There are a lot of types of separation, and as I’ve discovered, parting is “sweet sorrow” only sometimes.  We are gearing up to depart Vermont, where the Airstream and our daughter have been parked all summer long.  That means the usual five-day process of catching up on everything before we head out.

It’s not that re-packing the Airstream is all that hard.  In fact, it’s quite easy.  What makes the job hard is re-organizing, cleaning, culling, and making decisions.  Imagine that every six months you took everything out of your house, decided what to donate or toss, and then put it all back.  Don’t forget every scrap of clothing you have, and add in a growing 10-year-old with a wardrobe, and you’ll start to get the picture.  We’ve got t-shirts and plastic forks left over from Alumapalooza, dust from Ohio, spider webs from Vermont, and receipts from the NY State Thruway. You can ignore this gradual accumulation of junk in your house because it’s so much bigger, but in 240 square feet any bad habits of housekeeping quickly catch up with you.

Then there’s the detritus of three months of courtesy parking.  Emma’s stuff is spread all over an acre of property. The solar panels are covered in tree mulch and bird droppings.  There are the unfinished projects to sort out, shopping to do, tires to re-inflate, things that need lubrication and things that need cleaning. And while we are doing this, there are the friends who want “one last visit” before we go, who we sometimes (regretfully) have to say “Sorry” to because we need every spare moment to get all of our projects done.

One project in particular that is vexing me (I’ve never spoken of myself as being vexed before but that’s how it feels) is removal of the old Tour of America decals.  Officially the Tour of America ended in October 2008 when we ceased full-time travel, but we left the decals in place (a) because we like them; (b) it looked like a difficult and uncertain job to remove them.  Indeed it has been.


I decided to start with the most obviously out-of-date decal, the big purple Tour of America sign on the curbside.  There were several questions:  How do you get it off?  Will it leave behind a shadow from differential sun fading?  Will it damage the clearcoat?  I did some online research but couldn’t find anyone who had removed decals from an Airstream before, so I took my best shot at it.

It turns out that the vinyl peels up rather slowly and with considerable effort, if you use hair dryer to heat it up as you go.  There was no damage to the clearcoat, and no fading or shadowing.  But the decal left behind a nice sticky layer of adhesive that resisted most chemical attacks.  I had to be careful when experimenting, as some chemicals might also remove the clearcoat.  Goo-Gone was anemic, as was mineral spirits. The chemical M.E.K. did a pretty good job but the fumes were amazingly horrible.  Goof-Off worked just as well and was less difficult to be around. Even the best treatments took 4-5 passes to completely remove the adhesive with a plastic scraper.

At this point about 80% of the adhesive is removed.  I’ve been at it for about an hour or two each day for three days — about as long as I can stand the fumes.  Separating adhesive from clearcoated aluminum is a job I can live without.  When time comes to remove the other decals, I may take it to a automotive vinyl graphics shop and pay to have professionals with respirators and bunny suits do it.  But now that I’ve started this one, I have to finish it before we head out.  Otherwise, our trailer side will effectively be a 4×5 foot piece of flypaper.

We don’t plan for the trailer to go naked, however.  What will go on the trailer instead?   That’s a difficult question to answer.  Right now Brad, Eleanor, and I are kicking around various designs and ideas.  Here’s one that I really like, but which we won’t be using (mostly because I need to promote magazines, not this blog).


No matter what we ultimately choose, I think you will still be able to easily identify us as we roll by.  But it will be a few weeks before the final decision is made.  We will have to live with whatever we choose, for quite a while.  And I don’t want to have to remove decals again for a long time. It’s one form of separation that has no sweetness associated with it at all.


  1. Lou says

    There is another product that I like to use on label removal and tar and grease and the usual assortment or stain removal. It is called De-Solv-It. We can usually find it at WalMart or Drug Mart in the stain removal products aisle. I like it better than Goof Off or Goo Gone and it is orange/citrus based. When I am removing labels, I tear off what I can get, then soak a paper towel in De-Solv-It and let it sit on the sticky residue for a little while. The paper towel keeps it from running all over the place. Then when you go to scrub it off it gets milky white and you can wipe it right off.

    I’d help if I were there!

    We are at JC at the Terraport tonight. Met up with Caravan4theCause and toured with them and ended with a great campout here. Wish you were here!

  2. Luke says


    Your Jedi Padawan still reveres the decal you had placed on our blue starship “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

  3. insightout says

    Wow, methyl ethyl ketone may qualify you for an EPA superfund grant.

    Make sure you have a liver function test. It might have been safer to have the Safari sided with asbestos shingles.

    Perhaps more desirable to just leave the balance of the decals, faded, but intact. When the Safari is retired (in the year 2525, it will be parked in the front parking lot in JC, adjacent to the Byams’ gold unit) future generations can re-live those thrilling days of yesteryear. Hi yo silver….or maybe hi yo aluminum.