Search Results for: Caravel plumbing

A 34-foot parking problem

Our friends Kyle and Mary and Kathryn arrived on Sunday as we had expected, and I was all set.  The plan was to park their Airstream in the carport, as we’ve done many times before with other guests.  In the morning before they arrived I cleared out all the remainders of the Airstream re-flooring project, and removed a few things from the Safari that would be difficult to get out once there were two Airstreams packed in tightly side-by-side.  Mike came over with a blower and blew all the dust out, too.

And then they arrived, resplendent in 34 feet of aluminum goodness.  Kyle looked suspiciously at the space I was asking him to back into, but I assured him we’d parked a 28-foot with slide-out in there previously, so he’d fit.  He gamely took a crack at it, which I have to give him credit for, but soon a problem emerged.  Their 34-footer has a rear air conditioner (an unusual option) and it wouldn’t clear the carport roof.

Normally rooftop A/C units slide into the carport easily, but in this case the trailer was so long that the truck was still in the street when the A/C unit was entering the carport.  This meant that the trailer was nose-down, and tail-high, which would be just enough (with that long 34-foot lever) to allow the A/C to hit the ceiling.  So the Airstream ended up in the street instead.

IMG_1934Well, we’ve parked an Airstream or two (and a Bowlus) here in front before, so it’s not a big deal.  The 34-footer even fits with room for the mail carrier to slip her little truck in front of the mailbox and deliver the mail.

The camping in front is not as good as the premium space (carport).  The wifi is spotty out there, we can’t hook up a sewer line, and the electricity is only 15-amp, not 30. Fortunately, this week it’s cool enough that air conditioning isn’t necessary.  We’re getting upper 70s and low 80s here, a hint of things to come in a few weeks.

I am still working on the Safari, but much more slowly right now.  I’ve still got some caulking to do in the bathroom, and I’m noodling how to build the new cabinetry we want, using only scraps of material scavenged from the cabinetry we removed.  It’s an interesting problem, and I’ll write more about that later.

The Caravel project is completely on hold.  The plumbing will have to get completed in a few weeks, after our upcoming trip.  There’s no rush on that one anyway, as we have no plans to use the little trailer.

For the rest of this week, my major goal is to get work buttoned up enough that we can take a few days next week to be out of touch.  That’s a long shot but always worth striving for.  It looks like our route will take us from here to southern California, and then up to Las Vegas, and back—but we reserve the right to alter the plan on the fly.  That’s one of the reasons we travel by Airstream, after all.

Steadying up for travel

Although progress has not been as fast as I would like this past week, we’ve completed much of the Safari project list.

While the dinette was out, I had good access to the kitchen plumbing, and so this was the opportunity to get in there and alter the fresh water plumbing just a tad, so that Eleanor would have easier access to her pots and pans (stored under the sink).  With all the PEX equipment and supplies on site for the Caravel project, it was a simple matter to cut out a section of the original installation and re-build it to provide  a few inches more clearance.

Mike and I also managed to finish the floor installation.  It got harder as we moved rearward in the trailer.  Each wall required a custom-fit plank, as nothing was square and very few lines were even straight.  We put in an hour or two most days until it was finally done on Wednesday.  The process was frustrating at times and we spent as much as 30 minutes on some sections, but in the end it came out well and we’re both proud of the job done.

Vince's tool

In an earlier blog I mentioned a special tool from half a century ago.  This is it.  You just press it up against a corner and it gives you a template to mark the plank for cutting.  Such a simple tool made cutting some of the complex areas much easier.  I only needed it in three spots, but for those spots it was a big time-saver.  I have nicknamed it “the Vince” in honor of Mike’s father who stored it in his tool shed all those decades.

When the floor was mostly done we switched over to a few other incidental projects in the Safari.  As you can imagine, eight years of heavy use and many thousands of miles (probably well over 100,000 at this point) do take a toll on the interior.  Screws back out, aluminum holes stretch, caulk lines will tear, rivets pop, etc.  We’ve actually been fairly lucky in this regard.  I have yet to find a single rivet needing replacement in our Safari–and we’ve never coddled it by avoiding rough roads.

I’ve already found a few screws missing in hidden spots, which have been replaced.  Sometimes the screw hole is stripped and a new one needs to be drilled; at other times it’s easier to replace with a larger screw.  This is all simple and routine stuff.

The big concern we had was the refrigerator.  It has been shifting in its position as we travel, and causing damage to the surrounding cabinetry, like scuff marks and cracks.  Mike and I disconnected the refrigerator and slid it out a foot in order to study the problem.  This required disconnecting the propane line, AC power, DC power, two bolts in the back, and four screws in the front, which only takes about 10 minutes if you know what you’re doing, or 30 minutes if you’ve never done it before (like us).  It’s slightly more complicated if you have the recall kit installed by Dometic (five more screws and some sheet metal have to be removed).

The major problem we discovered was that upon the last service, the two screws at the top front of the refrigerator hadn’t been put in.  Secondarily, the bottom screws were seriously cocked at an angle and didn’t seem to be well secured.  This allowed the refrigerator (which weighs about 120 lbs) to shift at the top, much like a person swaying on his feet.  On the road, this was a lot of force on the cabinets.  We replaced all the connections, slightly adjusted the position of the refrigerator, and re-secured the fridge with new screws in new holes.  It doesn’t move at all now.

The next project was the bathroom vanity.  It has been moving too, lately.  Over the years Eleanor has used her smaller hands to get through the maze of under-counter plumbing and tighten one of the two screws that hold the vanity to the aluminum wall to temporarily resolve the problem.  But that hole finally enlarged too much to hold the screw, and the screw has vanished.

The fix there is simple in concept.  Just drill a new hole in the L-channel that abuts the wall, and put in a new screw.  The problem here turned out to be that there was no way to get a drill in place.  We ended up removing the sink, drain line and stopper, and loosening the faucet, just to get access.  Once that was done it was easy to drill some new holes. I replaced that one screw with three.  That vanity won’t be going anywhere soon.

Of course, this meant we had to reinstall the sink, etc., and re-putty the drain seal, so the total job time was probably close to two hours.  It’s the kind of job I really don’t want to pay anyone to do, because it doesn’t take a ton of skill or special tools, just patience.  Eleanor and I did it together, and now that we’ve done it, we know it’s done right and the vanity won’t come loose again.

Today we’ve got some minor tasks to tackle, mostly cleaning up and finishing the caulk at the floor edges.  Being slightly ahead of schedule, I’m thinking about tackling one more major project: building a new multi-purpose cabinet to hold our microwave, laundry bin, and recycling.  I’ll post more about that in the next few days.

Tricky cuts

As predicted, the bug I’ve caught has really slowed down progress on the Airstream projects. Mike and I are still working every day on the Safari flooring, but only for a couple of hours each day.

It also doesn’t help that we’re now doing the really difficult part. Toward the rear of the Airstream the cuts in the vinyl planks get much more complicated. We’ve got many obstacles to work around, such as the power converter, bathroom door frame, Emma’s bed, and kitchen cabinets. We are removing what we can, in order to slip the new flooring beneath furniture as much as possible, but most of the interior elements in the rear are impractical to remove without gutting the entire trailer.

Many of these spots require long and tricky cuts. It would be much easier if the furniture all fit into the Airstream exactly square with the body, but when you are down on your hands and knees studying it with a framing square, it becomes painfully obvious that nothing goes in a true straight line. Some of the lines are more like waves on the sea than straight edges.

This means that each plank that abuts a piece of furniture has to be approximately cut to fit, then carefully trimmed here and there, freehand, with a knife. This takes several tries, with test-fitting between every new trim. Just about all of the planks we have to lay need some sort of customization like this, so in an hour of work we are lucky to get four planks laid.

On Saturday we did two hours of work, and laid only five planks, plus we re-hung the bedroom door and re-installed half the dinette. It’s not nearly as impressive looking as the progress we made last week, but this is the phase we are in. There’s no way to speed it up. We’ll just have to keep whittling away at it for the next several days.

In the meantime, the Caravels waits for its final few plumbing connections. I’d like to get out there today and finish it up (it might take only a few hours) but I know this isn’t the time for me to getting into that. The Safari is the priority because we will be leaving on a trip soon and it has to be 100% ready by then. I may even take it on a test-tow just to make sure nothing that everything we’ve re-installed is staying put.

This is psychologically a tough part of any project. The end is in sight, but now we know that rather than coasting into the finish line, it will be a long and tedious slog to finish up the last few square feet. Worse, even when the floor is done there will remain a list of other tasks that the Safari needs as a result of the new floor (I listed some of those projects yesterday). So it’s clear that we will be at this task right up the deadline for our trip.

On the other hand, I can find great motivation to keep working on the project, and that’s what keeps me going even on a day when I have a virus. There’s the joy of making the trailer look better, the opportunity to resolve a number of things that have been annoying, the pleasure of knowing you “did it yourself”, the good feeling that comes from working with your hands to make something tangible (a big change from my desk job), the knowledge that your efforts will help your Airstream investment last longer and retain value—and if you are really lucky, adulation and love from friends and family who appreciate the results. Not a bad return on investment.

80% plumbed

For the most part I resisted the temptation to work on the Caravel over the weekend.  There were other things to do and the end of the plumbing project is within sight, so it seemed like a good idea to take a break for a little while.

Over the weekend the only major progress was on the last really tricky bit: the plumbing assembly for the water heater bypass and the connections heading off to the two sinks.  I built it in about an hour.  You can see an early draft of it in the picture below, not quite complete but showing all three of the ball valves and some of the major connections.

IMG_1832This piece will stand upright next to the side of the water heater (so the blue line will be at the bottom), and thus tuck in neatly to allow lots of free space under the bathroom sink where we formerly had wild plumbing lines going everywhere and blocking everything.  The draft in the photo doesn’t show two additional tees that I added later.  As with the Dreaded Closet Manifold, it was designed so that access to the three ball valves would be much easier than before, and of course it’s color-coded too.

This was definitely the hardest piece of the project but I wouldn’t call it hard, really.  The whole project has been fairly easy, although time-consuming, and despite the challenges I’ve really appreciated the chance to do this and learn some new skills.

I’ve since completed the assembly with tees for the sinks and swivel fittings for the water heater connections, and test-fitted it for the umpteenth time.  All that remains is to fix couple of under-sink mistakes I made earlier, and then crimp it into place.

The mistakes are going to hold up the project, though, because I need a de-crimping tool.  I had gotten this far without purchasing that tool, which is used to cut off crimps without sacrificing the brass fittings.  Then I made two serious mistakes: one bad crimp, and I rather stupidly put in two tees to connect the cold water side of the bathroom faucet.  Obviously I only need one.

I could correct these mistakes by cutting out and sacrificing a bunch of completed sections, but I decided to go ahead and purchase the de-crimping tool (about $20) so that I will be able to make other repairs or modifications later.  I added this to a final parts order on Friday and probably won’t get it until late this week, so in the meantime not much is going to get done.

Once the parts do arrive, the project list looks like this:

  1. Hook up sinks
  2. Finish connecting water heater bypass to heater and main lines
  3. Install new city water fill
  4. Add experimental water hammer arrestor (*)
  5. Add foam insulation and pipe clamps for sound dampening and security
  6. Pressurize system and check for leaks (first with water pump, then with city water pressure)
  7. Test for noise & add insulation as needed.

Notice I haven’t included the item “Fix leaks”.  There won’t be any.  Right?

The water hammer arrestor is a complete experiment. I’m wondering if it will have any effect on the pulsing that the water pump transmits through the entire system.  You can insulate and clamp down the pipes so they don’t move, but the vibration is still transmitted through the water, so the vibration can re-appear in the pipes downstream.

RV stores sell a device called a pressure accumulator which is supposed to smooth out the water flow, but I’ve tried one and found it ineffective.  The water hammer arrestor is designed to stop one heavy “slug” of water pressure rather than a constant series of pulses, but I’m hoping it will have some positive effect anyway.  I’m going to plumb it in on the main line from the water pump and see what happens.

With this project mostly under wraps, and the weather finally warming up here (I know, no pity from the northerners), it’s time to get serious about the Safari floor project.  That’s on my list for later this week.

The 9 mile shakedown cruise

We’re back from Alumafiesta … and a bit worn out.

It was great to make so many people happy.  We essentially held a five day party for 150 guests, and managed to keep them occupied the entire time.  The feedback was good, we had a little time to visit with our friends, the weather was fantastic on four days, and nothing went terribly wrong.  All in all, it was a big success.  We’ve already picked out the dates for 2014 (Feb 4-9) and opened up registration for next year.  I can tell already that it will be even bigger.

So all’s good, the Airstreamers are smiling, and everyone on the team (me & Eleanor, Brett & Lisa) feel like we’ve done a good thing.  But it does take a lot out of all of us to run these things.  People kept asking if we’d “take over” certain other rallies, or if we’d bring an Aluma-event to their area, and we had to keep saying that we just didn’t have the energy to do this more than three or four times a year.  Right now I feel like I need a vacation.

I’m not going to get it, at least this week.  Beside the work I need to do for Airstream Life, the two Airstreams have spoken up about what they need.  Our little nine mile camping trip to the west side of Tucson was sufficient to blow the dust off the trailers, metaphorically at least, and reveal the little issues that must be resolved before we go on our next real expedition.

As I mentioned before, the Caravel has suffered from sitting, and we discovered several plumbing leaks and a bad propane regulator right before the event.  Since then we’ve found that one of the two Optima batteries has begun to leak from the negative terminal.  This leakage damaged the Marmoleum floor (fortunately a place you can’t normally see).  So I yanked out the battery today and we neutralized the remaining acid with baking soda.

After looking at the mongrel plumbing in the Caravel, I’ve decided that the best approach will be to totally replace the plumbing system with all new PEX lines and fittings.  I really don’t like the system we’ve got (which was installed by a prior owner; the only major system we haven’t already replaced).  It has too many types of fittings, too many bits scabbed together with hose clamps, a lot of lines that are stressed going around corners where they should have neat elbows, and definitely not enough Teflon tape. Plus, this will give me the opportunity to quiet the vibrating water line that comes from the pump, add insulation, and install a real city water fill with check valve & pressure regulator. Today I placed an order for $287 worth of parts and tools to get this job done.  I still need to order the city water fill, so the total will exceed $300 for this particular project.

I also ordered a new propane regulator, two pigtails, a new main supply hose, and an adapter to connect the modern regulator to the original gas plumbing.  That’s another eighty bucks or so.  I’m going to skip replacing the failed battery, since the trailer now has all LED lighting and we really don’t need more than one battery for it.

A while back we tallied up the total “investment” in the Caravel.  Let’s just say it far exceeds the trailer’s current market value (are you surprised?) so it really isn’t a good investment.  Still, it seemed time to insure it for something more realistic than the “book value” of about $2,000, so I bought an Agreed Value Policy from Progressive with a $25,000 valuation and this week got a professional (IRS certified) appraiser to write up an appraisal.  I haven’t seen the appraisal yet, so I don’t really know how well the insurance valuation matches reality.  In any case, insuring for approximately true value tripled the insurance cost.  At least if there’s a total loss we’ll get some of our investment back.

You might wonder why we keep this antique Airstream that we hardly ever use.  The reasons are:  (1) We want to give it to Emma someday; (2) We can’t bear to part with it; (3) The current market probably won’t give us a price we can accept.  So we keep it ready to go for an average of one trip per year, and wait for Emma to learn to drive.  I’d hope for that day to come sooner, but I know that even when Emma inherits it I’ll still be the guy fixing it and paying for it …

For its part, the Safari is mostly fine.  We already knew that it needs a fresh floor covering, and I’ve already got the materials for that.  (That project starts soon.)  The problems I discovered on this trip were with the accessories. My laptop battery has died again ($95), and for some reason the Cradlepoint router is no longer happy with the Verizon Wireless Internet card (a Pantech UML-290).  The replacement battery is on order but I’m going to have to do some digging to figure out the router problem.  Both of these issues have to be resolved before we can go on the road again.

I also discovered that the new tire pressure monitor system I bought last August is really junk.  It’s a cheap system sold under a variety of names (and it’s not the Doran system I was using earlier).  It has managed to give terribly inaccurate readings ever since I got it, and also caused one of the tires to loose quite a bit of air.  I filled up the tires last week, and re-seated all the sensors, but I think this system is going to get returned.

I do like the security of having tire pressure monitoring on the trailer, but on the other hand we have enjoyed 100% reliability since we switched to the Michelins.  No flats, no punctures, no belt separations, no problems whatsoever.  I know that no tire is bulletproof, and yet we’ve been doing so well that I may skip tire pressure monitoring for a while.

It’s debatable whether we are more worn out by Alumafiesta, or the trailers are.  They are getting the post-event TLC, however.  In this case it’s better to be the horse than the rider.

I’ve got about six weeks to get everything buttoned up.  We are considering a three or four week trip in late March/early April up the California coast, and all systems need to be 100% for that.  Even if we end up not going (or being out for a shorter time), it will be good to know everything is ready for the big summer trip to Alumapalooza and beyond, which starts in mid-May.