Laying the floor

The Safari floor project is looking good.  I started at my desk around 7 a.m. and things were thankfully quiet, so I edited a couple of articles and shot off a bunch of emails asking people for things needed to complete the Summer magazine, and headed to the Airstream to work on the floor while awaiting responses.

Mike and I were able started laying floor around 9:30.  We found the process fairly straightforward, as long as we were patient with the tricky cuts.  The vinyl plank lays straight & true, and it’s easy to re-position the planks as they are fitted in place.

Staples in bedroomOne of the first problems we encountered was the staples in the bedroom.  These were under the carpet and they bulged up enough to mess up the planks’ adhesion.  Even when hammered into the wood they caused some slight disturbance in the planks, fortunately mostly under the bed where it won’t be noticeable.  In the rest of the trailer where vinyl was originally laid, Airstream used a different sort of metal connector that sits level with the floor, so it wasn’t a problem.

For the most part we have been able to slip the planks under the edges of furniture, which means there has been little trouble fitting the new flooring without visible gaps.  Where we couldn’t go under, it hasn’t been a huge problem to cut around things, and I bought some dark brown silicone caulk to fill in gaps if needed.  We’ll need very little of it, as it turns out.

Cutting planks2

Some of the planks have taken as much as 20 minutes to properly cut, test-fit, cut again, and finally adhere in place.  It can be a challenge to get one right (and we’ve had to abandon a few attempts), but when it does finally go in, it looks great and feels great.

The tricks are simple:  work from the centerline outward, keep a sharp blade in the knife, cut from the top whenever possible (there’s a thin layer that has to be broken on the top side), keep the floor clean, fit each plank tightly before pressing into place, measure twice & cut once.

Main floor doneAnother time-consuming aspect has been planning out the flooring so that we have minimal seams in high-traffic areas.  The planks fit so snugly together that it’s not really a problem to have seams, but we figured it would be nice to have a seamless space under the dinette table (where frequent sweeping is necessary), and in the entry to the bedroom.  So we adjusted the cuts accordingly.  In one of these photos you may be able to see where we collected a lot of cuts together next to the furnace; these will be entirely covered by the dinette seat later.

Today we worked a total of seven hours and managed to lay down about 3/4 of the trailer.  The front bedroom and dining area are done, and half the kitchen.  We’ve got to do the bathroom and a little bit around Emma’s bed tomorrow, which will probably take an hour or two because of some tricky cuts around the bathroom door frame.  Then we’ll caulk a few edges and move on to other incidental fixes in the Airstream before we start to put the furniture back in place.

This was the longest session of the project, and I can definitely feel it.  At the end of the day I had multiple small cuts and scrapes on my hands, I had pulled three small slivers out from under my fingernails (and several more from my fingers), my fingertips were covered with excess glue, and the kneepads were starting to feel like tourniquets.

The floor is nearly done but the work isn’t.  I’ve got to build a new threshold for the entry door, add L-channel supports to some undercabinet areas, re-plumb part of the kitchen, install a few pieces of trim, modify the chase that hides the furnace lines under the dinette, and then put back the dinette, master bed, and some other stuff.  We’ll be busy into the weekend, I think.

Just cut it out

Tearing up the Airstream is more fun than we expected.  Today Mike and I started on the Safari in the early afternoon after a trip to the hardware store and tool rental shop.  The original plan was to find a way to smooth the transition from where the old vinyl ended in the bedroom, to the bare plywood floor.  We started on one idea, but then (coincidentally) Colin called.  When he heard what we were up to, he said, “Just cut up the old vinyl. It’s not attached, except at the edges.  Get a sharp carpet knife and just cut it all out.”

So we tried it, and of course he was right.  (He is, after all, a professional at this.)  In about 90 minutes we had the old vinyl floor removed (except some bits under cabinetry).  The staples at the edges were easy to pull out with needle-nose pliers, and the vinyl cut like soft cheese as long as the blade was sharp.  We used two blades in the process, and the Airstream now has bare plywood floors throughout.

What a relief to get rid of that nasty old floor.  It was permanently dirty, meaning that whatever finish it originally had seemed to have worn off, and the debossed “grain” in the pattern just trapped dirt and wouldn’t come clean no matter what we did.  I was glad to slice it up into small pieces and toss it into the trash bin.

Also, removing the floor revealed a few surprises.  In the bathroom we found evidence of a prior water leak.  There are no current plumbing leaks in that area, but there have been in the past, and you can see in the photo how that water discolored the floor.  It seems solid throughout, so I’m not worried about it.  We will need to do a good leak check on the exterior later this season, to be sure rain isn’t seeping in somewhere.

Under the kitchen counter, in an area that was inaccessible until we removed the dinette, we discovered evidence that a leak or spill occurred and black mold grew in a patch measuring about 10″ x 4″.  This is a more serious situation, because some molds can be toxic.  However, I think we’ve been living with this one for a while.  As with the bathroom, it seems to be a very old past leak, perhaps dating back to when we had a bad kitchen faucet in 2005.  [UPDATE:  It appears that this was the result of condensation dripping from the cold water line to the kitchen faucet.]  Disturbingly, the mold was growing just inches from where we store the pots and pans.  The good news is that the floor is fine and the affected area is small, so the job here is just to clean up carefully with bleach.

I’m also going to re-plumb this area slightly so that we have more space for storage, and better access to this spot so we can inspect it again in the future.  It may take a flashlight and a mirror, but we will be able to see in there, just to be sure nothing is happening.  I don’t like inaccessible spots in a travel trailer; that’s where problems get a chance to advance unnoticed.

Along the way I saw a few opportunities for improvement.  I’m going to replace some fairly lame chrome trim around the floor edge with aluminum L-channel.  I also want to make a new wood threshold at the entry door; I’ve never liked the one we have.  The bedroom door has some issues that I hope to fix, and I discovered several furniture screws that have stripped so those will get replaced with larger ones.

The big fix will be re-attaching the kitchen cabinetry and the bath vanity to the walls.  Over time, the screws and brackets work loose. The aluminum stretches and the screws just won’t hold, and then the cabinet is free to go for a walk.  The solution is to make new brackets with aluminum L-channel, which can be made long enough to attach to the trailer’s structural ribs, not just the interior walls.  This isn’t strictly necessary but we’ve long wanted to be ready for rough roads in Alaska or Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and this is what the trailer needs to avoid being shaken apart.

Interior gutted pano

With the floor stripped out and the trailer vacuumed again, we are ready to start the next phase: laying the new floor.  Both Mike and are pumped to get started, so on Wednesday we’ll give it a go.

A good Monday

Although the Caravel is not yet done, time is short so I’ve started the other major Airstream project.

As I’ve mentioned before, the Safari’s floor covering is pretty tired.  We’ve purchased vinyl planks which will overlay the existing vinyl flooring in the living area and bathroom of the trailer.  In the bedroom there’s carpet, which is horribly discolored (after eight years of heavy use) and which we’ve never been fond of anyway.  So that’s coming out, and the entire trailer will have a new look once this job is done.

Mike has agreed to help me out, which is a great relief.  I have to get the Summer magazine in the hands of the layout crew by Friday, so there’s not much time for home projects.  The plan is to start early in the office, knock off in the early afternoon, and thus get in a few hours of work in one or the other Airstream before the sunlight starts to fade.  Today I worked on the magazine from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then we got started on the Safari by removing most of the bed frame and the carpeting.

The bedframe came out fairly easily.  We had it disassembled and stored in the carport in less than an hour, including folding up the blankets.  So then we ripped out the carpet and the carpet pad.  That was quick too, even with the need to locate and remove about thirty staples in the floor.  (In the course of this demolition we of course uncovered numerous souvenirs of this trailer’s time on the assembly line, mostly in the form of discarded rivet stems and the occasional dollop of sawdust-encrusted caulk on the floor. I regarded these artifacts as almost historic.)

Buoyed by all this success, we moved to the dinette, and had that out in even less time.  One of the nice things about working on an Airstream is that just about everything is fastened with a #8 wood screw, even those things that are anchored in the aluminum.  So with a screwdriver, you can disassemble pretty readily. It’s even faster with a cordless drill and screw bit handy.  And if you strip a screw, it’s easy to replace with a small assortment of different-length #8 spares on hand.  I always have a bunch of them in my repair kit.


Of course there are always a few tricks.  The forward bench of the dinette, it turns out, was fastened to the bulkhead (wall) that divides the dining area from the front bedroom.  To get to all the hidden screws, we had to remove the bedroom’s sliding door (about eight more screws and a bit of sleuthing).  Since the furnace is inside that part of the dinette, I now know exactly what will be required to replace it someday.  Hopefully not too soon.

The bedframe was similar—most of it came out but we discovered four screws that could only be accessed from inside the front outside compartment, and six staples that I just had to yank out.  I hate finding staples, and whenever I do I resolve to replace them with something better.

Eventually it was all out and we were left with a lot of dust, a lot of screws in clear plastic baggies, and plenty to think about while cleaning up with the Shop-Vac.  We knocked off at 5 p.m.

The new flooring should be fairly easy to install, once we get started.  But as with everything, there are a few more tricky spots.  The major problem is where the existing vinyl floor ends in the bedroom.  The existing floor is thin, but it’s just thick enough that it will telegraph a slight bump where it ends.  We have a few schemes in mind to hide this problem, and will test some solutions in the next day or two.

Another problem is that we are going to have to trim the new floor around quite a few obstacles, since we aren’t removing the rest of the interior furniture.  For this problem Mike has produced a 50-year-old tool from his father’s workshop that we think will be just the ticket.  I’ll show you that device later.

While all this was happening, the UPS truck came by the final items I need to complete the Caravel.  At least, I think they are the final items.  It’s dangerous to say that, given that every other project has taken many more trips to the hardware store than expected.   I don’t know when I’ll finish the Caravel but I certainly expect to do it this week, perhaps when Mike is busy and unable to help me on the Safari.

In our next session in the Safari, we need to remove one more piece of furniture, and then start prepping the surface for laying down the new material.  That’s for another day.  We got enough done for one Monday.

Remind me why …

It’s easy for me to forget that I have an unusual view of the Airstream world.  Most Airstream owners enjoy the simplicity of being happy travelers, and that seems blissful to me. I remember the first year we had an Airstream, before I started the magazine, and it was really a lot of fun.  We just thought about where we were going next, and not much else.

These days I look at the world of Airstream through a sort of cubist perspective, sometimes seeing both sides of an issue at once, often balancing the needs of the magazine with the desires of its supporters, living on both sides of the perennial “vintage versus new” debate, as a both a customer and a promoter of the lifestyle, and as an occasional consultant to the industry.  It gets confusing.

When I get tired of being the Publisher/Editor, I switch to Event Organizer or Industry Consultant.  When I get tired of those, I switch to vintage Airstream repairer and go out to the Caravel to do some more plumbing.  When I get tired of everything, I start planning vacations.  Think how lucky you are if you only think of Airstreams as travel opportunities.  That’s really the best part.

New propane regulator CaravelThe Caravel plumbing project has been halted this week pending the arrival of parts and tools.  I should have everything I need to complete it, on Monday.  In the meantime, I got the propane regulator installed.

It’s a fairly easy job, but it did require special-ordering a longer main propane hose, four new (smaller) stainless screws, and two right-angle brass fittings so that the lines wouldn’t bump into the tanks.  That’s all because the new regulator wasn’t an exact replacement.  The screw holes are smaller, and the physical shape of the regulator is different.  When I tried to connect the 30# propane tanks the first time, the pigtails bumped into the tanks.  The right-angle fittings fixed that, but getting the original brass fittings out of the regulator was a hassle.  Eventually they came out with the help of a vise and an extension bar on the wrench.

The other problem with this replacement was that the red/green “flag” that indicates whether the tanks are full can only be seen from the front of the regulator.  All the other ones I’ve owned had the flag on the top so it could be seen from any direction.  So that meant the new regulator had to be mounted to face forward.  This required a 23″ hose instead of the 18″ one I had already bought.

The whole job took three visits to the hardware store, and now I’ve got a bunch of screws, bits of brass, and a hose that I don’t need.  These are the kinds of surprises you have to expect when fixing a vintage trailer. My spare parts box is getting full.

Meanwhile, the Safari re-flooring project is just about ready to start this week.  I have recruited Mike to help out with the two-person jobs, like getting the bed frame and dinette out of the trailer.  We are hoping to start Monday or Tuesday on this one, day jobs permitting.  I’ve been scouting out tool rentals and planning our attack of the job.  First task is to remove the bed, bedroom carpet, and dinette.

For those of you who were following the Mercedes 300D project, it’s pretty much done.  Since my last mention of it, I’ve been just tweaking and adjusting.  I replaced the rear differential oil (really stinky stuff thanks to the high sulphur content), fixed some loose wood on the dash, had four new Michelin tires installed, fiddled with the monovalve to try to resolve an intermittent heat issue, lubricated a few things, bought new floor mats, and had the car professionally detailed.

None of that took much effort on my part, so I’ve just been enjoying driving it around town and on a few short trips.  I exhibited it in a car show a few weeks ago, and took a roadtrip up to Phoenix (120 miles each way).  It’s now exactly what I wanted it to be: reliable, 100% functional, and reasonably good-looking.  This summer I’ll probably have to get the windows tinted, but other than that it shouldn’t need anything but oil changes.   And no, I’m not going to put a tow hitch on it.

With all these Airstream projects past, present, and future, it seems only fair that we should take advantage of the reason we own Airstreams.  So we  have determined that we are going to California in a few weeks.  Everybody wants a trip, and I’ve got a few business things to do in SoCal.  It will be nice to get away from home, re-gain some perspective, and relax in the Airstream for a while.  At this point we don’t know how long we’ll be gone, but hopefully it will be at least two weeks and possibly more.  It will take that long to soak up the feeling of being on the road again and remember why we do all this stuff.