Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blogging on Vtbirder

I moved the airstream/travel to so if you have not signed up for updates, you might check out the new blog posts. I plan to cover our upcoming SW trip there, so why not sign up to tag along?


Friday, August 30, 2013

Moving blog to Vermont Birder

After several years of maintaining multiple blogs, I am consolidating all of them into  All the posts here are already integrated into that site.

Please sign up by RSS feed or via email to have future articles sent to you.  Hope to see you over there as I blog about our Airstream travails and travels.  Dick

Saturday, August 17, 2013

One-legged Polishing

My knee, injured on August 2nd, is bothersome but as I await surgery next week, I can do some polishing.  I pretty much have finished the top half of the Airstream and now can work, sitting in a chair, on the lower panels.  I take it 45 minutes at a time and rest a lot -- but it's good to see some continued progress.

I know I'll be disabled again after next Tuesday's arthroscopic procedure and lose a few weeks while I recover so I've been pecking away, keeping the weight and pressure off my bad leg.

It's still very slow going.  There is a lot of residual flecks of clearcoat that have to be removed, slowing the process a lot.  Some are really stubborn -- but I've learned to use solvent, even fine steel wool.  What I'm finding is that the lower sections are pretty dinged up -- lots of road rash -- but they polish up pretty well.  I have taken off the one protective panel on the front since the other is long gone on the roads outside Houston, and replacements are very pricey.

The squiggles are reflections in the morning sun -- it looks ok with just the first pass of polishing. 
I'll work on it a few hours more before surgery and then see how things go.  I can always head out this winter with work to do and polish the rest down south.  There are times where I question why I ever started this but all in all, it was a good move.  The injury has put a crimp in the schedule but the worst is over.

I have started to do some preliminary planning for our trip this year -- reviewing places we like and places we'll never visit again.  Now we have to get both of us tuned up and ready to travel.  We are keeping our doctors' cash flow flowing -- they'll likely all take great winter vacations.  Safe traveling.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Polishing Project Comes to a Crash Landing

I can look out my bedroom window and see the brightly polished side of the Airstream and exactly where I stopped work on Thursday.  I decided to take a break Friday and go birding and so I did.  I injured myself on the trail and am incapacitated for a while -- so the Airstream renovation is on hold.

You can read about it on my birding blog here:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Slow Going

Between the weather, which has continued hot and humid with afternoon showers, and the persistent flecks and patches of clearcoat (which have to be removed with dabs of Strypeeze), the polishing is quite a project. As you can see, the top areas I have completed look pretty good. They will next get a pass with a finer polish which should remove most of the swirls and cloudy areas. Of course, I realized the other day that the two replaced panels in back did not have clearcoat, and seem to be a slightly different aluminum. They will polish up but not as shiny but who really cares?

You can see the contrast between the polished and unpolished areas here on the panel just above the buffer.

One thing this project has stimulated is my planning for this winter's trip. I'm reviewing the dozens of campground where we have stayed and lidting the good ones, with sites we like, and also have a "never again list by states.

We've had a cold front come through so polishing should be a bit more bearable. It's fun to chalk off one more section, but there's always more ahead. Fortunately, we are in no big hurry.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Let The Polishing Fun Begin

After over 30 hours of prep (But who's counting? I am.) I'm starting in on the polishing. I'm starting with F7 Nuvite, a rather coarse polish from Vintage Trailer Supply here in Montpelier. I'll run a finer polish later if and when I finish this set of sessions, which will likely be 20-25 hours. The weather, hot and muggy, is not conducive to long periods of work. So I sit down inside with iced coffee and write about it.
Here's how the front looked at the start - lots of oxidation from the peeled clearcoat.
Polishing involves smearing very small strips of polish on an area and using a slow-speed polisher to allow the particles in the F7 to strip off a minute layer of aluminum. You let the electric polisher do the work but it still takes a lot of energy to control it.
Building arm strength controlling polisher. It looks cooler out than it was - 80 degrees with high humidity.

It is a messy process - lots of small black bits of polish and I always wear a mask - even though it is tough in the heat. I decided to keep the initial session on the top front panel and will perhaps tackle another section this evening. If you are inclined to polish an Airstrteam or an airplane, Steve from VTS has a nice primer you can download here.

The polished area looks very bright, with swirl marks from the coarse polish. So far, so good.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stripping Between Showers

We are, like most of the East, in a humid spell where days finish with showers and thunderstorms -- and the air is heavy and Maryland-like. It's not great painting weather but OK for stripping clearcoat -- as long as I get five or six hours between application and rain.

I am using a new safer stripper that I bought from Vintage Trailer Supply. Here's part of whart they say about it:

For many years, vintage Airstream owners have relied on RemovAll 220 peroxid-activated paint stripper to remove the plasticoat from their trailers before polishing. RemovAll is no longer available in North America. Fortunately, PPG Aerospace makes a paint stripper based on the same principles as RemovAll. It is called Eldorado PR-5044.

PR-5044 is a peroxide-activated paint and primer remover. It works well because it is designed for removal of polyurethane and epoxy paint systems in the aerospace industry. PR-5044 is environmentally preferred and worker-friendly. It does contain petroleum distillates, so it does produce fumes. You will need to read all safety information before using. However, it is not a hazardous material and is much easier to use and safer than traditional aircraft strippers.

So, it looks like vanilla pudding and paints on rather easily. Here is the first panel I tried it on:

That worked out pretty well so the next day, I applied it on the upper section.

After a thundershower rinsed it, I spent some time with water and rags removing the coating which tended to come off like Saran wrap. At times, whole sections several square feet in size just peeled off -- other areas were more stubborn. Some will require more stripper.

The removed coating looks like cellophane and will be easy to clean up later on.

So, the upper right side is 95% done and after a break for the 4th, I'll start on the lower. It's slow going but I just realized, after talking with my brother, that the two new panels we had replaced are coating free. I figure I have about 14 hours in and another 20 to go - before beginning to polish.

The upper right side is about done - now to start on the decals and lower section.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Meeting Mr. Filiform

I have decided to tackle the peeling clearcoat on the Airstream on a casual basis - a panel or two at a time. So today I continued to use up the Stypeeze on some lower panels. I found that the top half came off fast - I could hear the covering crinkling up as I applied stripper below. The lower half was much tougher- I wonder if they put two layers down nearer the road.

stripped clearcoat
The clearcoat comes off pretty well after 15-20 minutes using water and a rag (and protective gloves.)

As I have cleared off areas, I am noting areas of so-called filiform. Filiform corrosion on Airstream happens at the cut edges, rivet holes, scratches, and fittings from moisture and ocean or winter road salt begins at the unprotected aluminum at those areas and spreads under the clear coat finish, where it flourishes because it cannot dry out easily. Various owners handle it differently - some ignore it, some try to recover it with clear lacquer, others wax the heck out of it.

filiform on edge
Here is some filiform along a seam.
filiform along rivet holes
filiform forms around rivets as well.

In doing some online research, I found that a combination of wet sandpaper and then polishing is the way to go. I only had 400 grit sandpaper (I need 800, 1000 as well) so I tried a couple of test spots. Here's how it looks -- not sure it is better but it is nearly gone.

I purchased a gallon of stripper from Steve at Vintage Trailer Supply and will start using that next week. It promises to be easier on the user.

I read somewhere that it takes 200 hours to polish an Airstream the first time. I may do half this year and the rest next. So it might look a little strange - hey, get over it!


Friday, June 28, 2013

Airstream Dermatology

It's well known that the clear coat used on Airstream exteriors weakens and starts peeling after UV exposure. Some say it starts in five or six years, others seem to do a little better. We had a little peeling when we bought the Safari five years ago but it has gotten steadily worse. It is just cosmetic but as we consider options, I know that potential buyers won't be too impressed. Here's what it looked like from the front.

The clear coat and Airstream name was looking pretty ratty.
I decided to strip the clearcoat and polish the aluminum on the top front where the situation was the worst. Steve at Vintage Trailer Supply recommends an environmentally-safe stripper and I'll use that down the road, but I had an expensive gallon of brain-frying Strypeeze so I used that. At least it was outdoors and with purple nitrile gloves, I painted it on the panel. It looked like this.

The Strypeeze wrinkled up the clearcoat, which then could be wiped off.
After several applications of stripper, I hit it with some lacquer thinner and got most of the remnants off. The peeled areas are oxidized and so the whole panel needs to be polished. That's next week's task once the heavy rains scheduled here soon subside.

The non-oxidized areas look pretty good giving me hope for good polishing results.

I have the feeling that this is going to turn into a major project, but at least it doesn't all have to be done this summer. The softer aluminum used in later Airstreams doesn't shine up like the older ones, but it should look fine. We will see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Brief Flirtation

After our recent trip to Massachusetts, I was a little tired of the "geeing and hawing" of maneuvering the Airstream out of our winding driveway, through crowded downtowns and tight construction zones, and in and out of parking sites. To say nothing of the hitching up, with the help of mosquitoes, and the setting up after arrival. I think the incessant heat and humidity were getting to me.
I got thinking, " Wouldn't it be nice just to have everything in one unit?" (I think every rv owner thinks about what other rigs might work better - and there are pros and cons to each option.) I have been intrigued with the Class B Airstream, in spite of its hefty $100k plus price tag new. We have no Airstream dealers close by so the other day, I paid a visit to a local rv dealer, Vermont Country Campers, to check out a few of their Class B and Class C campers.
It was a hot morning and I was reluctant to drag a sales guy out of his air-conditioned office and made it clear that I was just "tire-kicking." The first unit I went into was this expensive Winnebago diesel which is similar to the Airstream Interstate.
I was impressed with the design and the fuel economy but saw no need for the two extra captain's chairs taking up valuable space. The $125k price tag was ... well, not in our price range. The salesman, in talking about the lack of storage, said "You wouldn't be taking bikes and lawn chairs in this." (Which made me think of all the gear we haul in the truck.)
I've seen many RoadTrek vans in our travels and their owners seem to love them - except during long stretches of rainy days where they can develop cabin fever. As soon as I entered the unit shown below, and could not even stand upright, I knew these Class B's were not for us. Even used and affordable ones.
I looked at a couple of Class C's, ones with the little bunk area over the truck cab, but by now was realizing that this little Saturday morning fling was over. I thanked the guy, who had been very accomodating, and drove away in the truck thinking, "that old Airstream may be our best bet."
Who knows, we may upgrade to a newer model Airstream, buy an older one with more character, or continue to improve our present rig. Stay tuned.  (photos courtesy of Vermont Country Campers)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Shakedown Trip 2

Last Friday, we launched on a trip down to Merrimac, MA to see daughter Jen and her family -- and to test out systems on the Airstream.  We often take the unit down there so that the dog and I can sleep out in the woods -- saving some hassle at the house.
The rig hooked up and ready to roll down our newly surfaced driveway.
I expected a difficult trip since it was a Friday afternoon - the first weekend with school out -- but it was fairly tame.  We navigated the construction work in downtown Montpelier and huffed up the big hills heading out of Vermont.
There was a neat Canadian couple parked just ahead of us in the rest area and I quizzed them on their big Class C rig, which they've taken all over North America.
During the last half of the trip, I was sweating out the arrival procedure since I have to stop on a sometimes-busy road, back kitty-corner into a winding narrow driveway, and then back diagonally into the woods.  It's not hard if cars and trucks don't show up -- and we must have missed rush hour because only one car had to stop and watch Mary and I work at getting the Airstream off the road.  We are getting better, or luckier.

There's no electricity out in Jen's woods and the solar panel never worked in previous trips.  You can see why.
Our visit was wonderful, including a celebration of our 51st anniversary with a couple of cousins of mine whom I seldom see, but the mosquitos were tough as was the temperature and humidity.  We decided to return to Vermont a day early since the trailer was getting very warm (the generator is great but not sized to run the A/C unit.

We got home Monday, mid-day, and had a chance to unpack and park the Airstream before a series of thunderstorms.  The trip was a success: seeing the gang was wonderful, the hot water and refrigerator which had just been serviced worked like a charm, and Penny was in general, a good visitor.
The Airstream is now parked off the driveway in the only flat spot available, ready for the next adventure.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Honda Generator is Handy

For three years, we have tried to use a solar panel to charge our Airstream's battery with mixed results. There's too much shade and too many trees here in New England, especially in Vermont state parks where there are no hookups, period. So I bought a Honda 2000i and tested it out here at home and then took it with us to Ricker Pond SP last Sunday. It worked like a charm - it's easy to see why they are so popular.

We found it to be quiet while just charging the battery and a liitle noisier when making coffee. Toasting bread was louder but short-lived. I baked some Johnnycake in our small toaster oven and the noise was annoying - although not to others since we had no nearby neighbors. The bread was good, though. We'd only use the heavier demand tasks when all by ourselves, or when our neighbors' generator is loud.

At about 50 pounds, it's easy to load in the truck. We know that we can't run A/C without another linked unit but we rarely have used air conditioning in our travels. The initial reaction is very positive- probably should have done it before. It is nice not to have to worry about battery drain. Now if I can just keep ethanol from screwing it up. Happy Trails.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Ricker Pond State Park

After the exciting arrival I detailed previously, we had a couple of easy-going days at quiet Ricker Pond State Park.  The kids are still in school and this park, because it is mainly lean-to and tent sites, tends to draw a quieter crowd.  The shakedown went well except that the hot water heater quit the last day after running fine.  Better to find out here than in West Texas.  Here are some shots that I took during our stay:
Patches of Bunchberry were all along the roadways. 
There are about a dozen private camps on the pond -- most of them quite old and modest.  They do have electricity and satellite TV.  Many can only be reached by boat or winding footpath.

The large rock blocked off a road from vehicles.  It was not cut -- it is naturally like this. 
A Pink Lady's Slipper tucked in along the trail.

The state campground is tucked into the trees along the western edge of the pond.  Here are a few lean-tos with one, with the red canopy, in use.

Ricker Pond (95 acres) is located in the central portion of Groton State Forest along VT Route 232 just south of Lake Groton.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


My brother Barry and his wife, Mica DeAngelis, have restored two vintage Airstreams and have travelled to the South and Southwest for Habitat For Humanity builds and general travel.  They have always been watchers of birds but recently have sort of caught the birding bug.  Barry got a new camera a few months ago and has been testing it out here and there -- and captured this wonderful shot of a House Wren in their backyard.

Barry and Mica originally thought that this birdhouse was a gag gift but Momma wren has called it home for the last two years.  photo by Barry K. Mansfield, Burlington, VT

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Shakedown - Day 1

As I wrote in the last post, I hitched up the Airstream last night and we began to load. This morning, when I brought some more items out to the refrigerator, I found that the inside was room temperature. "One more glitch, and a serious one," I thought. We were getting ready for church, the temps were heading to 80, and for a few minutes, I thought that the trip was not going to happen. But then I had a revelation - the tow hitch was lower and I had rolled off the levelers, so the rig was far from level. And reefers don't work when the are not level.

So, I pulled down the driveway and then backed the rig, in four-wheel-drive up the winding driveway, missing the big ledge on one side and the ditch in the other, ending on the one level spot we have. I brought out some freezer packs to protect the food we'd just loaded, and went off to church. To cut to the chase - it was working fine when we got home.

After a rest, we finished loading and headed out, worrying about dark storm clouds to our west. It was an easy trip until it wasn't. With about ten minutes to go, a deluge hit. I was on a snake path of a highway, VT 232, fighting to see the road and no pulloffs to stop at when we rounded a corner and encountered two trees across the road. Here's what we saw through the window wipers:

You can't see the intensity of the downpour but believe me, it was raining hard when I ran out in shorts and flip-flops to tug on these.  Two of us pulled, slipped, fell, but moved the darn things.

During a brief lull, I ran out and tried to move the trees with no luck - getting drenched in the process. Three or four cars showed up heading toward us and finally, one guy got out and started tugging. I joined him and we got both trees moved to the edge of the road. I was soaked and covered with pitch and bark but we were on our way - with one more delay for downed trees.

Ricker State Park is set up for lean-to and tent camping with onlybabout five RV sites. And they are tough to negotiate. I had reserved the one that looked the biggest and most remote, but when we got to it, we had several trucks sort of in the way and a real tough back-in. Plus it was raining just enough to make Mary's job of helping challenging.

So, I got smart. I asked our neighbors, "Any of you good at backing up trailers?" They allowed how Kevin was a pro at it and sure enough he was. With Joe giving directions, he turned that rig around, backed it carefully down the narrow access, and was done in five minutes. I'm not sure I might not be still at it. Turns out that Kevin drives big trailer trucks for a living.

The rain has pretty much stopped and the warblers are singing as night falls. There goes an Ovenbird "disturbing" the silence. Hope to get the boats on the water tomorrow - it looks like a pretty pond. Glad we are here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Shakedown Cruise Tomorrow

It's been 14 months since we have used the Airstream so it's no wonder that I have been dealing with glitch after glitch with the rig and our gear.  I got the furniture and the systems running and about everything inside cleaned up.  There was a lot of grime from the polishing of the aluminum and the floor was filthy from all the traveling in and out with work boots.

It just takes patience.  I found some gas pipes hanging a little loose underneath, and then noticed a nut missing off a bolt holding a pad on to its leg.

When I got our gear ready, my bike was in need of a little TLC and lubrication.  The tires were low and when I found my good bike pump, the hole had been plugged with a mud dauber -- no big deal.  The fancy security cable for the kayaks had apparently been run over at some point - so kiss that baby goodbye.

I got hitched up this evening and tested the lights again (we just did it several weeks ago) and one turn signal was dead.  I changed the bulb -- same thing.  A little scraping of the contacts got it going fine.

So, we will attend church tomorrow -- it is the last Sunday this Spring for formal choir -- and finish heading out mid-day tomorrow.  We have reservations at Ricker Pond State Park -- a very small park with just a few RV sites -- about an hour and a half away in Groton.  Thunderstorms are predicted so it may be an interesting journey -- but we have plenty of time and no schedule.  It will be nice to get the boats out and do some paddling although I did get out yesterday for some birding by kayak.

There's definitely no wifi and likely no 4G signal but we'll survive.  Mary has downloaded two new books for her Kindle and I am bringing a thick book that I picked up at the library.  A real book - what a concept.  We'll let you know how we did when we return next week.

Just a about ready to go.  Can you see the two or three items not ready for the road?  (The roof vents are open, the step is down, and the radio antenna, which you can barely see, needs to be stowed.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Nearly Ready to Go

For the last several weeks, when it was not freezing or 8o degrees outside, I've been working away, polishing the inside of the trailer.  (Last Fall, I had taken off the grimy "mouse fur" lining the walls and fried a few brain cells getting the glue off the walls.) The polishing is just hard grimy work which requires removing the oxidation and rust with one compound, and then finishing up with another.  It looks pretty good.
The polished walls, with terrible reflections from outside, before I started re-installing beds and cabinets.
I had carefully marked most of the stuff I had removed and stored down cellar, putting the screws in small plastic bags and taping them to the item.  It worked pretty well although the rails to hold the curtains were a challenge.  I had multiple sets of holes in the walls but with Mary's help holding the ends, and some retries, we got them in place.

Here is a similar shot after the bed, the cabinet, and the infamous curtain railing were installed.  Getting there.
Installing the curtains is a trick, especially with bifocals.  You have to thread little plastic holders into a rail while hunched over and working more by feel.  They are installed, the floor is cleaned up, and I only have Mary's side to finish and the back end of the trailer is ready.

My side is about ready to go with mattress in place.  All it needs is the dog sleeping on it.
I got the rig de-winterized with fresh water on board -- only one problem so far with a spray hose in the sink which sprays me instead of the sink.  I tested out the water heater and finally got the refrigerator going on gas.

Our game plan is to finish up the repairs this week and take a short trip over to Ricker Pond State Park next week for a few days of shakedown.  Feels good to get it this far.

Monday, May 6, 2013

All Jacked Up but not yet ready to go.

The small bruises and cuts on my fingers signify the completion of a repair project -- the replacement of the front jack.  Like most efforts with our old trailer, it was not easy or without "issues."

So, here is the culprit prior to replacement.  The gears had stripped, the motor had given out, and I was stuck with using a log to keep the tongue of the trailer out of the mud.
What you can't see is the rusted bolts holding the jack to the tongue.
There was no way that the three bolts threaded into the tongue were going to move and I had about resolved to cut them off with an angle grinder when I got smart and posted a query on a wonderful online Airstream group called Air Forums.  Here's the question I raised:

I got several responses back that said first use a penetration oil like PB Blaster, then heat if needed.  They all said don't cut the bolts off.  So, down to our local hardware store I went and talked to one of the knowledgeable guys who further cautioned me to take my time and don't use too much force or "you'll snap off the bolt."

So, I soaked the bolts, tried to move them, heated them, and later that day, got one to budge.  I carefully extracted two of the bolts, breaking the rust with oil and heat.  Of course, the third one snapped when I put an extender on my ratchet wrench -- so I was left with two nice threaded holes and a stub of a hardened bolt.

The two bolts and on the right, the snapped-off bolt.  At least the old jack of off the rig.
I ground down the bolt prior to trying to drill it out.

So, the next morning it was back to the store and confessing to my advisor.  He sold me a drill bit/tapping set and some new bolts and soon I was back at the task, trying to get a small drill bit to center on the bolt.  I finally got it drilled and rethreaded.

The final tasks were rather uneventful - the jack fit the hole, the new bolts worked fine, and when I connected the power, the whole thing worked.  It was a lot of work but it was wonderful to have the help of folks who know what they are doing.  After a few additional fixes due to the differences in the new jack, the Airstream is now ready to hook up to the truck again.  Of course, the list of tasks grew as I worked around the unit, noticing items needing repair.  So, we'll tackle them one at a time but this major one is great to have out of the way.

New jack ready to go.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Getting the Rig Back Together

The snow has melted, mud season is over, and the pinched nerve in my neck has been somewhat relieved.  It is time to tackle the many tasks needed to get the Airstream back on the road.  Recall that I finally got the repairs made to the exterior last fall but all the cabinets, beds, and accessories that I removed and stored down cellar have to be reinstalled.

The snow has finally melted and it's time to tackle a myriad of projects to get the rig roadworthy again.
But first, I need to deal with the front jack whose motor and gearing failed last year, after several years of burned connections and emergency fixes.  It no longer works at all, which makes it a little tricky to get hitched up.

The jack has been on the rig since 1999 so the three bolts holding it on are rusted in place.  I suspect that I am going to have to cut them off so I borrowed my neighbor's angle grinder and bought a cutting wheel.  Not sure how I'll open up the three holes to bolt the new one on.

I ordered a replacement jack from my friends at Vintage Trailer Supply and since they are based in Montpelier, will pick it up on Thursday.  I'm sure they can give me a little advice on steps ahead.  Stay tuned -- or if you have ideas, leave a comment.