Geek on the road

Today was the longest driving day of this entire trip: 660 miles from Tulsa OK to Albuquerque NM.  Eleven hours. I’ve discovered that the way to make states seem boring is to try to zoom through them on the Interstate. I bet that Oklahoma would have been great fun if I’d only slowed down and spent a few days exploring. But on this trip, that was not to be.

My first night in the Caravel was very comfortable. The new foam in the cushions is perfect for both sitting and sleeping, so I’m glad we sprang for the good stuff.  The little Wave 6 catalytic heater is well matched to the size of the trailer and kept me toasty all night despite freezing temperatures.  I discovered a few more items for the bug/upgrade list, most notably a large draft coming from beneath the refrigerator.  When I get this trailer to Tucson there will many weeks of happy tweaking to get it set up just right.  But except for having no water, it seems to be “all systems Go.”

Along the highway today I sought out water, and finally found a very slow source at a Flying J somewhere in Oklahoma.  It was so slow that I put in only a few gallons, just enough to mix in some bleach to sterilize the water system.  Thus “de-winterized,” it became my task to keep an eye on the temperatures, in case they dipped below freezing while I was towing.  The temps were up and down all days, but mostly in the safe zone, and even in Albuquerque at 5000 feet it was above freezing when I arrived.

Technology has been my companion on this trip.  The GL has four 12 volt outlets, all of which have been utilized.  The two front outlets powered the GPS and the Doran tire pressure monitor.  The 2nd row outlet powered my inverter (which charged my phone and my laptop).  The trunk outlet powered the Cradlepoint cellular router with Verizon Internet card attached.  Thus, I had a rolling wifi “hotspot” and was able to pick up podcasts from the Internet (using an iPod Touch) as I drove, and listen to streaming audio content.  At rest stops I’d check email messages and weather on the iPod, too.

In addition to all these devices, I have the Prodigy brake controller mounted on the dash and the GL’s own Nav screen which shows direction, time, and altitude.  As a result, the driver’s area of the car looks pretty geeky.  But it’s fun to have the toys and the info when you are navigating the Interstate across mostly flat terrain for 11 hours.

Tom asked about my hitch.  I have an Equal-i-zer brand hitch for this trailer, but it is overkill. Somehow, in the naive early days of Airstream ownership, I ended up with a hitch rated for a 1,400 pound tongue weight.  The Caravel’s tongue weight is in the range of 250-300 pounds.  Certainly a weight-distributing hitch rated for 1,400 pounds is not necessary, and I actually don’t feel that any weight distribution is needed at all for this particular combination (Caravel + Mercedes GL320).  So for the moment I am using the Equal-i-zer’s hitch head but not the weight distributing (a.k.a “torsion”) bars.

Now, most hitches incorporate sway control into the weight distribution system.  Without the bars in place, I have no sway control.  This gave me reason to be very cautious in the first few hundred miles of towing.  Over that time, I observed the behavior of the trailer at different speeds, in headwinds and crosswinds, as trucks passed by, over potholes and ruts, and (on a lonely flat straight stretch of I-55) in simulated emergency lane changes.  I’ve been very impressed.  The Caravel tracks beautifully, and I haven’t seen any hint of wandering.

There are still possible situations which could induce a sway, however.  A worst-case scenario might include loss of brakes, a gusty crosswind, and an emergency maneuver.  I won’t say that it is impossible for the trailer to sway, but I am fairly confident after 1,500 miles of towing that the Caravel is highly stable.  My intent is to ditch the current hitch and find a simpler setup with a basic sway control for future trips.

Interestingly, this trip has demonstrated that I get about the same fuel economy towing the Caravel (2,500 lbs.) as I do when towing the Safari (7,500 lbs.)  As I’ve mentioned before, weight and length of an Airstream have little to do with overall fuel economy.  It’s mostly about aerodynamics, and in that respect the two trailers are similar, despite one being twice as long and three times as heavy.  The frontal area of both trailers is of similar size and shape, and the effort of pulling that shape through the air is what you’re really paying for at the pump.

I am in Albuquerque NM rather than Midland TX only because this morning I discovered that friends Bert & Janie Gildart, and Eric & Sue Hansen, just came out of Chaco Culture National Monument in northwest New Mexico.  I’ll let Bert tell the full story on his blog, but the short version is that they nearly froze to death up there.  I had warned Bert that it would be cold, but he’s from Montana and he thinks it’s only “cold” when it is below zero.  In any case, the gang is up in Grants NM, about 70 miles from my location, and I’ll go look them up on Monday.


  1. Fred Coldwell says

    A major reason the mid-Sixties single axle Airstreams tow so well is axle position. Mounting the axle far back from the middle of the trailer causes the trailer to track the tow vehicle better than if the axle was mounted closer to the trailer’s mid-point, where the trailer could more easily pivot around the axle. Move the axle even further forward and the trailer’s tail would really wag the hitch, generating instability. By the Mid-Sixties, Airstream’s new president Art Costello had his ideas fully incorporated into the trailers, which are among the most thoughtfully designed Airstreams ever produced.

  2. Zach Woods says

    Hi Rich –

    Re: towing mileage with small vs. large Airstreams.

    Have you seen data that supports your claim that mileage will be the same across different trailer weights and lengths?

    Put another way, is it possible that your tow vehicle could have contributed to your results? I wouldn’t be surprised if certain vehicles would offer similar results while others would offer divergent results based on things like torque, vehicle weight, horsepower, gearing, etc.


  3. says

    Hi Zach

    I don’t know of any study or research done on that topic. I can only speak for my own experience, but I think it extrapolates to other Airstreams and tow vehicles as well. We noticed the same phenomenon when towing with our Honda Pilot. With the 17-foot Caravel and the 24-foot Argosy (twice as heavy), we saw no appreciable difference in overall fuel economy.

    – RL

  4. says

    Rich, re: new seat cushions

    Can you describe the new cushion foam for us, and advise on sourcing it? We are, for our 2005 International, sure we would enjoy firmer (and perhaps an inch thicker) sofa cushions.

    Enjoyed your posts, sorry to hear about the window — WOW!

    Jim and Debbie

  5. says


    Did you all get the medium compression or the firm (50) compression foam? Blue Ribbon shows both. We would probably tend toward the firm, believing the sofa’s oem cushions are just too soft.

    It might be cool to specify matching thickness and cut the foam to fit the existing covers. Save a lot of work, if we can improve the appearance of the five-year old covers. Or, it may just be time to redecorate our house.

    Thanks for the info —


  6. says

    We got the medium compression foam. We talked to the upholsterer and he felt the firm would be a bit too much. It’s also supposedly much more expensive. I can tell you that the medium is exactly that — not too firm, not too soft.