OK, I don't have a lot of time to write tonight, so this'll be part two of a three part series on my home for the 2nd half of 2007 and beyond.
The first step I took in bringing this Airstream back to life was ordering tempered glass from Bobbitt Glass Company. Airstreams usually have plexiglas, but I strongly dislike plastics as glass, sine they easily sctratch and fade to translucent yellow. Most of the plexi on this Airstream was so faded out that you couldn't see through it at all. Some had cracked, and all had been installed by a previous owner with liquid nails. Ugh.
It was a two day project readying the window frames for the new glass, which ran about $250 for the entire trailer. That was not including the front window, which I spent more than a day building out in watertight and load bearing fashion to hole my new desert swamp cooler, the best way to air condition a space out oin far west Texas and inn any desert climate.
The science behind the swamp cooler is strictly air circulation and evaporation. The housing contains a large aquarium pump and lines which lead water to the tops of three large filters (made of straw and moss) along the exterior perforations in the steel. Water is saturating the filters and a high powered squirrel fan draws air through the unit into your space. It's a fresh air only situation, so it works best of you have some open windows. Cool, humidified air (cooled through the addition of water molecules into the air) blows in. The base of the housing has a water input with a float valve that allows water to flow in when needed and shuts the flow off when the basin is full, keeping the cooler from overflowing. This type of cooling does not work in overly humid climates, such as Houston and Louisiana, but sometimes you will see swamp coolers used, minus the water connections, as forced fresh air intakes in commercial kitchens to assist in the drawing out of air up the vent hood. Ami's restaturant in Midtown Houston has two on the Francis St side. I have looked at them and they are used for forced air for the kitchen. Out here in West Texas, swamp coolers are the norm and according to figures off of a swamp cooler manufacturer's website (Iforget which one- they are in Ark and AZ) a swamp cooler operating with 40% humidity can drop the temp in a room nearly 30 degrees. I've experienced that out in the Mojave Desert. That's why I leave the thing off at night and crack the windows. Besides, it's in the upper 50's here at night during the summer.
By far and away the most daunting and important project for the Airstream was rebuilding the floor structure. The floor had rotted out in most places and the frame in the back had rusted to the point of no longer being sturdy enough to handle a weight load. A guy I met through Roller Derby was reading my myspace blog at the time and came over to help with the welding of the frame. This guy, Ronnie, works in the med center as basically a maintenance contractor inside the hospital labs. He has lots of skills and just loves to fool with things. I basically promised to give him some beers and some RC's if he helped me out. He was over in a flash! Once we determined the best way to weld the frame up, I went over to my former employer, Forrest Mfg Co, where I worked as a machinist's assistant and did some welding and a lot of metal cutting back in '90 and again in '95. Butch Gregory, the owner and a lifetime friend of myself and my dad's cut the pieces of steel I brought in for me while I socialized with some of my former co-workers, many of whom are still working there. Butch is a great boss and pays well, so they have very little turnover. It's about a ten man shop, so it's pretty tight knit and the products are simple. They make industrial saws for cutting insulation and other light materials. I really liked working there both times. Talk about learning.
Anyway, my welding skills have deteriorated into zero over the years, but Ronnie has his own welding machine and came over and knocked out our frame repair no problem. It's definitely stronger in the back side that anywhere else now, and maybe stronger than when it was built.
A sort aside on the construction and integrity of Airstreams- the company was founded by a former airplane designer in the 30's and remains privately held. They rarely make any modifications to the design of the trailer unless it's deemed a true improvement over past designs. The trailers are designed to be aerodynamic and light. Bodies, interior and out (at least back in '65) are lined with aluminum and are basically indestructible. Aluminum corrosion is most often surface-only and actually provides a thicker skin of protection from the elements that clean aluminum. Acid and certain caustic chemicals can eat throough aluminum, however, and thanks to the Airstream forums I purchased non-treated wood, as treated wood is a nightmare on aluminum. All the more important that I seal up all those water leaks along the roof and sides, since the new floor structure, like the original, would be made of non-treated plywood.
Once the rear frame was fixed, I went about the process of deciding which original fixtures and partitions were actually salvageable before I was to either tear them out or build the new stuff around them. I took whatever I thought could survive out, with the exception of the interior skin (an off white and white matte finish that is actually aluminum) and threw out everything that was rotted. This included the original "Dometic" (yes, not "Domestic") propane/electirc refrigeraotr, which was the heaviest compact appliance I've ever lifted. It was a good thing, for although it may have still worked, the floor beneath it was about to fall through from its weight. The fact that I was intent on replacing the entire floor sealed the fate of that monster.
Most of the cabinets lining the ceiling stayed in, and I vowed to attempt to rebuild the one I had to remove because its support to the floor had failed.
All of these steps turned out to be a good move, as Roller Derby "Derby Brother" Mike, who redoes trailers and boats, told me it would. "Put the floor structure at the pinnacle of importance and build everything off that and your rig will be perfect." I knew it before, but it was hearing it that sne tme on a mission to make this floor stronger and more air and watertight than ever.
One of the most difficult challenges about redoing an Airstream is that you're not dealing with straight lines. All the floor edges are round, and the angles change. Ronnie suggested I save the old floor panels to use as a template for my new cuts and that was a lifesaver for sure. The same angle difficulties make running conduit along the walls or installing fixtures directly connected to the trailer (built-ins) extremely challenging. Airstream's original equipment was amazingly well-constructed and space efficient, but 25 plus years of water damage plus whatever the trailer suffered before it was exiled to swampland in the Everglades was too much for even such well-built furnishings.
I decided that I would install a vinyl floor (like the original but with my colors) over a double layerd plywood floor. That would be a layer of 5/8" plywood over the frame, running horizontally, like OEM, but with an additional layer of 1/2" plywood running vertically over that so as to strengthen the whole floor, eliminate air leakage and make the underfloor smoother to facilitate the tile application. Over time the floor should stay in one place, regardless of moving the trailer or wood shifting. I used brass wood screws on both layers and countersunk all of them as well. the end result is an extremely solid floor which should prevent cracking of the individual tiles and floor movement de to shifting of weights within the cabin.
Back to the installation of the swamp cooler. I removed the window hardware for the front window, measured out my clearances and built a stand upon which the majority of the weight of a water-filled swamp cooler would absorb. This was built using joist hangers directly onto the toungue of the trailer, where the propane bottles would have rested in the original layout by Airstream. I have opted to discontinue the bathroom, kitchen, all water, and propnae, plus all connections and vents relating to those items in order to make this the easiest trailer to maintain over the long term, plus open up as much space for living as possible. the club building here in Marfa will provide better facilities than any trailer could, inclduing a private bath for the management and any V.I.P. guests and/or bands.
In the meantime, the El Cosmico property, where the trailer is currently hooked up (electric only) has outdoor showers and working toilets. The new Airstream has a fridge, a toaster and will have a microwave after I get mine in my next trip to Houston in mid-Oct.
But I digress.
It was time to tackle the major vent/roof leakage problems this Airstream had- the factors that led to its getting this far under the gun in the first place. All in all there was a minimum of five holes either built into or cut into the roof, all of which leaked. Add on a broken roof air conditioner and three roof skylights on the bery top, all of which were leaking and one of which was entirely gone, leaving an 8X8 hole in the center of the roof for birds, insects and leaves to come on, not to mention lots of Houston rain- not dissimilar to the Everglades, really.
OK, I'm out of time for tonight, but I'll give you a few random Airstream related photos for good measure.
Next episode- completion and transport 620 miles to Marfa.- David