Posted May 17, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen
Last week we spent several days at Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair having solar installed on our 2001 30′ Excella Airstream.
Vinnie Lamica – a widely known and respected Airstream technician in California – installed three 100 watt solar panels and a kit, with a Blue Sky controller and display panel, along with a New Magnum MS 2000 watt “Pass Through” inverter with accompanying monitor.
He also knocked off a punch list of minor repairs and proactive maintenance. (resealed roof, checked brakes and seals, fixed furnace, new fan covers)
We first heard about Vinnie Lamica on YouTube from Airstreamers Sean and Kristy Michael of Long Long Honeymoon – or LoLoHo – well before we even owned an Airstream.
Just before our blowout in the Mojave last summer, we were in contact with Vinnie about having our tires upgraded and were actually on our way to Vinnie’s shop in Santa Rosa.
Right there on the side of the highway Vinnie coached us through damage control – advising what we should order and from where – so we could have the fix done in Mammoth by a local tire shop.
Then, in early September, we met Vinnie for the first time at his former shop in Santa Rosa where, even though he had a full schedule with no available openings for months to perform any services for us, he spent more than an hour doing a safety inspection and listening.
Over the next few months Vinnie recommended upgrades and preventative strategies for our trailer.
Based on the type of camping we like, Vinnie suggested we’d be good candidates for solar.
So, last week we spent 6 days at Vinnie’s new rural digs in Wilton – the flip-side of his former uptown Santa Rosa shop.
We also follow Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream on Facebook and over these last few months we’ve watched his new Airstream dream shop in development.
He and his wife Cindy and their white lab, Lacie, acquired the Wilton property in December 2016, and they’re transforming the grounds into a luxurious Airstream Spa – a tranquil country park to relax with a glass of wine beside the pond, knowing your travel trailer is in good hands.
Vinnie and Cindy moved to Wilton just in time for a series of major storms.
On Facebook we watched the blighted, unkempt and overgrown acreage with dilapidated sheds and barns emerge from the rainy season as a level, grassy campground on a sparkling pond stocked with bass – a bird-watcher’s paradise, with fly catchers, finches, orioles, plover, heron, hawks, buzzards, owls and the resident Canada geese.
We arrived to Vinnie’s on a Sunday afternoon and for five days – throughout our extensive solar upgrade – we were able to occupy our trailer at night!
Next year, most of Beauty’s repairs and upgrades will be performed inside the new 3-bay shop. Vinnie will tow her into the shop for her daily sessions and return her in time for Happy Hour.
Okay, we’re spoiled!
For all you Airstream geeks, here’s the photographic journal of how the project moved along from arrival to completion.
Interior details were strategized and explained …
Exterior work began on the solar panels.
The plan was not to modify the existing battery storage boxes and fit in two Lifeline GPL-31T AGM 12 volt sealed AGM batteries where the old Interstate 27 batteries were located.
Time to install interior wiring and equipment. First the inverter.
Then the solar control center.
Throughout the five-day installation on our 30′ trailer, Vinnie also had several other trailers to tend to, so Jim pitched in to help with some of the work on our trailer, reinstalling cabinets and preparing wires and cable.
Time to test the system.
Time for an interview in The Excella Cafe and a champagne celebration!!
UPDATE: We have added a few more panels and AGM batteries and then switched to Lithium batteries since this initial install. To read about our current setup, click here.
Vinnie also repairs damage due to weather, road accidents, water leaks or age.
As well as upgrades on furniture, flooring, cabinets, upholstery, lighting, roof, fans, solar, water heater, air conditioning, refrigerator and plumbing.
Okay, by now you know that Vinnie is a gem.
But in this pay-to-play world it may appear that we’re promoting Vinnie in exchange for some kind of compensation. We are not.
The open road can be fraught with danger, challenges and misdirection, so Jim and I try to mark the good places where good things and good people can be found.
For example, three weeks ago, I lost my mother’s diamond ring. I’d taken it out of the safety deposit box in Coronado only the day before because Daddy (after his house burned down and everything in it) advised me to “use the good china everyday.”
The ring was a bit loose and I’d planned to have it fitted. We left San Diego that day for Carpinteria State Beach Park where we enjoyed a beach walk and a home-cooked meal in our cramped and sandy camp site.
The next day – when we were turning into a RV resort in Paso Robles – I noticed Mama’s ring wasn’t on my finger. We pulled every item out of every cubby and locker and searched the floor on our hands and knees.
After two days of this labor, I concluded that the ring must have slipped off my hand and onto the sand somewhere in Carpenteria. I contacted the park to please keep me in mind if someone turned in a great big beautiful vintage white gold diamond ring.
Every morning when I woke up the first thing on my mind was Mama’s lost ring and Mama’s lost ring was the last thing on my mind every night when I went to bed … And worst of all … how to tell Daddy who had just lost so many of his memories of mama in the fire.
Well, that terrible loss ended when Vinnie finished the bedroom wiring and told Jim not worry he’d made sure the diamond ring was tucked right back into it’s “secret hiding place.”
Yes, Mama’s ring (uninsured and unappraised) had slipped off my hand in my sleep, dropped behind my bedside cubby and – probably during the swervy and hilly drive over the mountains into Paso Robles – took a journey deep down into the nether-regions of Beauty where it could barely be seen even with a very powerful flashlight and could not be retrieved without tools.
If not for Vinnie, my mother’s ring would have probably been lost to us forever or until Beauty’s next owners stripped her down and discovered it, and for all Vinnie knew it belonged to one of Beauty’s previous owners …
Sean Michael of Long, Long Honeymoon made a Facebook entry in honor of Vinnie’s 2016 birthday. He wrote:
“Not only is he a walking encyclopedia of technical and mechanical knowledge about all things Airstream, he’s also one of the nicest and most honest guys you’ll ever meet. We Airstream owners are LUCKY to have Vinnie as a service option. If you own a late model Airstream and live within, oh, 3500 miles you are well advised to take your beloved aluminum baby to his shop for TLC. Many thanks to Vinnie for being a blessing to us all.”
Amen to that. Like that lucky old sun, Vinnie washes our Airstream troubles away.
We’re meeting some wonderful people on the road and we want to share.
To listen to our inaugural Living In Beauty interview at the Excella Cafe with Vinnie Lamica, click the play button below:
* The noise in the background during the interview that sounds like Pico de Gallo eating his kibble, is Pico de Gallo eating his kibble. We’re working on that …