What am I wandering in? (Our Rig, Updated 2/23/17)

          My wife and I have pretty much been traveling and camping our entire lives.  We love Airstream campers (the "baked potato," "twinkie," or "silver bullet"), and with our kids have logged about 30,000 miles over the past 29 years, camping across the country, up into Canada, and down to Florida.  We’ve had a 1964 Safari, a 1967 Globetrotter, and a 1968 Tradewind.  Our current Airstream is a 2007 Safari. 

          This is a stunning looking camper, but it had an L-shaped settee that wasn’t very conducive to the two of us working during this sabbatical trip.  So we completely gutted the front of the camper, and designed and built a dinette with two benches and a table.  The table drops down and the seat backs fold to make a two-person bed.  My wife made new cushions and upholstered the front of the camper.  The part you sit on folds up to allow for storage, and there is more storage behind the two backrests.  The front wall also has a storage bin (you can see the nob in the picture), and a second storage area underneath.  This is a very comfortable arrangement that matches the way we work (me sprawled out with a laptop and materials spread out, my wife working at a desk or table).  I'll add more pictures of this later.

          Our tow vehicle is a Ford F150 4x4 truck with the Ecoboost engine.  During the summer, we’ve gotten as much as 23 miles per gallon on the highway (that’s quite a lot for a full-sized truck with four wheel drive).  For this trip, we’ve just added a cap to the truck bed, and are curious to see what sort of mileage we get towing the camper.  As this trip goes on, we’ll update this page with more details.


There's a lot of details in getting a rig ready for a trip like this.  I'm keeping a log / diary of it here.  I'd imagine this will be interesting to some of you, and not to others.

2/23/17 Update

Spent the day loading and prepping the camper.  I checked the air pressure, all the tires were down to 40 psi instead of the 50 psi they're supposed to be at, so I filled them.  Camper and trailer tires usually run at a higher pressure than cars.  On this camper, we're running Goodyear Marathon tires, which are supposed to be a pretty decent tire.  However, most camper tires die from dry rot, and not from wearing out.

Our camper has a microwave that's about head high.  On a trip last year, the door bounced open and the spinning glass dish fell out and shattered on the floor.  Well, it was a pain to clean up, and hard to find a used one on Ebay to replace it with.  So, I installed a bungee cord to make sure it doesn't happen again.

That's a bungee cord I had lying around the shop (not pretty), I'm going to look for a black one.  The white clips are some that are normally used to hold wiring, and I just screwed them into the trim that's mounted around the microwave hole.  Quick fix.

I also loaded up my tools.  I pretty much do all the work myself, so I carry a lot of tools.  In addition to regular mechanic tools (wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, etc.), I like to have a cordless drill, rivet gun and rivets, sheet metal screws and big washers, and an assortment of fittings.  Campers tend to shake apart as you travel.  The screws with big washers let you reassemble things if the aluminum rips.  The rivets let you patch holes or reassemble things you need to take apart.  I also carry a VERY big adjustable wrench and a VERY big pipe wrench for tightening or taking off the ball on the hitch.

You see a lot of folks using load levelers on their campers, anti-sway devices, and the like.  I hate all the complication of these devices.  Maybe you need them on a really big rig, but ours is just 23 feet and weighs about 5,500 pounds.  What we have found is that the swaying of a camper can be easily controlled by distributing the weight differently.  Typically, you're supposed to have 10-15% of a trailer's weight on the trailer tongue (the hitch).  If the camper is swaying, that means the hitch is too light.  To correct that on this camper, I keep my heavy tools and tool box in the very front of the camper, next to the front wall.  We don't load anything heavy in the back.  This way, the camper tows like a dream. 

2/18/17 Update

Spent the day working down our checklist and getting the rig ready.  We got the new Optima batteries installed and wired together with heavy duty 2 gauge wire....

...and the top brake light on the truck cap wired in....

Also got the bench seats in the dinette finished up, so things are coming together.  I'm ready to GO :-)

2/17/17 Update

Today, I'm expecting new deep cycle batteries to arrive.  The Airstream uses two deep cycle batteries to power things when you're away from shore power (i.e., not plugged in).  Deep cycle batteries are different than car batteries in that they are designed to be drained all the way down, and then charged up again (a bit like a phone battery).  Car batteries are designed to run at or near full charge, and to deliver a ton of power when needed, for things like starting the engine.  This go round, we're getting Optima Gel batteries, which have really good reviews for lasting a long time and holding a charge. 

2/16/17 Update

Yesterday we got the new shelf system finished and installed. It's always a bit of a pain to work on Airstream cabinetry, because the sides of the camper are curved.  So, there's a lot of work scribing to get wood pieces to fit the sides.  The easy way to do this is to butt the wood as close to the camper as you can get it, then you use a pencil compass (like you had in elementary school) opened wide.  The pointy bit of the compass follows the curve of the camper, the pencil part scribes the curve parallel to the camper side and onto the plywood, and voila!  You cut it and have the wood shaped to match the camper.  In theory.  In reality, you find that it doesn't at all fit, and you have to redo it several times :-)  As you can see, it came out decently.  As soon as the varnish is good and dry, we'll load this up with clothes.

I also mounted a powerstrip under the table.  This will allow us to plug in computer, phone, and camera chargers while we work, without power cords going all over the place.  Keeping things tidy and put away is really important when you're living in a small confined space like the camper.  That sort of u-shaped wood piece is the front support for the dinette table.

2/15/17 Update  Well, we're building shelves to go in the closet, and the camper is COVERED in snow.  I'm trying to get the snow off without scraping up the aluminum top.

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