1963 Airstream Safari: Patching Holes, Wiring, Insulation

Once the structure was reinforced enough to support the new air conditioner, it was time to put it on the roof and patch some holes in the exterior skin.  I had an extra set of hands to get the new unit on the roof.  It is held in place by gravity and the interior frame and control unit, which will be attached after the interior skin goes back on.  Since the plumbing and appliances were all removed there were a few holes in the exterior skin that needed to be covered.  I ordered the appropriate aluminum sheeting (.032″ thinck 2024T3) from an aircraft parts supplier, as this is the same aluminum sheeting used on many airplanes.  (Airstream…get it?)

1963 Airstream Safari, vintage

Patches in the exterior skin.

Patching the holes amounted to cutting the sheeting into pieces the right size and temporarily holding them in place while holes for the rivets were drilled (duct tape worked well).  Once the holes were drilled I ran a bead of gray polyurethane caulking over the rivet holes and around the perimeter of the patch, put the patch in place, and riveted it on.

After all the holes were patched I sprayed the trailer down with a hose to check for leaks.  The few that I found were sealed with the same polyurethane caulk.  After I was satisfied that the Airstream was watertight I ran all my new wiring.  The electrical set-up for this trailer’s use as a studio is a bit different from a camping trailer.  None of the 12v wiring is really needed except for the few lights necessary to tow the trailer if it is ever moved or sold. Otherwise it was rewired much like a small house.  A 10 gauge, 30amp extension cord connects a new waterproof outlet on the trailer to a 30amp plug on the house that is wired from the main circuit breaker panel.  Once inside the trailer the electricity runs to a small breaker panel that divides the power into 3 circuits, a 20amp for the air conditioner, and two 15amp circuits for the lights and outlets.  The lights and outlets were located in many of the original locations, but a couple were added to satisfy the needs of the studio.

With all the wiring in place, I put on my mask and gloves and proceeded to insulate the trailer with fiberglass batt insulation.  Since the walls are only 1.5″ thick I used 3.5″ R-13 batts (designed for 2″x4″ walls) that I split in half to fit in the skinny walls.  Getting the insulation to stay in place on the curved walls of the Airstream was interesting.   Unlike a home with vertical walls and regular stud spacing that you can friction fit the fiberglass batts into, the trailer has curved

1963 Airstream Safari, vintage

The fuzzy, pink cocoon of the insulated Airstream.

walls.  Some of the spaces allowed  for the friction method, but all the insulation higher up the walls and in the ceiling had to be glued in place.  The old insulation appeared to be attached with roofing tar, so that is the approach I took as well.  I brushed stripes of the tar on at regular intervals and pressed the insulation into place.  This worked quite well except for the terrible odor of the roofing adhesive.  The next step will be reattaching the interior skin.

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6 responses to “1963 Airstream Safari: Patching Holes, Wiring, Insulation

  1. Erik,
    Cool blog. Looks like you are restoring a WWII cargo plane! Pretty convinced you can build anything now.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. Yes, the old Airstreams are a lot like old airplanes and the metalworking was a new experience for me. As usual, a big part of any job is having the right materials, the right tools, and the time to do it correctly. Maybe I’ve created a new sub-specialty for myself.

  2. If only I had a nickel for every time I came to cyclocontractor.wordpress.com! Incredible post.

  3. Super awesome writing! Honest!

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