Search Results for: Caravel plumbing

17 Feet o’ Fun

Wednesday was National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, which is a major holiday among women who recently discovered it, like the two who inhabit my house.  This led to chocolate fondue Thursday, a day late but when you’re dealing with a serious topic like chocolate, some leeway is apparently allowed.  And hey, if you’re doing fondue, might as well have cheese fondue for dinner,too!  That balances things, nutritionally.

fairy_godmother.jpgWe don’t normally eat like this.  Yesterday’s dinner was the sort of dietary faux pas that will turn us into manatees if we keep it up.  So now we are waddling around the house in a post-cheese & chocolate trance and wondering exactly what sort of conspiracy comes up with ideas like “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day.”  I suspect Fairy Godmother involvement:  “Get me something deep fried and smothered in chocolate.”

I have been spending the past three days rushing around, trying to simultaneously prep the Caravel for travel while completing major work on the Spring 2010 issue of Airstream Life.  The magazine is now 90% in the hands of the Art Department, which means that unlike the past two weeks, if I drop out of sight for 24 hours the world will not come to an end. Lately I have felt like one of those guys spinning plates on tall poles — it all looks great as long as you’re there to keep the plates spinning, but step away for a second …

I would not be rushing to prep the Caravel except that I have an opportunity to go to Quartzsite this weekend and visit some friends who are boondocking out in one of the BLM’s desert Long Term Visitor Areas. It’s the last such chance I’ll have for at least six weeks, and I really want to do it. So I ran down the list of the most urgent things to make the trailer fully functional: plug it in for charging, fill the water tank, lubricate the stubborn locks, test all the systems, vacuum out the sawdust inside and the broken glass outside, etc.  Of course that also included loading up with food, utensils, dishes, clothes, tools, and all the other accessories of fine trailer living.

In the process I discovered a few more things for the “bug list.”  The fresh tank water drain leaked at the shutoff valve. Over the years somebody replaced the water drain line but kept the original 40-year-old shutoff valve.  I don’t quite get the logic of that.  40-year-old valves leak, and a complete replacement costs just a few dollars. Eleanor and I rebuilt that little bit of plumbing this morning, with new water line, brass fittings, hose clamps, and a little Rescue Tape for extra insurance.  (Silicone tape is a new thing to me, but it’s turning out to be extremely useful, so now it’s a permanent item in my traveling toolbox.)

dsc_0620.jpgWhile testing the water heater I discovered an old paper wasp nest attached to the exhaust vent.  This was easily removed, and provided a nice bonus:  a little homeschool lesson for Emma about insect homes and honeycomb construction. But I also found that the bathroom faucet seems to be clogged or defective (no water comes out), and a switch to the Fantastic Vent seems intermittent. Plus I need a new 12v reading light, clips for the Magic Chef stove grates, some replacement clips for the 1968-style windows, etc.  I’ve already placed a hefty order at Vintage Trailer Supply this week and I can see another order needed in January for the vintage stoneguard and a few other pricey goodies. Having an Airstream and a “Sparestream” means double your pleasure, double your cost.

I got a new Reese drawbar for the Caravel, eliminating the need for the heavy equalizing hitch head I was using.  It also raises the ball two inches, so now the Caravel rides level.

68caravelbrochure.jpgI’m afraid to test the air conditioner — it is too expensive to have to deal with if (after five years of sitting) it no longer works.  Frankly, if it needs expensive repair I might be inclined to remove it altogether and put in a skylight instead.  Our Caravel was a “base” model when it was ordered, having none of the factory options then available, and certainly not air conditioning.  Over the years it has gained modern accessories like a TV antenna, air conditioner, patio light, and spare tire, but given the way we intend to use it, we would never miss the TV antenna or AC, and they ruin the vintage lines of the roof.

Now with some of our stuff back in it, the trailer is starting to feel like “ours” again.  During its five year absence it was like an old memory.  But our house was filled with children yesterday afternoon, so I took the laptop into the Caravel and made it my office, and bonded with the trailer.  I like the feel of the new dinette table.  The edges have soft radiuses, easy on the forearms when I type.  The Marmoleum top is neither cold nor warm, and yields slightly, making it nicer to the touch than hard Formica.  The trailer has good light and the foam of the new cushions is just perfect.

I love old magazine ads, and the brochure (pictured above) for the 1968 Caravel is a treasured addition to my collection.  I particularly like the fact that Airstream claimed the Caravel had “luxurious accommodations for six.”  Six what?  Elves? Trust me, with three people inside and both beds set up, it’s plenty tight in there, with no room to stand.  Sleeping six would require two people in each “double” bed, plus one in each of two optional bunks.  We’d be like snakes in a woodpile. Heaven help you if someone needed to go to the bathroom.  That probably explains why I’ve never seen a Caravel with the optional bunk beds.

Today I will head over to “Q” and field-test everything for two days and nights.  I have yet to use the shower, or dump the holding tanks, or just be in the trailer in an actual camping situation. You don’t really know how things work in a camper until you really go camping.  That’s when you discover where things need to be stored, where a hook is needed, where your hat goes, how long the battery lasts, etc.  As always, I’ll blog daily while I’m traveling, with thoughts about the roadtrip, Quartzsite, and life in 17 feet.

Following Route 66

When I planned this trip, I hadn’t anticipated sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to St Louis.  It was a cold start in the morning from Lincoln, IL.  The car said it was 24 degrees but it seemed colder.  Everything was coated in heavy frost, and the air was so nippy it hurt to breathe in through my nose.  I’m glad I didn’t try to spend the night in the Caravel.  I really needed that hotel room and warm shower, and I slept 10 hours very solidly.

Heading south long I-55 all morning I saw frosted brown stalks of corn fields, and half-frozen cattle stomping around on white grass.  It didn’t warm up until late in the morning, and by then I was crossing into Missouri.  Worse, there was a strong wintry headwind slowing me down, and the GL was getting only 12.5 MPG fighting it.

It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning that I was approximately following the historical Route 66.  The “mother road” used to run from Chicago to Los Angeles, paralleling I-55, I-44, and I-40 — exactly my route.  But watching the scenery closely (and what else is there to do alone in the car for ten hours?) I began to notice the quirky roadside signs and attractions that are today’s hallmark of historic Route 66.


The Pink Elephant Antique store was the first good sign of Route 66 I noticed.  I am a fan of architecture and giant-sized mid-century outdoor kitsch, so at first their classic soft-serve stand caught my eye; then the shell of a Futuro House (only the second one I’ve ever seen; and then a “Muffler Man“.  I’m fans of all these things, so to find them all in one spot was worth exiting the highway and doubling back for three miles along the frontage road.  The bonus was discovering that the frontage road was formerly Route 66, so I felt very good towing my little vintage Airstream to see the Pink Elephant.

The temperatures this time of year naturally discourage camping in the north.  I gave up looking for an open campground in Illinois, but was still hoping to fill the Caravel’s water tank along the way so that I could sanitize it while I drove.  (Eleanor and I mixed up a pre-measured batch of bleach and water to dump into the tank.  After four hours, all the bugs that might be living in the plumbing will be dead, so I can drain the system and refill with pure water.) But the Flying J I visited in Missouri had turned its water off for the season.  I took this as a sign that I was still too far north, and proceeded on.

Pulling into a rest area sometime later, I heard a strange clanging.  One of the Caravel’s wheel trim rings fell off just as I was slowing down, and it rolled along right behind me to finally stop 20 feet behind the trailer.  That’s something I was rather accustomed to back in the days when the Caravel was our primary trailer: things falling off in transit.  With the refurb, I expected those days would be mostly behind me, but I guess not. To be on the safe side, I removed the other trim ring and tossed them in the car for safekeeping.  I’ll have to figure out how to secure them better in the future.

Being cautious, I am towing at no more than 62 MPH (and usually 60 MPH), so it’s difficult to cover as many miles as I was a few days ago.  After nine hours of driving I managed 520 miles and then parked in Tulsa OK.  This will be my first night in the Caravel.  It’s still cold, but not nearly as cold as before (about 40 degrees as I type this), so with the catalytic heater pumping out warmth, and my sleeping bag, I should be completely comfortable.

This is “dry camping,” meaning that I have no water in the trailer and thus can’t wash, use the bathroom, or do dishes.  Cabin-fevered northerners often do this when their trailers are winterized, just to have a brief getaway.  The usual technique is to have a few gallons of water for drinking, and rely on the campground bathroom for everything else.  Since I’m stealth camping in the middle of Tulsa, I’m using the bathrooms of local stores and restaurants.  Can’t get a shower this way, but at least I can cover the basics, and meals are only a short walk away.

The weather is clear along my route, so it’s my choice whether to take the quickest way home or an alternate.  The quick way is still 900 miles, on I-40 to Albuquerque and then down I-25 to I-10.  Problem is, that brings me up to 6,000 feet elevation.  Albuquerque — my overnight stop — will be freezing at night again, and not too warm by day either. If I dip down into Texas via Wichita Falls and Abilene, I’ll have a much warmer climate at the cost of an additional 50 miles and about two hours of travel time.  Right now, I’m craving warmth so I am leaning toward the Texas tour.  I’ll figure it out before I get to Oklahoma City tomorrow.

Snowy and cold on the road

I knew that the logistics of this particular trip would be challenging.  Going up to Grand Rapids MI to get a trailer in December is just asking for trouble.  I wasn’t expecting sunshine and tropical breezes, but I was hoping for at least a lucky break where there would be no fierce headwinds and no snow.  No such luck.

The drive up from Louisville to Grand Rapids was uneventful.  I started at 8:30 a.m. under gray scudded skies and occasional light rain, but with temperatures in the upper 30s.  The roads that hadn’t yet frozen for the season so there was no risk of ice.  I covered the 400+ miles quickly and arrived at Ken’s shop by 4 p.m.

The Caravel was awaiting me in the shop. It looks pretty good.  I did an pre-departure inspection and discovered that the refrigerator wouldn’t come on, and the water pump wasn’t connected to 12v, and a few other minor bugs.  We fixed the fridge and the pump, found my hitch, loaded the miscellaneous parts & pieces, and I was ready to go.  My friend Charlie had come up from South Bend to see the trailer and check out Ken’s shop, and after hitching up the trailer, Ken & Petey invited both of us to dinner at their house.

By the time dinner was done, we had three inches of fluffy powder on the deck.  It made the trailer look very picturesque.  That’s about all I can say in favor of it.  I had planned to tow down to Charlie’s house, to get a jump on the first 100 miles of my trip southward.  I wasn’t excited about towing the new trailer in the dark and in a snowstorm.  After much consulting of The Weather Channel, we realized that the bulk of the snow was landing away from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The route to South Bend is mostly along the shoreline, so we decided to make a run for his house.

At first this appeared to be a big mistake.  We drove right into one of those horrible blinding snowstorms of fat white flakes that rush at your headlights and obscure the view.  Traffic on the Interstate was moving at 30 MPH and the car was getting shoved around by ruts in the snow.  I considered heading back but after seven miles things began to clear up, and then as we reached the shoreline the snow ended, just as we’d thought it would.

Still, I wandered around South Bend for ten minutes, momentarily lost, and didn’t pull into the driveway of Charlie’s house until nearly 10:30. We sat up another hour talking and then I settled into their guest bedroom, since the Caravel was winterized and empty of propane.

I got a start on making the trailer habitable today.  I filled up the two 30# tanks with propane, and bought some small plastic storage bins to organize my stuff.  I also fired up the catalytic heater to see how well it worked (very well, as it turned out).  That’s as far as I could go without water.  My rule of thumb is that I can de-winterize a trailer (fill the tank, water heater, and plumbing lines with fresh water) if the daytime temperatures are above freezing. That way the trailer won’t freeze while towing.  But the temperatures in South Bend were unseasonably low — 26 degrees, with a biting west wind that made it seem much colder.

This was disappointing but not unexpected.  It’s cold nearly everywhere in the US today.   The only solution seemed to be to drive south and hope for better temperatures tomorrow.  So I hauled out at about 2:30, drove about 250 miles, and got a hotel.   With a hotel rather than dry-camping in the Airstream, I’ll have high-speed Internet to catch up on work, a hot shower, breakfast, Weather Channel on TV, and plenty of heat.  It’s going down to 16 degrees tonight!


Since it’s low season for this particular hotel, I was able to park my rig right outside my window and keep an eye on it during the evening.

From here I have only the vaguest of plans.  I need to get back to Tucson fairly soon, to get a pile of work done on deadline.  Weather is the dominant factor in determining my route.  At this point it looks like the best route will be right through the heart of the country.  Once I get to I-40 I’ll have to make a decision whether to go high-altitude through Texas and New Mexico, or dip straight south into Texas for possible warmer weather.  I don’t expect really warm temps anywhere in the next few days, so lack of precipitation will be the best I can hope for.

The poor Caravel was looking gorgeous in the shop, but now the front is covered with frozen slush and the sides are streaked with road gunk.  The Mercedes isn’t looking too good either.  I am dreaming of a warm sunny day in southern Arizona, where I am stopping at a car wash to get all the northern winter grime cleaned off the polished aluminum.