Down to Bare Bones: Airstream Renovation

Well, things have changed.

Uh-huh. Yeap. Bit different than the last time you saw her, right? She’s down to bare bones.

Apologizes for the radio silence. The project kinda spiraled, as you will see.

After removing the furnishings, I began extracting the systems (heating, plumbing, etc.) and the interior panels. The panels were rather easy. I got really good at drilling rivets. The systems put up more of a fight, but I actually got this stage done pretty fast. About a week or two if I remember correctly.

This is how the Airstream looked before I finished removing the panels:

And this is how she looked afterward:

Essentially, this stage boils down to: I made a really big mess. Oh, and by the way, all those trash bags are filled with insulation. And dead mice. But only a handful. If I remember correctly, the total after removing the panels was only fourteen, including a baby mouse.

And, well, since this step didn’t take too long, I didn’t think it was worthy of a post.

So, I figured I’d wait until I got another part of the project done before posting.

But then there was the floor…

As you might remember, we had a spot in the floor which was rotten through.

Ah. There it is.

Well, once I was able to walk around the entirety of the Airstream, I began to notice some…other things.

So, we decided to replace the entire floor, which was a fight and a half. More on that process later.

Ultimately though, I’m glad we removed the floor because I found more mice. The walls weren’t too bad. Fourteen total at that point. But, by the time we finished with the floor, I’d nearly lost count. I’ll estimate sixty dead mice. They ranged in decomposition, although the floors tended to have more skeletons, and some were larger, more like rats.

I also discovered more wasps living in the floor. I’d seen these mud nests underneath the trailer, but I wasn’t expecting them on the frame as well. Luckily, none of them seemed to be alive.

Removing the floor allowed me to clear out all these creatures and make our home safer, but it also led to more work.

As I removed the insulation, Spencer and I realized the underbelly had several significant holes in it, which were allowing the rodents to enter the trailer. These weren’t too much of a concern. They were patchable. But, later, I noticed tiny, pin-size holes in the aluminum, which we knew over time would expand to a problematic size. So, we decided to remove the underbelly as well.

See, what did I say about spiraling?

To make the task easier, we moved Nellie for the first time since her arrival, pulling her onto six-inch blocks. Boy, was that nerve-wracking.

Once she was up on jacks and spinning her wheels, the slow process of undoing the underbelly began. Drilling rivets over my head wasn’t fun inside the Airstream and it wasn’t fun underneath. But things sped up when I borrowed a pneumatic impact wrench (like they use to change tires in NASCAR, etc.) to unbolt the steel panels beneath the three tanks.

The bolts around the grey and black water tanks were pretty straightforward, but the fresh water tank wasn’t so simple. After unscrewing all the bolts around the sides, I realized there was still one in the center. So, that meant I had to be partly underneath the tank to unscrew it. Well, it turns out the fresh water tank (unbeknownst to me) was full and I got briefly trapped underneath. I had bruises on my arm and leg for a few weeks afterward, but that’s not unusual. Don’t let anyone say I’m not dedicated to this project.

And, ultimately, this is the result:

Unfortunately, we also discovered some significant problems with the frame.

The next step is fixing the frame and sealing the rust. Then (finally) we can start rebuilding her. Stay tuned.

Ta-ta for now!

 

Interior Demolition: Airstream Renovation

It’s empty! Look! Look at its empty beauty!

That’s essentially what this post boils down to, but, if you want to hear more about the process of getting to this point, read on. Or you can check out what she looked like before.

We started demolishing over spring break, beginning with the kitchen cabinets. A singular cabinet took most of the day because as Spencer likes to say, “There were screws on top of rivets on top of screws.” That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. Every time we thought we’d gotten an item disconnected, there was something else holding it together. The kitchen and bathroom were the worst.

At one point, Spencer was so frustrated by the kitchen cabinetry he decided that ripping it from the floor was the best course of action. And it was. We frequently had to yank screws out of the rotted floor because they spun uselessly.

The best part of the demolition was working together and using our respective talents. While Spencer was ripping things apart, I squeezed into small spaces like under the sink or into the end table.

Once we started demolishing, I didn’t want to stop. I spent a large portion of my spring break and recent weekends working on my own. I tacked several projects that were relatively easy. This included the rear twin beds, closet, and curbside upper cabinet.

Over the next few weeks, we removed all the interior furniture, walls, etc. Currently, most of the systems (electrical, sewer, etc.) are still intact. These will be coming out next along with the inner skins and subfloor.

As expected, we discovered a few problems while demolishing.

Throughout the demolition, one thing was consistent: mice. We found a lot of droppings and a lot of dead mice. Eight to be exact and we haven’t even opened up the walls yet. The previous owners clearly knew about their mouse problem. (I found a mouse in a trap.) I got used to dead mice last summer though, so my least favorite thing about the mice situation was the carpet. The forty year old discolored shag carpet covered in mouse poop…yuck. I disinfected the shit out of that.

If you’re ever in a similar situation, I just want to remind everyone to wear masks and gloves when dealing with mouse remains. You want to disinfect the area thoroughly before cleaning it. This is because mice carry Hantavirus, which has no treatment and a 38% fatality rate. I learned about the potential dangers of this disease and proper procedures as Curatorial Staff at a historic house museum last summer. None of the dead mice were very fresh and the disease doesn’t have a long life, so Spencer and I were probably safe. I’d rather be cautious though. We want to live in this Airstream, not die because of it.

Also, we discovered some soft and rotted spots in the floor. The worst spot was under one of the rear twin beds. The previous owners clearly knew about it because there was a piece of plywood screwed over the location. After examining the Airstream during a storm, Spencer and I suspect the leak is over the nearby window. While we were sad to discover this hole, we were already planning to replace the subfloor to take a look at the frame, replace the insulation, and replace a few systems.

For example, we want to replace the city water connection because it is currently located at the back of the trailer. You can see the copper pipe in the bottom of the photo below. This isn’t the best spot for it since nothing in the rear of the trailer needs water, plus it creates the potential for substantial leaks along the line. We suspect it wasn’t moved during the first few years Airstreams came with side baths. After all, that setup makes a lot more sense for a rear bath. Either way, we intend to optimize that system along with a few others, particularly those that can be improved with new technology. The current inverter makes a horrible humming.

And, as you can see in the first photo, the space behind the refrigerator is already pretty gross, but, when I looked up into the refrigerator vent, I found more evidence of creatures who previously lived in our trailer. I suspect the heat from the fridge encouraged both the mold and the wasps to move in. This isn’t really a problem because there aren’t any live wasps. I just have to clean out the nests.

So that’s a look at our diamond in the rough. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m counting the days until I’m done with my school semester and I can get elbow deep in this project. Only two more, in case you were wondering.