Monthly Archives: February 2010

1963 Airstream Safari: Structural Roof Repair

Part of the reason the roof on this 1963 Airstream Safari was collapsing under the weight of the air conditioner has to do with the Airstream design.  Most of the structural aluminum ribs that arch up from the plywood floor to support the interior and exterior skins don’t span the entire width of the travel trailer.  Instead of making a complete arch from one side of the trailer to the other they stop at the center of the roof.  As they are also placed on alternating sides and 30″ apart on average, there isn’t a whole lot of load bearing capacity for anything besides the structure itself.  The reason the ribs don’t span from side to side seems to primarily involve window and door placement.  As a rib arches up from one side of the trailer there is either a window or the door in the way of that rib continuing down the other side.  One of these half ribs runs on either side of the opening in the roof where the air conditioner sits.  I decided the best way to spread that load out would be to continue the rib down the other side as far as possible.

Since I couldn’t run out and buy new ribs at the auto part or RV store I had to fabricate them.  (I suppose I could have had a metal shop bend some aluminum C channel to the desired shape but that wasn’t really in the schedule or the budget.)  I bought some off the shelf aluminum C channel that was 1.5″ wide with .5″ legs and .125″ thick.  I cut it into lots of 6″ long pieces which I then riveted together in the approximate shape of the rib that I needed.

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage, rib repair

New rib riveted together.

I determined that shape by forcing the roof back to it’s natural position with a couple boards wedged between the existing ribs and the plywood floor.  I was then able to rivet the 6″ sections on one at a time matching the contour of the exterior skin.  I also attached two pieces of 1.5″ square aluminum between the two ribs on either side of the air conditioner opening as extra reinforcement.

After everything was riveted into place I removed the 2 boards I used to wedge the ceiling in place.  The structure didn’t stay exactly in the desired shape, but the sagging was very minimal and infinitely better and stronger than what existed previously.  As a final test I grabbed onto the sides of the opening and pulled my feet off the ground to see how well it would support my 155 pounds.  It passed the test, so I had no worries that the new 95-100 pound air conditioner would be supported adequately.  Yes, that’s right I said new air conditioner.  It

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage, rib repair

View of two new ribs, one running partway down either side of the trailer.

was hoped that the 1970’s Coleman unit would be salvageable, but after I opened it up to have a look the news wasn’t good.  Rather than get everything back together and have the unit fail in a year or two it was decided to go ahead and replace it with a new one.  So it was ordered and the rewiring commenced.

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage, rib repair, air conditioner support

The air conditioner opening, now fully supported on 4 sides.


1963 Airstream Safari: Adaptive Reuse

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage

1963 Airstream Safari

I had an unusual job come my way in the recent past and I thought it was worth writing about.  A local Phoenix art, design, and crafting firm, 26 Letters, purchased a 22 foot 1963 Airstream Safari about a year ago with the intention of transforming it into a small backyard artist’s studio.  After the purchase I was implored, and then employed, to undertake this remodel, restoration, re-purposing.  In much the same way that the city of Phoenix has made it a bit easier for entrepreneurs to reuse historic downtown structures as commercial establishments, I intended to turn this self sufficient travel trailer into an open floor plan studio space.  The fancy construction term for this sort of thing is “adaptive reuse.”

Almost all of the  interior furnishings and accoutrement were already missing when the Airstream was purchased from it’s last owner.  This  made the first step in this project, gutting the interior, much easier as there was almost nothing to remove.  As the 46 year old electrical wiring was looking tired and dangerous, a total rewire sounded like the best bet. In order to get access to the wiring the interior paneling, or skin, had to be removed.  The interior skin of an old Airstream travel trailer is much the same as the exterior.

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage

A section of interior skin before removal.

There are thin sheets of aluminum riveted to the structural aluminum ribs that attach to a plywood floor, which is in turn bolted to a steel frame.  Removing the interior skin involves drilling out all the rivets so the panels will come loose.  Fortunately for me the previous owner had already drilled out quite a few rivets and made my job faster.  Once all the interior skin was removed I got rid of the old fiberglass insulation that was sandwiched in the 1.5″ space between the interior and exterior skins.  This gave me complete access to the nasty old wiring and also revealed a rather disturbing structural issue that needed to be dealt with.

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage, skin removed

Aistream interior with the skin removed

Back in 1963 Airstream did not make any provisions for a roof mounted air conditioning unit.  It is my understanding that they didn’t begin reinforcing the roof structure to accommodate this until 1969 or so.  When the air conditioning unit was mounted on this particular Safari, probably in the 1970’s sometime, they did very little to support the extra 100+ pounds of weight.  100 pounds doesn’t sound like that much, but unless you’ve seen an old Airstream up close, especially with the interior skin removed, it’s hard to describe just how flimsy and insubstantial the whole thing is.  The tin can descriptions are very accurate, and since virtually everything above the plywood floor is aluminum you can literally bend the frame and panels with your bare hands.  So before I tackled the rewiring I had to fix the structural problem as air conditioning is a must for spring and summertime use in Phoenix.

1964 Airstream Safari, vintage, rib repair

Sagging Airstream roof (see bent rib towards the bottom of the photo).

Outfitting the Gunnar for Commuting

The rack and basket I ordered arrived the other day, so I set about attaching everything to the Gunnar Sport to complete my bike commuting setup.  On the rear of the bike I attached a cool Nitto Big Back Rack from Rivendell Bicycle Works that came on the Bleriot when I bartered for it.  It’s pretty

Nitto Big Back Rack, Rivendell

Nitto Big Back Rack

simple to attach but I had to get some longer rods to run from the rack to the braze-ons at the tops of the seat stays.  No big deal, and I kind of like the look with the rods running long so I didn’t cut off the excess. I was planning on attaching a Wald wire basket to the Nitto rack but the one I ordered turned out to be a bit small.  The sides taper, so the footprint is smaller than the opening.  Because of that my lunch cooler wouldn’t fit, so I’m sending it back for the so-called Huge size.

Rivendell front rack

The Gamoh front rack from Rivendell Bicycle Works.

On the front of the bike I attached a Gamoh rack, also from Rivendell.  It’s a cool flatbed style rack with wooden slats in the bottom.  The two legs attached to the braze-ons at the fork drop outs easily enough, but I had to remove the brake caliper and do some shuffling around of washers and spacers to attach the top mounting bracket and keep if from rubbing the headset.  Again, no big deal.  These racks, along with my bell, my NiteRider MiNewt headlight, and my blinky rear light almost complete my Gunnar-as-a-commuter set up.  (I still need to get my Huge rear basket.)

Gunnar Sport, bike commuter

The Gunnar 99% ready (need my rear basket).

Working Off My Rivendell Debt

In order to balance out the Rivendell Bleriot/LeMond Maillot Jaune bike trade I offered to help Erik, the owner of Slippery Pig Bikes, move the Slippery Pig Bike Shop Too from one location in Fountain Hills to the new, better location (check their website for the exact address).  The original location is still at Central Avenue and Camelback Road in Phoenix, but the second store has been operating out in Fountain Hills for about 7 months or so.  Upon arriving at 9am I started removing racks and wall displays.  After a couple hours of this we headed over to the new shop.  I spent the rest of the day (until about 6pm) installing the grid wall display and the slat wall display, each of which run most of the length of the store on opposite walls and let you hang all sorts of merchandise on them.

The brackets for the slat wall installed and ready to go.

Step one was to use a laser level to establish a level reference point along the whole length (about 40 feet) of the store.  Once I had a level chalk line snapped I started to locate the studs so I could attach the mounting brackets to something solid and not just the hollow drywall.  Locating the studs was a matter of trial and error as the layout was irregular (not 16 or 24 inches on center).  Being a commercial building the studs are metal so self-tapping screws allowed me to screw the brackets through the drywall and right into the steel studs.  Once all the brackets are installed the slat wall just snaps in place to cover the brackets and then allows hooks for placing merchandise to be located anywhere along the length of the wall.  After the slat wall was finished I did much the same on the opposite wall to attach an open grid of metal tubing that also allows merchandise to placed virtually anywhere along

The wall on the right is where the grid display is about to be installed.

the length or height.  It was a long-ish day but the new place was starting to look good by the evening and I feel like I helped Erik accomplish a good bit for one day.  Well worth it, as I expect to keep the Rivendell Bleriot for a long time.

Bartering Solves My Bike Dilema

Close-up of the Rivendell head badge.

Ok, put on the brakes.  I just had an opportunity come my way that I could not pass up, and it has turned my commuter bike decision making process on it’s head and solved it all at the same time.  Funny how that happens sometimes.  I mentioned previously that I am looking to sell my road race bike, a 2005 LeMond Maillot Jaune.  Erik, owner of the Slippery Pig Bike Shops, used to ride one almost exactly like mine and I have heard him bemoan the fact that he sold it several times.  So I asked him if he was interested in buying mine and after a bit of discussion he offered to trade me  a Rivendell Bleriot 650b for the LeMond. I didn’t have to think about it long before I said “Yes!”  He had the bike set up as a mountain-bar commuter but I promptly decided it will be my regular road bike for my weekend group rides.  I just think it’s too nice to use for my work bike and I’d like to be able to put more miles on it than the 1 or 2 day a week commute will allow.  By

The Rivendell Bleriot

using this as my leisure road bike I can then convert my recently acquired “all-around” road bike,  an older Gunnar Sport, into my work bike.  So I swapped the mountain bar and associated goodies from the Rivendell with the drop bar and associated goodies from the Gunnar and now I am almost good to go.  The Bleriot is all set and ready to ride, although I may need a shorter stem.  Time will tell.  The Gunnar is ready to ride but not quite ready for the commute.

When this trade prresented itself the idea of the cargo bike went out the window because of space considerations.  If I traded for the Rivendell and bought a cargo bike the Gunnar would have to go, and I really like the Gunnar.  After reconsidering the trailer options (by this time Erik at Slippery Pig had sold the BOB IBex trailer) I decided to go the rack and basket route.  The Rivendell came with a really nice Nitto rear rack that I will put on the Gunnar when I get the proper size mounting rods.  I also ordered a basket to attach to said rack, and another rack for the front, a Gamoh, from Rivendell Bikes.  It is a flatbed rack with wood slats and a short railing around the bed area.  It’s a lot like  a Paul Flatbed rack but at about half the price.  Once all this stuff arrives and gets installed the Gunnar will be commute-ready, and so will I.

The Gunnar set up for commuting with the mountain bars. Racks and baskets on the way.

A Cargo Bike Could Be Cool

The world of cargo bikes here in America isn’t exactly vast, but it does seem to be a segment that is slowly catching on and growing.  Most of them are pretty pricey for a contractor on a budget, even one that’s a bike geek.  The low price winner in the cargo category has to be the Kona Ute.  It has a long wheelbase, disc brakes, a rear deck, and mounting for 2 huge panniers (although it only comes with one.  What???)  Some people complain that it has an aluminum frame, but unless they’ve had one collapse under them then I don’t think they are allowed to gripe.  The sexier alternative to the Ute is the Surly Big Dummy.  It’s steel, like all the Surlys, and is designed to use all the contraptions made by the folks at Xtracycle.  (Google it if you don’t know what an Xtracycle is.)  That seems like a smart move by Surly because the Xtracycle has a built in following and lots of solutions for carrying different types of gear.  Both of these bikes seem like they could carry all the things that I require, and then some.  And I definitely would prefer to ride just a bike rather than a bike towing a trailer.  From my point of view the Big Dummy seems like a bigger, better version of the Ute with more customization options.  No reason not to buy it, right?  Well, it’s triple the cost of the Ute.  Decisions, decisions.

Maybe a Bike Trailer?

At the moment I own 5 bikes.  I’m sure some of you are gasping in horror “5 bikes?  Are you mad?”  The rest of you, who are saying “Only 5?”,  know where I’m coming from when I suggest that none of them seem like the perfect solution for my commute.  The single speed road bike (a LeMond Fillmore) is out because I’ll need some gears with all the junk I carry.  My “road race” bike (a LeMond Maillot Jaune) is out because it’s too nice and too sporty, plus it’s for sale as I just don’t ride it enough.  The folding travel bike (a Dahon Speed Eight) is a no-go just because I’ll look like a goof.  The 1×9 hard-tail 29er mountain bike (a Kona Explosif 2-9) is a possibility, as is the recently acquired all-around road bike with 3×9 gearing and 32c wide tires (a Gunnar Sport).  However with the number of things I need to carry both of those bikes will require a trailer of some sort.  I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea of a trailer, but I don’t have one.  So, I guess I start looking at trailers.

I love my Fillmore, but it won't be my commuter.

After lots of internet surfing and trailer shopping I come down to two options.  The first is the BOB Ibex trailer.  I like it for a couple reasons.  First, the attachment setup seems very slick and looks like it will keep the trailer stable.  Second, it’s kind of narrow and I don’t like the idea of it sticking out into the road beside me too much.  Finally, the owner of my favorite local bike shop, Slippery Pig Bike Shop, has a used one he has been offering me at a good price.  The downside to the Ibex is that I’m not sure it’s big enough for my purposes.  After the cooler, water jug, and clipboard go in there isn’t much room for other stuff.  Also, it seems like it would be difficult to customize and tweak if I need to make changes or find it doesn’t exactly suit my needs as it is.  That leads me to the Black Dog Bicycles BDB 202 trailer.  It is a 2 wheel trailer made from aluminum tubing with a cargo bed of about 640 square inches vs. about 400 for the Ibex.  It is way lighter, and made in the USA by a guy in Lopez Island, Washington.  The attachment system isn’t as cool, but the trailer itself seems more versatile and also easy to customize if need be, which is a bonus.  While pondering the pluses and minuses of these two trailers I have another idea.  What if I got a cargo bike instead of a trailer?  Hmmm…….