Creating an Exterior “Pass Through” Box

When I dry dock in the driveway, I usually run a Cat6 ethernet cable directly from the router for the television rather than rely on wireless signal (wireless sometimes drops out when I’m that far from the router).  I also have a 12v wireless router set up in the Airstream, but I usually only use that when I’m traveling (it allows me to run a physical ethernet line directly from my host’s router, so I don’t suffer from signal drop when I’m parked in their driveway/yard or on the street).  I’ve been passing the ethernet cable through the small window next to the door, but that’s a pretty inelegant solution to something that I do fairly often.  I also don’t like that routing the cord that way will eventually deform the window gasket, not to mention it pinches the cable.

My original thought was to place an outlet box with ethernet and coax ports on the outside of the Airstream, but the more I thought about what the port could be used for, the more it made sense to simply create a “pass through” hole.  Sure, the ethernet and coax ports would look more “pro,” but coax is pretty much obsolete already, and I assume ethernet will be there in the not-to-distant-future, so why not do something a little more future-proof?  Plus, I can think of plenty of other things that I might want to pass through the Airstream wall from inside to out or outside to in (extension cord, gas line for portable grill or heater, 12v power, etc.).

So I started by cutting a heavy duty plastic outlet box down to size (depth) so it could fit snugly in the wall between the inner and outer skins.

Trimming an outlet box to fit between the skins.

I then drilled rivet holes, drilled to mark the corners of the opening on the exterior skin, and then cut a  hole using a 4″ cut-off wheel.

After cutting the hole, I put TremPro 635 on the back of the outlet box to secure and seal it to the inside of the exterior skin, then riveted the box from the outside (so the rivets look good on the exterior).

Finally, I used butyl tape around the outside edge of an aluminum weather-proof outlet face plate, and riveted the plate in place over the outlet hole.

The inside will be finished with another spring loaded, weather-proof face plate, but could also be completed using a keystone face plate for dedicated ethernet, co-ax, etc. ports.  The box is below the deck of the dinette seat, so it won’t be visible, thus I’m just going with the spring-loaded door for more universal use.

Mounted box ready for interior face plate.

 

 

Laminating the Dinette Kick with Salvaged Aluminum Skin

Today I put the finish on the dinette kick by laminating salvaged aluminum sheet (interior skin) to the front surface.  I’ve found that the 4×8 1/4″ “utility panel” at Lowe’s is the least expensive substrate I can find, and it’s actually a pretty decent product.  It’s readily available (always in stock), plenty strong (especially once you adhere aluminum to it!), and in a pinch can even take a coat of stain and look acceptable on its own.

I cut the new kick panel to size from a salvaged ceiling skin, and then adhered it to the face of the kick plate with DAP contact cement (used for laminating countertops and available at any big box/hardware store).  Because of the inner curve of the dinette corners, it didn’t take much to clamp the aluminum sheet in place (it basically stayed there on it’s own, but I clamped the upper edge to be sure it was nice and tight).  This was fortuitous, as I was not looking forward to building clamp plates to hold the sheet where it needed to be, especially at those inner corner radii.

The salvaged aluminum sheet had some rivet holes from it’s previous life as a ceiling, so I shot rivets through those existing holes to further secure the skin to the utility panel since the holes would need to be filled anyway.

I will eventually paint the skin to match the rest of the Airstream.

I think it came out looking really nice, and it is definitely a strong and sturdy surface that I don’t need to worry about when it gets kicked and banged over and over again for the next hundred years!

Things I Learned on Roadtrip #5

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 its 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.

Exhaust Will Find a Way into an Unsealed Airstream

Things are still getting covered by a fine, black film/powder (particulate matter).  Obviously, diesel exhaust is easier to *see* than gasoline exhaust, thus, I am privy to just how much tow vehicle exhaust is still entering the Airstream.  This thing is sealed up like a drum… except where it’s not.  I currently have a drain running “open” (not to a tank), and I also haven’t sealed up the front panel where the tow vehicle electrical harness enters the Airstream.  I can see lots of diesel dust at those points of ingress.  It’s amazing how badly vehicle exhaust wants to be inside our trailer!  I am certainly looking forward to finally having things all sealed up and not having to deal with black dust anymore.

Dinette Kick

Just some updates for the current build…

Working on the dinette kick plate.  This is the bracing that goes behind the finished layer of aluminum to match the skins on the walls. The minor cracks in the radius of the curve won’t matter, because they will be behind a sheet of aluminum.

I’ve also included a couple pics of laying in the LVP (“luxury vinyl plank) flooring.