Making Headroom and Headway

Making Headroom and Headway

Work has been a bit slow on the Airstream renovation. Mostly because I’ve been rather inundated by work (a necessity to pay for said Airstream renovation!), and the weather is turning wetter and colder here in East Tennessee.

Work has progressed with stripping the last of the Airstream’s original interior until it’s more or less a blank slate. This isn’t your quick demo style work, either, since the goal is to save and reassemble much of the original aluminum inner skins and solid mahogany cabinetry.

All the remaining cabinets came out first, while teaching a valuable lesson 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!

A mostly empty Airstream now, with just the aluminum inner skins remaining

After the inner skins have been removed – oooooh, shiny! It reminds me of a rocket inside now.

Next up was plumbing removal. 45-year-old plumbing is surprisingly brittle when you don’t need it to be, and shockingly resilient when you do! The copper was at least worth a decent bit of money when taken to a metal recycler, and that’ll help buy the new PEX plumbing that will replace it.

A couple electrical-fires-waiting-to-happen were found within the insulation in the walls and floor, thanks to previous owners whose enthusiasm didn’t quite match up to their skills as electricians. There was melted insulation around connections that had been simply taped together or secured with twist-on wire nuts that vibrated loose in travel. 😱 Thankfully, a plan was already in place from day one to replace all the wiring.

There were also many discoveries of non-human inhabitants over the years. Wasp and bee nests/hives, mouse skeletons, spiders, termites, and others. I shudder now to think of all the 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. 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!


Insulation, beams in the floor, and the aluminum trailer belly pan from above, after removing a section of plywood subfloor.

The subfloor is also sandwiched between the walls (or 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, like the top and bottom buns of a hamburger, until you can put new flooring in (the hamburger patty) and bolt the two (buns) back together.

As you can imagine, this is not a project for the faint of heart. Thankfully I did a lot of reading up on the subject on various Airstream blogs and forums, and so far the top of the trailer has not fallen completely off the frame. Crossing all my fingers and toes 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 on the steel beams back in the 60’s, because I have a lot of grinding (and some welding) to do now to prepare the 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.

So much rust in the steel beams around the edges! 😢The center beams are fine, thankfully.

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


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