stroke me baby!

i had a stroke last aug 28, which has left me recovering the past 6 months,learning to walk again and a lot more.Its been tough a lot harder emtionally than physically.
now with Spring  camping on our agenda, we opened up the trailer which has been closed for 6 months.  kinda musty and dusty but she came back to life with some effort. We will get her on the road in April..can't wait to b camping on a lake, in the old girl.

So you want to restore a Vintage Airstream?

You have seen them, on TV, in movies, on the road, in campgrounds and parks everywhere.
There are shows about vintage trailers. There are books and there are websites.
Now maybe you want to have one of your own. But where to begin?
here's what we did...

We watched Craigslist, and used SearchTempest to facilitate our search for a 60s or 70's model trailer.

Found this one in Florida..a 1978 Sovereign of the Road. One owner but well used

Bought it at a fair price and restored it. The Sovereign is a 31 foot trailer measured from tip of the tow tongue to the rear bumper. 70s era trailers are heavier than the earlier models, but not as heavy as the later ones. A trailer like this can weigh 5000-6000 pounds which is well in the range of most pickup trucks to tow.  A newer one of this size can easily weigh 2-3000 pounds more! 

Notice the clear coat coming off in spots on the upper Sun baked areas. This can be corrected ...

from this...old crappy 1970's vinyl, broken tambour doors, ugly in general.

                                           ...horrid Sun damaged upholstery on gaucho

                                               the  rear bedroom was a very nice feature...

  then on to cleaning...and repairing the floor,  replacing and redecorating... I used Minwax wood hardener, and then a waterproofer & sealer all over. Some wood was soft and it responded well to the wood treatment. Minimal leakage made a difference. This trailer (luckily) had only a few leaks from the typical vents left unsealed, etc. 

I had checked all the edges for soft spots with an ice pick before the purchase. Also I looked for leaks around the ceilings, walls, closets and especially under those vents, even in the closets. 

The plywood sub floor was in good shape except in a couple of places where it needed to be fixed or replaced. 

The outriggers and frame underneath was structurally sound, so it was simply rustproofed with a paint on sealant.


                           The rear bedroom cleaned up very nicely

Gaucho was recovered and two matching chairs (from a Goodwill store) were done with the same fabric. I installed wood look laminate on the floor. 
I also found an aluminum "wall paper" that made the walls look great without a lot of work. Overall it was satisfying job to get done. 
This by an amateur with out a lot of skill, but a lot of determination.

Then the  day after the gaucho was reinstalled---

 this happened...oh no!...6 AM on a work we huddled with the kids in our safe place. Luckily we heard the wind coming and we all went to the basement. Two minutes or less of wind undid many months of work.

Not a good thing to wake up to! The top of this tree cam through our home's roof. But it did minimal damage to the house, thanks to the Airstream holding it at that angle.
All my restoration work was...wasted. Good learning experience I guess...

We were able to salvage many parts in future days. After the Insurance adjuster had been out, and with their approval. I saved the gaucho which barely fit out the crushed door. Also got the rock guard, LP tanks and more.

Finding the Airstream;

Once you've located a trailer, be prepared to do the first overall inspection.
Tools to bring- FLASHLIGHT, ICE PICK or Similar sharp pointed tool.
These are some very basic tools that will make your checkout easier to complete.

Flashlight- handheld and bright. You will be looking under cabinets, in compartments, underneath the trailer body and will need to be able to see clearly.

Ice Pick- Floors are a crucial area of the structure. You want to poke around the edges especially if carpeted to check for soft spots where leaks may have been occurring. A pocket knife may have a blade that is narrow enough for this. You don't want to harm the carpet unless it is already in rough shape..

Magnet- Airstreams are aluminum skins not stainless steel. Except for the chassis frame, you should not find any steel sheeting in the trailer inside or out. The magnet will not adhere or attract to aluminum.

I would suggest you look over the trailer outside first.
Note any dents, other than the small road dents that especially happen to the "banana wrap". This is the area between the body side skins and the underneath belly pan. Prone to road dents especially in front. It is soft and can be repaired with some instruction...later.

Note the windows and rubber moldings. Broken or cracked windows can be replaced, which is more difficult in 60s trailers that have the curved glass.
Note the tires. Are they cracked? Does the rubber look dry. Check the date code, which will let you know how old they are. Tire 5 or more years old are suspect even if they look fine. They are prone to blow outs which can damage the aluminum skin expensively!
Here is a quick blurb on tire dating:

Example;. A tire with a DOT code of 1109 was made in the 11th week of 2009. 
Tires with a three-digit code were made prior to 2000 and are more difficult to decode. The first two digits tell you the week, but the third digit tells you the year in the decade that it was created.

If the tires are more than 5 years old, plan on $800-$1000 expense for replacement.

By now you should be making a list of repairs noted to be done, and the approximate costs. You can research the cost afterwards before you make any offer on the trailer. But leaving a deposit could save the deal for you.

So you found a trailer?

Ok, so you found a trailer that fits your needs. You think it has potential. You take photos for friends and get ready to negotiate a deal.
Before you get too excited and get ahead of yourself, step back and do an honest assessment of what you may need to do to the trailer to get it to the level you want it to be.

do you have the skills, time, money to redo all this? Some of us do, many will give up before it is done

-Is it highly original? Do you want to keep it that way or change everything to more modern design?

-Does it need everything to be removed from the interior in a total gutting? This is a major project that will require a lot of planning to replace and rebuild the cabinetry, walls, floor, etc. Can you accomplish this?  More importantly can you handle the time that will required and the investment you will have to inject?

what is lurking under the skin? Rotted plywood, nasty old insulation is likely hiding there

If your goal is restoration, can you source the necessary parts?
Websites like can be very helpful but they do not have everything. Some models of older trailers are impossible to source parts for. Face it.

So you juggle the cost of your self- restoration and getting someone who knows how, to do it for you.
Here are a few pros you can check out ...they know their stuff.

Felver Design-  This couple is talented. They have the ideas and the knowledge to put them into action.

Franks Trailer Works- Franks has been at it for a long time and can handle any project you can throw at him.

Colin Hyde Trailer - One of the self made masters of Airstream restoration and repair. His work is well known among Airstream fans.

Area 63 Productions- Uve Salwender- is a West Coast trailer artist. He takes time to produce som eof the best and most creative restorations.

InLand RV- Andy has been fixing and supplying parts for Airstreams for more years than anyone except the factory.

Find a pro near you and let them do what you cannot.

Kids don't try this at home!

A first step after the Purchase

So you bought an Airstream, now what?
If it is like most out there, it will be somewhat dirty inside and out and may need some repairs.
First step is a good cleaning.
I use TSP trisodium phosphate cleaner. This is found in the paint department of most big box or hardware stores. It is relatively cheap, strong and one box will clean most trailers.

Mix the chemical with water, according to directions, at the strength you think you need. Remember to wear rubber or neoprene gloves! Thi stuff is strong and harmful to skin.
Also wear googles or other eye protection. Hose down the trailer and then brush on the TSP form the top down.

Here is where you appreciate a good solid ladder. I prefer the platform type, or a scaffold.

Begin on the roof with a long broom or handled brush. An extendable RV cleaning brush is handy and will last you for years.

Wash the trailer and then simply hose it off. This is a good time to check for interior leaks, especially around the vents. Check in cabinets and closets also to see if there is water getting in.

If you find any leaks, you should make note of what is above the leak on the outside. A vent or cap is likely to leak around the seams. But leaks also travel. You may find a space in a seam where two panels meet and the leak will come out on the inside quite a ways from this spot.
Seam sealing is the only way to prevent this, and remember there may be leaks inside the wall of the trailer. The Airstream and other brands have an inside wall covering an inch or so of space between the outside wall, and usually filled with insulation. The floor can tell you if there is an inside wall leak, look for water stains by the wall where it may be soaking on the inside.
A serious leak can require removal of the inside wall and then attention to the frame beneath.
 This is another topic of itself. Removal of plywood subfloor and replacement can be a major job, but not always necessary.
A small area of wood damage or rot, can be cut out back to solid wood and a piece "scabbed" in to fill the space.  The repaired area should be well sealed and a wood putty or fiberglass/ epoxy mis can be used, When sealed this will be as strong as the original floor and will be water resistant.
Marine grade plywood can be used but be aware of chemically treated wood used in an indoor space, which may off gas harmful fumes.

Back to the outside:  If you are going to polish the trailer, assess the clear coat if any. Try a small amount of metal polish on the surface. If it turns the rag black there is no clear coat present.
The coating may be gone in one area or all over, it is wise to check a few spots.Sun damage can and will break the clear coat down and it may be obvious where this has happened with rough edged dull spots visible.

To remove the clear coat, you use an Aircraft aluminum stripper. You can get this at any auto parts supply or hardware type store.  One excellent brand is RemovAll . This is environmentally friendly stuff that you can hose off into the grass or driveway with no ill effects. Try some on a small area like 3 feet square, near the bottom of your trailer. Let is stay on as the instructions say, then hose off. A pressure washer is handy for this.

The clear coat will literally fall off, and should be hosed off the driveway and trailer completely. Any remaining coat or chemical on the trailer will dry in the sun and be harder to get off later. Trust me on this!

Once the clear coat is gone you may find that your trailer looks shiny enough for you, and with application of a good auto wax or sealer it will be done. For those looking for the ultimate mirror shine that older trailers ( pre-brushed look) can attain, there are many sources for how to do this level of polish.  One goo source is JESTCO products who sell materials and instruct in proper polishing methods. Be warned- a highly shine trailer will require regular maintenance to keep it that way. One stored outside will become a regular chore to stay at that level of shine. This is where your personal tastes come into play.

Even a non stripped but clean trailer will look great. A shiny 20 footer ( meaning the view from standing 20 feet away) may be just your desire, and is my personal one.  But others want a competitive super mirror shiny level, and will not stop until they get it.This is totally up to you.

Your first job is to get the trailer leak proof, clean and ready to enjoy. The shine up can wait.

                             This level of shine takes a lot of work and regular care. But it does look great.

                        There is nothing wrong with a clean non-stripped trailer either.

Being creative helps

Not every Airstream or other vintage trailer you buy will need to be gutted. Actually I hate seeing so many folks buying a trailer and immediately ripping out everything inside. If you are going to do a resto-mod where you renew the original look with updated features, that is doable and works well. Fix only what needs fixin! Why throw away usable and original interior fittings?

If your plan is to gut the thing to repair serious floor issues, be sure to store the furnishings and appliances for re-use. Then with updated floors, window treatments and such, you can have an original but improved look.

I found in my trailers, the floor damage was not very severe. In one I used wood putty and bondo to repair some areas that were lightly water damaged. I cut out the plywood in another, taking away just the area that was damaged and adding in a new scabbed section of plywood. Wood hardener around it and then a sealer over the whole floor to finish it off. With new cork flooring over the subfloor. all was well.

Be creative. You don't have to break the bank on every repair. I like this idea used to replace damaged or missing cabinetry. Sure looks great too...creative and probably not a huge investment

 a 1940s waterfall style dresser in a 50s Airstream

Taking it a step at a time

After the initial cleaning and assessment of your project, you should tackle your job a step at a time. Its easy to get excited and want to polish the aluminum right away. This will make you feel better about the purchase you just made..right?
 Start with sealing the seams, around windows and vents too. Get the trailer dry inside and keep it that way.
Then move onto floor repairs. Th entry step area inside the door is prone to rot and rusted framing.
 If there are panels needing replacement in the flooring, now is the time to cut them out. Check the frame under the plywood for the rust that can be re-mediated. A wire wheel brush on the drill is a good way to remove surface rusting. Then a good coating of rust proofing paint like POR-15 or the less nasty and easier to apply Rustoleum will work. Coat it well with a brush or several layers of spray paint.

Scab in the new plywood, and coat the wood flooring with sealer, polyurethane or other similar stuff.

Make sure it is all level and you can move on to your decorative flooring. I prefer laminate or vinyl laminates. Stick down square tiles do not work well in the temperature changes, and will need replacement sooner than later. A good click and lock or glued edge flooring will work better. Be sure to leave 1/4 inch or so around the edges for expansion.

Carpet is ok to use, with an appropriate pad. Carpet is very forgiving to put down, but does not handle water well, and the vinyl planking will repel water which makes life on the road much easier. I am truly not a fan of carpet for trailers.

 This was the inside of my 66 on purchase day.
Old Asbestos floor tiles, stencils painted everywhere, dead rodents and such inside cabinets.

 After removing the rusted out Dometic refrigerator,this was the scene we found. The aluminum and wood pieces cover  a hole rotted underneath. Leaking from the unsealed roof vent for the refrigerator. Sealed the vent, and eventually replaced it. As for the rot and rust- I removed all the rust with a wire wheel and naval jelly. Then fiberglass and JB Weld was used to strengthen the outriggers. I would have welded new metal in, but this was not in my skill set at the time. I had a steel plate welded by a a fab shop under the entry area to support it. This is another problem spot for leaks, just inside the door. With the constant going in and out it is an area that needs attention. But common sense and visits to the hardware store can solve the issue.  Local fabrication shops and welders are good to know.
The Dometic was rusted out and originally we replaced it with a small all electric unit. This served as a temporary fix, because in the design of our Airstream, the fridge is built under and supports the entire kitchen wall unit on one side. So the correct size is necessary, and also impossible to find.

I saw a buyer of a 1967 Airstream mention remodeling and gutting theirs on a forum post. I contacted them and then purchased their original Dometic unit which worked.
After locating and installing the original refrigerator (  a 1967 model), it was installed over the repaired outriggers and floor. New cork look edge locking tile was installed.