Airstream Woes

A non-descript RV repair shop on the side of the road.

I try not to be a complainer. I also know that when I started reporting of the work on our Airstream, we got a whole new group of followers who were interested in the Airstream, not just Michael's music or our family. Obviously, we have shared some of the challenges of remodeling. I want to be careful not to give the impression that we resolved all issues before we started traveling. Each day that passes by we have an issue with the trailer that is in the back of our mind. Some days those issues push their way to the front of our mind. They are harder to address while on the road, without a home, but we do our best to evaluate them as pressing or just nagging, and address them as needed. This is an account of those issues.

The first leg of our summer trip was to Ohio. Almost immediately we started to notice that our fridge was not getting all the way cold. This was something that we tested in advance. The special 3-way fridge that we have is very expensive- around $2,000. Since I wanted to keep our budget in line, before we bought the tankless hot water heater, I made Michael test the fridge. We had solid ice. When we went to Michigan in May, it was fine. In Ohio - not fine. It did cool. The freezer got cold, but did not form ice. We decided that we needed to give it more time. We started leaving the gas on during our travel day to give it a chance. No better results. It seemed to be getting worse. We tried not to stress too much. We don't carry meat, so we just kept our dairy in the freezer section and kept going.

By our second stop in Ohio, our outlets stopped working. I learned form our madien voyage that this could be a sign that the RV park was not supplying us with electricity. The outlets only run on 110 power and are not powered by our batteries like the lights. The tricky thing was that they worked perfectly the night before. I tried to assess the situation. Sure enough the breaker had switched. Each time I tried to reset it, we got power for a second and then it switched again. That was as far as my troubleshooting skills got me.

Michael came home from work and established that it was our Airstream that was tripping the breaker (as opposed to poor power supply from the campground). Specifically the section that our wall outlets were on. We turned off that breaker on the Airstream side and were able to finish the night and carry forward. Once we got to the Wasinski house (our third stop in OH), we were able to buy a new breaker at Home Depot, remove corrosion from the wires, and resolve the issue. Our hope was that this may have fixed both issues. The refrigerator plugs into an outlet. Maybe that was why it was not getting full power. On to Cedar Point!

Unfortunately, the refrigerator never caught up. We were able to keep the freezer section cold - which was helpful when feeding 14 people at Cedar Point. We proceeded to VA with a watchful mind.

We had a few nights in Glen Allen that were good "catch up" days, but upon leaving we realized that we were missing our sewer drip cap. This was not the end of the world as the tanks are closed by the big plunger-like levers, but our next stop in Baltimore was our first real occassion staying on-site with the organization that had hired Michael. The last thing that we wanted was for us to be leaking sewage all over their parking lot - even if it was in small quantities. I also remembered from our maiden voyage that our sewer tank is not a standard size. We took a few hours to stop at Bass Pro Shop and a couple of RV stores. After a good 45 minutes waiting in line for my turn to talk to the RV parts guy, he assured me that tanks with white plumbing needed white fittings and that mine would be hard to come by. We started our drive to Baltimore 2 hours late and no sewer cap in hand. On the drive, I researched what I needed and found that they made an adapter to make my tank use the standard fittings. It was $7.50 on amazon. The only trouble was that I had no address to ship it to.

 While in Baltimore, I tried to attach our sewer hose and cap the hose. In theory that should have worked fine. In practice, it was a bit leaky. I called some RV shops. They assured me that I would not find the part that I needed. One guy suggested covering the hole with black electrical tape and that would stop me from being "reported". When I went to dump on Wednesday I stuffed it with a diaper to prevent dripping since I could not drive with the hose attached. This solution worked better than the capped hose. I bought some black duct tape and used it over the diaper. I called our campsite for the next week. I explained that I needed this sewer part that was not available locally. She made an exception to the rule and allowed me to have my amazon order shipped the campground.

Meanwhile, our refrigerator tanked out. Nothing. Not even a cool freezer. I read the forums and decided that it might be vapor locked. I turned it off until I could drive around on Wednesday. I bought a level. I plugged it back in. Nothing. Our meals were provided for the week, so we did not stress about it. We browsed new refrigerators, marine refrigerators, and dorm refrigerators online.        

On the drive to Colonial Beach we talked about refrigerator options. Our ideal would be to replace the one that we had, but the reality was that we could not get around to removing the old one until we got back to Effingham in August. We decided that a dorm fridge would be worth the $100. Not having ice was a huge inconvenience for us. We tossed out quite a bit of food those past few weeks. In Colonial Beach, our sewer cap arrived and worked like a charm. But, it rained a lot of the time that we were there.

The rain did not do the trailer well, though. We blew a fuse again. This time it was not the breaker, but the 20 amp fuse that the shower light is on. Michael became suspicious about the brakes. We were scheduled to drive through some treacherous mountains in West Virginia in just 3 days. We decided that it was time to consult some professionals - just to be safe.

The first shop that I stopped at told me up front that they did not have time to look at anything. The second shop seemed to understand trailers. He suggested that I bring in the trailer at 8 AM on July 3. We arrived at 7:45. He was there but told us he would be out at 8. We could leave the Airstream, but he needed our tow vehicle attached to it. (his main business was in golf carts). We wanted to talk to him a bit, first. He came out and did some troubleshooting on the fuse (loose wires that needed capped off). He stated that he was surprised to see that all three axles had brakes and that it looked like one of the axles had their brakes disconnected, but it was probably like that for a reason and he did not have time to look at it since it was close to a holiday. If we had been driving it like that thus far, it was probably fine. Have a good day.

Less than 5 minutes. Zero dollars. Michael looked at me and asked, "Is that best case scenerio or worst?" We really felt like this guy had experience that he could have handled anything that was wrong with the Airstream. It was also clear that he did not want to. Either way, we had exhausted our option of mechanics in Colonial Beach. We had no choice but to drive to West Virginia.     

β€œIs that best case scenerio or worst?”
— Michael James Mette

We made it safely through some nasty mountain roads. It was slow-going, but we had no issues. On the way to Kentucky, we stopped at every Wal-mart until we found a dorm fridge in-stock. We set up camp and it rained. The same fuse blew again. We noticed an RV sales and service shop. We asked them to check the brakes & bearings, and rotate the tires.

The experience there was something special. The parking lot was a hill with some loose rock thrown on it. They crammed as many travel trailers on the lot as humanly possible, and then put the rest on the shoulder of the highway. They had 2 shirtless guys that did the hitch installs and service work. There was a garage that they could use (in theory) but they mostly just laid on the gravel parking lot complete with broken glass and random rusty parts and working on the trailers as they lie stead of trying to move them. They allowed us to drop the trailer without leaving our tow vehicle, so we did.

They assessed that we did have brakes on all 3 axles. One set of the 3 had indeed been disconnected. One of the hubs was stuck and they were unable to reconnect it. They tied up the loose wires, rotated the tires & sent us on our way. I don't think they even checked the bearings. When we arrived "home" we realized that our hitch head had a loose weld joint.  Back the next day. They informed us that we were missing a component of our weight distribution system and set us up with a new one.  

We headed to Washington, D.C. where we began a week of blowing breakers and no A/C in 95 degree weather. We managed that week and made it to Hiawassee, GA with no issues. Then we arrived in Macon only to awake covered in ANTS our first morning there. The bug bombs fumigated and killed those little buggers.  

Michael has decided long ago that if he was going to be traveling full-time that he had to expect a certain amount of woes. His music equipment might be stolen. His van might break down. We might blow a fuse in the Airstream. Things happen. This does not mean that we are a failure. We can address issues methodically without letting them ruin our day. That is the attitude that we try to take with these things. Sometimes we handle them with more grace than others. Our hope is that as we continue to address some of these issues, we will see them reoccur less and less. We will gain more confidence and understanding. Only time will tell.