Saturday, April 9, 2011

Airstream Restoration: Axles first, Spring of 2010

Canyon de Chelly  -  oil 16x20''

Sue and I had been thinking of getting our Airstream back on the road for some time.  The old 6 volt brakes that came with the trailer served us well for many years with a voltage resister on the break controller, but the time had come to replace them. The easiest way seemed to be to replace the entire axel with new, modern brakes.  The next question was, where do we find new axles for a 55 year old trailer? At this point we had no idea.

In May of 2010 I was in Canyon de Chelly, AZ on a painting trip, car camping in my mobile studio. I pulled into the campground near the canyon entrance to discover some 90 Airstreams taking up most of the park. It was a WBCCI (Wally Byan Caravan Club International) caravan touring the South West.

WBCCI Caravan in Canyon de Chelly, May 2010

Being a proud Airstream owner I just had to talk to someone in the group. A man named Jerry Hall from North Carolina was very helpful and gave me good information about what’s going on in Airstream circles these days. He informed me Airstream now uses Dexter Axles and directed me to a source. When I returned home I got on-line, joined the WBCCI and then VAC (Vintage Airstream Club). Through the VAC on-line forum I found someone with a trailer close to the same year as mine, Bill Kerfoot from California who owns a 1954 Airstream double-door Liner. Bill confirmed what I had concluded, that replacing the old axles with new axles and brakes was indeed the best way to go. 

Within two weeks we ordered new Dexter axles, they were delivered early in July. We began figuring out how to remove the old and install the new. To my surprise we discovered that at some point before I owned this trailer serious damage had been done to the center axle hanger that supports the equalizing arm on the curb side. I remember Roy telling me about damage to the right side of the trailer that required a trip to the Ohio Airstream factory for repair. I wish I had paid more attention now. The photo below left, shows how off-center it was. It must have broken loose and was welded back in a misaligned position, almost a half an inch off. I always had bad wear on the right rear tire and now I understood why.  

The center hangers that came with the new axles were shorter than those originally mounted to the trailer frame. I wanted to use the old hangers so the trailer would not ride any lower than it already was so my solution was to cut the misaligned hanger off at a point that would allow me to weld the new shorter hanger to it, thus maintaining the same height (photo above right).

With the center hangers measurement from the hitch, now the same on each side, 
I used a jig to ensure correct alignment of the front and rear hangers.

We loosened the belly skin in order to reach in
and shroud insulation from welding sparks.

With help from my oldest son Paul and a fellow Airstream owner Steve Masefield we got the new axels mounted and a brake controller installed in the tow van which is my mobile studio, (more about the mobile studio in another post.)

Steve Masefield (left) helping with the brake controler. 

Finally ready to roll.

By now it’s the beginning of August and we wanted to be in Salida, Colorado by the 8th to attend the Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally hosted by a club in Denver. We had Moonshadow roadworthy only hours before our departure deadline.

First 500 miles on new axles, arrived safely at rally site.

Patti Reed's 1953 Flying Cloud
Shari & Rod Davis' 1956 Safari / 2010 award winning restoration.

Herb Spies' 1963 Globe Trotter, WOW, what a polish job!

Our rally neighbors, Duane & Cheryl Ferguson with dog Buddy
& their 1976 Caravaner

We had a fabulous time, met some great people, learned a lot and even got a polishing demo by Rob Davis done on our own Moonshadow. Watch this video, it’s almost as though, after 55 years, we get a peek into the hidden soul of our trailer.

Our Airstream is still usable even though it needs a full restoration from the frame up. It is in original condition. As the guys on the VAP (Vintage Airstream Podcast) say, trailers like ours are survivors. Our plan is to do the outside cosmetic work and window restoration first while we enjoy a few more trips. We’ll then dive into it deep and serious towards the end of this year.

Rocky Mountain Vintage Rally 2010
That's us at 9:00 in the innermost circle.


  1. Nice work on those axles Spike and lovely pictures of the rally.

    So yours is the survivor mentioned on the VAP - lucky you !

    Would be great to see some interior shots sometime but for now enjoy your camping this year & I'll look forward to your 'diving deeper' into her later in the year.


  2. Hey, thanks Chris. The VAP was not referring specifically to our trailer but when I heard that term I realized that’s what we have, a survivor. The only thing missing is the original hot water heater & refrigerator. The interior has not been changed. It even has the original zolatone. We love it the way it is but it needs a new floor, up-graded electrical and holding tanks. So it’s time to pay her back for 32 years of good service. After this year’s trips we’re going to do a shell-off complete re-do. I’ll be turning to your blog for inspiration.

    We are attending a restoration rally in June with the hope we can gain sufficient knowledge to get started on the right track.

    As for interior shots, we’ll do some “before and after” later but for now you can see a few here -


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