Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February on Antelope Island

Photos from my first outing in my new CampLite travel trailer. 
"Buffalo Rock," because it looked like a buffalo from a distance. Was neither a buffalo, nor a rock. 

The Great Salt Lake. 


Tundra and road. 

My new rig! Wasatch Mountains in distance. 


Sunset two. 

CampLite by Livin Lite. Lovin it.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sleeping with Buffalo

Great Salt Sunset. 
Last night, with my pup Jake, I took my new CampLite 11FK travel trailer out for its first spin. We went to Antelope Island State Park, in the Great Salt Lake.

Having only had vintage Airstreams before, and being new to this trailer anyway, I wanted to begin to break it in and learn what I could.

Here's what I found:
  1. It doesn’t pull like an Airstream. There was wind on the way up and my lord . . . my poor V8 Tundra acted like it was going to die. This is a 2,400 pound (dry weight, and it was dry) trailer, but the added profile vs. my Airstream was markedly noticeable. On the way back, without wind, it felt like a 2,400 pound trailer--meaning I barely noticed it. I needed to ease up on speed with the wind, probably staying in the 55-60 mph range, rather than attempting to go 70, which was the speed limit. Of course, it's probably a good idea to stay at 65 max anyway. With my Airstream it was truly effortless to pull and I felt comfortable going 70, not that that was smart! For the record a smaller vehicle can definitely pull this CampLite . . . just adjust your driving if there's wind!
  2. It’s small! I wanted a small trailer and I got one. It’s big enough for how I will use it and overall I am happy with the size, but it will require a daytime configuration and a nighttime one. I knew that conceptually, but it was different to experience it. 
  3. The USB ports didn’t work. Apparently they aren’t wired to run off of the 12 volt system as they were in my vintage Airstream (an improvement I made to it). That was a bummer as my iPhone is also my camera. I trickle charged it off the Tundra. 
  4. Jake with his new trailer.
  5. The furnace worked well! It got down to about 30 degrees outside and felt cold out there, but toasty inside. 
  6. Sunshine works! Once the sun came up the trailer was warm without the furnace. It was still in the thirties out there. That’s another thing you sort of know from [real] camping, but the difference was night and day. : )
  7. The refrigerator worked well--first time. 
  8. Ditto for the stovetop. 
  9. Batteries held up fine, as you would expect for one night. 
  10. My trailer is stumpy! Seeing it parked in the campground (which was at about 15% occupancy) it looked so small and stumplike. 
  11. There's a serious dearth of places to sit things down like your phone or a drink. It only has the kitchen counter, which is at the front, and the main table, which I didn't have set up as a table. I recognized this already and brought a stool to set things on, but using it that point really stood out. I might have to have my friends at Camper Reparadise add some additional shelving and/or a mini counter top. 
  12. I liked it! 
After the sun set, I reread my friend Rich Luhr’s Newbies Guide to Airstreaming. Rich created and publishes Airstream Life, a magazine. His newbies guide is great and applies to most any RV. Filled with wisdom, tips, and advice. I highly recommend this book to any RVer who feels anything less than expert. You can buy it here.

It was a fun outing. Jake enjoyed it too. He’s getting old. : (

As we arrived on Antelope Island. Great Salt Lake and Wasatch Mountains beyond us.
The buffalo of Antelope Island. I was actually pretty close . . . which isn't smart. I had to zoom in via cropping. This was the best my iPhone could do given how close I was willing to go.

Click here to read how I went from being an Airstream-only guy to buying a CampLite. 

Friday, February 09, 2018

A review of 10 small, modern travel trailers

This is a review of different RVs that I looked at or that stood out for me after I recently opened my mind to travel trailers that aren’t Airstreams. I also became open to getting a new or newer RV (vs. one that's 40+ years old). I love vintage Airstreams, and have owned three of them.

Luna by inTech.
I am interested in smaller trailers, 20 feet or less, with an emphasis on less. Lightweight is important, but I also lean to a trailer I can stand up in with full amenities: AC, full bathroom, kitchen, etc. Some of the brands I discuss offer bigger floor plans too. Also included are some you can't stand up in but stood out as appealing options.

The Five Standouts

1. CampLite by Livin Lite--This one captured me. I bought a 2018 CampLite 11FK. Visit my main blog and scroll down for recent posts on this trailer. The main attraction: the all aluminum frame, including the chassis, and no wood floor or wood anywhere. Steel rusts and wood rots.

The CampLite trailer offers a nice blend of utilitarian and solid, but with nice finishes too. The finishes and the overall look are things that KZ/Thor got right, even as they began to drift away from Livin Lite founder Scott Tuttle’s original vision. Livin Lite is a subsidiary of industry giant Thor (the number one RV manufacturer based on market share) and they are managed by KZ, another Thor subsidiary.

Tuttle sold to Thor in 2013 and left in 2015. While I was interested in the smallest 2018 CampLite, I liked the other floor plans too and for people in the market for a larger trailer (not 5th wheel large--though CampLite did make 5th wheels for a couple of years), this is a great product: built to last with nice designs/finishes.

Legacy RV in SLC is the Utah dealer.

2. Lance Campers--This is a brand I was completely oblivious to prior to this latest investigatory phase. Their 1575 model would be the one for me. It’s at the big end of what I was considering. Lance also has many larger travel trailers for people looking for something bigger, but still in the category of what the industry classifies as lightweight. They are further along the spectrum toward luxury--not so far down it as modern Airstreams, but further than CampLites. The biggest drawback I see to the Lances is that their tastes in decorating leave something to be desired both inside and out. What is it with so many RVs that have graphics that a fifth grade boy would likely find cool? This is a matter of opinion and the quality of these trailers far outweighs my lack of enthusiasm for their decor--which could be changed.

With Lance you'll get a very high quality trailer. While it would be half the price of a similar sized/year Airstream it was much more than I was going to spend this go around.

I checked these out at Terry's RV in SLC and was impressed.

I found the next three to be very appealing, but smaller than what I wanted--other than the 400 . . . .

3. T@B--It was the desire to see a T@B that led me down the slippery slope toward buying a new trailer. I find this brand very appealing. They offer a modern take on a retro design. I’ve been so focused on vintage for so long and right now I am leaning toward contemporary, cleaner looks, and amenities. T@B fit that bill well.

Their new model 400 is sharp. The 400 is a bigger trailer than they’ve offered previously. The asking price of $32,000 for the new 400 is well above what I was willing to pay. Here at Parris RV in Salt Lake they had one 400 and they claimed that they would only get that one for the whole year. Whether that’s true or not, it didn’t make negotiating seem likely.

If you're interested in something you can pull without a truck, check out the smaller T@Bs and even smaller T@Gs built by the same company.

4. Moby1 Expedition Trailers--These are a different class of RV, lacking many of the amenities. They look damn cool, and they’re made right here in Utah. They are beautifully designed teardrop trailers created to go into the backcountry. Of course you can also use them in tamer settings too--like RV campsites. I have to see one in person!

One thing that's appealing about the Moby1s is they are made by a small company with a passion for craftsmanship.

5. Luna by inTech--Livin Lite founder Scott Tuttle works at inTech now. Luna is a new product. It’s small--as in too small for standing--but it looks very cool. It’s one of the rare RVs built on an aluminum chassis. I can’t wait to see one in person.

The Middling Three

6. Rockwood Geo-Pro--The T@B drew me to an RV dealer but it was the Geo-Pro that really shoved me down the slippery slope toward making a purchase. The Geo-Pro 14FK has an identical floor plan as my CampLite. I dissed this trailer somewhat in my previous post but I just went back and read about it again, and think it’s probably decent. It’s cheaper by $3k to $9k compared to mine (depending on your negotiating skills), so a few of the finishes/features I liked I paid for. One big difference is my CampLite has an aluminum chassis.

After some of my research I am still gun shy of Forest River (Rockwood’s parent company) since they paid a $35 million settlement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration less than three years ago for shoddy work and not honoring their warranties. The Geo-Pro also lacked any under-belly, which I found shocking after being a long-time Airstreamer. That was a detail that made it reek of being cheap, though the rest of it seemed good for what you were paying. I did love the size of the 14FK and even some of the bigger floor plans.

The next group are similar in quality, size, etc., and are also in what I am calling the Middling Group. My focus was on the smaller floor plans that are available. These are what the industry would consider small and lightweight, but all were bigger, more like a regular RV than what I wanted, and good but not outstanding quality. They're also less expensive than my standouts.

7. Gulfstream’s Vintage Cruiser and Vista Cruiser--These trailers have aluminum framing though they are built on a steel chassis (like almost all trailers other than Livin Lites, VRV, Luna--and maybe a few others). The sales guy said they have wood framing in the roof, so I am not sure about the structure. The vintage look is fun (I guess I am not completely ready to give it up). The Vista Cruiser is the same trailer as the Vintage Cruiser, minus the vintage look. I don’t like the interior design of the Vistas at all.

8. Riverside Retro--If I am in a retro mood, I LOVE the looks of these--though I consider them average in quality.

The Loser

9. Sonic Lite by Venture RV--This trailer is everything I hate about RVs. Stick and tin construction built on a wood floor. Off-gassing from God knows what. Venture RV is a sister company to Livin Lite, which is the main reason I wanted to check this product out. On the other hand, if your budget is small, this trailer will probably last 10-15 years if you keep it covered when not using it.

Venture RV, Livin Lite, and Airstream are all Thor subsidiaries.

There are a LOT of trailers like this one. Wood frame construction. Cheap. But still useable even if its landfill bound before it should be.

Eagerly Anticipated

10. Airstream Nest--When I decided to sell my latest Airstream, a 1962 Safari, my thought was I'd wait a few years then find a used Nest. The Nest is a new product by Airstream due out this spring. It's a smaller fiberglass trailer and looks like it will be cool. It also probably won't be cheap, though hopefully cheaper than other Airstreams!
Nest, by Airstream 

Closing thoughts

Even before I recently saw a video where Scott Tuttle, the founder of Livin Lite, called his trailers “generational campers,” meaning they are designed to last for generations, I already got that. The design that was the foundation of that aspiration spoke clearly to me.

Of course I consider traditional aluminum-bodied Airstreams in the high-end quality category despite knowing their design flaws, namely steel frames and wood floors. Anyone in the vintage Airstream community can tell you how bad those are in the long haul, almost guaranteeing rotten floors and rusted frames. But "long haul" is longer than most people think of when buying an RV. I am referencing 15-20 years plus. Even I am unlikely to own any one trailer that long. Since any RV can leak . . . the materials they are made of really matter. My attraction to CampLite is clearly heavily informed by being so immersed in vintage Airstreams for so long.

Other than the Nest, I left Airstream's smaller trailers off the list. They are great trailers, just substantially more expensive. They make the T@Bs and Lances seem downright affordable. Also, my purpose here is to look beyond Airstream since that's all I've ever had.

I stand with quality workmanship as much as I possibly can, and as much as I can possibly afford. When it comes time to resell your RV, you’ll benefit by that philosophy too. Not to mention minor details like the benefits to the environment of products that last long and are recyclable/reusable. I haven’t written about that last point but my all-aluminum CampLite is 90% plus recyclable.

Happy RV shopping and/or dreaming . . . . from someone who knows just enough to be dangerous.

I am looking forward to going to the RV show here in SLC a week from now, though I’ll also be somewhat rushed as I will be getting on the road for a long weekend in my new CampLite.

Postscript--A comment on price

The prices of these new trailers ranged from as low as $15k ish for the Sonic by Venture RV or the smaller ones including Moby1 and T@Gs. At the higher end, prices were in the low to even mid $30s. Prices are extremely variable even for the same model. Dealers tend to list prices that have a ton of room for negotiating. The best "reality check" in my opinion is to look up particular models on RV trader. Both dealers (for new) and individuals list RVs there. That way you can see the range of what's being asked for the same trailer. When I went to buy I told them I needed to pay at the low end of the range based on my RV Trader research and they quickly agreed. If you are buying new you can save 20 to 40% off of MSRP by doing your homework and being willing to walk away. Often dealers will already have discounted from MSRP in their price, so don't always expect to save 20-40% from the posted price. Some trailers are in higher demand and dealers will be less willing to come down on those, but they'll pretty much always come down some. Definitely consider used too.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Thor Industries, Airstream, and Livin Lite

I've been a little obsessed with Airstreams since at least 2007 when I bought the 1973 Airstream that I full-timed in for 2.5 years. Since then I've owned three vintage Airstreams including the 1962 Airstream Safari I bought last year and just sold. I sold it because I'd maxed out what I could put into it and it still needed more work. It's an amazing trailer and it has a new owner who will continue with improvements and ensure it has additional life.

The aesthetic of an Airstream with its airplane-like aluminum body is the main appeal. But living in mine ten years ago also introduced me to a community of people who I fell in love with. The vintage crowd especially were a cool group, but I also became friends with owners of newer Airstreams.

When I decided to sell my latest Airstream I wasn't planning to get another RV, but over the last two weeks I fell down the slippery slope.

Before talking about my new trailer (yep, I bought a new one--and I mean brand new), I want to discuss Thor Industries. Thor is a company that was created in 1980 when Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein purchased what at the time was an ailing Airstream from Beatrice Foods (which was a big conglomerate in the 1960s and 1970s). Airstream has its roots in the 1920s but officially opened in 1931. It's the only surviving brand of hundreds of travel trailer companies that existed before World War II. Under Thor, in the early 1980s, Airstream quickly returned to profitability.

And Thor itself began its rise to becoming the world's largest manufacturer of recreational vehicles. Thor took over that number one spot in the early 2000s after many acquisitions and savvy management of its growing list of subsidiaries. Today Thor dominates the RV market with 48% market share when all of its brands are added up. The number two company is called Forest River, they have 34% market share as of 2017.

I was not only infatuated with Airstreams, I was both an Airstream enthusiast and a snob. After selling my latest Airstream I ventured down to Parris RV, an SOB dealer (some other brand is what we Airstreamers call all other RVs) in Salt Lake. While there I had an epiphany. For the amount of money I had in my vintage Airstream, which I LOVED, I could have had a brand new RV. Now part of me probably knew that, but until very recently I wouldn't consider another brand unless it was some cool other vintage trailer.

A T@B. Like Airstreams (and me), made in Ohio!
I browsed the lot at Parris RV and found myself liking much of what I saw. It was T@B (Tab) trailers that drew me to that particular dealer--plus it was close to my house. But they had other brands that caught my eye. I loved the look of the Riverside Retro series--though I wasn't sure about the quality of the Riverside products. There are so many cheap RVs. With many brands you just can feel the bad or questionable quality when you step inside. (Riversides may be fine, but I wasn't feeling it).

The T@Bs were cool--they seemed very well built, but were very small. There was one T@B that was bigger (still small in the RV world but big for T@Bs) that I liked, but it was too expensive. At the end of the day I was intrigued by the Rockwood Geo-Pro. They came in a 14 foot floor plan that I liked and were very affordable. The Geo-Pro was cool, but as with the Riverside retros I was suspicious of its quality--though at that price . . . of course that's why so many cheap RVs are built and sold--because they can be made cheaply, in every sense of the word.

So I came home and started scouring the Internet. At this point I knew I was basically a goner. I'd probably be buying something.

I found out Rockwood was a Forest River brand and that Forest River settled with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for $35 million in 2015 for their shoddy work. After learning that, I was even more dubious of the quality of the very cute Geo-Pro. It may or may not be a solid product, but . . .

The RV industry is big so I figured there must be something out there that was a good product, given the price range I'd settled on. I didn't want or need a big trailer. My online search continued. I looked at the new teardrops. I considered the Minnie line by Winnebago. I considered some cool and very rugged little trailers like the Moby1 line, which is made here in Utah. As cool as the Moby1 looked, and it looks like quality too, it was just too small. I wanted small, just not that small.

So I went back to the mother ship--Thor. They own Airstream so I figured maybe one of their other brands would be worthy and in the size and budget of my search. And then I found it via Thor's website . . .
Livin Lite.

This is a brand I'd never heard of. I clicked through to Livin Lite's website from Thor's and it didn't take me too long to become smitten. Livin Lite makes all aluminum trailers, including the chassis! Even Airstreams have steel chassis and Airstreams are infamous for having rusted out chassis. Coming from the vintage world I was well aware of that problem (though I'd never dealt with it myself luckily, I have seen a number of horrifying Airstream chassis that were severely rusted out). Airstreams are also built on a wood floor, which rots. I did deal with some floor rot in my 1973 Airstream.

Livin Lite eliminated both steel and wood from their trailers creating what the founder called a "generational trailer," one that was designed to last for generations. I kept reading and looking online. Livin Lite seemed like a small company but one with a damned good product. I searched for the Utah dealer--Legacy RV.

My visit to Parris RV was on Saturday, January 27. On Tuesday, January 30 I stopped by Legacy to see Livin Lite's CampLite product. By the end of that day I'd signed the contract to buy a CampLite trailer.

This Airstreamer had fallen off the wagon!

Now back to Thor . . . and another division of theirs called KZ. I didn't know this on January 30, but it turns out KZ manages Livin Lite. Both companies are Thor subsidiaries.

As many people do when making a purchase like this, I kept researching and learning all that I could. I wasn't taking delivery until Saturday, February 3.

Late at night on February 2, I stumbled across some disturbing messages. There's a company-hosted online forum for Livin Lite products and a post dated February 1 was titled "Is Livin Lite really going out of business."


On the verge of making this purchase this was disturbing. Even worse, I found a Facebook owner's group where dealers were confirming this rumor. It turns out that around January 31 or February 1 dealers were notified by KZ that Livin Lite was being shut down.


Now I know many people spend a lot longer than I did doing their homework on these types of purchases, but I'd taken a pretty deep dive and was sold on the CampLite/Livin Lite products. Also with my background with Airstreams I knew a little bit about RVs (enough to be dangerous).

So I went to Legacy a little early the next day to see what they knew. They confirmed they'd received a similar message. It seemed like they weren't sure what it all meant. Would CampLite (a Livin Lite brand) continue under KZ?  Legacy's owner thought they might, but if they did KZ would do away with the aluminum chassis (and maybe more aluminum) because they were too expensive to produce. Though it was the aluminum chassis and frame that was one of the main things that differentiated Livin Lite to begin with!

I decided I didn't care. I liked the trailer I picked out. I wasn't worried about the warranty. If Livin Lite was to go away I was still buying a Thor product and Thor isn't going away any time soon.

So I took delivery.

My new CampLite by Livin Lite! 
But now my research kicked up a notch. I occasionally write and edit articles on Wikipedia. By Sunday night, February 4, I'd finished a substantial first draft of my new article on Livin Lite the company. You can see the new article on Livin Lite here.

I proceeded this week to contact KZ and Thor executives by email, to respectfully ask them what's up. I heard back from a senior Thor executive who assured me my warranty would be honored (which, again, I wasn't worried about).

Here's what he wrote:

As the management oversight group for Livin’Lite, KZ will continue to produce Livin’ Lite trailers as orders are received.  However, since they are not a fully mature product line, they will be batch run into the early summer.  At that time, final decisions will be made to the future designs of the product.  Although Livin’Lite is experiencing a transition in the products offered, rest assured that all warranties on all Livin’ Lite products are and will continue to be honored for their full terms, the same as any other brands we produce.

Thanks again for purchasing a CampLite and welcome to the KZ family. 

I pressed him on the question of what was happening and he said:

"no final decision has been made."

I didn't know I was joining the KZ family, but I found out soon enough! Hope it's as good as Livin Lite.

I'll write and post more on my new trailer later. I am excited about it.

To wrap this post up, here's the Thor family of companies as they stand today. If Thor wasn't the entity that saved Airstream I never would have found Livin Lite at all. I do hope Livin Lite's product lines continue. And don't miss the Livin Lite Wikipedia article I wrote to learn more about the very cool, if endangered, company that made my new trailer.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Ian Baker reviews the CampLite 11FK

This is my exact trailer . . . same finishes, though I didn't get a TV (I did get the mount and all the hookups).

Baker does a nice job reviewing and touring this trailer. He's with a dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January catch up

Wow, just a little gap in posts here.

Some major happenings since July:
  • Picked up my Airstream from Camper Reparadise mid-July
  • Two local trips in the Wasatch Mountains in mid to late July, including five nights at one of my all-time favorite RV campsites, which will remain unnamed here
  • An Airstream trip to Stanley, Idaho to see my sister, nephew, and Lisa (a friend)
  • Another to Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse where I had a world-class boondocking spot. The eclipse was damn cool. We were in the path of totality. 
  • A reconnecting trip with the Airstream community when I went to Mesa Verde National Park for a Four Corners Unit rally of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (the Airstream club) over Labor Day
  • Then I lost my Airstreaming steam, I think that was my last trip of the year
  • Did some fun other travel, both personal and work--especially New York and L.A.
  • Had a not-so-great trip to Canada over the Christmas to New Year holiday, crazy cold and other things. It was my first time to Banff. It was -40 F many nights and subzero until the last two days when it peeked above zero. No Airstream on that trip. 
  • And . . . decided to sell my Airstream!
I love it, but it still needs work and I hit my limit on putting money into it. It looks like I've found a nice new home for it! Sure hope so. 

And the coolest thing of all . . . in October I helped rescue a tyrannosaur! Read more about that here.

The final shot of my 1962 Airstream Safari. It's headed to a new home. Our time together ended up being brief, but I loved it. It was also an important step for me toward the road of becoming a recovering Airstreamer. I still love them, but my fixation is maybe a bit more healthy now. 

Banff Trip

Two shots from the trip from hell.

One of two days when it peeked above zero, skiing at Lake Louise. It was stunning. 

Crossing the border, Christmas day. 

New York and LA! October/November

Scenes from my trip to New York (the horse shots), and one Los Angeles shot from the Getty. I also spent a little time in New York City during my NY trip. The first one is my sister, Cari Swanson. 


Improvements to the front of my house this past year, and some stunning fall color. This is the part of my house that's often rented via AirBnB.

Bryce and the Tyrannosaur rescue mission--October

Bryce Canyon! Or maybe near there . . . definitely Bryce formation. #stunning

Me in the quarry where we recovered the most complete tyrannosaur ever found in the southwestern U.S. at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.  

Photo from November (ish). The head of the tyrannosaur as NHMU preparators began to extract it from the rock matrix. 

Again, read more about the tyrannosaur rescue operation here.

Casper and Mesa Verde

Part of my January blog catch up . . .

In Casper I met up with my friend Elliott who was organizing a community event during the solar eclipse. The eclipse was pure magic. Casper was in the path of totality. Here's one image of eclipse-created shadows:

From the Labor Day Airstream rally in Colorado with the Four Corners Club of the Wally Byam Caravan Club (WBCCI--aka the Airstream club). I met some cool people there, finally made it to Mesa Verde National Park. Explored the Cortez area, and realized how much more I wanted to do to my Airstream!

Just outside of Mesa Verde National Park with 4CU/WBCCI. 

Getting out with the Airstream

The last of my January catch up posts.

These are all images from the first two outings in my 1962 Airstream. Both were in the Wasatch Mountains, not far from my house and featuring my boy Jake.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Scenes from the Airstream rehab

Considering I have a hard enough time doing lower skill tasks like painting my house (just had a rough go of it this past weekend), and considering that my time is limited, I am having pros do most of the rehab work on my 1962 Airstream Safari.

Here are some scenes from the shop, Camper Reparadise, in Salt Lake City:

The glamour shot

New seven-prong connector and cord

Astradome and Fanstastic Vent via Vintage Trailer Supply

Belly pan recreated and installed after the new axle was in place

Some of the underside repairs

Next up, 12 volt electrical system getting overhauled. Hope to have this back by July 14.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

New axle and Colin Hyde's hypnotic manner

Ten years ago in Georgia, I met a guy named Colin Hyde. I was standing there with my 1973 Airstream lined up with the other vintage Airstream people, minding my own business. We were prepping to caravan in to the 50th annual Wally Byam Caravan Club International's meetup. Many hundreds of Airstreams converge each year at different locations for this event. They still do it today. This year's will be in Michigan.

The next thing I know, as I stood waiting in line, Colin is laying on the ground inspecting the underside of my trailer. He informed me that I needed new axles.

It had never occurred to me that it was an issue. I was living full-time in my Airstream and had more than 4,000 miles on my trailer by that point and hadn't noticed anything amiss as I rolled down America's highways and byways. And yet meeting this guy Colin, he almost immediately convinced me I needed new ones and before I knew it I had driven to his shop in Plattsburgh, New York--way up north, not far from Montreal.

I got my axles replaced.

There was something hypnotizing about Colin's manner. I never doubted him.

In production year 1961, Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream switched all new Airstreams to torsion axles. He did this after leading a caravan across Africa from Capetown to Cairo. Prior to '61, Airstreams had leaf spring axles which I am familiar with from farm equipment my family has had over the years.

Leaf spring axle.

Leaf spring axles date back hundreds of years and are still used today in some heavy trucks, SUVs, and a variety of vehicles and trailers--though not too often in modern travel trailers. 

During the 1959 Capetown to Cairo caravan, Wally Byam had torsion axles on his Airstream. This was experimental technology for Wally and Airstream though torsion axles date back to at least the 1930s. Wally had no problems on that epic 1959 trip, whereas many of the other people in the caravan had all sorts of problems with fractures and breakdowns in their leaf spring axles. Hence the switch for 1961. 

My new-to-me 1962 Airstream Safari had its original torsion axle. With the Colin-embedded-in-me fear of old axles, a new axle was high on my list for my newly acquired trailer. But why?

Torsion axles provide the suspension for the trailer (most Airstreams also use shock absorbers to reduce bounce). When you buy any old trailer the old axles often still work, but they don't work as they were designed. With no suspension left in the axles you drag your trailer around and it feels every bump and gets bounced all over the road. For Airstreams, rivets can--and do--pop out. The body can become separated from the frame. Appliances and built-in furniture take a beating. All of this is really, really bad for a trailer. The worst case though is axle failure including a wheel flying off--which is especially bad on a single axle trailer like my 1962 Airstream Safari. In the case of my Safari, when I first brought it home it bottomed out on my not very steep driveway because the arms in the torsion system had collapsed. 

So a new axle was coming my way. Here's my original axle which we had to cut off since it was welded on. On later models the axles were bolted on which meant much less work in switching them out. 

For Airstream and other vintage trailer people who want to read more about this, check this article out by Andy Rogozinski. I am borrowing this image from Andy's article because it illustrates what failed on my original axle:

And another photo of my now retired axle:

As you can see I'd attained the negative angle on my torsion arm. As a result my trailer rode lower and had no suspension. 

Here's my new axle, just before we welded it on:

It's now got a positive angle again which you can see will raise the trailer and give it suspension. With this system each tire has independent suspension and the trailer enjoys a smooth ride. 

So thank you Colin for putting me under your spell and making me a believer in the value of updating my axle. Thanks to my new amigos at Camper Reparadise here in Salt Lake City for doing the hard work of removing my old welded-on axle and installing a new one. A special shoutout to Airstream/vintage-trailer enthusiast and Chad of Camper Reparadise who cut off the old axle. Thanks too to Evan for welding on the new one. 

You can follow Chad here on Instagram, he's a true craftsman who loves his work and does an excellent job of showing his work in photos. 

If you are back east, look up my friend Colin Hyde who you can also listen to and get tons of great vintage trailer advice from on the Vintage Airstream Podcast (the VAP). There, you too can experience his mesmerizing voice!

I didn't attempt to explain why torsion axles don't last--it has to do with the rubber used in them. Andy discusses that in more detail (see link above). One thing Andy doesn't come out and say in his article is that all torsion axles are at or near the end of their life after about 20 years. That doesn't mean they'll outright fail, but they are no longer performing as designed and your trailer will pay the price if you drive with older axles. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Airstream production in the early 1970s

My May 28 blog post, and an accompanying Air Forums post this past weekend yielded some answers about the historic Airstream production numbers that I was curious about.

Joe Peplinski, the historian for the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), responded with information regarding production in the early 1970s. Airstream was producing a total of 175 trailers per week (in Ohio and California), or about 8,750 per year based on a 50 week production schedule. These are his estimates, not official numbers, but I suspect they put us very much in the ballpark of Airstream production circa 1971.

That's substantially more than are being produced in the current boom. It seems like Airstream must be producing 3,500 to 4,000 trailers this year (my estimate based on the sources I found for my previous post, and consistent with what I was told at the Idaho dealer last Saturday).

Joe's information came from interviewing two longtime Airstream employees for "Airstream Plant Tour Guides," an article he wrote for Blue Beret, March 2016. If you follow that link scroll to page 21. Blue Beret is WBBCI's monthly magazine.

Thanks Joe for this information! This still leaves the 1950s and 1960s as a big void regarding the production numbers I'd love to see. Peplinski makes reference to 1980s production numbers in his Blue Beret article too.

It would also be great to see yearly totals for Airstream's full history. It's fun to piece together what we can all the same.

My 1973 Airstream Trade Wind, photographed in Nevada. December 2007.