It's said that the wise man built his house on the rock. Or in our case, a solid chassis.
Well, we found out after removing our subfloor and getting a good look at our chassis that it was... not so solid. It wasn't TERRIBLE but it had some issues. For the most part it was in great condition for a 33 year old trailer. But sitting on the east coast for a while had not been kind to it. And as we discovered in a previous post, there was a lot of water damage so it goes without out saying that the frame was going to be rusted.
The bad news is that about half of the outriggers need to be replaced. The good news is this is relatively easy considering the placement of said outriggers. They stick out from the side of the frame are what the shell sits/bolts to. Honestly, they probably would have done just fine in their current condition but we are RESTORING this Airstream after all and I want to make sure it lives another 30+ years. And as Ron Swanson said:
So I examined all the outriggers and determined which ones I was going to replaces by how solid they were. There were varying degrees of rust. Some just had surface rust and some had holes in them! So all the ones whose structural integrity had been compromised are the ones I decided to replace. These are the ones with holes, and decay so bad that they would be easily weakened over time.
Because there are several different types, I took photos of each one I was replacing to make sure I got the rights ones. I ordered new outriggers from Out of Doors Mart, who carries a lot of Airstream parts. 👍🏼
The first thing I did was mark the position of the outriggers on the frame to make it easy to weld them back in the correct place. For the outriggers that held the steps, I made sure to measure the distance in between them as I knew that would have to be the same in order for the step to fit and work properly. Once they were all marked, I got out the angle grinder with a cutting wheel and went to work.
Cutting them off isn't too difficult. It can be a little tough to get around the bends and inside the outrigger, but I went as far as I could on the outside and then was usually able to bend the outrigger out and either break the rest of the weld, or get enough room to finish the cut. Main thing is not to cut too far into the main chassis. After all the outriggers were removed, I switched out the cutting wheel for a grinding wheel and ground down any extra metal that was left on the chassis to make it nice and flush.
Unfortunately, I haven't welded anything since I was in high school and I don't have a welder anyway. So I hired a professional welder to make sure the job was done right. It cost me $80/hour but it was worth it. Joe the welder did a better job than Airstream did in the original manufacturing process! Just look at those beefy welds.
While he was welding, I took that time to finish cleaning up the A-frame in the front and getting it prepped for paint.
There is always a bit of "spatter" after you weld, so when Joe was done working his alchemy, I once again took up the grinding wheel to clean up the newly formed welds. For the top, the welds were definitely too big so I ground those down to be more flush with the frame. I did this to ensure the subfloor would have a nice flat surface to rest on.
Another thing to note is that because I am adding a lift kit to our Airstream, I also wanted the option of getting a little bit bigger tires. But since Airstreams are so tightly packed in there wouldn't be enough room. So I moved the outriggers that are in the wheel wells out 1.5 inches each making the wheel cavity 3 inches wider. This will give me the room I need to go up a size on the tires.
After all the outriggers were cleaned up, I prepped the surface for paint and got to work.
Now that is a beautiful, fully restored Airstream frame! Doesn't it just feel good to accomplish each step of a big project like this?? Too bad most of the frame will never be seen... But at least I know how long it will last!
Next step is to add back in everything that lives under the subfloor; water holding tanks, insulation, wiring, etc.... and the first step in that process is to install new belly pan.