So… we’re getting there. This is the first trip where things started being… genuinely comfortable. We traveled over two thousand miles in nine days from Denver to Alamosa (via the mountainous highway 285) to ABQ to the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas and back.
All appliances function as they should. We’ve got running water and drains, a working toilet (which is completely custom and water-less, though not quite perfected yet), a working dishwasher, kitchen cabinets for pantry storage, a powerful whole-house vacuum (a must-have with dogs), a dining table with seating, television with game console (N64!), propane heat, air conditioner, a Fantastic Van, and comfy beds. The only major thing that’s missing is a water heater (and eventually the radiant heat system), but we didn’t really miss it on this trip, even though there were times when outside temps were below freezing (in a pinch, if you really need warm water to wash up with, you can always heat up a pot on the stove).
I still need a more permanent window covering solution (we’re currently using panels that fit inside each window cavity), but I’m getting close on that.
The Fewer Things You Have to Move for Access the Better
I made the dinette seating so you can keep bins below for “utility stuff” and other sundries (extension cords, bungees, lantern, tape, velcro, etc.), as well as access to the 12v system (batteries, converter/conditioner, and 12v fuse panel). While it’s really nice having all that storage space, it really is a pain to have to move people, cushions, and anything else sitting on the bench before lifting the bench panels to get at the things you need. And I found out quickly that I need to get at those things a LOT more often than I anticipated (don’t even think about keeping dog food under your seating!).
Future builds will definitely include a larger exterior-access utility bay for tools and other “heavy utility” things, and I am still working on ways to make the under-seating storage better without resorting to front-access panels/doors/drawers (I don’t like the look or the function of front access storage at feet level).
You Can Use a Lot Less Water Than You Might Think
Because I’m still dealing with freezing temperatures (March in the mountains), I have been testing out an auxiliary interior water tank system. I found a nice looking 10 gallon, silver colored Thermos drink cooler (like you’d use at a Soccer or Football game). I removed the bung/spout where you’d get your drink from, and replaced it with a valve that hooks directly to the water pump. This trip was 11 days long (including two days in the driveway), and I only filled the tank once. To be fair, we never ran the dishwasher, but I tested that before we left, and a full load of dishes only uses three gallons of water. So teeth brushing, washing up (there was a lot of that with all the work on the Tow Vehicle), cleaning dishes, etc. didn’t use more than around 15 gallons for the two of us for 11 days in the desert (CO, NM, AZ, NV). I’m sure we’ll use more in the summer, but that’s kind of the beauty of the auxiliary tank for winter use when temps are below freezing outside the Airstream.
Put a Conveniently Located Switch on Your Water Pump
After several stops where water was evident in the sink, on the countertop, and in various other places, it became apparent that it would be a good idea to shut off the water pump while driving. At first I was just removing the fuse, but it’s a pain to access on a regular basis, so I decided to mount an on/off switch next to the kitchen sink to control the water pump.
Dogs Make a Huge Mess
There doesn’t seem to be any way around this. Towels and carpet are the only apparent “solution,” but they can only do so much (catch dirt and water to make it a bit easier to clean up). A “buffer area” outside the door (under an awning with a rug) would be a good step, but we aren’t quite there yet. Luckily I’ve got the whole house vacuum installed, so we could perform a “meaningful” clean up whenever we had an electrical hookup. And the dogs had to learn to sleep on the floor on this trip. There’s just no way 11 days on the road can be comfortable with two 80 pound, adventurous (meaning: covered in nature’s filth) beasts in your bed.
Your Refrigerator Might Not Be Closing All the Way
I couldn’t figure out why our fridge wasn’t getting cold enough. I switched between propane, 120v, and 12v, but it just wasn’t getting much below 50 degrees F. I tried cleaning the exhaust flue and making sure the exhaust fans were working. I adjusted the propane flame. I messed with the thermostat and the thermistor (the wire attached to the fins inside the fridge). Nothing was changing the situation. Finally I realized there was a small gap around the door and the door wasn’t sealing completely. It turns out a plastic washer on the door hinge had worn away and the door was sitting slightly lower than it should have, thus it was rubbing against the bottom of the fridge and not closing completely. This has also happened when items inside the fridge aren’t Tetris-ed perfectly. Once I realized the door wasn’t actually closed (!!!) and fixed the problem with the washer hinge, our 50-year-old Dometic was back to keeping perfectly cool.
The Hensley Hitch is Massive Overkill for my Setup
With the ongoing issues I’ve had with the Hensley hitch (see other posts), I decided to use only the “back up hitch” on this trip (the kind with chain leveling bars and a small, friction-based sway bar). It worked fine, and that included facing the huge trucks on Interstate 40 as well as crazy Arizona cross-winds. The Hensley Hitch is still more of the “dream” while driving, but factoring in all the issues I’ve had with it’s inadequate design, plus the added size and weight, I have decided that the standard WD Hitch works plenty fine for a 25ft. Airstream built to be a little lighter than factory issue… even when being pulled by my tiny Jeep Liberty CRD. And the non-Hensley Hitch is certainly more dependable.