We’ve never had Zip Dee chairs.
I know, it’s almost blasphemous to admit it, especially after all these years of Airstreaming. Zip Dee and Airstream go together like Ford and Firestone did before the war. Zip Dee awnings have been original equipment on Airstreams for over 50 years, and the chairs go back about that far too.
The relationship is so tight that most Airstreams have specific storage just for these wonderful folding chairs—but the 2004-2006 Safari bunkhouse was one of those that didn’t. And when we were full-timing, we just didn’t have room for any. So we never sat down.
But these days we are making more opportunities to sit down under the awning and relax. So I took the plunge and ordered three Zip Dee chairs to match our awning, one chair for each of us.
Of course, we still didn’t have anywhere to put them, so for the past few months those chairs have been riding in the back of the Mercedes. This wasn’t ideal (it was a pain to get them out from under all the other stuff we carry), so I asked Colin Hyde to put on his genius beanie and figure out a solution for me.
His inspiration came in the form of an old propane tank cover from a 1980s Airstream Excella, which was for sale in the Alumapalooza Swap Meet for $25. At Colin’s suggestion I bought it and brought it to his shop when we came in for the major front end repair.
As the front end work was being done, the guys fabricated a pair of steel braces where the battery box used to be, and began cutting down the Excella propane tank cover to the exact size and trapezoidal shape needed to fit tightly between the real propane tanks and the Airstream’s body.
You can see those braces below. They are awaiting drilling and paint at this point in the job. Note how they rise up to hold the chair storage above the hitch parts on the A-frame. With the front hatch gone, this is empty space so it makes sense to put something here.
I’m not really doing justice to the amount of work that went into this. The modification of a propane tank cover into a very different shape was complicated, and in retrospect it might have been easier just to start with new aluminum.
Colin has some very talented guys on his crew, and what they did to make this cover—with weathertight base and top— was impressive. It even has bucked rivets! But it was a ridiculous amount of work. Colin says he does not plan to ever make one again, so don’t ask.
The photo at right shows the chair storage with the lid open. You just open the lid and lift the chairs out, which is easy. The box stays in place, unlike the propane tank cover.
This is a “beta” version. I may add some weatherstripping to the lid later. It might also get a latch, if we find the tight-fitting lid pops open during travel. There are already a couple of drain holes in case water collects inside the box.
The box can hold four chairs, believe it or not. Right now we are using cardboard to separate the chairs and fill some space since we only have three chairs at present. A bit of Prodex insulation is fitted into the bottom to prevent chafing. Later I’ll get two Zip Dee Chair Bags (each one holds two chairs), which will protect the chairs and give us handles to lift them out, so we can ditch the cardboard.
If you’re wondering about the net impact on tongue weight, it’s probably about the same as it was from the factory. We’ve made many modifications over the years (switching aluminum propane tanks, relocating battery rearward, deleting hatch and steel battery box, adding chair storage) so it’s hard to gauge the net effect without going to the truck scale. I’ll do that soon, but the weight of the braces, aluminum box, and three chairs is only about 35-40 pounds.
I really love this addition. It looks Airstream-y (meaning cool), it’s practical, and it makes use of otherwise-wasted space on the A-frame. I can’t really cost-justify it but I love it all the same. And now we can finally escape the stigma of not having any Zip Dee chairs in our Airstream.