Posted December 16, 2020 – Narrated by Jim
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.
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.
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. (In March 2023, Dometic told us this model has been replace with the DOMETIC 94002SP WH-GEA RV Gas/Electric Water Heater – 6 Gallon)
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.
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.