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New development - free Airstream trailer?!  RSS feed

 
Posts: 77
Location: Ontario, climate zone 3a
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By amazing luck, and thanks to the kindness of neighbours I grew up with, we have been offered a 1975 Airstream trailer that their kids are not interested in using.  It has been sitting for over 20 years next to a field in their yard.  I used to have friends sleep over in it when I was a teen, and I don't think they have used it much since.  This is an amazing opportunity for us to have some instant shelter while we work and build, a place safer than a tent to sleep in during storms (lightning terrifies me when tenting), and more bear-proof.  There are a lot of obstacle to getting it onto the property.  But an even bigger concern for us is the renovation that would likely be required, considering its age and rural parking spots it has sat for decades, without use.  We know there are some issues already, such as a missing window that is currently covered with plywood.  From looking on the internet, I have seen that common issues are often rotting plywood, rusty/damaged frame and wheels, leaking windows, mouldy insulation, carpet and upholstery, with a likelihood of rodents.  I haven't looked at it recently, so I have no idea what to expect.  My lowest expectation is a metal shell that is functional.

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with these older trailers, whether they found it worth fixing up (to liveable, not fancy, standards)?

What have you used for insulation, since this might be a 4 season shelter?

And also, since we don't plan to repair the gas lines, we would like to install wood heat, and not sure what would be best for fuel size/burn time.  We looked at the Cubic Mini and the fuel is tiny and needs a lot of feeding, and there is nothing to hold heat after the fire is out.  Most of the wood we have available is aspen, which is pulpy.  Does anyone have recommendations for this type of trailer wood stove installation?

None of this was in our plan until now, so we're exploring options and trying to wrap out heads around it.

 
pollinator
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Norma Guy wrote:By amazing luck, and thanks to the kindness of neighbours I grew up with, we have been offered a 1975 Airstream trailer that their kids are not interested in using.  It has been sitting for over 20 years next to a field in their yard.  I used to have friends sleep over in it when I was a teen, and I don't think they have used it much since.  This is an amazing opportunity for us to have some instant shelter while we work and build, a place safer than a tent to sleep in during storms (lightning terrifies me when tenting), and more bear-proof.  There are a lot of obstacle to getting it onto the property.  But an even bigger concern for us is the renovation that would likely be required, considering its age and rural parking spots it has sat for decades, without use.  We know there are some issues already, such as a missing window that is currently covered with plywood.  From looking on the internet, I have seen that common issues are often rotting plywood, rusty/damaged frame and wheels, leaking windows, mouldy insulation, carpet and upholstery, with a likelihood of rodents.  I haven't looked at it recently, so I have no idea what to expect.  My lowest expectation is a metal shell that is functional.

I'm wondering if anyone has experience with these older trailers, whether they found it worth fixing up (to liveable, not fancy, standards)?

What have you used for insulation, since this might be a 4 season shelter?

And also, since we don't plan to repair the gas lines, we would like to install wood heat, and not sure what would be best for fuel size/burn time.  We looked at the Cubic Mini and the fuel is tiny and needs a lot of feeding, and there is nothing to hold heat after the fire is out.  Most of the wood we have available is aspen, which is pulpy.  Does anyone have recommendations for this type of trailer wood stove installation?

None of this was in our plan until now, so we're exploring options and trying to wrap out heads around it.




This post is in jest right?

You do know what a vintage air stream trailer is worth...yes in the condition you describe. I know a guy that went to our old church that would pay big money for your free air stream right now just to fix it up and flip it.

Take it...and run, obsticles or not.

They really are worth a lot of money.
 
master pollinator
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Looks like there is a lot of info online about remodeling old Airstreams.  https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/house-tour-a-diy-remodel-of-a-72-airstream-trailer-241710
 
Norma Guy
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No joke... we had no idea until a couple weeks ago that this was a possibility and it still doesn't quite seem real.  I just need to figure out what to do with it so I don't screw it up! :P  I wish we had more of a budget to make it amazing, but we'll be very happy to make it useful.  I'm also very much of the mindset that I don't celebrate until something is accomplished, because you never know what could happen in the mean time - I'd be disappointed if circumstances changed tomorrow and we couldn't have it after all, don't know why, that's just how I think.  In the mean time, I'm hoping to settle on the best way to make it warm and dry, on a not very large budget.
 
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With respect, it seems that you are putting log jambs in front of yourself.
Why not just get it over, create a shelter structure for it and then plan your works, first thing would be to lift it off the ground so the wheels etc can be sorted.
then, clem it out and inspect the condition.
If you work slowly, you will be amazed at how little it would effectively cost, saving as you progress.
 
Norma Guy
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Tyler; It looks like that apartment therapy website has some real DIYers who show videos of the guts, which is what I need to see.  A lot of the info and videos I have seen online so far focus on decorating and layout, and usually start with "I hired this awesome expert" and that's not going to happen for us.

I'm most interested in insulation options, and wood heating options, from people who have lived in cold climate trailers or tiny houses, etc. or otherwise have advice on the situation.  Is there such a thing as "environmentally friendly" spray foam?  And without spray foam, how would you prevent condensation/mould in a cold climate?  Is there some kind of cladding you could put on a mini rocket stove to make it useable in a trailer, hold heat so you wouldn't have to constantly feed the fire?  Our idea would be to have as little built in as possible to maximize space, probably use cots that we already have.  So it would basically be a liveable, insulated shell, rather than something that looks nice.

I guess I should clarify that the "obstacles" are literally physical - there are currently no bridges that will hold it, but we will figure it out!
 
gardener
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Maybe you can trade it for an "old" (not "vintage") trailer of no particular rarity but in much better shape...


By the way, how long is this trailer? That makes a big difference when contemplating a wood stove.
 
Norma Guy
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It's 28 feet.  Was thinking that one of those stovetop fans would help push the warm air around?  And the less walls we have the less to stop the warm air?  Another thing is this model has these  plasticky one layer windows that are probably not super insulating, so not sure what the options are there.
 
garden master
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Even if you have to gut it & start from scratch it is probably worth it. Those things are solid. The early ones were built by Grumman aircraft. Check the ID tag for that.
 
pollinator
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Time. That is the question, I think.

A second question, way back second, is how you move it and set up where you need it to go.

How much time do you have before you have to have shelter that works for you well, so you can keep moving on to other important things? After that, how much money - but in my experience a previous post was correct and if you have time, it cost lots less. It's _very_ hard to be accurate about costs of something you've never done. It's even harder to guess right about how long it will take. If you ball park the basics required and multiply by 6 to 8 - you have something to think about. Then look at the worst case and it might end taking 10x the time you originally thought. Conservatively.

In order to work on a "project" like this, it's _very_ important to have a decent workplace to store tools, provide a flat surface, give you a place to continue to work when the weather isn't perfect or the bugs are driving you insane. Then you need a place to put _yourself_ - to sleep well, eat well, and generally stay healthy while you pour yourself into work the will turn into drudgery on occasion. Look at how you're going to source materials because driving 2 hours or more to get a screw will destroy any time table you might hope for.

I'm not trying to discourage you. "Projects" are not just doable, but hugely beneficial. But for something large that's essential to your future, middle term, well being,  you need to position yourself as well as you can, try to understand the real needs you will face and not look away from the deadlines and contingencies that you will deal with. There is a _lot_ of stuff that you can actually add up ahead of time. New window? Find one and price it. Gut and remodel? Add up the square feet of plywood and the linear feet of 2x2 (or whatever); add cheap veneer of some sort to cover the interior walls (you can upgrade all you want later); furniture; kitchen. Add in screws, a _good_ screw gun and various other tools. Need a work place? Add in the cost of a metal storage shed 20x40, installed; or a hoop building or a really big tent. Include rolled gravel for cheapest floor. Where's the power coming from? Add that in. $600 or so additional tools if you don't have any. Make a "pile" (list) of all the basics you know you'll have to deal with and make sure you have some plausible confidence you might be able to deal with each one.  This is your first base, the lowest minimum, starting point. If you're lucky, it will account for 1/2, maybe a little more, of the cost of the project.

Now a lot of this will apply regardless of how you try to establish a habitat, so you can't just say "we can't afford it so we'll skip the trailer" - you're going to pay lots of these costs no matter what you do. Don't even bother trying to find the cheap deals at this point - you want to get a feel for the size of you plans and no matter what you add in, it will  cost a lot more eventually. At this point, just try to nail down some stuff you _know_ will be required, so you can stand back a little and consider the pile.

Try to decide what advantages you bring to this project, what you feel about yourself or even know, that you can bring to bear on the project as a whole and that will carry your through. Big picture. Again, is this project going to prevent you from doing anything really important (opportunity cost) that wouldn't be a problem with some other approach?

I'm talking a big deal out of this. It's just a project and people do them all the time. I hope the above will give you some planning points and help put the thing (and any alternative "projects") a little more into perspective of your personal selves and the even bigger plans you have long term.

Cheers,
Rufus
 
master steward
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Norma, in 2005 my husband and I restored a 1985 Silver Streak.  Silver Streaks are very similar to Airstreams.   We love our vintage trailer.  It has a forever home on our property in West Texas.

There is an Airstream Forum where people post their rebuilds, upgrades and remodels.  You might be able to find a replacement for that window there.

http://vintageairstream.com/

Here is their Resource Index:  http://vintageairstream.com/resources-index/

Best wishes!
 
Anne Miller
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Here are some pictures from that forum of a 1975 Airstream Overlander 27':

http://vintageairstream.com/window-repair-1954-1958/

And for a window repair:

http://vintageairstream.com/window-repair-1954-1958/

 
pioneer
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Someone has already mentioned putting a temporary shelter over it. I think this is a great place to start. Talk to a local scaffolding company. They put these up all the time for houses when roof works need to happen, and they can stay in place for long periods of time.

This will let you have a sheltered place to work on the trailer, and also double as a workshop. In 12 months when you don't need it anymore they can take it away.
 
Norma Guy
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Rufus; We have a SUV that can tow it, but will probably need a winch to move it through the bush... it's complicated but doable.  At this time, we are living in a house with a detached garage, so the tools are all in there, and the trailer would be parked next to the garage.  All of the work on the trailer will be happening in the city, and we'll move it to the bush when it's ready.  That's a good point about listing materials and looking at costs; I am concerned about having the resources to complete this project.  But having a safe structure is a necessity for us to get a lot of work done on the future homestead, so when you said "you're going to pay a lot of these costs no matter what you do," that really made me realize how worthwhile it is to fix this thing up.  One way or another we would need a safe, winterized structure, so this is worth doing no matter what.  To be honest I don't know what our alternative would have been.  It's just such luck for us that these people are willing to be so generous with the trailer.
 
Glenn Herbert
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I suspect that, if you don't mangle it or make irreversible changes, you could resell it after you have your house built, and recover much of the cost of rehabbing it. That might guide your decisions along an appropriate path. I would seek advice on this from Airstream forums, I expect they will be eager to help you keep it in good shape.
 
Anne Miller
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I agree with Glenn.  The folks at the Airstream forum are very helpful with answering questions.

We were fortunate that we did not find it necessary to replace the tires as ours were in good shape, probably had been replaced.  We had to buy a new furnace and hot water heater.  The refrigerator had been replaced at some point though it was not working.

We tore out the carpet and used porch paint on the floor.
 
Norma Guy
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http://vintageairstream.com/photo-archives/1975-argosy-28/

Anne; I've been looking at that site.  This is the trailer here.  There are two models in that year and length, the one shown has a double bed, and the other has two single beds on either side.  It has been so long I can't remember which model it is, we only ever slept on the bed at the nose of the trailer.  There is a lot of great info on where to get replacement parts, and how to do different repairs.  Great site, thanks for pointing it out!
 
Rufus Laggren
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Hi Norma

Sounds like the trailer is looking good for you. The "city build" is just about perfect. Still might want to put a tarp over it though unless it tests out totally dry when you run the hose over all it it for an hour.

Scarifying note:: Search the word "theft" or "lost" on the air stream forum. Then take appropriate measures just as soon as you can at your work site. There will lots of ideas and experience (unfortunately) on the forum. An Airstream is the gold standard for large theft. This may well impact how you go about doing any frame/tongue repairs because serious theft deterrence may begin with welded connections points for wheel bars and/or a NOT welded hitch connection allowing you to remove the hitch entirely when staying in one place for long. Be thinking about how you will set this up on your property, also. There will be times when nobody is around. Take this seriously. Far less valuable vehicles and trailers disappear all the time.

Getting it out... Try to find a studley 4WD pickup guy with a 10+k# winch and the appropriate cable - length and working load. The local off-road club(s) is a good place to find people like that. Offer pizza and eternal gratitude and a video of the event. Winches and cable are very expensive and the guys who have them often really like getting some use out of them. Or just call a wrecker and pay him in a way that he's willing to take the time to do it safely and right.  Decide how you will connect the cable to the trailer - the Airstream or other trailer forums should have comments. The guy with the winch will surely have opinions, so you want to form up your own considered thoughts firmly, ahead of time.

Preparation would be good. Clear the way as much as possible, Examine the frame, etc and see if anything is obviously going to break. Fix the wheels/tires; if possible, replace or at least grease fully the wheel bearings. At least make sure the wheels are willing to turn. Inflate tires properly (probably want a "real" air compressor or it might take all day). Decide how to deal with a flat on the road. Clean and grease the hitch; make sure you have a pin or padlock if it's the latching type. Verify the safety chains are usable. Make sure the tow vehicle has the right hitch connector. If you're driving the tow vehicle, decide your best route and also plan how you're going to place the Airstream exactly where you want it at your end. (Maybe you already know how to do all this.) Make ready the new home. It's _really_ nice if it lives on a nice dry, flat, level slab... Each one of those you lose makes life progressively more miserable when it comes time to work underneath.

Depending on the situation and the extraction plan: Maybe have some material ready. Blocks or cribbing ready to set the tongue on at the right height (if the existing trailer jack doesn't want to work). A "high-lift" jack or bumper jack (ditto). Maybe some 2' wide strips of 1/2-3/4 ply to carry the tongue if it's going to get dragged on the ground; put one strip down, put the tongue onto it, run back and get the strip you just used and install it in front the the pull, repeat. Some 6' to 8' 4x4's or some heavy rock bars to lever things around. Shovels, pick, mattock; pruning saw, loppers. Clamp-on tail lights for towing it, or make sure it's own lights will work.

Golly, it's fun to make up a big to-do list for somebody else!!!  <G>

And have some fun.  <g>


Rufus
 
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