Gremlins do inhabit Airstreams just like every other place in the world, and I suppose they are especially active at this time of year.  After all, Halloween is this weekend and gremlin infestation is the only possible reason I can find for so many things going wrong in the past week.

Let’s re-cap:  failure of 3 clearance light bulbs, batteries in the TPMS sensors, O-rings in the kitchen faucet, one walkie-talkie, the Wilson Sleek 4G cellular booster, and the refrigerator.  Plus hiccups in the GPS, one laptop, the Verizon MiFi, shower head, Tongue Twister, and a couple of broken leveling blocks.

And then yesterday, when hitching up in a heavy rain (thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Patricia) when leaving Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park in Niceville FL, I rushed the job a little too much and attempted to drive away with one stabilizer jack still down.  Ugh.  So that’s pretzeled.

I whacked the stabilizer with a hammer a few times—not that it did any good for the problem but it was a good way to work off frustration—and then got out the old speedwrench and cranked the stabilizer up enough to be able to tow.  That stabilizer looks seriously deranged and it will never work again.  I’m hoping Airstream of Mississippi will have one in stock when we drive past there on Thursday.

Despite the constant series of glitches capped by my own embarrassing mistake, as I was standing there getting soaked in the rain I felt that we’d reached a sort of turning point.  It felt like I’d just hit a triple low biorhythm day and from here on things could only get better.

It was time to reach out to friends and associates, and the ever-helpful Mr Google and Ms Amazon, and get back on track.  We set up the Airstream for a three-day stay on the Florida panhandle near the beach, and got busy.  I ordered a few new parts to be delivered to our campground in Louisiana later this week, made arrangements to borrow a few sockets and wrenches I don’t normally carry, and we went to the local Wal-Mart to buy some Gremlin Repellent.

It must have worked because a miracle occurred.  After days of the refrigerator not working (repeated attempts) and no returned calls from Arcticold (repeated attempts), I managed to get Arcticold on the phone.  They basically told me that what had happened to us couldn’t have happened, and asked me to do a test to verify the cooling unit wasn’t working.

This frustrated me since I had already run through considerable diagnosis on my own and with Super Terry and knew that the cooling unit had lost its mojo.(1)  But they wouldn’t offer a warranty replacement until I did one more test, which involved hotwiring the electric heater element to 120 volt power for 12 hours and then taking some temperature readings on the exterior coils.(2)

At this point the refrigerator had been turned off for about 30 hours since our last attempt. “What the heck,” I figured, “let’s make them happy,” so I turned it back on overnight and made a note to go buy an infrared thermometer in the morning.

And of course, the refrigerator started working again.

The damn thing was 27 degrees when I woke up, thanks to a combination of dry ice and a working cooling unit. I took out the dry ice and let it run all day and it stayed at 32 degrees.(3)  Cooling like a glacier, and not even a “oh, sorry” from it for taking a multi-day vacation.

Super Terry’s only comment was “Did Microsoft have anything to do with designing it?”  Apparently what it wanted was a long break to let its internal gasses settle, and a re-boot.(4)

Henderson State Beach Airstream campsite

Of course by this time we’ve eaten most of the good stuff in the freezer.  Last night Eleanor made filet mignon wrapped in bacon with a gorgeous red wine sauce that had roasted garlic and mushrooms and … I don’t even know what else, but it was awesome.  That went with little roasted potatoes and sweet squash and salad.  Tonight we have salmon planned (it’s already defrosted so we have to eat it).  I can’t complain about any of that.  Now we’ve got a half-empty freezer and I guess that means we can stock it up with something else tasty.

I don’t trust the refrigerator fully just yet, but I’m going to celebrate by buying some ice cream pretty soon.  Take that, gremlins!

(See comments for technical footnotes.)


  1. Liz says

    Gremlins in time for All-Hallows-Eve! Sounds as if we might pass each other on I-10 tomorrow. We are heading to where you have been and you are heading in our direction. We left Palmetto Island State Park in Louisiana yesterday, spent last night at Davis Bayou Campground in Ocean Springs, MS and tomorrow head over to St. George Island near Apalachicola in the panhandle. We’ll be on the look-out for an aluminum glacier heading west :-) Safe travels.

  2. RichLuhr says

    1. We knew the cooling unit wasn’t working because it was getting full heat (tested on both electricity and gas) and the boiler was getting very hot, but no heat was detected at the lower tank or coils. When the absorption cycle is working, those parts should get warm. This indicates that something is blocking circulation. A solid blockage (crystals or debris) can be fatal. In this case we don’t know if the blockage was something solid that eventually was dislodged like a kidney stone, or a sort of “gas bubble”.

    2. Hotwiring the electric heating element requires opening the black circuit board box and disconnecting the 120v wires that go to the power plug and to the heater, then connecting them directly together. Obviously you unplug it first to avoid electrocution. This isn’t a technique for anyone who isn’t familiar with 120v AC power, as a mistake here can be fatal.

    If the coils remained cold it would have indicated that the cooling unit’s circulation had been stopped and that would have been cause for warranty replacement. If they got warm at all, it would show that the cooling unit was functioning and that something else was the cause of the problem.

    3. It ran so cold because we moved the dry ice to the freezer. Normally the cooling unit chills the freezer first and then uses the remaining chill for the refrigerator. In our case the freezer was running well below zero thanks to the dry ice, so there was excess chill to send to the fridge compartment. We’ve turned the fridge controls down to compensate until the dry ice is all gone.

    You might read on the Internet that you shouldn’t put dry ice in a working freezer because it will cause the thermostat to turn off and thus cause the refrigerator to get warm. In the case of these RV refrigerators the thermostat (actually a temp probe called a thermistor) is in the refrigerator compartment, so dry ice in the freezer just makes the freezer colder and the fridge runs normally.

    4. “let the gasses settle”: If you’ve heard of the old “burping the fridge” method of turning it upside down or laying it on the side for a few hours, this is similar. Taking out the refrigerator in my trailer is a two-man job since it has to be lifted to shoulder height in order to clear the countertop, and it weighs 140 lbs. So removing it to lay it on its side (as was suggested by Arcticold) was not feasible for me in a campground without help.

    Fortunately, whatever needed to happen internally occurred spontaneously. Whether this was the result of being off for 30 hours or from the 250 mile tow (while turned off) we don’t know.

  3. Mitchell Nipper says

    Sorry to hear of all your troubles–hopefully you have pushed your way through the bad mojo and are well on your way to a more blissful trip. Disappointing to hear of customer support issues with Arcticold. Did they offer any explanation?

    • RichLuhr says

      Yes, I got six minutes (no exaggeration) of excuses from the front-line guy who finally answered the phone. My favorite one was “it was a big football weekend.” My impression was a small company promising more than could be delivered. In any case, when I finally got through to the big boss/owner/expert I got quick answers.

  4. Tom Palesch says

    Did the same thing with one of my stabilizers once upon a time. The side brackets are what usually bend (a 1/4″ X1″ X 6′ -Approx. strap).

    They get bent out of alingment and are too tough to straighten with a hammer. A couple of minutes under the trailer with a couple of wrenches and they come right off. I found a small piece of wood 2X4, or in the desert you could use a flat rock and placed that in front of the front TV wheel. Then, place the bracket piece bent side up on the wood/stone. Drive the TV over it and there is generally enough weight to straighten the bracket. Rebolt it, crank the stabilizer up and you are good to go. It won’t be perfect, but it should be good enough not to worry about!

    • RichLuhr says

      Excellent suggestion. That’s exactly how mine bent. But you’ll see how it I “fixed” it in the next blog entry.