Tour our Airstream Before Renovation

Since I last wrote, it has snowed and rained almost incessantly here, so we haven’t done any  work on the Airstream yet. However, all this moisture has helped me pinpoint  exactly where our silver bullet leaks. I’ve only seen two small puddles of water inside, which is promising.  But, there may still be some invisible leaks.

So, in lieu of any progress, I thought I’d take a moment to share some “before” shots of the trailer and discuss its current condition.


Nellie doesn’t have too many exterior problems. Her only dent is on the front curbside corner. It’s not a serious dent so we may or may not pull it out. Other than that she has a few scratches on the rear streetside corner.  These kind of marks are expected on a 40 year old trailer. Clearly, she’s been on some interesting adventures.

Other than these dings, she has some surface rust on the tongue, which also isn’t a serious problem in the desert, but I’d like to protect the frame against potential future humidity.

The windows will likely require the most work. The lamination on several (especially the vista windows at the top) has peeled off due to trapped moisture. Since our windows are double-paned, fixing it requires the separating the panes, which can take a while. While this problem doesn’t affect the livability of the Airstream, better tinting can help reduce radiant heat in hot climates.

It is interesting to photograph though.

The largest exterior problem at the moment isn’t one Nellie came to us with. Unfortunately, my father whacked the open rear awning with a fence post, damaging it. Now, it can’t open and the fabric won’t roll up. So, we’re on the search for a replacement part. The long side awning also may have some difficulties, but we have not tried to open it as yet.

As a whole though, Nellie has a sound exterior and good bones, which was exactly what we were looking for and I’m very happy with our purchase.


In regards to the interior, we plan to remove most of it and customize the layout. Currently, the Airstream sports two couches in the front with a pullout table, a central kitchen, bath, and (huge) closet, and a rear bedroom with two twin beds.

The only problem in the front sitting area is the crack in the plastic end cap. Around the edges you can see where someone tried to glue it back together. I’m not sure exactly how to fix this, but I’m currently thinking epoxy.

My absolute favorite part about 1970’s Airstreams is the tambour cabinetry and I adore the vintage clock and temperature gauge in the front cabinet. Tambour can be a fussy if it becomes warped or damaged though. Luckily, we have only one cabinet in need of a simple repair.

Each window except the front three are equipped with these temperamental, incredibly 70’s pull-down shades. Spencer hates the trim and I hate fussing with them. They’re the first thing I’m taking out when we start demolition.

Another incredibly 70’s detail: the pull-out radio. It’s not a tape player. Not even an 8-track player. It’s just a radio. We’ll definitely be upgrading the tech in here.

I have very little to say about the condition of the kitchen (a little alliteration). The large cabinet underneath the sink is missing its tambour, but that’s alright because we’re planning on rebuilding that cabinet anyway.

The previous owners left a decorative wooden holder on the wall, which Spencer thinks is tacky. They also left a Native American style rug on the bathroom floor. I find these little touches interesting. They tell a story about Nellie’s previous owners.

The oven has seen better days. It doesn’t latch properly and is just generally sad looking. We already have a new oven though, so that’s not a problem. It was the first thing we purchased for this project.

The bathroom is hard to photograph because of its size, but it’s safe to say we’ll be replacing the entire thing. The vinyl on the shower walls is peeling off, the flooring is gone, and the whole thing is just…dirty. My little sister named the dead bug next to the toilet “Gustave.”

Across the hall is a large closet with more clothes storage than we could ever need. When Nellie arrived, we discovered all sorts of treasures in there including sway bars and one of the propane tanks. Both tanks work, which is good news. My father tested them out.

The bedroom is the most interesting part of the Airstream to me because it tells a curious story. I didn’t notice it initially, but the bedroom shows signs of an unfinished remodel. One wall is partially stripped of wallpaper while the others have been painted a light, airy white. It actually looks really nice and it gives me kind of a glimpse into what the Airstream will look like when we’re done.

However, the most interesting part to me is how sloppy the paint job is. This painter clearly didn’t tape things off; they got paint on both the wall fixtures and socket covers. It makes me contemplate the motivations of this painter. Why did they only paint the bedroom? Where they planning on doing a full renovation? If so, why not take more care? The story is unfinished.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of the trailer before its renovation. I’m probably a bit too excited for demolition day. If only this weather would improve! (But in all seriousness, we need the water.)

For now, I’ll leave you with a pretty picture of Nellie in the snow.

Meet Nellie

I am very happy to announce that Spencer and I finally purchased an Airstream. I know it doesn’t seem like very long to all of you, but I’ve been desperately searching Craigslist for almost a year and (admittedly) getting way too emotional when one I wanted was sold or didn’t work out.

My routine was to check Craigslist, Ebay, and Airstream Classifieds, but I would (in desperate moments) deviate from that routine and check other sites. During one of these frantic internet searches, I discovered a vintage Airstream being sold by Happy Trails USA RV Supercenter in Texas, which was odd. You don’t often find 40-year-old trailers being sold by RV centers. The cut off date seems to be late 90’s, if that.

The RV Center was very eager to get rid of the Airstream. I speculate they acquired her in a trade-in and did not know how to handle a vintage trailer. After all, they didn’t even have an asking price; they were just looking for offers. Apparently, she’d  been sitting in a barn for the last ten years, so they wouldn’t guarantee any of the systems or even the tires. You could tell from the photographs that they hadn’t bothered cleaning the trailer either.

But, it was perfect for us. We had no interest in a clean trailer or even one with functioning appliances. We’re going to rip all of that out anyway. We were looking for good bones and this trailer had them.

Of course though, Spencer and I were both nervous about purchasing a trailer we couldn’t see ourselves. We had concerns about leaks, the condition of the floor, etc. But, the RV Center provided extensive, detailed photographs and answered all our questions.  Plus, a very nice man I solicited over Airforms volunteered to inspect the trailer. Armed with this knowledge and a rough shipping quote from, we decided to take the plunge.

We purchased her just before Thanksgiving and she arrived this past week. Overall, our experience with the RV Center, Airforms inspectors, and the shipping service was great. After our initial tour around the Airstream, we didn’t find anything to trigger buyer’s remorse.

So, I’d like to introduce you to Nellie.

She’s a 31′ 1976 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht with a side bath and rear bedroom, which is exactly what we wanted, but that’s another post.

She’s named after Nellie Bly, who was a journalist and explorer in the 1800’s. Nellie Bly is one of my absolute  favorite historic heroines–a list which also includes Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War spy. When deciding what to name the trailer, Nellie seemed more than appropriate because Ms. Bly is most famous for her record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe. Her trip emulated the fictional journey of Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. She wrote a series of newspaper pieces for New York World chronicling the 72-day trip, which I read in 11th grade.

So, not only did Nellie bet Fogg by eight days, but she also did it as an unaccompanied woman, which was unheard of at the time.

“It is impossible for you to do it,” was the terrible verdict. “In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes. Besides you speak nothing but English, so there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.”

“Very well,” I said angrily, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”

Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly

She also launched investigative journalism with her series of pieces Ten Days in a Mad-House, in which she went undercover and exposed the mistreatment and abuse of asylum patients, leading to one of my favorite quotes of all time.

“Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

After I rambled on about all this, Spencer agreed with me. Or at least he pretended to. Either way, we now own an Airstream named Nellie.

She’s a little rough around the edges. A little battered and tired. A little dirty. But she has plenty of potential and I’m really excited to share our experience renovating her with you.

Now I just have to figure out how to spell the words Land Yacht and Sovereign without spell-check.

So, here’s to new adventures and historic heroines!