Making Headroom and Headway

Nov 13, 2012

Work has been slow on the Airstream renovation. Mostly because we’ve been rather inundated by work. It seems that when you do a good job for people, they start recommending you to friends. The next thing you know, you’re booked solid. Not a bad thing, mind you, but it makes it hard to get any personal projects done!

A little bit at a time, we’ve been stripping the last of the Airstream’s interior until we reached a blank slate.

All the rest of the cabinets came out first, teaching us that finding every last rivet is a tedious but necessary task if you don’t want to be left holding a heavy upper cabinet above your head for five minutes while trying to find that one hidden rivet you didn’t get on the first go-round!

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Next was plumbing deconstruction. 45-year-old plumbing is surprisingly brittle when you don’t need it to be, and shockingly resilient when you do.

A couple electrical-catastrophes-waiting-to-happen were found within the walls and floor, thanks to previous owners whose enthusiasm didn’t quite match up to their skills as electricians. Thankfully, we had already decided to replace all of it.

There were also many discoveries of non-human inhabitants over the years. Wasps, bees, mice and spiders, among others. I shudder now to think of all our potential bunkmates, had we not chosen to completely remove the walls and floor. Sealing up even the tiniest of holes with fine-grade wire mesh is very high on the priority list now.

The subfloor was by far the most difficult thing to remove thus far, and we’re still not completely done getting the last bits of wood out from around the outer edges. During manufacturing, large elevator bolts were dropped in from the top of the floor and run through holes in the frame of the trailer, then bent over underneath to prevent loosening from road vibration.

The only way to remove the subfloor was to cut a square in the plywood around each bolt, lift off the floor, then come back in with a grinder to cut away the rest of the wood and lop the head off the bolt. Not a fun or easy task, and it only got more difficult as more and more of the surrounding floor was removed and you were left just with beams and floating pieces of plywood to balance on!

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The subfloor is also sandwiched between the walls (shell) of the trailer and the steel beams that support the trailer floor. This means that you’re actually separating the top of the trailer from the bottom for a short time until you can put new flooring in and bolt the two back together.

As you can imagine, this is not a project for the novice or faint of heart. Thankfully we’re not quite novices, and so far the top of the trailer has not fallen completely off the frame. Crossing our fingers that doesn’t happen!

It’s funny how much an Airstream resembles a spaceship from the inside when gutted. After removing all the wood and insulation, you truly are left with just an aluminum and steel shell. It’s unfortunate that rust inhibitors were not used in the 60’s, because we have a lot of grinding (and some welding) to do now to prepare our frame for another 40+ years of use.

An automotive-grade rust inhibiting paint should help to prevent any further weakening, and the new plywood subfloor will be thoroughly sealed against moisture.

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The next steps are grinding and painting the frame, sealing all water leaks, then the exciting prospect of starting to put her back together! I’m looking forward to the turning point where our hard work is not going to just be hidden away in the walls or floor.

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