When I am traveling with the Airstream, some people are fascinated by the size, shape, color of the trailer, or the concept of a home on wheels, or the tow vehicle, the generator, etc, etc... This document is intended to help passers-by who want to know more but who also want to respect the owner's privacy.
Q: The trailer, what is it?
A: It's an "Airstream". One of many thousands which have been built over the last 75+ years. This one was manufactured by Airstream, Inc. in Jackson Center, Ohio in 2009. The model designation is Sport 17 and is 16 feet 8 inches in length, overall. Cost: $32,282 plus tax, license, etc. Weight 3,500 lbs, GWVR. For a tour of the inside, the way it was originally at delivery, see this YouTube video. Continuing improvements have been made to the Airstream since new, including doubling the battery capacity, a solar panel, larger propane tanks, etc. For more information on this Airstream, see the blog at this link.
Q: The tow vehicle, what is it, and what have you done to it?
A: 2010 Toyota Tundra Double Cab. Some major improvements to this tow vehicle include a BedSlide and SnugTop camper shell as well as a Yamaha EF6300iSDE generator which has been modified to use propane as well as gasoline to power the A.C. appliances such as air conditioning, microwave, and other devices, as well as to recharge the batteries which are used for fans, lights, etc. Many other improvements continue to be made to the tow vehicle and are documented at this link.
Yesterday was a major milestone in the Airstream adventure: pancakes and sausages (veggie, of course) at the beach, for about some friends, using the generator to power the electric griddle. It was a great day, on balance, but there were several things I would improve for next time:
1. Set the party time for later in the day. 10AM is just too early because it is not reliably sunny and warm enough to be pleasant. Next time it will be a pancake brunch at noon or 1PM, instead of breakfast.
2. Only one cook in the kitchen! Can you imagine having 3+ people working in that tiny kitchen all at once? It was madness, of course, but it seems that they wanted to volunteer, and I was certainly not organized enough to be efficient, and I guess they noticed that, but that leads to improvement...
3. Invite fewer people. (There were 10 of us yesterday: Alex & Joni, Sean, Alexis, Peter, Joey & Carolina, Mark, Samm, me!) I'm thinking that 4 people is ideal, 6 people maximum.
4. Have the guests bring something. Chairs, beer, dessert, dishes, silverware, whatever.
6. Checklist for various tasks. (I forgot the electric kettle because of no checklist.)
7. Handouts for the curious. Some people are captivated by the Airstream but I'm really not too excited about answering lots of questions ("How much does it weigh?" Really?) I'd like to create a printed handout to give to people who feel compelled to interrupt my solitude.
Overall, it was a great day, an auspicious beginning to a fine Airstream summer season...
Yesterday I picked up the 30# propane tank from Ferrellgas, the propane source, who properly purged the tank (see post below) and refilled it. Now, at long, long last, it's working with the generator. This is significant because now I can use the trailer-mounted propane tanks and not need to haul around the smaller 20# tank inside the tow vehicle to be used as the fuel source for the generator. This gives the advantages of being safer as well as offering greater fuel reserves for longer use and simplifies the system with fewer parts.
With the two 30# tanks containing about 14 gallons of propane, and the generator able to run about 4 hours per gallon, it could run a total of 56 hours before running out of fuel. Of course it is unlikely to be needed continuously, so it could easily support several weeks electricity needs, especially when considering the solar panel would supplement electrical power generation.
This is a major milestone in the evolution of the rig (truck and Airstream) so that it can be used "off the grid" in such places as the beach where no plug-in power is available.
The propane supply is split between two tanks, only one of which is in use at any given time. This allows the use of one tank until it is empty, whereupon a switch is made to the full tank, and the empty tank is driven to the nearest propane station to be refilled and put back into service. This method allows uninterrupted operation of refrigerator, hot water heater, space heater, all of which are propane-fueled.
The big advantage of using propane as the fuel to power the generator is that it uses a fuel that is already being stored on the front of the trailer. Most generators are gasoline fueled and therefore require a tank of gas to be stored inside the tow vehicle, and since it is an enclosed space, it is a safety concern. Another safety concern is in refilling the generator's gas tank when the generator is already hot. These are not issues when using the propane solution.
This makes the most perfect sense to me, but I have not seen any other rig set up this way.
1. The GPS software from Tom-Tom for the iPhone is much improved with the latest update. Now it speaks the names of streets, and exits, which is so much better. It works great without even using the car kit!
2. I found an apparently secret spot for the Airstream where I can hang out by the beach during the day and it looks like there will be NO problem with parking being full, even in the summer! This means I don't have to get up at oh-dark-thirty and be there before sunrise in order to snag a spot. I'll be able to roll in anytime, so I can sleep in. My favorite thing to do!
So, on balance, two steps forward, one step back. At least I'm going in the right direction...
This means I can make flapjacks in the boondocks using an electric griddle while running the air conditioning and the microwave all at the same time, and running the heater fan, and refrigerator and all the lights. Not that I would ever do that, but with this honkin' generator, I could. But back to the point, which is the flapjacks, or pancakes, if you prefer that term.
I tried making pancakes on a propane-fired griddle, but it was awful because of the uneven distribution of the heat. But with an electric griddle, it will be perfect. The problem for the last several months is that I have not had a generator which is needed for the honkin' electricity used by the griddle.
This now puts the Airstream/Tundra into a whole new realm of vehicle. With electricity-generation capabilities, the rig adds survival to recreation.
The generator is a Yamaha 6300, with a gas/propane mod done by US Carburetion in West Virginia. It is fitted with a wireless start for the ultimate in camping convenience.
The generator is bolted to the BedSlide, which, when closed distributes the weight over the rear axle. When the BedSlide is fully extended, the generator can be operated in place from curb-side, or wirelessly.
And today is the New Moon. It is a propitious sign.
Today I received an email asking to compare the Toyota FJ Cruiser (my previous tow vehicle) with the Toyota Tundra (current tow vehicle) when used with the Airstream Sport 17.
I would have answered the email directly, but the message was deleted because of a bug in Google's Tasks (no undelete option!), so I hope answering it here will help.
I got the FJ Cruiser because that's what was recommended to me by the Airstream sales rep. It is not an optimal solution, for several reasons...
1. The rear hatch on the FJ Cruiser can not be opened very far at all when still hitched up. The spare tire inhibits the opening to only about 8". I removed the spare and put it on the roof rack, but the hatch still can not be fully opened when hitched up. The door hits the tongue jack. I think the Airstream rep could not have been aware of this or he would not have made the recommendation.
2. The power of the FJ Cruiser is ok, but not great. Same for the brakes. So it's acceptable for towing the Sport 17, but if you are thinking of upgrading to a bigger Airstream, the FJ Cruiser will need to be replaced with a vehicle with a greater towing capacity.
3. The capacity of the FJ Cruiser is somewhat limited for hauling all the "stuff" you'll probably accumulate. If you want to carry a generator, it will take up a lot of the space in the cargo area. Check the GVWR of the FJ Cruiser. Then subtract the fully wet and stocked trailer weight (max 3500 lbs for the Sport 17) and there's not a lot of carrying capacity left especially when you consider margin for safety, occupants, etc.
4. The Tundra is more powerful and has better brakes, and a much higher towing capacity, and you'll feel much more comfortable towing compared to the FJ Cruiser.
5. If you are carrying a generator in the FJ Cruiser, you will have to carry a gasoline can (or propane tank) inside the vehicle, exposing yourself and occupants to the fumes. Not safe! With the Tundra, the generator fuel can be stored in the bed of the pickup, away from the passenger area.
Yesterday, Valentine's Day, was a shakedown cruise to test some recently upgraded systems, and a learning experience, overall.
After hooking up at o-dark-thirty in the dimly lit storage facility, I made the very short drive to the beach and started the process of getting squared away. That's when I noticed my half-hearted attempt to connect the cord which goes from tow vehicle to trailer (controls brakes/lights/power). I didn't do a very good job at all, because the cord dragged on the ground and rubbed through the outer coating, and completely through one of the wires inside. Luckily, the lights/brakes still worked, but if the trip had been a few miles longer, it would have severed these lines and possibly caused all manner of catastrophe.
And it's all my fault, too. I knew about this potential problem for months, and have always been wanting to get around to rigging up some sort of spring device to keep the cord up off the ground, yet pay out whatever is needed for turns. Well, I got around to it now, after the fact. A bungee cord is all that I needed. Duh.
But that's what these shakedown cruises are for, to test all the systems. In this case I learned that the geometry is different between the new tow vehicle (Tundra) and old one (FJ Cruiser) which changes how much of the control cord is needed. Less on the Tundra, that's why it dragged.
All the other stuff worked great. The solar panel kept me with electricity all day, as did the extra battery. The new propane tanks worked flawlessly. And the new touchless lid trash bin was excellent.
Good friends Peter and Joey & Carolina stopped by around noon and we had a great time.
The only negative was the beach! There was no sand -- victim of the recent storms. And where sand should have been was all stones. So I didn't get the chance to ride my beach cruiser, or play any Frisbee. But the sand situation is only temporary. It has been doing this for probably billions of years. The sand will be back again soon enough.
After a couple of experiments with prototypes, a major step forward has been taken today in upgrading the showering experience.
The truly trailer-trash plastic accordion door which comes standard in the Airstream Sport 17 has been removed and replaced with a see-through shower curtain. The stock door, when fully opened, narrowed the opening by at about 6 inches. Without this ugly, cheap shower door, the shower looks HUGE, and with the transparent shower curtain, it feels so much more spacious inside.
Next, I'm looking forward to installing a separate control for water temperature, and a much improved flow valve and shower head, and move the placement of the shower head mount to be less intrusive.
If I'm going to be roughing it, I may as well do it first class!
Moving along at glacial speed, I have now upgraded the tow vehicle (Toyota Tundra) with a camper shell cap from SnugTop (Super Sport model) and a BedSlide. The generator is now securely bolted to the BedSlide, on the street side. This allows full use of the generator without lifting it out of the truck.
1. organizers for all the stuff (hoses, tools, electrical cords, etc).
2. method/device to keep the bike secured on the BedSlide.
Another major goal has been achieved with the installation of a solar panel on the top of the Sport, so now I can stay out longer "off the grid". Abe Hernandez did a first class job with everything from researching and recommending the proper solar system and doing a custom installation. What a guy!
Over the weekend I finally got the chance to tow the Airstream with the new Toyota Tundra tow vehicle. Wow, what a difference from the FJ Cruiser! So much stronger, more stable... "like it's not even there"!
The Tundra's hitch port is higher than the FJ Cruiser, by about an inch, so I need a shank that will compensate for that to tow the Airstream closer to level, but I can get by with the current setup for a while.
Again, it was Abe Hernandez who helped with the project this past week. Together (with him doing all the work) we moved many items from the To Do list to the Done list. As before, Abe's work is first class. He really knows his stuff, works fast, charges reasonable rates, and even cleans up after he's finished. If you need some help, Abe is the man for you. Phone 760-802-3238 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him I said "Thank you".
The Sport 17 model comes from the Airstream factory with a woefully inadequate single battery.
While I'm waiting, seemingly forever, to figure out why the Yamaha generator will not start, I have taken another approach toward living off the grid. I have doubled my capacity of DC power, adding a second deep cycle marine/RV battery.
I say "I have..." but in fact all I did was point, grunt, and write checks. The real work was done by a very talented man named Abe Hernandez who has a lot of Airstream experience. Last week we discussed the project, and yesterday Abe showed up right on time and moved through the surprisingly complex project with ease. His experience showed in every move he made. He had all the right tools and knew how to use them. After that job, he resealed a seam in the roof, hung a few hooks, checked out why my plumbing makes nasty noises, and installed a brake controller in my new pickup truck tow vehicle.
If you need some work done on your Airstream, contact Abe Hernandez. Phone 760-802-3238 or email email@example.com and tell him I said "Thank You".
Today I ordered two 7.1 gal. (30 lb) aluminum propane tanks to replace the two 5 gal. steel tanks that are standard on the Sport 17. I figure they are going to look a lot better than the ugly white tanks now being hidden by the cheap plastic tank cover, so I'll probably not even use the cover. And with the additional propane on board, I can go 40% longer before refills.
A friend bought all the back issues of Airstream Life magazine and I had a chance to look through about six of them today. They are filled with useful info and neat stories, so I ordered the complete set of back issues today. Get yours at AirstreamLife.com
I needed a GPS Navigation system for the new truck, and after doing some research decided on the TomTom iPhone app and car kit. It took a couple of hours to download the app and maps, and the car kit will be shipped in a week +/-.
I took my bike in for some minor repairs and decided to give the new TomTom iPhone app a test run even though I didn't have the car kit yet. The results were better than anticipated. It synced with Bluetooth no problem, worked at the same time as the music was playing from the iPhone, and muted the music when a turn announcement was being made, and even came back online after a phone call in the middle of the trip. So far, so good...
Base Vehicle: 2010 Toyota Tundra 4x4, Double Cab, 5.7L V8, TRD Off Road Package Purchased new in November 2009 from Toyota Carlsbad
Goal: Customize the vehicle to serve the following purposes:
tow an Airstream 25FB trailer (GVWR 7,300 lbs. nose 800 lbs) comfortably and safely.
carry camping supplies and equipment in support of the Airstream trailer, including a 200 lb. generator, bike, and kayak along with hoses, extension cords, ropes, chairs, mats, tools, survival stuff, spare parts, etc
be home on extended remote camping trips, beyond the range of an Airstream.
do it all in low key style to create a visual presence which might be easily overlooked. On close inspection it is clearly an extraordinary vehicle, everything very well thought out and executed with high quality materials and workmanship.
To Do List
Lower 2" front, 4-5" rear (Tundra Racing Drop Kit and Air Spring Kit Toyota Escondido installation?, check for warranty, air spring kit, price.
Hitch - mate to the Airstream
20" wheels/tires (freeway cruiser tires, not low profile tires)
And so it was in the fullness of time that I went out among other Airstream owners, members of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), as they are found in the wild, camping with their Airstreams. The WBCCI is highly segmented with regions, chapters, etc. I am a member of the San Diego unit, which had a joint rally with the Orange County unit, at Guajome park, a campground east of Oceanside, CA. The draw for me to attend this meeting was food. A big Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the trimmings. Even hermits like me have a tough time turning down a great meal. This was my first time camping out with other Airstreamer peeps, and after having the opportunity to meet some of them I pronounce them as "good people". Nice people, and very willing to help a newbie like me. For example, the unit president Joe Thomas stopped by on Sunday morning to check up on me and gave me some helpful suggestions on my tow hitch. His wife Anne made one of the delicious turkeys. And I finally met Bill Wright, and his lovely wife Kathy, who I have been wanting to thank for his email suggestion that I visit Kirk Creek campground just south of Big Sur. He and Super Don Snyder are fellow flyers, but with the distinction of being fighter pilots, and kept me fascinated with great stories. And there was Bev and Lowell who are probably in contention for the title of Nicest People on the Planet... the list goes on, and I could name some others, if I remembered their names. It was one of those social situations where the New Guy (me) meets about 50 new people at once! It's madness, of course... I got to rig my hammock between a very handy tree and my tow vehicle roof rack, and spent a deliriously happy Saturday morning gently swinging and soaking up some warm sun. A walk around the campground revealed absolutely zero other hammocks. How can this be? Possibly because there is a campground rule against tying ropes around trees. I need to figure a way of rigging a hammock with one end tied to the Airstream. Are you listening, Airstream Inc.? They are selling "lifestyle", right? What says "relax" more than a hammock in your campsite? It seems that if you are selling "relax" at $50-100 thousand a copy, you could afford to throw in an eyelet for a hammock rope/carabiner.
All in all, it was a successful adventure. I got out among the people, had a great meal, got hammock time, discovered a new place... Life is Good.
The engine is still warm as the new tow vehicle rests in my parking spot, recently placed there by the Toyota truck salesman. The specs:
2010 Toyota Tundra (half-ton pickup truck), Double Cab, 4x4, 5.7L V8 engine, 6-speed automatic, with TRD Off Road package, Tow package, Cold Weather package, Bluetooth, Backup camera, power heated mirrors, 10 speakers + subwoofer, power 8-way bucket seat, power sliding rear window...
Need to add:
Navigation system (portable)
Tow hitch. (Hensley?)
Wooden canoe for the roof
Source: Toyota Carlsbad, Kevin Edge salesman, knowledgeable and professional. Strong truck experience, gave me a good deal. I got the zero percent 5 year loan, so the truck was delivered to my home and I never paid a cent for it. No down payment, no first month, nothing. Wow! America!
Tow capacity: 10,300 lbs.
Payload: 1,640 lbs.
Bed length: 6'
Power: 381 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 401 ft. lbs.@ 3,600 rpm
Now all I need is something to tow.
Something shiny, rounded.
A pod, a home, a retreat.
The Airstream Adventure is 4 months old and I have been learning at a fast clip.
1. The Sport 17 model pulled by a Toyota FJ Cruiser has been a good PROTOTYPE, a test bed, a learning experience.
2. The next Airstream, coming soon, will build on what has been learned, and extend the adventure to the next level.
3. Currently looking for a 23 to 25', maybe 27' Flying Cloud, new or very good condition used. This requires a bigger tow vehicle and currently looking at Toyota Tundra 5.7L V8 crew cab with a SnugTop camper shell covering a Bedslide carrying the Yamaha generator.
4. This leaves me with two Airstreams and two tow vehicles, and the obvious choice would be to sell the smaller of the two rigs, and I would be open to offers.
5. But the entrepreneur in me figures that I could rent the Sport, and if I were going to go to all the work of renting the Sport, then I'd probably want to rent the Flying Cloud as well to maybe even make a profit, which I am feeling a growing need to do.
6. The Sport has been left pretty much in original condition, but the new Flying Cloud would be modified considerably to fit my particular tastes in woodwork, lighting, electronics, materials, etc. This may even make it more rent worthy for high-end applications, but that is beside the point, which is to create a personal space which could eventually become a full time home.
7. If I am going to be making significant changes to the new Flying Cloud, then it would probably be best to get a used one and build it up rather than paying for all the stuff that would be changed out.
8. An alternative to this would be to get a new shell, with bed and dinette/sofa never installed in the first place. Then there wouldn't be a bunch of drilled screw-holes for mounting the unwanted furniture!
9. Whichever way I go, the tow vehicle will have a canoe on top.
I'd like to head north to Big Bear Lake, CA, just north and east of Los Angeles, to check out some canoes and kayaks at North Shore Trading Company (link).
On the way, it would be good to stop in Corona, CA and meet Andy Rogozinski, the owner of Inland RV, the Airstream repair facility featured in the current issue of the Airstream newsletter. Seems like a regular guy.
Following along with the boatman's holiday theme, I'd definitely like to head a lot farther north and check out the custom wooden kayaks built by Joe Greenley at Redfish Kayaks. A good time to go would be late July, 2010 for the West Coast Wooden Kayak Rendezvous.
Meanwhile, I ordered the book
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Canoeing and Kayaking
I doubt I'll learn how to paddle a kayak sitting in my chair reading a book, but maybe I'll learn something useful...
On my last excursion to Big Sur, I started running out of stuff in the refrigerator and bought a sandwich from a local gas station / convenience store. When I got back to the Airstream I realized that I sure would like to put some mayo on my turkey sandwich, and maybe some mustard too, but I didn't have any in the refrigerator... it didn't occur to me when I was packing for the trip, probably because of the big sizes I keep at home and the limited space in the Airstream refrigerator. That's when I got the idea to pick up some of those little packets of ketchup, mayo, mustard, and soy sauce the next time I saw them when I was out and about (rare for a hermit). The solution came to me a few days ago when I was looking through Amazon.com for such packets, but they only sell them in quantities of 200, and that's way too much for just me. However, there was a "sponsored link" to Minimus.biz where they will sell you as many or as few as you want. They came by Fedex this morning. What a score! Click here for the Minimus.biz link!
Being a total novice to camping of any sort, much less Airstreaming, I had no idea what tow vehicle I needed, so I asked my friendly Airstream sales rep, and he suggested I get a Toyota FJ Cruiser. Let me share with you some of my experiences with this choice:
1. Great looking vehicle. I like the aggressive stance, and the lines of it.
2. Nice riding vehicle. Much more civilized than I expected from an off-road 4WD.
3. Poor gas mileage. I haven't measured it, but the stock FJ, not towing, is poor, and towing an Airstream it's worse.
4. And now for the biggest problem I have encountered with it: You can't open the rear hatch very far at all when you are hooked up to your Airstream because the spare tire hits the electric tongue jack. The I can open it is about 8 inches or so. Even after I moved the spare tire to the roof rack, tied down with a ratcheting strap, (photo above taken before this) the door opens a lot more, but not fully as it still hits the tongue jack. The only solution to this is to un-hitch the trailer and pull the FJ forward a foot or so. That seems a reasonable fix, but many times when I'm at the beach for just the day, unhooking and hooking up again seems like more work than necessary.
5. With only a 5,000 lb. tow capacity, its perfect for my 3,500 lb. Airstream Sport 17, but there's no way I'd feel good towing a trailer the next size up. And since I'm looking at the Sport as a prototype learning experience before I jump in with both feet and get a 27 footer, it looks like I'll be trading in the FJ for something like a Toyota Tundra pickup.
But it sure looks great, doesn't it! And, with the spare on the roof, it looks even more gnarly!