Fresh Start

Posted December 16, 2020 – Narrated by Jim
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Aging gracefully is the last thing on our minds.

Life is too full of splendor to shift focus and agonize over wrinkles and thinning hair. And we’ll never give up our big boy and big girl jeans.

The ebb and flow of twenty to forty pounds is the destiny of migratory beasts as we press on through fertile craft beer country like Colorado, and then forge through dry brew wastelands like Utah until we finally reach the golden suds of California. Feast or famine. It’s all part of living in the wild.

It’s futility to fuss over the inevitable effects of aging … unless it’s about Beauty, our 2001 30′ Airstream. Beauty gets everything. Spa days, make-overs, glitter, massages … she’s twenty years old and almost everyday an admirer declares she looks brand new.

Her good looks can be attributed to excellent Airstream genetics – an estimated sixty to eighty percent of Airstreams ever made are still on the road.

Keeping Beauty in tip-top condition is our pride and joy. So, when Beauty needs something, it’s no big deal. We hop to. Five years ago, before we were shiny trailer people, we had no idea a machine was about to wrap us around her little hitch ball and take us for the ride of our lives.

Twenty years is old for any vehicle. Of course, Beauty doesn’t feel old until she catches a glimpse of her reflection …

In December 2000, when she was first towed off the assembly line, she was as firm as an Olympian. Now – if you know what to look for – her bones show where they didn’t before, and she has hail marks that look like cellulite on her butt. Yeah, yeah, age takes a toll and time marches on and all that, but her battle scars inflicted by tree limbs, extreme weather and the rigors of the road are all part of the story. Meanwhile, I spend a lot of time fixin’ stuff.

But that’s always been my life …

My dad ran a black and white television repair shop from our home in the late 50’s to early 60’s where I ‘helped’ him fix stuff most folks thought were unfixable.

My mom, Ruby, was the family’s automobile mechanic from the Plymouth in the 50’s to the Corona 70’s. I ‘helped’ her do oil changes, replace radiator hoses, alternators, and engine ‘tune-ups.’

The National City Boy’s Club metal and wood shop kept me busy in my youth. And, in the early 60’s, a career in Slot Cars taught me skills in soldering, design, plastic molding, electronics, propulsion, artistic air brush painting, and electric motor mechanics.

Achieving a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in design, graphics, electronics, photography and construction was so easy for me it was like cheating.

But even though I can address most of Beauty’s smaller issues, many of the serious repairs and upgrades are beyond my current toolset, or my skillset, and sometimes I just need an extra set of hands or two. That’s when we pay a visit to Vinnie Lamica.

So, in late August, we pulled out of Tahoe and headed south toward Wilton, California to Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair for our annual appointment for fixes and upgrades.

Arrival

As always, when we arrive to Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair…

the grounds are even more beautiful.

Upon arrival, we inspected an overwhelming assortment of parts and supplies which we had shipped to Vinnie ahead of time. It was hard to imagine how we’d get all of these jobs done within our appointment time frame. But Vinnie seemed confident.

Carmen’s sister, Deborah, gifted me with a box of smokes from some dashing dude called Island Jim. Perfect timing. Now, to bite the bullet and prepare my mind for a solid week of heavy lifting.

The work begins

Early the next morning, Vinnie hitches Beauty and parks her in the bay.

New Fresh Water Tank

The first key repair is to replace the leaky twenty year-old fresh water tank.

We had to remove the leaky old fresh water tank.

We held our breath hoping the new tank would fit into the existing pan. Whew. It fit… perfectly!

We attached the existing water lines and tested for leaks …

then, installed the new tank under the trailer.

New Water Pump

While we were deep in the bowels of the Airstream reattaching all the fresh water tank hoses …

we decided to replace the old water pump with a new SHURflo 12v 3.0 GPM Revolution RV water pump.

New Tank Level Monitor

The new fresh water tank didn’t have built-in sensors to monitor the water level from the inside. So we updated the system with the new Garnet 709 SeeLevel II Tank Monitoring System, which uses sensors mounted on the outside of the tank to determine the water level inside. It also monitors the gray tank, black tank, and the propane tank levels all in one monitor.

Every night, Vinnie towed Beauty back to our glamping site in the willows beside the pond – about thirty yards from his shop – so we could sleep in our own bed and be fresh in the early morning for another day in the shop.

New Hot Water Heater

Since the twenty year-old hot water heater had twice malfunctioned causing the carbon monoxide alarm to sound (probably saving our lives)…

we wisely decided to replace it with a new updated model, the Dometic/Atwood 6-Gallon Water Heater GC6AA-10E.

Find and Seal Water Leak

Evidence of a water leak appeared from somewhere in the bow of the Airstream, so we asked Vinnie to perform his air pressure process to locate any and all leaks.

First, he installs a massive “Sealtech” contraption inside the Airstream that generates high air pressure inside the trailer.

Then, using soap and water, he finds all the areas where bubbles are forming from the leak …

Seeing a huge bubble, he discovers the leak is from a worn out window seal.

So, we installed a new seal around the entire window.

For the next few repairs we had to remove the furniture. It takes about an hour for me and Carmen to perform this task. We’ve lost count how many times we’ve done this – but it’s a good exercise. When the floor is cleared we get to reorganize and deep clean the entire trailer. We found a lot of Colorado and Utah dust.

Replace Damaged Flooring

Now that the leak has been found and sealed, we need to replace the water damaged flooring.

We anticipated this years ago when we purchased the cork flooring – so Vinnie had plenty of material. As usual, he made it look easy to install the new pieces and tighten up a couple of floor panels which had shifted slightly.

New Lithium Batteries

Carmen cleaned the area for the new Battleborn lithium batteries.

The old failing AGM batteries had to be removed, along with the old battery boxes.

The new lithium batteries weigh half that of the old AGM batteries. Lithiums weigh 31 pounds, while AGMs weigh 62 pounds.

As part of the battery upgrade, we installed the Victron BMV-712 Battery Monitor Kit for the lithium batteries which uses a bluetooth connection to one of our iPhones.

This panel informs us of the details, activity and storage of the lithium batteries. In real time we can monitor the battery voltage, percentage of charge, and current amperage drain, as well as history and trends.

This new Victron monitoring system marries beautifully with our three year-old Blue Sky solar panel monitor. The Blue Sky informs us of the amount of energy coming from the sun to the lithium batteries.

Gray/Black Tank Tweaks

We’ve had some problems in our gray/black tank valve area, but Vinnie has a hack for that. He improved our ability to empty the black tank by shortening the valve lever.

Some serious patching was necessary to close large holes left open from a previous repair we had done in Ohio which invited critters into our trailer. It’s been quite the year for home invasions. One day in Steamboat Springs, Carmen interrupted a chipmunk as it was thoughtfully perusing our fruit basket. Hopefully, that’s the end of that.

New Toilet

We replaced the malfunctioning toilet even though it was only two years-old. It had a loose flush ball and replacement was easier and more economical than repair.

While Vinnie addressed other jobs for his growing list of clients, he guided me as I installed the toilet, saving on labor costs.

New Chrome Strips

Since we’ve been saving so much money by eating at home this year, I decided to splurge. So, Vinnie replaced all the chrome strips to give our Beauty a bit more shine.

EasyStart Air Conditioner Soft Start

Our air-conditioner is 20-years-old and still functions properly, but we installed the Micro-Air EasyStart Soft Starter to help the A/C start with less energy. The kit includes a computerized analysis system to help protect the air conditioner’s compressor.

One last repair!

Two weeks before our appointment, someone did a ‘hit-and-run’ while we were legally parked in the Paso Robles suburbs. By the appearance of the dent, it looked like a truck with a load of 2×4’s backed into her.

We didn’t have time for a two-to-three day $2,750 repair – and Vinnie had a yard full of Airstreams waiting their turn for repairs, ceramic coatings, and new Airstreamers waiting for towing lessons, and others waiting to buy beautiful pre-owned Airstreams … so, he just popped the dent out. Took him five minutes. No big deal. He’s a wonder.

Now, the more we live with this battle scar we are accepting it as part of the story. And, it is a reminder to avoid parking near intersections where an oversized vehicle might attempt a U-turn.

Every time Beauty leaves Vinnie’s bay for another year – another journey – another fresh start – we wonder if this will be our victory lap.

That last hot August night – just a few miles away – Carmen and went out to celebrate the end of a successful week at the Tilted Mash Brewing Company.

We raised a toast …

“To Vinnie. The Dream Maker.”

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


67 thoughts on “Fresh Start

  1. Wow: Great post – and your photos make it just perfect! Looks like Vinnie is a genius; wish there was a Vinnie for Interstates. See you down the road in 2021!

    1. Joe, thanks for the comment! Vinnie is an amazing Airstream technician. Hope to see you two in 2021… somewhere!

    1. Krisie, great question. All I know is when you find a good RV technician, it can make all the difference in the world!

  2. Great write-up of your repair visit at Vinnie’s! That was a LOT of work you had done! Thanks for all the pictures to show what was done and how. We’ve just decided to make another trip to Jackson Center in June for our final warranty work visit. Can’t believe we’ll have been Airstreaming for three years when we get there! So we’re starting to plan our trip in that direction and where we’re going to go afterwards. We plan to be on the road April/May through November. For you guys, smooth sailing, safe travels, stay well, and don’t get hit again!

    1. Steve, thank you for your comments! Yep, it was a lot of work to be done at once, but we were saving up all those things for months. Some were optional and some were necessary. But we feel that since we live in Beauty full-time, she deserves to be babied a little. When we met you and Sue in May 2019 at Alumapalooza in Jackson Center, we did not realize you had only been Airstreaming for a little over a year.Say HI to Artie for us at the Factory! Maybe our paths will cross in 2021! Stay safe out there!

        1. Thanks! So far we have camped in 11 Ohio State Parks and agree they are nice. I like that they often have a place to dump gray water. After we took possession of our Airstream from Hadocy RV in Columbus, we first went to JC for our “shakedown” and to have them address a few warranty issues we had from the get go. Then we spent a month in Ohio visiting various State Parks, so that if we found any serious issues we’d be close to either Hadocy or JC to get them taken care of. We have not stayed at Maumee Bay yet and will check it out. I went back and read your review and it looks nice. I think Sue tried to get us in there back then but there was no availability. We will definitely try again! I think in general state parks are our favorite places to camp.

    1. Great to hear from you Dawn. Glad you enjoyed the blog post. Beauty is now ready for the next adventure. From here we head to the coast, then up through Georgia, South and North Carolina and onto Virginia by April. Not sure where we go from there. Miss you two! Say HI to Chris for us! Jim

      1. Hey Dawn! Happy Holidays! Hey, by the way, right now I’m making duck confit for a Christmas cassoulet! Wish you were here to guide me. Love you!

        xoxo

        Carmen

  3. Wow that’s a lot of work. Congratulations guys she looks awesome! Happy trails 😄
    Lisa and Dave Wood (Airstream -Borrego)

    1. Lisa and Dave, it was so great to meet you two in Borrego. It was a lot of work, but Beauty is now ready for the next year! Hope we see each other again some day on the road! Jim

  4. Great post as always! I am glad you introduced us all to Vinnie before – and this post reinforces his skill! We are planning (hoping!) to go full time this fall, and our home base will be in Vista, California so knowing Vinnie is a lot closer than a trip to Jackson Center is great! Is warranty work covered at Vinnie’s shop? Safe travels!

    1. Lulu, thanks for the comment! Congratulations on your decision to go full-time this fall. Vinnie is authorized to do emergency warranty repair with prior approval from Airstream. Hope our paths cross again soon! Jim

    1. Barbara, so great to hear form you! Miss you! Our repairs are based on the trailer being 20 years old, and not that it is an Airstream. Things this old just start breaking down a bit. But now Beauty is like new and ready for the next adventure in front of us! Stay safe out there! Jim

  5. Great blog and great pictures documenting it along the way. What a wonderful shop and shop owner! Seems like a great experience. And poor Beauty with the dents! Glad Vinnie was able to get them out a-okay. Looks like a marvelous campground there too. Nice.

    1. Brenda, thank you! Vinnie is a wonderful businessman, technician and is a true gentleman, as well. We are glad we found him! While Vinnie popped the dent out, Beauty still has a serious scars from the hit. Oh well, it is all part of her story. Stay safe out there! Jim

  6. Vinnie Lamica is a genius with Airstreams, but besides that, he’s an awesome person!! I already took my new 30ft Globetrotter to him for upgrades and will take it again in the Spring for a dent repair.

    1. Agreed! It didn’t take us long to realize Vinnie is a genius with Airstreams, as well as a wonderful person. Glad you found him! When you see him in the Spring, please tell him the Jim and Carmen Beaubeaux said HI. Jim

  7. I take extra interest in this post since our units are so similar. It’s great to see how well you’re taking care of Beauty. I wish I lived closer to Vinnie’s. I was surprised to hear of a fresh water leak. Any clue as to why or how?
    I’m on schedule with our water heater. Our went out in the spring. The water pump about 2 years back. ( I think I missed it on my winterization). That new tank monitor will be so nice. I’m still messing with my not so accurate originals.
    I added the micro-air this year as well. You’re really going to be set now with the BB batteries and monitoring system. Maybe someday.
    Thanks for a wonderful detailed presentation of the whole process.
    Have a great year ahead.
    Bill

    1. Bill, we also wish there was a way to duplicate Vinnie and place those clones throughout the United States. We have had to change our plans and get back to Wilton a few times for repairs. The fresh water tank sprung a leak where the plastic plug was attached to a brass connector. Here is video of the leak, Vinnie said it was just the wear and tear on the road that probably caused the leak. You are correct that the Battleborn Lithium batteries are a game changer. Glad you enjoyed the blog post. Stay safe out there! Jim

    1. Kim, glad you enjoy our posts! We sure enjoy living this lifestyle. We loved our 2 month trek through southern Texas a few years ago. What a beautiful state. We have plans to spend more time in Texas! Jim

      1. Good!! Holler when you do and we’ll meet for coffee. We actually saw y’all on I-20 near Marshall Tx a few years ago. We didn’t have AS yet but we were learning from your posts, as we still are now. 🥰

      1. You must be excited to have twice the power available compared to your old setup. Do you also charge from Beasts alternator or solar only?

  8. That was an interesting read, looks like Vinnie will have a very merry Christmas I had a gal courtesy parked here in the spring and she had just come from Vinnie’s and spoke very highly of him too. The Silver Lodge is 25 years old, in two weeks, so far the only major repair, besides me crashing into things, and things crashing into it, was a total bedroom floor replacement. Oh yeah, all my water lines were chewed by a rodent, that was a bad one. The dogs and I had to move out for a week and stay in a hotel. Fortunately I have a good friend who restores and repairs them, so he replaced the bedroom floor last winter when he was in Florida. This is what a small leak will do over 24 years.

    floor

    1. For a 25 year old Airstream, you are fortunate to have had so little need for repairs. I think our repairs have been because we have traveled full-time in Beauty for the past 4 ½ years. Been hard on her. That is some serious floor wood rot there my friend! It’s fortunate you were able to get it replaced with only a 3 day turnaround. Glad you thought the blog post was an interesting read! Stay safe out there! Jim

    2. Wow-looks similar to my 1965 rear bath section I removed in 2005. The front is still original but the back suffered from rear end separation almost Airstreamers are familiar with.

      1. Good post, especially Jessie’s Grove 👍 I was curious how much furniture removal is right to do the floor. We plan to do ours in conjunction with reconfiguring a couple cabinets.

  9. Wonderful makeover. I didn’t know fresh water tank is sitting inside a pan. I thought the pan was the fresh water tank 😆

    1. Jihong, it is surprising how much I learn every time I either remove the furniture, fix something, go underneath the Airstream, or take it to Vinnie for repairs. So great to hear from you! Stay safe out there! Jim

  10. Hey! You weren’t just kidding about taking her for a real spa treatment. You guys did a lot! It looks great! I’m interested to hear how you like your SeeLevel. We’ve considered doing that upgrade as well, but we’ve never pulled the trigger. We’re used to our rig now, so we have a pretty good idea of what’s in our tanks at any given time, but it sure would be nice to have a percentage instead of a 1/3 2/3 thing. But… it’s a couple hundred bucks and a bunch drilling and wiring and crawling and swearing, etc. What do you think? Is it worth it?

    1. Laura, yep, we did give her a major spa experience! You asked about the SeeLevel system. Since the new fresh water tank did not have any means to detect how much was in the tank, we felt it would be a great disadvantage if we didn’t do something. You see, we never hook up to shore water. We ALWAYS use the fresh water tank and the water pump. This way, the water is always having a turnover and stays fresh, clean and free from being stale and old. In the last 4 years, we have never hooked a water hose to the trailer, but just refilled the fresh water tank when it gets low. And, without knowing when it is getting low while boondocking, that would be a great disadvantage. So we got the SeeLevel mainly for the fresh water tank, and the gray and black tank monitoring was just a ‘perk.’ The cost of the system was $200, but the time to install the sensors on the outside of the tank, and run all the wiring to a new monitor dashboard in the kitchen took many hours and some creative engineering (and some drilling and wiring and crawling and swearing). What do we think? We think it was definitely worth it! Stay safe out there! See you someday on the road. Jim

  11. It’s so nice to hear about your adventures with Beauty! I feel that I’m traveling with you two. Take care and have another great adventure

    1. Carmen, So great to hear from you! Glad you enjoy our blog. It is quite an adventure to travel full-time. COVID is making is even harder to stay safe, but we are managing to social distance, wear our masks, only go inside buildings when necessary, and enjoy the wonderful outdoors as we explore this amazing continent! Jim

  12. Wonderful blog post – I continue to marvel at your storytelling abilities and look forward to each installment. From others, I had a high opinion of Vinnie Lamica, even though we don’t own an Airstream (we have a Class B motorhome). Your experience with Vinnie just raised the bar – what an amazing resource for Airstream owners. Almost makes me want to switch to an Airstream.

    1. Darrell, thank you for your kind words. We love Class B motorhomes, but felt they were too small for us to live in and travel full-time. Vinnie is a wonderful resource for us! Stay safe out there! Jim

  13. As always, a great post! So informative, too. What a funny line, ‘she has hail marks that look like cellulite on her butt’ – LOL! Happy Holidays to you both and of course, for Pico as well.

    1. Sabrina, it is always wonderful to hear form you! Glad you enjoyed the post and our attempt at humor! Have you and your husband been out in your Airstream lately? Happy Holidays to you both!

      1. Thank you!
        We don’t have one yet…making our way to one. Your blogs have and are certainly fueling our inspiration!

    1. Barbara, thanks for following our crazy adventures. I realize it is a little less than 2 years away, but we are planning to be in San Diego in 2022 for the SUHI 50th Reunion. See you then! Jim

  14. LOVE how you document everything!!! Your photos are WONDERFUL!!! My hat’s off to the both of you!!! You have provided me with with a few gorgeous screensavers!!

    1. Debra, I do have a bit of Obsessive-compulsive disorder in my blood. I love numbers and details. Glad you are enjoying Carmen’s photography, I think she is getting better all the time. Stay safe out there! Jim

    1. Cyndy, glad you enjoyed the blog post. We had a lot of work done in a short period of time, but we are good to go now. Congratulations on your Airstream. Maybe our paths will cross someday on the road. Safe travels! Jim

  15. Holy smokes! That was a huge amount of packages. But, the contents replaced other parts, so most of it seemed to be a wash in weight and extras.

    That Vinnie of yours is amazing, indeed! Our Sprinter Westfalia – which was imported by Airstream to the US in 2005, is old as well, and therefore a bit finicky. While we fix most of the issues ourselves, it’s not so easy to find a knowledgeable and experienced technician!

    It’s most amazing that he could pop the dent back out! And, lithium batteries? My husband is salivating right now. He’s playing with the idea of ordering parts from China and building one himself. Less weight and less space, plus no more worries about power. I’m sure Beauty is a happy camper right now. 🙂

    1. Liesbet, it was a large amount of packages, but everything was indeed a replacement for something old or broken. Vinnie is a gem of a find for us, glad we found him. I didn’t know Airstream imported Westfalia’s to the US. Learn something new everyday. We sometimes get frustrated that things break, but talking to folks who have new RVs and they too experience stuff breaking down. I am sure it is a result of traveling down the road. Lithium batters are a game changer. We love them!!!!! And yes, Beauty is a happy camper right now! Stay safe out there! Jim

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