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.

Vintage Propane Tank Valves

The 40# tanks on my 1972 Airstream Land Yacht are period appropriate, which is to say, they are original to the Airstream! It would seem propane valves have changed over the years. The interesting thing about my valves, is that they are able to take multiple connections.

Unfortunately, the gasket on the inside of the valve is shot. On modern connections (like the connection on a grill), the hose connects to large threads on the outside of the valve. This connection seals when the male part of the piece you screw on presses up against the back of the female part, causing a seal at the aforementioned gasket.

Evidently you can’t just replace the gasket. The place I have certify and fill my tanks searched and searched, but they were not able to acquire the piece inside the valve that has the failing gasket. Thus, you have to replace the entire valve. Replacing the valve is around $55. My valve, however, also has internal threads, and there is an adapter that will go from those internal threads to the large external threads we have today. That adapter is $21. The adapter is configured so that it presses against the gasket that has failed in my valve, but since it also threads into that stem, I can put gas teflon tape (the yellow stuff) on the threads to seal up the connection.

Thus, this adapter is a workaround for making sure my vintage valves are safe and sealed when using a modern propane connection.

Here’s another post on with more information regarding RV propane tanks.

All About Propane Tanks (for your Airstream/RV)

Before our last adventure at Thanksgiving, I went to fill up the shiny and new (looking) 40 pound propane tanks that came with our 1972 Airstream. When I got to the place to fill them up, they told me they couldn’t do it, because the tanks hadn’t been certified… since 1982!!!

Turns out, propane tanks need to be certified every so often in order to keep using them. The specific schedules vary from state to state, but here in Colorado tanks must be re-certified 10 years after the date of manufacture, and every 5 years thereafter (most states have similar terms).

Luckily, it’s really not a big deal. I went to the local propane place (Metro Gas). They did a visual inspection of the tanks, as well as making sure the valves didn’t leak when closed (turns out they actually did leak when open and hooked upmore on that in another post). It was $9.50 per tank for certification. They engraved their vendor number and the date of inspection on the tank, and I was good to go.

It is against the law for places that sell propane to fill tanks that haven’t been certified. That said, last Thanksgiving when I was on my way out of town and went to fill up at a place that shall go unnamed, what actually happened when the guy told me he couldn’t fill the tanks because they hadn’t been certified was this: I pleaded my case (I was leaving that minute to drive 2000 miles across the US in the freezing cold to visit family), and he went ahead and filled the tanks for us. Actually, the first guy wouldn’t do it, no matter what, but he called someone else out to the tanks, and that person said as long I didn’t tell anyone, he’d do it for me. The first guy wouldn’t even stand there while the second guy filled the tanks though. He said he didn’t want to be anywhere near when it happened so he couldn’t be held accountable.

Another interesting note regarding the purchase of propane: When refilling my 40# RV tanks last week, I took along the 20# tank that goes under the grill. I noted the price to fill it up ($18.91) was slightly less than the exchange rate at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Grocery Store, etc. ($19.99). When I mentioned this, the attendant pointed out that I was also getting almost five pounds more propane at that price! “Look at what’s written on the tank,” he said. Sure enough, the 20# exchange containers state their content weight as only 15 pounds! It turns out that around 2001 when the price of propane rose, rather than adjust pricing significantly for exchange tanks, the companies in charge simply started filling those tanks with 5 pounds less propane to make the cost of a tank exchange remain approximately the same. All this time I thought refilling a 20# BBQ tank was about the same price as exchanging one, but it turns out you are getting ripped off! Not only are you paying more for the propane, but your tank will also not last as long (because there’s less propane in it).

A 20 gallon tank at 70 degrees Fahrenheit is at about 145 psi. At 90 degrees that same tank is at 180 psi. At 105 degrees, it’s all the way up to 235 psi.

A gallon of propane at 70 degrees and 145 psi weighs 4.2 pounds, thus a 20# propane tank (the kind that you use with your grill) should contain around 4.7 gallons (20 pounds) when full.

Since the propane in a tank is under high pressure, it needs to be converted to a lower pressure using a regulator (the silver flying saucer looking thing on the the gas hose that you are likely familiar with if you have a propane grill). Propane for use in an RV for things like the refrigerator, stove, and heater should be at a pressure of 11 water column inches. These days, most RV’s utilize a two stage regulator. The first stage take the tank pressure down to 10-15 psi, and the second stage takes it to a usable and (hopefully) constant 11 water column inches for RV appliances.


Standard sizes for RV Propane tanks are 20#, 30#, and 40#.  Usually tanks are vertical, but there are also horizontal tanks.  Horizontal tanks are commonly used for fuel tanks on forklifts, but I am currently researching possibly using them for an Airstream.  It seems like storing tanks on their side is more stable, and I’m also wondering about tucking them up underneath the belly so they are more hidden away (I’ve had locked propane tanks stolen off my rig).


Bookmarked Airstream Articles and Information

Just some links I’ve found useful…






Propane Lines and Quick Connects



Using a Kitchen Sink for a Shower Pan

Kitchen Sink as Airstream Shower PanI’ve been thinking about using a utility sink (often referred to as a “slop sink” or “mop sink”) for our Airstream’s shower pan.  I was at an architectural salvage place last week, and they had a high-end, black kitchen sink.  PERFECT.  It looks cool.  It’s very sturdy.  And it’s a single basin with a kind of “step” for dishes that will now be an actual step!

There are two holes (faucet and soap dispenser) that will either get plugged, or maybe I’ll actually run copper pipe through the holes as part of the shower design.

This “designer” sink obviously looks waaaay better than a plastic slop sink, even though it weighs a bit more (though, that comes with being much more durable than thin plastic).  I think having a shallower sink (vs. a utility sink) will be better too.  It’s still deep enough for a kid to take a bath, but it won’t be such a pain to climb in.