Monday, June 22, 2009

From here on out, it's all gravy.

For the last six weeks, we've been polishing. It's satisfying looking at the finished product while thinking back at all those hours, but I am SO GLAD to be doing something else. It just so happens that the project I'm working on now is one that I love: putting stuff back on.

For some reason, I've been getting mentally ready to install new marker lights. I would have made an effort to save the ones that came with the trailer, but they were not originals and were pretty beat up. The new marker lights are available locally, but I got these with a big order from Vintage Trailer Supply. I was so excited to be adding some color to the side of the trailer and be doing something other than polishing, that I decided to make a step-by-step description of the process. So I can live the moment over and over again :)

Begin with the marker light base. These are aluminum so I can polish them someday. Lucky me!

Step 1: Drill a new hole in the side of your trailer. The base plate of the light has the same screw hole pattern as the original. The wire, however, passes through a different part of the base plate than the original.

Step 2: Spread a thick bead of Vulkem on the base plate. Enough to make sure it squishes out the sides when you tighten the screws.

Step 3: Get your original aluminum screws ready to go. These were polished before the Vulkem was spread.

Step 4: Line up the screw holes and tighten them down till their snug and press the base plate evenly so extra Vulkem squishes out the sides.

Step 5: Soak a clean cotton rag in paint thinner and wash the extra Vulkem away.

Step 6: Attach the cover plate and admire.

Step 7: Repeat three more times (or more depending on your vintage) with the other markers. Have fun!

Next to install was the oven vent cover. I really like this cover. On the 18 footer, the oven vented through some small holes drilled in the counter top. It was never a problem when we used the stove, but I like this one a bit more. It vents the burnt propane to the outside. But mostly, I just like the way it looks. It is Vulkemed like the marker lights. I also added a new fiberglass bug screen behind it.

After that was the plumbing vent cover. I set this one in a heaping pile of Vulkem. When we brought the trailer home, I discovered it had been the source of a major leak. The screws had backed out and water was just helping itself inside. Not any more. Once I place a vent pipe in the cover plate ( 1 1/4" ABS pipe) it'll get sealed with more glue.

From over the top of the trailer, you can see the refer vent and furnace vent mounted and ready to shed water. They got some TLC while off the trailer during polishing. I mounted them with butyl tape and original screws. After the excess butyl tape is trimmed, I will supplement with a bead of Vulkem on the perimeter.

On went the tail lights. Bedded in a layer of Vulkem, of course. While they were off, I cleaned corrosion from the bulb housing. Then I installed new wiring innards & light bulbs, picked up from the local auto parts store.

Last for the screw on fixtures was the license plate light. It is in really good shape, except for the rubber trim ring. The cracking in the rubber is only noticeable when you get right up to it. It got new electrical innards, too.

Last project for the weekend was to work on the door. I spent some time scraping old weatherstripping off and using a chemical stripper to remove most of the adhesive. After getting that clean enough, I cut and set some new weatherstripping in the screen door part of the door-within-a-door. There is more to do on the door, for now I'm just happy is is opening and closing well.

After brushing off a thick layer of corrosion, the threshold was polished and installed with a thick layer of Vulkem and new stainless steel screws. I found slotted screws that had a pretty low profile head on them.
My senior blind rivet technician (Emmett) helped get the face of the threshold set in place.

What a great day & a half to get the trailer looking like a trailer again. I hope to get the rest of the door projects done, exterior outlet installed and sealed up, Fantastic Fans & Astrodome all done this week. Then when the weekend rolls around, I can do the interior rough in wiring and insulation. Soon, we'll be riveting interior skin!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Finally, the polishing has ended (for now)

So, that was not much fun. If I had all the time in the world, or if it was still winter, I'd have no problem polishing at a leisurly pace. But it's getting warm outside and we want to get this trailer on the road. Polishing is a dirty job and I would have prefered to have someone else polish because of time, but the budget didn't allow that. I can say now that the trailer is bright and shiny enough, even if there is more work to do later.

She went from elephant skin (galvanized metal I called it) to shiny in something like six long weeks. A few things I've learned along the way:

Not all Airstreams are the same. The corrosion on our trailer is different from our last trailer and it's corrosion is different from Norm and Mary's '59 Overlander. I had always been a little resentful of Nuvite for not providing detailed instructions for how to polish. And the polishing instructions I've read from the various websites (,, and all disagree on technique, etc. Now I can appreciate, with more trailer polishing under my belt, that every trailer is different and you can't apply a cookie cutter approach to this craft.

On the 18 footer (still looking for her, BTW) F7 was all that was needed to remove the heavy corosion. After that cut, I moved to C and stopped with great results. On this trailer, we started more coarse, F9, with miserable results. My Dad and I removed corosion at a snails pace, not knowing why. After a using a pound of that (and working less than half the trailer) I tried G6. What a difference! It melted the corrosion off in about 1/2 the time as the more coarse F9. Who knew? I wish I had tried a small patch much earlier.

Using F7 and G6 on Norm & Mary's Overlander yields different results than I've seen before. Wierd. Their trailer had a clearcoat, so the skin reacts differently to the Nuvite than with our trailer that never had a clearcoat.

All I can say now is I'm glad that I've removed most of the corrosion and we're left with a completely beautiful skin. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Perfect does not exist as far as I'm concerned and I'm definitely not in search of it on fifty year old aluminum.

After finishing the first cut of polish (F9 on part and G6 on the rest) I washed the skin using paint thinner,
a plastic brissle brush (Harbor Freight Tools -- ~$2) and microfiber towels (Home Depot -- 6 for $8). Then I got to start all over again with the less coarse C. The C takes out the deep scratches that the F9 and G6 leave behind and leaves less deep scratches.

After the C was completed, the trailer was washed again using more paint thinner and microfiber cloths only this time. Happily, this is where the trailer will stay for this year. I should borrow a Cyclo polisher from a friend up north and finsh the polish with grade S, but I'm thoroughly sick of polishing now and we have just over a month till we want to use this trailer. Polishing, happily, can wait till we have less of a deadline. We are really happy with the appearance of the trailer now. I will like it more when I have the time to use a Cyclo polisher to take the circular scratches out. It, and the grade S polish, apparently brighten the shine and make it deeper and more mirror like. I have not gotten there yet and look forward to the day when I can make that happen.