Readying the ship

OK, let me get this out of the way before I say anything else:  WE ARE FINE.

I continue to get daily emails from folks who are concerned that we might have been affected by the recent storm.  The media frenzy about the “devastation” in parts of Vermont has painted a really distorted image of the situation here, especially up in northern Vermont where it’s hard to find visible impacts from the storm.  At our current base of operations, the worst thing that happened is that my brother had to pull up the dock and boat lift due to Lake Champlain rising a few feet.

My previous blog entry was intended to make it obvious that we were relatively unaffected, but it seems to have backfired.  One friend even wrote, “OK, I read the blog.  You are safe, parent’s house is fine, the trailer is fine,  All sounds good. Now, what’s the rest of the story?”  Sorry, that’s all there was.  Any further drama will have to be self-created, and believe me, we’re good at that.

On Wednesday I took a roadtrip up to Plattsburgh NY, fifty miles away by car and ferry, to make a client visit to Colin Hyde Trailer Restorations.  About two years ago Colin opened up his own trailer restoration shop and has been doing quite well with it.  I spent a few hours checking out every Airstream in the shop and catching up on everything.  In the afternoon Colin donned his bunny suit and demonstrated how he can paint an entire chassis (in this case the restored/improved frame of a 1953 Flying Cloud) in less than an hour with just one quart of POR-15, using a sprayer and his “rotisserie” set-up.  The rotisserie allows the frame to be rotated in the air for ultimate convenience.  This is a much more efficient method of painting a frame than the old “bend over and brush” technique that many people still use.

It’s interesting to me to note how the vintage trailer restoration business has matured over the past several years.  When I started the magazine in 2004, there were only a handful of restorers out there and most of them didn’t know what they were doing.  They’d come out of the hotrod business, or evolved from trailer repairs, and frankly there was a lot of overpriced hack work going on.  Only a few really understood how these trailers were intended to work (from a design perspective) and so I saw a lot of horribly botched trailers coming out of “professional” shops.

Actually, that still happens quite a lot.  It’s pretty easy for anyone to hang out a shingle and say they are in the trailer restoration business, with no licensing, no real knowledge, and little accountability (since the customers themselves generally only see the surface of the work).  There are still a lot of hacks out there.  But a few have studied the history, engineering, design intent, period materials, and even philosophy of Airstream and other vintage trailer manufacturers.  Those people are doing the good work these days.

I’m very happy to say that most of them are advertisers in Airstream Life.  As one non-advertiser put it, “Being in Airstream Life sort of says you’ve ‘made it’.”  We don’t vet the advertisers for quality but I do find that when they are willing to make the investment in advertising their business, it indicates a seriousness and professionalism that usually carries over to their work.

Being at Colin’s shop (and MEL Trailer, C&G, etc., a couple of weeks ago) has reminded me of the work I want to do on the Safari.  After 100,000 miles of towing and six years, it has accumulated a bit of wear around the edges.  I want to replace all of the flooring with Marmoleum, refurb the Hensley (again), add another Vista View, wire in an inverter, convert to LED lights, re-upholster the dinette, rebuild our microwave/laundry storage, replace the curtains, repaint all of the steel (A-frame, bumper compartment, entry step), re-caulk all the roof openings, upgrade the stereo with MP3 input & better speakers, etc.  This will not be a quick or cheap refurb, but in the process I expect to renew the trailer so that it is ready for our next 100,000 miles. As I’ve written previously, I see no reason why a new Airstream can’t last a lifetime with proper owner maintenance (including annual leak tests).  Like an airplane, a periodic refurb is to be expected.

This week, however, I just need to get ready for our upcoming trip. The Safari has been stored all summer, and now it is covered in spider webs and debris from the cedar trees overhead.  I’ll need to get on the roof and wash it down, lube & inspect the hitch, check the tires & reinflate as needed, re-organize tools that have gotten spread out over the summer, and re-stock.   That process has already started, and we’ll finish this weekend so we can depart on Tuesday.

The trip plan is already growing.  I had planned to zip back across the USA in a relatively straight line to economize on fuel (diesel is running $4+ per gallon up here) but there are too many things to do.  I like to treat every trip as if it might be our last, just so there are no regrets.  Or to put it another way, I’d rather regret spending a lot of money on fuel than regret passing up once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunities.  So our route currently brings us west through NY state, briefly into Canada, then down to western PA, near Washington DC, a stop in NC for service, a quick stop in central AL, and then Florida.  From there, we may spend a few weeks in Florida or we may head west toward home, depending on circumstances.