Getting Road Ready

My next move was to prepare the Airstream for a 5-to-6 hour drive upstate to professional restorer Colin Hyde. Colin had already placed an order for me for two new axles, and we’d discussed my bringing the trailer to him in early March to check out the systems & appliances and install my anti-sway hitch, among other things.

But for the moment, my Trade Wind wasn’t technically “street legal,” and I needed to make sure it would be safe (and I wouldn’t get any tickets) on this trip. For one thing, one of the turn signals had stopped working… and I had no idea why. Was it a burnt out light bulb? Bad wiring? Did I need a new battery? Cleaning the electrical terminals at the front of my trailer and on my tow vehicle hadn’t helped.

Tent & Trailer City
Ready for service at Tent & Trailer City (Hempstead, NY)

I also had no idea when the tires had last been replaced or the wheel bearings had last been re-packed. Even if tires haven’t been used at all, they should be replaced every 5 years or so, and it’s suggested that bearings be re-packed annually. On top of that, I wasn’t supposed to tow the trailer without a breakaway switch (which applies the trailer’s brakes in the event that it gets detached from the tow vehicle on the road) or a brake controller (which engages a trailer’s brakes either time delayed, or in proportion to the tow vehicle’s brake engagement when slowing down or coming to a halt), but since I’d gotten the trailer home o.k., I figured I could live without them up to this point.

[By the way, these are all tasks that can be potentially addressed when purchasing your trailer, or immediately after. There’s no reason to wait, as I did, for two years. I recommend listening to Vintage Airstream Podcast Episode 15, “Bringing It Home” for tips on preparing a “new-to-you” vintage Airstream on its first voyage.]

Finally, I wanted to take this opportunity to swap the locations of my two trailers. The idea was to park the Trade Wind closer to home, where I could spend more time working on it until I tow it cross-country, and put the Safari parts trailer in a space I’d rented about 45 minutes away that I would access less frequently as needed.

So first, I needed to change tires on the Trade Wind. When I did, it gave me a better sense of how badly rusted the chassis, axle and shocks were, and reminded me that I was doing something good in bringing this trailer back to life:

Badly rusted axle and shock absorber
Preparing the rims for new tires

Next, I needed to prepare the parts trailer for a short drive and an extended stay away from home, by securing a water tank that had sunk to a little over an inch off the ground, and filling holes in the floor that you could see asphalt through:

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Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 7.48.15 PM
Before and After photos: Securing a sagging water tank on the parts trailer with straps

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 8.00.08 PM

Before and After photos: Filling in floor holes in the rear of the parts trailer with plywood

Finally, on the morning of my appointment to have the Trade Wind serviced – with one tail light working, no towing brakes, and not having towed a trailer in over two years – I had to laugh. Of course there was a snowstorm!

But I needed to get this done to move forward with the renovation, and I was up for the challenge. Between the storm and having miscalculated the amount of time it would take to swap out the trailers I was late for my appointment. In my haste, I forgot that a) the chains that connect to the tow vehicle in the event that it breaks away from the trailer did not have any type of hooks or connections, which meant that the trailer could potentially get loose and veer off uncontrollably with no brakes if I hit a bump the wrong way, b) that I needed to secure a window that was missing hardware, tending to flap open and closed and possibly break while driving down the highway (would it cause me to get pulled over?), and c) that I’d left a large mirror laying on a seat, which eventually broke in transit. Fortunately, I’m not superstitious…

Safely parked near the service station on a snowy day

Once I got on the road, I took it slowly and made it to Tent & Trailer City safely without incident. A couple of days later, I got call that everything had been fixed, and that I could pick up the trailer. The process had been fairly straightforward; on top of the work I expected, I needed a couple of brake springs replaced, a couple of the running lights on the sides of the trailer needed attention to work properly, and I had made a bad connection when I repaired the wire coming from the tow vehicle to power the trailer, which explained why the turn signal wasn’t working. All in all, the labor took about 5 hours, and I’m all set to hit the road for an extended trip!

Breakaway switch installed

Up next: Upholstery: Final installation

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  1. Wow! So, question: are you a car guy? How do you know about all the mechanical workings (or non-workings, in this case) for your vehicle? I knew this was a design project, but didn’t realize how much you knew (or researched/learned in the process…) of the mechanical aspects. Interesting. Oh, and sorry about the broken mirror. 😉

    1. Good questions, Alvin : )

      I am not really a car or truck guy in the sense of being a professional or even an amateur automotive tinkerer. I’m just generally curious, and do my best with due diligence. When I feel I can literally stick my hands into a project either from past experience, or after doing a little research, I’ll usually give new things a try. The more I learn, the more confident I get, and the more skills I develop this way.

      Everything else I’ve learned to save up for & delegate, so the project gets done faster. For example, installing the brake controller on my truck was something I thought I might try myself… so I did a little research, read forums… and ended up hiring professionals. And it was worthwhile, because I saved myself hours of frustration and got the work done fast.

      A lot of people forget to calculate the value of their own time (perhaps better spent doing something you’re better at) when completing DIY projects. Other times, the hours are well spent learning a new skill. That’s for each person to determine for themself.

      Everything in this post I learned I’d need to do only after I bought my Airstream. A lot of it came from reading Airstream Forums, magazines, or listening to the Vintage Airstream Podcast. In the end, I had to learn at least a little bit about everything in order to travel safely and get the work done to make my dream come true!

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