Rarely do we get to put to test our woodworking skills. However, renovating a Airstream Argosy and custom building everything will test your knowledge quickly. Our first woodworking test was building our queen size bed frame that open up to provide extra storage underneath our bed. Being that our Airstream Argosy is only 180 sq ft. It’s important to utilize every single space.
As the original part of our design, we knew right from the start we wanted our bed to be a queen size. After all, we have two dogs that demand a big bed to stretch on. It was also our plan to have the bed sideways instead of back to front. We wanted to utilize our panoramic windows and wake up each morning looking out. But more importantly, we wanted to create a extra storage compartment on the back window side to store sheets, blankets, and also use it as a shelf.
First we laid out everything for the build.
Materials we used were:
(2) 8 ft 2 x 4
(2) 8 ft 2 x 2
(3) 8 ft 1 x 3
(1) Piano Hinge
(4) 2 inch L Brackets
(1) Box of 1 1/2 inch wood screws
(1) Box of 2 inch wood screws
The only caveat in the build was building around our subfloor trap door. We needed to make sure we still had access to pull up our trap door and at the same time make a support piece to hold up our bed when we lifted it up.
We wanted to use light wood so the top and bottom boards were 1 x 3 and our supports were 2 x 4. Our Queen size mattress was going to be 60 x 80 so we could just fit that in before the end curve and long enough to give us 3 inches on both ends.
We went with a 12 inch Zinus Green Tea Memory Foam Mattress It fit’s perfect and we can wake up looking right out of our windows without ever lifting up our heads.
The next step of course was to build the side and back end and how to integrate a shelf unit back there. This was going to be the tricky part.
Again, using 1 x 3’s and 2 x 4’s we finished the frame, so it was now on to the bed lift. Really just a square so the bed lift itself can sit on the frame. You can see in the right back corner how close we to the corner we got. This was important because we had to build the shelf back on the 2 x 4 that crosses in the back. Its also where the piano hinge sits.
The bed sits on 2 x 2’s and the 2 x 2’s sit on the bed frame with full support.
It lifted up pretty easy, but that was without the mattress and all the blankets Ariane just has to have.
We had to make sure that we could still access our 30 amp box in the lower right hand corner and of course plumbing and other important access gear.
The back storage/shelf was just building a inner wall against the bed and then cutting out the top. We had saved some of the old Argosy shelves that we could use as templates.
It was time to put it all together and test. We used 1 x 2’s for the slots that the mattress sits on. Once we put our mattress on it certainly made it much harder to lift, but not that hard to hamper anything.
Take a look at the whole process from start to finish.
If you have any questions about how we built our bed OR if you have your own Airstream Reno project. Ask away, we will be happy to answer.
Bringing back a 40 year old camper is not an easy task. There are some things we wish we would have known before we dove into the deep. Let’s start with a little history on a Airstream Argosy
History: Argosy trailers were made by Airstream Company starting 1971 in Versailles, OH. near Jackson Center, and are usually recognized as “Painted Airstreams”. Many features were first tried out on the Argosy models, and then incorporated into the more traditional Airstreams if they were a success. A good example is the large front wrap windows. These painted trailers were able to utilize steel end caps and aluminum panels that were damaged or blemished. Argosy created a series of diminutive trailers in the ’70’s called the “Minuet”. There was the 6.0 Metre (20?), the 6.7 Metre (22?), and a 7.4 Metre (24?) Minuet.
Beginning in 1974 Airstream began manufacturing a Class A motorhome, badged “Argosy”. These began as painted aluminum 20- and 24-foot models, and were followed in 1979 by the first of their Classic model motorhomes, with an unpainted aluminum body, much like the trailers they are known for. In actuality, these were modified trailers, mounted on a step van chassis also modified for the motorhome.
The first Argosy trailer was put on the market April 1971. (1972 Model)
The first Argosy motorhome introduced December 1973.
The Rehab Project: What do you do first? It can be overwhelming. More than likely, you have pulled your Argosy to a location where the renovation will take place. You probably did an initial inspection and did due diligence to pull it. Or maybe you had it lifted and towed to your designated area. Either way, you are dealing with a 40+ year old frame.
Step 1 the frame: Inspect the Frame! Crucial to the future of your travel experience. Your frame is going to have rust and perhaps some corrosion. The faster you deal with the frame, the more you can renovate. There are 3 crucial areas of the frame. 1. Axle 2. Outriggers (the camper sits on these) 3. the under frame. These have to be looked at and or fixed.
How do you fix or repair a frame? That’s a good question. It’s either going to be repairable, or you are buying a new frame. If the frame has corrosion which means there are holes in it, it has cancer. That cancer is spreading and will break down your frame to where it’s unusable. If your frame has rust and little corrosion, you can save it and even repair it. We sanded, scraped, and removed ALL the rust on the frame, and then used POR-15 to paint the entire frame to rust proof it.
Step 2 the tear down: You have to ask yourself one question: How far are you willing to go? Renovating a 40 year old Airstream Argosy is going to take on a long journey. Buckle up!!! It’s one thing to remove all the old interior. It’s another to gut it. I mean floor, walls, insulation, wiring. How far do you want to go? If your answer is: “I just want a remodel”. Then you are probably only going to live it in and have it parked. If your answer is; “I want to travel the country”. Gut it, and go to Step 3
Step 3 rivets, lots of rivets: Learn how to remove bucket rivets. Hint, automatic spring hole punch and a 5/32 drill bit is the key. We also bought a Air Pop Rivet Gun for cheap at Tractor Supply. When re riveting the Belly Pan, we used Large Flange Rivets – 5/32″ Diameter to help secure the belly pan to the frame. We did not need a new Belly Pan.
Step 4 panels: Or inner walls are long. 2 of the side panels will be at least 22 feet long. It will take two people to remove them from the Argosy. This is where you will get a feeling of…Oh crap! The top ceiling panel is in between two grooved moldings. The moldings are also riveted in. You will notice that most renovated Argosy’s that you see don’t have the center ceiling panel. There’s a reason why. It’s not easy to come off. Once you bend it, it’s over.
Step 6 the sub-floor: This is where the rubber meets the road in your rehab project. This is also where you will probably find dead things, mice, snakes, etc. that have nested in the insulation under the sub-floor. Our sub-floor was rotted mainly in the front, back, and by the door. The rest of the subfloor wasn’t that bad. But we took out the entire floor nonetheless. Read, How to Remove a Airstream Subfloor.
Tip: The entire camper sits on the sub-floor. You are NOT taking the sub-floor out without removing the bolts that are holding the camper on the frame. Everything in an Airstream Argosy is inter connected with each other. This is how your Argosy has lasted 40 years. They are built well.
Step 7 Remove the Pink Stuff:Removing the pink insulation is a good idea. Why? It get’s wet and will keep everything moist. Ants, bugs, and creatures (especially mice) love this stuff to nest in. Please wear gloves and a mask to remove all the insulation. We removed ours from underneath the sub-floor and did NOT replace it. However we did replace the inner skin insulation, this is how we did it.
After all of this, then you are finally able to start planning your design and plot how you will re-build.
When we first bought our Argosy is was apparent that things were old, and needed desperate repair. Of course there is always the option to buy “new”. What is the fun in that? We decided early, that we were (to the best of our ability) to try and restore, refurbish, any of the original Argosy interior, while implementing our own style. Our Airstream Argosy’s Shower Pan was one of the pieces we really wanted to save…but it was a mess.
How to fix the crack: This was tricky because our tiny crack was in the lower right back corner.
Once everything dried and cured, it was time to bring this guy back to life. We used Rust-Oleum 206999 Marine Topside Paint, White, 1-Quart. This paint is used on Boats above the waterline. This is a thicker paint so be prepared. It takes some patience to put this on and it cures quick.
After a few days of working on it and letting it dry. It was time to test. We plugged up the drain and let water sit in the tub for 2 days. Not one drip.
This project truly was a labor of love (aren’t they all)? But this turned out to be very worth while project because the end result was saving an original piece of our Airstream Argosy.
As with all of the other projects, we were really proud of this one. To restore something that looked like it would never be used again was really self satisfying and gave us some much needed confidence to move forward.
If you have a Airstream project that you would love to share, please post below, we would love to see it.
When it came time to start putting together our lighting plan, we knew right away we wanted to go all LED lighting. At the time we gutted our Lucy, we also took apart all of our lighting also, except for lights underneath our front end cap, which still worked.
Our decision to go all LED lighting was because of our Solar set up. LED burns brighter and 1/10th the power usage. Even though most LED lights for RV’s are expensive, they do in time pay for themselves. Unfortunately, they are expensive, and you have a very limited in design. Most LED fixtures you find specifically for RV’s are pretty generic in nature. It limits your ability to be creative.
When we bought are 76 Argosy, we had 5 ceiling fixtures (4 lights per fixture), two bedroom lights, one bathroom light, one kitchen light (on the wall), two front end (under the end cap) lights. We also had a porch light above the door. Adding up what it would cost to replace all these with LED lights was sure a jaw dropping reality. At almost 15 bucks a bulb, that would have been a 400.00 expense
We started looking for alternatives, and what we found was amazing. One day while looking at tiny living spaces at IKEA, we found a ton of LED lights. One particular brand was called DIODER. We noticed that all the led lights were strung on 12 volt wires, but had a 110 transformer on it so you could plug it into the wall or a regular household outlet. As we started looking around we found many IKEA lamps, and puck lights that were all 12 volt wired. All we had to do is to cut off the transformer and splice it into our 12 volt system.
Almost ALL RV trailer lights run on 12v DC power – even while connected to shore power. Of course, when you are using shore power, you have a battery charger/converter charging your battery. However, when boondocking or off the grid you solely use your battery. So we use DC power only. This is why we wanted ALL our lights to be LED.
For 25 dollars, we were able to buy a package of 3 LED Puck lights that were all wired together with one switch. Once we found the Ground wire, and the HOT wire, we were able to splice them into our existing 12 volt wiring system and put on our own switch. We bought a total of 3 packages give us 12 LED Puck lights.
Each light comes with screws to attach to the ceiling or even under a kitchen counter or anyway you want. We used these as a replacement for our ceiling lights.
Renovation our vintage Airstream is certainly a labor of love. It’s not always easy and sometimes pretty frustrating, but all in all it has been a blast.
As in most RV’s, there are two types of electricity. The first, is much like your home electricity. You plug something into a outlet, and it has electricity. You know that because you get a electric bill each month that tells you how much you use. This is called AC power. Your home get’s it’s power from the power pole and comes into a circuit breaker box.
The other kind of power is DC power. This is electricity that you would find in your car. You open up your car door and the dome light comes on. Or you plug something into the cigarette lighter and charge your phone. Most cars have a fuse box that operate Turn Signals, Head Lights, Radio, and all the other electrical in your car. As you know, you can turn on these lights without the car running. You also know, that if you keep lights on all night, your car battery will be dead. Of course, when you start your car, your Alternator charges your battery and all your lights run off that alternator when your car is running. As long as your Alternator is working, your battery remains charged.
Having said ALL THAT. RV’s use both AC and DC. So when we got into the electrical part of our Airstream, we had some work to do. The first thing we wanted to tackle was the DC wiring. We literally had to pull every wire that was associated with the Battery that runs the DC. RV’s run DC for: Interior lights, Furnace, Hot Water, and Water Pump. Newer RV’s even have more to run off of batteries. Ours were a mess.
A vintage Airstream Argosy has color coded DC wires that run to different parts of the camper. PINK, YELLOW, PURPLE, and WHITE. Each color goes to a different circuit that runs lights, water pump, etc. This is where the fun starts. In our Airstream these colored wires ALL run to the battery which was in the battery box located inside. (they all had a door on the outside also. These wires were 40 years old and had to be replaced. So we pulled out every single wire and traced every single circuit to find out where they went.
PINK – Furnace, Hallway Lights, Front Lights, and Porch Lights
YELLOW = Water Pump, Upper Fan, and Hallway Lights
PURPLE = Hallway Lights, Bathroom Lights, and Bedroom Lights
WHITE = Ground Wire
Wires we completely had no intention of keeping were Radio Speaker Wire, Thermostat Wire and Antenna Wire.
We found that the wires ran all the way to the front of the Airstream, then turned around, and ran all the way to the back again. It really looked complicated when we first started figuring out what wire went to what. But then again, it was only 3 different circuits. We did NOT have a fuse box for the DC wiring which ended up being a good thing. It helped us learn and re-build a better system. Some people keep it, but later realize they need a new one.
The biggest help to us was to plan what lights we were keeping and what lights we wanted to add. All the Hallway lights were replaced with LED lights. The Bedroom lights were replaced (with a little creativity). The bathroom lights were replaced, and we had to add a wire for our composting toilet fan. We kept the lights in the front over the couch, the porch lights, and the switch to the water pump.
The new batteries were moved to the front of the Airstream where the Hot Water Tank used to be and all the new wired led there. They were all put behind the inner skins. We attached the new Fuse Box to the New Battery Box. (see pics below)
All of the 12 volt switches were replaced. The old cigarette lighter plugs were replaced with new DC plugs (just like your car) Every single light has a LED light. Some of the old light fixtures we were able to keep and replace the bulbs with LED ones. Again, it really helps to have a plan before tackling this. In the end, we put a Battery Cut Off switch on our battery box, so when we leave the Airstream, ALL DC power is cut off from the battery.
Electrical can be tricky, so make sure you consult with a qualified Electrician if you don’t feel comfortable with it.
When we bought a vintage Airstream from the 70’s, both of us knew that it would be a huge project to completely update our Lucy to one that fits our lifestyle. Let’s face it, the 70’s decade wasn’t known for environmentally friendly products. We knew right off the bat that our Airstream was going to undertake a huge renovation. Which meant floor, walls, electrical, and plumbing all had to be completely redone.
Since we are both Leave No Trace Trainers, we thought it was important to leave less of a footprint by converting our Airstream to Ecoo friendly RV. First we had to make some decisions based on our lifestyle.
Boondocking was a priority for us. We are outdoors people and wanted to be remote so we could explore.
How could Solar power our needs while boondocking?
How much Solar would we need?
Save energy by going all LED lights and limit “luxury appliances”
How to save on Propane needs.
Could we use a composting toilet instead of a black water tank?
These were all questions based on our needs versus wants. Of course, when renovating a 1976 Airstream, there are
steps you need to take first, to get to the project you want to complete. On our post “How to remove a subfloor”, we found that the Black Tank was secured underneath the Airstream in a steel pan that was bolted to the frame. This was a perfect time to get some plumbing done, and take out the black water tank without removing the steel pan underneath. So that’s exactly what we did. We cut the black water tank out. (it’s abs plastic) and left the steel pan bolted to the frame. (more about that later) We removed the plumbing that connected the black and grey tanks so that we just had 1 drain pipe for the grey water tank. We could now buy a composting toilet which meant NO DUMPING our black water tank.
The next step was to move and build a new battery compartment. This was tricky since we decided that Deep Cycle 6 Volt batteries were the way to go. We needed (4) 6 Volt batteries to give us what we needed. That of course meant we needed to build a battery box and put the batteries where they could vent. We decided to place the battery box underneath our kitchen cabinets and utilize the old furnace vent on the side of the Airstream. This also meant we had to re-wire our 12 volt wiring so that the wires ended up near the battery box and the new fuse box.
Using (4) 6 Volt batteries, we could make (1) 12 volt battery and have 250 amp hours of charge before we would be out of power. 25watt 12V light bulb, for example, use the equation A=W/V or (25/12=2.1Amps per hour) That was our decision to go LED lights. Which meant just 1 LED light used .5 amps per hour. As of now, every single light we have in the Airsteam is LED. (detailed post coming)
Converting your vintage Airstream to Solar isn’t hard if you have gutted your Airstream like we did. When the inner walls our down, it’s a good time to determine where the solar wires will run. This is why the battery placement is important. We decided to purchase (4) 100 Watt Solar Panels from Renogy.
Now we were on to HEAT. How to heat the Airstream during Winter months and provide HOT WATER. This was an important decision since we removed the old water heater and furnace.
Since condensation seems to be a nagging problem in a lot of RV’s and Campers we looked at Wood Burning Stoves. We went back and forth about the safety and how we would incorporate that in our design. After much debate and hundreds of YouTube videos, we were convinced that a Wood Burning Stove not only would work, but eliminate the need for a extra propane line and help with the condensation.
The Cubic Grizzly Wood Burning Stove was our choice. After a lot of YouTube reviews of RV’ers using this stove, this was definitely for us. We utilized the old refrigerator vent in the ceiling (that was propane) to run the 3 inch double stove pipe through. Of course we had to patch the old hole first. At 34 lbs and the ability to heat 400 square feet, this would work great.
The Hot water was another great use of new technology. We decided on a Excel TANKLESS GAS WATER HEATER (LOW PRESSURE STARTUP) 1.6 GPM LPG VENT FREE (PROPANE). It works on a single propane line and the best part, it starts on (2) D Batteries that are rechargeable.
This is just a start on how we converted our vintage Airstream to a Ecco friendly Airstream. The key to all of this was planning on where each piece of equipment, wires, plumbing, and access goes before you start. It’s important to understand what your lifestyle is. How much power do you need. Work backwards. We will do a much more on solar in a later post. If you have any questions, please post them here, we are happy to answer.
One of the biggest decisions we made was how to insulate our vintage Airstream. First, a little history lesson. Old campers, specifically vintage Airstreams came with pink fiber glass insulation and attracted almost every living creature that could squeeze into a little hole. Usually it meant baby mice, ants, birds, you name it, Airstreamer’s have found it. Notwithstanding the fact, then when this insulation got wet, it took forever to dry and usually a contributed to wood rot. Wood rot you say? Yes, Airstreams not only had insulation in between the inner skins, they also had fiberglass insulation down in the Belly Pan. Which was underneath the wood floor.
So when we decided what kind of insulation to replace this wet smelly pink insulation with, it was quite the big deal. After watching hours of videos and browsing the multitude of forum threads on Airstream forums, we decided on what we were going to do.
First, we decided NOT to insulate the Belly Pan (underneath the sub-floor). This decision was based solely on technology. The R value we would get was not worth the expense and we could laydown a Cork Underlayment when we installed our NuCore Waterproof floor.
Second, we looked at how converted vans would use foam board to keep heat out, then Reflectix to keep heat in. This convinced us to go with 4×8 Polystyrene Garage Door Foam Board Insulation bought at Lowes.
Using 3/4 inch tiny foam squares, we could glue spacers on the inner wall to leave a 3/4 space between the outershell and the foam board. This maximizes the R-Value to 5.0 with one side of the foam board having a foil side or reflective side to reflect heat away.
On the other side of the foam board, we then put a layer of Reflectix which can add a R-value of 3.0 Getting to a 7.0 R-Value is about as good as it gets in an RV or camper.
In a RV or any camper, you are dealing with keeping the heat out. You just can’t run the air conditioner all the time since you are often boondocking and have no Shore Power to use. This way, we can keep the Airstream as cool as possible by reflecting the heat away from the Inner Walls. Using a spacer between outer wall, and the inner foam board, we trap the heat in that space.
We feel pretty good about our decision and we definitely have noticed the difference between the old insulation and the new.
The real test of course is when it’s a 100 degree’s in the summer, AND it’s below freezing in the winter.
If you have any questions, we would love to answer them as best we can. Please, like or share and help support us. We really appreciate our community.
We have big news! Our new subfloor went in this weekend and it’s pretty damn exciting. It wasn’t as hard as we expected, but it was still kind of hard. If that makes any sense.
We started the weekend on Friday with priming all of our plywood with Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer™. We had already measured (re measured) and cut the pieces we needed. We initially used cardboard to make a template of the front cornered piece. The cardboard was a good idea because we could measure and trace around the C-Channel and get a good measurement for the curves. We made sure to put a heavy coat of Epoxy Sealer on the cut edges. It’ s edges that are most vulnerable of course.
We first placed the cardboard template (front corner) where it needed to be. Of course, installing a piece of cardboard is much easier than a piece of plywood. The cardboard looked like it was where it was suppose to go and we were happy with our measurements. Maybe a “good nervous anxiety” is a better expression.
TIP: Double check, and re-check, that all of the tiny wood screws that get drilled in at the top of the C-Channel are OUT. This will save you from pulling your hair out and having a break down in front of loved ones.
Saturday was spent on the front Belly Pan. We wanted to make sure that before putting in the Subfloor, we could see the new rivets going in to secure the Belly Pan. With my new Central Pneumatic 3/16 in. Air Hydraulic Riveter we were ready to tackle our Belly Pan. We drilled out all old rivets that the belly pan had dropped through. Surprising, our Belly Pan is in pretty good shape. We did drill new holes in the bottom frame using a 3/16 drill bit and popped in 3/16? Large Flange Rivets. Some places in the Belly Pan the holes were just too big. So we used large Fender Washers with the Large Flange rivets to secure and cover the holes. We also cleaned and prepped the frame once again, along with touching up any spots we may have missed with POR 15. By late Saturday we were exhausted. Sleeping in a 1998 Ford Expedition with 2 dogs on a Air Matress can be cozy, but we were so tired on Saturday Night, both dogs and humans were fast asleep by 9:30 PM.
Sunday: (The big day). Woke up early to a blue sky and the Rooster crowing. After mayhem with the dogs and few cups of coffee and a brief visit with Tulip the Goat, we were ready to get that floor in. We opted (after long debate and discussion) NOT to have any insulation between the Belly Pan and the Subfloor. But we did opt to using a Self Adhesive Waterproof Rubberized Asphalt Roll Flashing. This protects the Frame and the Plywood from moisture that could get in between. The Flashing also protects the Outriggers that are most vulnerable to the elements. After taping the top of the frame, we were ready.
The funny thing about putting in the first piece of your new subfloor was; “Are we really here”? We were almost in denial looking for other things to do before we actually put this in. With some trepidation, we brought in the front corner piece. We had cut some 2×4’s that we placed on the frame so we could beat the 2×4’s instead of the plywood. We brought in laying it down on the frame but on a slant. The “idea” here, was to push the out one side of the C-Channel and then to beat the front piece using the 2×4’s. Once we got both ends in the C-Channel it was then a matter of just beating it forward all the way in the “front C-Channel”. To our amazement, it worked. However, the rubber mallet was quickly replaced with a sledge hammer. (*Side Note: When something goes right on our Airstream restoration, we ask ourselves, “is this real or a dream”?)
TIP: Be prepared to beat one side of your Airstream to move the “cut” from right to left. Use a 2×4 for this also. Remember, you are pushing out one side of your C-Channel to get both ends in the C-Channel.If your cut is correct, the one side that you pushed out, will come back in.
The next section was only 2 feet wide to sit on the frame correctly and get bolted into the Outriggers correctly. That piece went in fairly smoothly.
The 3rd piece, (the biggest piece) was 4 feet wide went in by lifting the “cut” up over our heads, tucking the far end (opposite of the door) into the C-Channel, then bringing it down and tucking in the other end. This also involved major beating on the side of the Airstream.
So, the first 3 pieces are in. 4 more to go…
I must admit, never did I think the words; “she’s an amazing stripper” would ever utter out of my mouth when describing my significant other. Yet that is simply the truth! Oh sure, I can strip with the best of them. But let’s face it: I rush it. I tend to go fast and just want it off far too quickly. She, on the other hand, focuses on the details.
I’m speaking of stripping the paint off of our Argosy, of course. What did you think I was talking about? In our recent blog post about Stripping, we explained HOW we were doing it, but the devil is in the details right? Surviving it, might be a different post altogether.
Stripping the paint off outside in 97 degree heat in the Georgia sun, well, isn’t fun. In fact, I would describe it as…not at all in any way enjoyable! Our Lucy is pointed North South, so the sides of her are East, West. Which means if we want the shade, we are either working on the East side at 6:00 AM or working on the West side after 6:00 PM.
Stripping Lucy this week taught me a few things that I must share. One, I suck at stripping. Two, my partner, my intended, the one I love, is an amazing stripper! She’s virtually a machine. She actually said at one time; “Not interested in taking a break right now, I’m in a zone”. Though I actually said at one time: “Let me die so the Vultures can take me”. It was a blistering 98 degrees out on the Farm. While every living animal on the farm was seeking shade (and for our spoiled dogs, air conditioning), there was Ariane, stripping 40 years of paint off our Lucy. At one point she looked like Leonardo Da Vinci with her pallet of paint artistically looking for every nook and cranny of to highlight. In reality it was just a gunk full of scrapped paint on cardboard. But when you are hallucinating because of heat exhaustion, I would like to think of her that way.
In the end, we have Lucy almost all stripped and bare. Our hands tired, blistered, and swollen. Ariane’s hands took most of the blow, looking aged and peeling from the abrasive material. For me however it was just my ego that took most of the blow as I watched in admiration.
TIP: If you have to work in the blistering sun of hell. Listen to Disco Music. Believe me, listening to KC and the Sunshine Band and “Shake, shake, shake”, offers a mild relief from heatstroke. And at the end of the day when you tell your girlfriend. “You are an amazing stripper”, it becomes worth it.
In any Airstream you are going to rehab, you quickly learn that the Sub-flloor isn’t just laying on the frame itself. The camper body is bolted to the frame, and in between the camper body and the frame is the edge of your sub-floor. Simply put, you are going to have to remove the sub-floor by removing the camper bolts first.
In our case, we were somewhat lucky. Our sub-floor was so rotted that we were able to break away the sub-floor without removing the camper bolts. In some cases it did take a while to pull the sub-floor out around the bolts. There was some cutting involved. We actually used a wood chisel for some of the harder parts.
TIP: Consider the Full Monty (pulling the entire camper off the frame) This is something that we wish we would have done. We just didn’t have the resources do it. It’s not has hard as you think it might be, But in the end will make things much easier.
TIP: If you can’t do the Full Monty, take the banana wrap off first before you start taking out the sub-floor. You will have direct access to the camper bolts and the outriggers. (see photo).
Most of the sub-floor in a vintage airstream is going to be rotted. We have a center bath which means the bathroom was on top of the wheel wells. We were surprised to find that this was the section that the sub-floor was in good shape. Most sub-floors that the bath sits on are rotted, since most bathrooms are in the back. AND the double whammy is that the back of most airstreams leak.
The sub-floor is attached with large head screws that sink into the sub-floor. Most likey they are NOT coming out easily. The best way to remove the sub-floor is to cut around the screw bolts first. We used a Saw Zaw, but some use a cirrcular saw. Once we cut around the bolts the floor was just preyed up. You will have to chisel around the screw bolts to get the rest of the floor out. We then took a “Lock Wrench” and unscrewed the floor screws.
In any case, always check the condition of your sub-floor. When we bought ours, the previous owners said they had “repaired” the floor. All they did was put another level of sub-floor on. So we had the privilege of removing 2 sub-floors.
Lucy has secrets! When we purchased her we knew there had been another inhabits. She’s 40 years of for gods sake. How naive would it be for us to think, she’s been waiting for us? But Whoaaaa! She had some major secrets.
Secret #1 You have had other animals living with you
Secret #2 Others have taken out your rivets
Secret #3 Who stripped all your Phillips screw heads?
Secret #4 You leak
Secret #5 You are a dirty girl…seriously, how did all that dirt get in the bell pan?
After the sub-floor camp up we really started seeing some major issues with the frame. In some areas, no rust, in other parts, lots’ of rust. The back end of Lucy was completely rotted, along with the front end. Her 30 gallon fresh water tank was cracked. The wiring had been jumpered for some reason to another system. (still trying to figure that out). A previous owner desperately tried to rehab Lucy but probably found out very early, they were way over their heads so they stopped.
HINT: When you have a water leak, and your sub-floor is getting wet. Putting another sub-floor on top does NOT FIX the problem. We took up 2 sub-floors and 3 sets of sticky tile.
At this point we have started to remove inner panels and insulation. The panels are inter-connected. Our Aistream seemed to have been built by putting on the center ceiling first. Everything then was underneath and connected. Not just a simple take the panel off you choose. Probably more like, take the side panel off, but first you have take the top panel off. The panels are at least 22 feet long. Better that 2 people do the job.
The middle ceiling panel is the hardest to take off. You had better choose to keep it, or discard it. If you choose to keep it, it’s gonna be hard to take off without bending it or ripping it.
We learned that rivets are behind other panels that we needed to take off. We also learned…this is going to take a while.
It seemed easy enough. Just take out the old stuff, and put in new stuff. How hard could that be…? Pretty hard actually. We quickly learned that the old stuff (including walls, sinks, and closets) really are all part of the way Lucy is built. Everything is interconnected with each other.
The rehab project is really a lesson in Airstream Engineering. We felt like we were old school detectives looking at each piece of panel, or plumbing, or wiring. Thinking, “ok what were they thinking”? But not only did we put on our Airstream detective hats, but Lucy had secrets. Oh did the secrets come out with each piece of sub-floor.
We have to say however, that the first few days, we felt like we had made great progress. We littered the front area of where we parked her quite diligently with debris, insulation, and the bleeping closet that made us utter curse words we didn’t even know existed. We may have even said “this is easy”. We are sure at that point, Lucy laughed.
It has taken two weeks to get the sub-floor out. Most of it as rotted as it can be. We decided early (due to cost, and resources) we were not going to be able to lift her off the frame. So it was important to for us to be really diligent in removing the floor. We found out that the sub-floor is actually built first in the Airstream world, and the camper itself is bolted through the camper down into the sub-floor. So just “taking up” the sub-floor without lifting the camper off the frame is by any stretch of the imagination…NOT EASY. It almost felt as if we were reliving a “Christmas Story” where the Dad was just making up curse words that made no sense. Yep, we are pretty sure one of us said “BADDAFINGA”.
We knew from the beginning we were planning to remodeling our vintage Airstream named Lucille. Not just a short paint job and new fixtures either, full blown rehab. We also knew there would be challenges unseen, leading to a much longer completion than anticipated. In attempting to keep this rehab entirely DIY, we needed time without restraints. We needed space and needed the ability to keep her stationary for a long time. Urban style living doesn’t exactly accommodate parking a 28ft trailer in front of your apartment. So when you buy something this large, just where do you consider operating on her?
We had to utilize our resources. We couldn’t really afford a rent a garage or borrow a closed in structure. We had been offered a place to keep her with an abundant supply of tools. So going with the “lot’s of tools” offer, we chose to renovate Lucy on my moms farm. With all her many goats chickens roosters dogs and cats. Equally it was the perfect opportunity for our dogs to gain the exercise and stimulation needed while our attention was temporary elsewhere. It was a win win.
Of course you must know that living on a farm, everything moves at a much slower pace, thus slowing us down simultaneously! We take a lot more breaks than we ought to, that’s for sure. It becomes irreconcilably inevitable. All ‘because a heard of goats surround the trailer to feed, or a five month baby goat (Tulip) jumps inside to investigate. Perhaps the roosters are squawking about because the dogs are chasing after them, or my mom comes to bring us lunch and wants to see our progress, or unexpectedly we become part of completing a chore. And of course the loud screams to our dogs to “STOP EATING GOAT POOP”. What progress!!For just about every hour of work there’s likely fifteen minutes of downtime. We stop and take a hundred photos, pet the animals and well really just enjoy our surroundings. The farm life intrigues us and it’s impossible to work when taken by it’s lure.
The best thing about rehabbing Lucy however, has to be camping next to her under the starts and moon. Seeing Lucy’s glow as the moon shines on her is a reminder of why we are embarking on this journey to begin with. We try and imagine us being somewhere off the grid, and relishing in all that we had accomplished….NOW, back to work.
Being newbies in the whole “pulling the camper trailer gig”, we never even heard of the word “sway”. All we could think of was “is the 40 year old Argosy even pull-able”? I mean, tire rot, rust, not to mention brake lights didn’t work. All those things that make you walk away from the deal. But after 7 long hours of negotiating back and forth, fixing stuff, and having Walmart (of all places) come to the rescue on the tire replacement, we thought “all is good in the Airstream Argosy world”.
The Airstream gods are funny. They mock at the notion when people think, Oh, it’s just gonna be a few quick and easy repairs. We’ll just puller down the street and fix her. We knew it wasn’t going to be that easy, and we really did try our best at due diligence before we made that 12 hour drive decision. Once we got everything in check. I mean brake lights, new tires, hitched the 4 pin, it seemed as if we could easily pull her the 400 miles home.
Definition of SWAY: Move or cause to move slowly or rhythmically backwards or forwards or from side to side.
We finally got her on the highway. Excited, nervous, blood pumping with adrenaline. 40 mph, then up to 50 mph. Wow, she was goin’ home. Whoo Hoo! WAIT!….We hit 58 mph when she decided to sway. Although, it didn’t feel very “slow or rhythmically” to me. Felt like we were gonna crash in a fiery ball of hell. I could feel the back end just push my SUV really hard and it was difficult to stay in control. I could look out my review mirror and see how bad she was going left to right. So after a mild stroke, I obviously slowed down to 50 mph. Little did I know that was going to be top speed for the next 12 hours. Not to mention that every time a Semi would pass us, the vortex sucked us into another kind of sway, and I don’t mean a slow dance. Ever grip on to something so tight your hands hurt? Then you know my pain.
After 12 hours and a lot of rest stops we arrived safely. What did we learn in that 12 hours of driving hell? We learned new words like: stabilizer bar. We learned that Cracker Barrel can fit a 28 foot trailer in the parking lot. We learned that Semi Trucks don’t care what your pulling. We learned that Lucille was gonna be a stubborn lady.
When we were considering buying a tiny home we contemplated how that would mesh into our lifestyle. Very early on we knew we wanted a travel trailer. Though not just any travel trailer. We wanted to reflect our personalities, thus a vintage Airstream Argosy. Why? It was the perfect for us. It was as though the universe made it all happen, and we were the last one’s to know it. We love every minute of our project, our Lucy.
5 things to know before buying a vintage Airstream
Bonus. Be prepared for the Full Monty. Aka, The Lift. Definition: lifting the camper entirely off the trailer. Separation at its fullest. There is a reason why Airstream campers stand the test of time, they are built well and will take an incredible amount of fortitude love and patience to bring her back to her glory. Though well worth the journey. Welcome to Vintage Airstream Rehab!
We both knew we could no longer live without owning an Airstream Argosy 28? twin bed center bath model. We had unexpectedly seen one, fell deeply in love and blindly allowed it to change our life’s course permanently. For a solid month, every moment was occupied with learning about and searching for our new home. In April 2016 we found her proudly displayed and rusting away in central Kentucky.
She was stubborn from the beginning. Her break lights had corroded, her hitch connections powerless thus dragging, and her tires firmly planted into the concrete dry rotting to the extreme. She wasn’t even considering budging. So we called her bluff.
We kept her patchwork of duct tape exterior in tact, threw some magnetized auxiliary towing lights to her rear, hitched her up and tested her out. well, at least that’s the shortened version of what occurred over the course of a seven hour negotiation in purchasing her!
It was an intense twelve hour ride home, bonding us forever. We joked about drivers steering clear from our path when approaching us and seeing our ‘rust bucket from hell’. We were beyond proud to be pulling her, though cautious and nervous. We hadn’t known what to expect and she wasn’t shy about throwing a fit. Turns out a stabilizer attachment on our hitch would have been a wise investment, if we had even known that was a thing! We were clearly newbies and everything we experienced came with an enormous learning curve.
Our Argosy eventually became agreeable in us partnering with her and lead us safely home to Georgia. Proudly, introductions were made to the family and celebration was underway! My Mom had her pegged from the start:
“I thought of the name Lucille (as in Lucille Ball), she’s a redhead! And a fitting match to the many exploits you and Scott are sure to find!”
So thus the name Lucille, Lucy for short, was born. Her fiery red hue of rust underbelly was her hint to us, she was gonna be a challenge! Though she was our beauty – unique and instantly full of hi-jinx from the day we bought her.
My mom was spot on…this wasn’t the end of our mishaps together!