot from my phone AKA wireless tethering) would be outrageously expensive for me. The challenge arises when the lovely aluminum shell turns into a wall that blocks wifi signal from outside sources. There are many options on the market, and I went with the JefaTech antenna and repeater to pick up the wifi signal, amplify it, and rebroadcast it on my own password-protected wifi network. This relies on an existing wifi network, so out in the boonies it will have no wifi signal to pick up and therefore no connection and no lolcats. Backup plans are needed (like a friend's house, library, coffee shop, or cellular data assuming there is signal) but that's part of life in a mobile home/office.

The trick with this setup is getting the antenna in a good place for optimal signal strength. It is designed to point straight up and down and be in the "line of sight" of the wifi source. Many have mounted it on to their TV antenna with good results. My little Trouble doesn't have one anymore and I wasn't planning on adding another, since if anything I watch shows and movies on my computer. I was trying to figure a clever way to put it on the roof, but then I didn't feel comfortable with mounting it permanently in an upright position, and lowering and raising it presented other complications. After circling the trailer about 500 times in search of a good spot and at least two false starts, we came up with the best possible compromise. My engineering and machining skills are limited to napkin sketches, but Dad interpreted my jumbled idea into something that I think is really quite awesome. Behold:
It's really a lightsaber!
Venture a guess on what it is made out of! Any ideas? It's a BBQ grill handle! What will he think of next? The cable goes through the wall and pops into the interior using a rubber grommet to make a safe and sleek exit through the sheet metal. Next I hooked it up to my little repeater (Linksys router with special software) which is again hooked up to a power source. The standard is a 110v connection with a wall wart adapter or you can specify 12v pigtail connection. The actual set up of the wifi repeater took less than 5 minutes. Woohoo! When prepping for travel, just remove the top half and stow it.

The next chapter in my antenna quest was finding a solution for my AM/FM needs. I tried my best to find the hookups for this little antenna setup:
I'm missing the cable!
After it was made obvious that finding a cable that matches the size of this antenna was not going to happen, I went shopping and found a great replacement for less than $20. Since I had to make a little backing plate to make it sturdy and cover the old holes, I wanted a little more style than just a boring 'ol square shape. Then I had a brilliant idea- turn that boring 'ol square shape 45º and voilà! Instant diamond fanciness. 
Diamonds are for trailers.
ET phone home!
Now that Trouble is online and tuned in, I've got some more exciting updates for next time! See you then!

Monday, February 9, 2015

I Are Smart!

Hi everyone, long time no post! I've been doing important things like rearranging "Airstream" letters.
...depending on the day.
And on to other news- the windows are progressing, slowly (very slowly) but surely. The tinting looks awesome! 12 down, 5 to go, including the door window which is going to be a whole 'nother project.
Glamour shot!
That marine sealant is where it's at! 
Now my poor trailer had a bit of a scar on the back that was covered with an ugly patch, so we called up the famous Inland Andy and picked up the new curved panel and hauled it in my little warrior car (it fit through the trunk and over the fold down seats- hiiiiyahh!) and left it for a nice sunny day. Just kidding. It was the day after a massive downpour that had brought mass amounts of rain and wind that smashed my little car's tail light (aww) and to be followed by an equally wet day the day after. Perfect time to disassemble the whole back of the trailer! Here it goes!
Out with the old, in with the new.
Please don't rain....
Pretty please don't rain!
Dry fit before Tempro caulking and drilling holes.
All cleco'd up.
Final verdict: this was easy! Well not *easy* per se but it the process went with a lot less fuss than I had anticipated. Granted, it did pour on us for about ten minutes... oops. We also found that most of the rivets spun when we started drilling them out. This means they weren't secured tightly, which means water will enter sooner or later. It's beginning to get to the point where all rivets, especially roof rivets, are going to be replaced because of paranoia... I mean logical (completely rational) leak prevention. I swear I felt a drop...

If you're looking at a trailer to buy that has damage on these panels, be advised that these curved rear panels are all complex curves- you will have to special order them since a flat sheet will not work. If you already have it and are looking to replace the panels, the steps are pretty simple. Take out all the rivets on the panel, remove the window frame (bummer, but you really have to) and slide in the new panel under the two sheets that overlap it. Make sure you have plenty of overlap so your rivets will securely go through both layers and don't worry if there is some extra on the window side. We trimmed it off and it looked great afterwards. It's nice to have two people for working on the outside and monitoring the inside with the braces and gently nudging it to meet the curve. If you have some experience with a rivet gun and sheet metal, you got this!

On another note, a few months back some long-time family friends and vintage Airstream owners gave Trouble a special present! It's a city water hookup. In simple terms, if there is a hose bib where the trailer is parked, you can use a special drinking hose (don't use a garden hose! They leach chemicals, especially when out in the sun) and hook it up here. This is the alternative to using your freshwater tank and water pump to generate pressure for your system. When you turn on the tap, the house's water pressure sends the water through the pipes.  This handy gadget also is a pressure regulator, so if there is way too much water pressure it will take care of it so you don't have busted hoses leaking in your trailer. Such an improvement from having it next to the dump valve... ick! Now it's up off the ground and located close to where the water heater will be.
What a nice surprise!
Some exciting electrical updates are on their way as well. *Spoiler alert* The LED lights look awesome! But that's for next time! Happy travels, or happy renovations as the case may be!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Lovers, the Streamers, and Me

Hey guys!  So to take a break from the technical, I wanted to show you my pretty floors! Well, eventually they'll be covered up too, but I love this color. It's definitely going to make another appearance in the near future.
Martha Stewart paint - 'Living Palmetto'
Basically what I have now is a blank slate, which is awesome and intimidating. I liked most of the original floorplan of the trailer since it was pretty functional, so I'm going to go with a lot of the basic layout in the kitchen and bedroom area. But there are a million little details that make it a puzzle rebuilding everything. Cramming a house worth of living space into an efficient and aesthetically pleasing 28' ain't easy! Now the fun part, a little trailer design inspiration:
Lots of ideas.
Future color palette.
I love bright colors, warm wood, clean lines, thoughtful design, and everything handmade. The trailer is coming together, but sometimes in unexpected ways. When I first got in Trouble I thought "Great! A coat of paint and we'll be ready to rock and roll!" (Hold your laughs please.) Now with these sleek new aluminum walls, there is no way paint is going to cover them up. The cabinets and bulkheads will have paint, however.  

Another thing to consider aside from colors and layout is function. Many Streamers just do weekend trips with the whole family bunking in their trailer. Others are "fulltimers" and use it as a way to travel while remotely working or after retirement. Some want to stay entirely off grid and mount solar power or bring generators to be able to "boondock" or camp without any hookups for extended periods of time out in the boonies. All are great options for different needs.

My goal with Trouble is to have a very adaptable but very livable trailer. For example, compromises have to be made as far as sleeping arrangements. I don't need to sleep six with double bunks and a sofa that turns into a bed, but I do need storage space and a comfortable bed that doesn't need to be pulled out or converted each night and morning. (Is that me being lazy?) Some consider a wet bath (where the sink and toilet are in the shower space as one unit) a great idea to save space, but I'd really rather have the luxury of a separate shower. While it is important to think of resale value, customizing it to fit your needs is part of the fun of remodeling a vintage trailer- and the only way to justify the bother!

When living in a trailer, you are dealing with very limited resources. Well, we all are since we live on a finite planet, but I digress. To illustrate: there might not be access to shore power, batteries have a limit of power storage, the LP tanks can run out of propane, the sun may not shine on your solar panels, and generators need gas to run. For this reason, it's a good idea to double up on options. A heat pump or a plug-in heater is a great option if you have shore power (110v or 220v) but if you're running on battery and propane, a furnace is the way to go. Fridges come in combinations of 1 to 3 power sources: 12v, 110v, and propane. (Remember propane needs to be vented though!) Things like the lights and the vents traditionally run on 12v. The 110v electrical outlets like the ones in traditional houses will work if the trailer is plugged into shore power, a generator is running, or you have an inverter. Now I put in a converter (110v to 12v to charge the batteries) not an inverter (12v to 110v) which is much more expensive. What this means in everyday life is that without hookups I could use my propane stove, but not my toaster oven, blender, or crock pot. It's all about having options and planning ahead.

The key to making these decisions and compromises is research and being realistic about what your plans are for the trailer. Would you like a camping trailer or a fulltiming trailer? Completely original or with modern updates? Would you be traveling far off the beaten path or where there will be trailer hookups? Answering questions like these will make finding the solution easier.

Oh no, I just realized I've hijacked my own "fun" post with more technical stuff... hmm... Until next time guys. Keep on keepin' on!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

They're Fantastic!

Hi everyone! This past week I gathered up enough courage to climb up on Trouble's roof to knock out some leaks and replace three vents. It's intimidating because in addition to being a round metallic surface, you can't put your weight just anywhere. Lines of rivets like cross sections show where there is a support rib underneath that can hold your weight. The rest of the roof is only a thin skin of sheet metal that can be easily dented. A way to get around this is placing a wooden board on the ribs to create a workspace.
Smiling but petrified!
The old vents left something to be desired. They leaked and all three were different. One opened to the front, one opened straight up, and the last opened to the back and was the only one that had a fan. Upon further inspection on the roof I could see why they were leaking- caulking on top of leaks is not a solution! No worries, I ordered three Fantastic Fans for the upgrade!
Kitchen vent from the inside.
Exterior getting rid of old gunk.
Drilling out the rivets after the gunk removal.
Old vent frame on its way out.
Front vent plus leaky TV antenna opening.
Multiple lines of caulking defense.
New caulked and riveted support for new vent.
Nice new vent installed!
Cool blue tint inside when they're closed.
Next step will be getting them hooked up. I'm very pleased with how they're built and how they look from the exterior and interior. These let in a lot of light and I'm happy to get rid of more leaks! Until next time- happy travels!

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's the Little Things in Life

Hi everyone! Today I have a bunch of little (but very cool) things to mention.

One of my recent purchases must be the best investment under $100 so far- Stabilizing jacks! We installed two in the front and two in the back. The "stabilizers" I previously had were just that- to stabilize and not to lift. With my fancy new jacks I can level the trailer on uneven ground and I could potentially change a tire if need be. This means I can have a dance party in the trailer without wrecking all the fine china! If i had fine china in there... or dance parties...
20" lift & 6,500 lbs. capacity!
Another fun detail for the trailer is of less weighty concern (buh dum shhh) but will look great. The boss taught me how to use a lathe to machine fancy handles for the lever to open the windows. The originals were plastic and we used aluminum.
Getting set up.
Original plastic, finished aluminum, and blank.
I also had a small visitor the other day. This poor guy flew in, and in a panic to find a way out in a world full of windows and reflective surfaces, he flew right into a wall and got a bit of a headache. He took about a ten minute breather and then flew back to his family in the trees.
Chillin in my hand.
Isn't he cute!
And last but not least a sneak peak of a future post... three brand new Fantastic Fans just arrived! While I'm a bit nervous about climbing up on the roof and trying to get all three of them in and watertight, I'm sure they'll live up to their name (once I build up my courage to install them).
Special delivery for Trouble!
Sometimes the humble and small projects make the end product really special. Until next time guys!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Leaky

The windows have proven to be the best and worst part of the trailer. They were the worst (leaking and ugly) and hopefully they will be the best (clean and tinted). These are dual pain... I mean paned units that have deteriorated solar film in between.  To fix that, I have to take them out entirely, disassemble them, tint them, put them back together, and rivet the assembly back into the trailer.
Hmm... not so pretty.
Kinda icky huh?
Messy goop sealant.
Taking out the window.
Existing broken pane "fix".
Cleaning the Stream.
Now I have no background in windows or tinting, so I bought a roll of 15% automotive tint with some feet to spare for any big mistakes. A couple of YouTube videos later, I got started on the first pane. First step is do a rough cut from the roll a little larger than the window. Make sure the glass is as spotless as possible... any dust no matter how invisible it may seem will in fact show. There's a protective sheet on the sticky side of the tint so you'll want to peel that off. Use a spray bottle full of water and a smidge of liquid baby soap to get the glass evenly covered as well as the sticky side of the tinting. This will give you a little wiggle room to position it without it clinging. Then place the sticky side of the tinting on the wet glass and use a credit card to squeegee the water out starting at the center and working towards the edges. Does it look good? Trim around the edges with a razor blade and pat yourself on the back!
There you have it!
Meanwhile, I've also been working on polishing the window frames. This is seriously time consuming, and very dirty and messy. I used two different sandpaper grits then finished off with a metal polish I got down at the local auto store.
So worth it!
Aluminitis!  Is there a cure?
Installation isn't so easy either. The tinted side will be on the inside facing side of the interior glass in the sandwich, and a strip of butyl needs to go between the panes to keep the spacing. Then a gasket has to go around it to seal the sandwich up. Then slide the whole thing back into the aluminum channel and rivet it up! Don't drop that glass!
Waiting patiently...
Lots of goop.
Excellent squeeze out for a good seal!
Lookin good!
What has really worked well for me is going around the exterior gasket with marine sealant to prevent leaks after the window is installed. Now, once you've done all of the above, repeat like fifty times because you're crazy and wanted a trailer with a bazillion windows. Sigh... Until next time!