How I Got Involved In Camping

Published: May 18, 2002

By Art Hall

Dorothy O'Conner

Carol and I were heading back from our March vacation in Florida, driving in our Plymouth mini van through South Carolina, when suddenly Carol yells “Airstream dealer! GET OFF THIS EXIT!” (Maybe this explains why my hearing has diminished in my right ear.)

Anyway, we exited I-95 and visited Donmar RV sales of SC. I was impressed with the units but really was not focused, just trying to hurry Carol along so we could reach my daughter’s house in North Carolina before dark. After “ooow-ing” and “ahh-ing” at the different units she asked for a catalog and we continued our journey.

As we continued, Carol read the entire catalog to me and then even showed it in great detail to my daughter and son-in-law. The next day we drove home. One of our rituals is to bring fruit home for family members up north. As Carol’s nephew and his wife were picking up their bounty that evening, he noticed the brochure on the coffee table and Carol explained that we were in the market for an Airstream. (News to me!). He excitedly stated that his wife’s Uncle Hans is selling one for the estate of a neighbor. Carol took Uncle Hans’ telephone number, called him, and made an appointment to see it the next day. That evening she searched the Internet and had reams of info for me to read in the morning.

In Bloomfield, CT the next day, we got the keys from Uncle Hans and looked over the unit. It was a 1976 31′ Excella 500 rear bath model. She had stars in her eyes. The outside appeared to be in good shape except for a patched window next to the door. There were no lights as the battery was dead and the unit was not connected to a 120v source. We figured the musty smell was from storage, and the mess inside was from the family storing all the Airstream items from the house in the trailer. Uncle Hans told us that they were asking $3500 but had turned down $2500. How wrong can you go?

We left Bloomfield for home (at least that’s what I thought). Carol suggested that since we were out why not visit the local Airstream dealer that she had found on the Internet: it was only over the border in New York State. After a short argument that I lost, we headed for Holiday on Wheels in Patterson, NY. We met a sales person who showed us all the new and used units. The prices convinced me that $3500 sounded very good. We finally got home that afternoon and decided to offer $3200. Carol called the lawyer handling the estate (also a neighbor of Uncle Hans), made the offer, and they accepted it!

The next morning we drove back up to Bloomfield and traded the check for the keys to our new treasure. Carol investigated the interior while I removed the battery to take home to charge. Later that day we called Holiday on Wheels to have them tow and inspect the Excella. That’s when we learned about vacuum brakes. It seems without a controller specifically for vacuum brakes, you cannot tow the unit. Needless to say, the controllers are no longer made. Holiday on Wheels said you need to replace the vacuum brakes with electric brakes (cost about $1,500). We were referred to a towing company that could handle the job. That cost another $500.

The results of the inspection were: the unit needed brakes, furnace repaired, hot water control has a gas leak, multiple water leaks so water system could not be tested, air conditioner needs work, tires have dry rot and the propane tanks need to be updated. So we had Holiday install new brakes check all the running lights and update the tanks. We were going to do the rest of the work at home in our driveway.

The down time for these repairs gave us ample time to get a new tow vehicle. So, again Carol searched the Internet for the truck and we visited many dealers to find the perfect truck, (matching colors for the Airstream) the truck only cost TWICE the cost of my first house and is so high in the air I need to have a step installed or I’ll be 1/2″ shorter each time I get out. We had to get temporary plates on the trailer because it was registered out of state, was over 25 years old so it needed to be inspected.

We picked up the trailer from the dealer the following week, drove to Danbury CT DMV for inspection by “Mr. Personality.” He failed it because of the tires. These were the tires the dealer told me were bad, but I told Carol, “Naw, they’re OK. They’re just trying to sell us tires.” Bad move! Should have left the talking to her — she got me into this.

So we drove the unit home, backed it in the driveway and realized with it backed up to the garage door as far as it would go, it stuck three feet into the road. Carol says at this point, “Not so bad. We will just have to find a place to keep it!” (Is this what they mean by the cart before the horse?)

Well, now we needed to start cleaning it out and start the repairs. We unloaded all the closets, bins, drawers and cabinets and hooked up the water hose. Found multiple leaks in the water lines and realized that the unit had not been winterized. I repaired three split pieces of copper tubing behind the rear bathroom (15 hours of labor) and had to replace the shower control. Water now works except for a BIG drip from the hot water heater.

While I was enjoying the pleasures of water leak repair, Carol was attempting to clean the ceiling and walls. The previous owner had been a 2 – 3 pack a day cigarette smoker, who also, by the way, had 3 dogs. Maybe that was what the terrible smell was?

Next I tackled the furnace to no avail. It appeared to just be a pile of rust. The previous owner installed a quick disconnect on the gas line next to the stove and we found the catalytic heater in the closet that plugged into it. So I think maybe the heater has not worked for a while.

At this point we were kind of held up because of 2 days of heavy rain. Now when you are inside, the rain is supposed to be outside. But not on this trailer! We found multiple window and door leaks. As we investigated we found that where the water reached the floor in many places the rug was rotted and the floor damaged. Carol being ever the optimist, sent for samples of cork flooring. By the hum of the univolt, we decided to step back and figure out what we really needed to replace and get some prices. Since it was Saturday we thought we would take a drive to some RV places, so I could start pricing things like furnaces, hot water heaters, air conditioners, caulking, lots of caulking, etc.

We were driving on Rte 7 in Danbury, had just visited Dave’s RV and were heading to Litchfield when I suggested to Carol that maybe we should stop at Holiday on Wheels to get some part prices also. She said we should look at new units. WOW. I had to open my big mouth!

It was about a 30 minute drive so on the way I got a commitment that 25′ was the longest unit we could put in our driveway. I also confided in her that I was not looking forward the repairs on the unit we owned, so maybe a newer unit was a consideration. We looked at 2 different layouts on the 25’s and a 22′ but ended up buying a 1998 Safari 25′ that had just been put on consignment and was in perfect condition. We delivered our unit for trade in on Thursday, brought the Safari home, loaded it up and went to an Airstream Rally in Rhinebeck, NY the next morning and came back home on Saturday.

We love our trailer and when people ask how long we have been camping we say, “We’re not sure but this is our SECOND Airstream.”

I’m still sleeping with one eye open wondering what is next in my future. Hmm maybe she’ll buy an airplane next.