Removing and Re-installing a VistaVue Window

Today I removed, cleaned, and reinstalled a VistaVue Window.  Someone had tried to “repair” the leaks in the window with about a gallon of silicon (only a slight exaggeration).  Don’t EVER use silicon to “fix” leaks on an Airstream.  It looks awful and is impossible to remove if you need to redo the seal.  The only place you should use silicone is to adhere weather stripping gasket (around doors, windows, and hatches) and where glass is in direct contact with something (meaning, a window gasket).  Instead of using silicone, use a polyurethane caulk.  I really like TremPro 635.  Parabond comes in a container that’s more like a toothpaste tube, so it might be easier to take with you for mobile repairs.

removing rivets (check out that crazy silicone mess!)

removing rivets (check out that crazy silicone mess!)

I drilled out all the bucked rivets, removed the tons and tons of silicon and other adhesives from the resulting hole in the Airstream as well as the window bracket (the aluminum around the glass), then I went the extra step and removed the bracket from the glass and cleaned the gasket that was in between the glass and aluminum frame.  Getting the frame off of the glass can be tricky.  There are actually metal pins in each channel where the two pieces of the frame come together in the center.

the metal pins holding the two pieces of frame together

See the metal pins holding the two pieces of frame together?

you can see the pins a little better here

you can see the pins a little better here

The bottom pins had rusted away completely from water sitting inside the window frame, but the top pins were still there (and very strong).  I ended up prying the two frame pieces apart slightly with a chisel, then I cut the two pins with a Dremel cut-off wheel.

another close up of the frame pins

another close up of the frame pins

These pins will slide in their respective channels (though it’s hard to move them), so I ended up leaving them in place, then pushed them back over to function as they original did once I put the two pieces of aluminum frame back together.  One half of each pin will still work even though they are shorter now from being cut.  I thought about trying to get the second half of each pin out to use on the other side, but they are in there REALLY tightly and the small channels for the pins in the other side were too badly corroded to accommodate the pins anyway.

I used a brass wire brush (gentler than steel so it doesn’t deep-scratch and ruin the soft aluminum) to clean the big stuff off of the aluminum surfaces of the Airstream body and window frame, then mineral spirits and a rough rag to remove the smaller left over gunk.   I used a razor blade to carefully remove silicone from the surface of the glass, then went over the glass with mineral spirits and a rough rag.  I also found that if I was gentle I could use super fine (0000) steel wool to help get off the really tenacious stuff without scratching the glass.

cleaning off more silicone

cleaning off more silicone

I washed the gasket with warm, soapy water.

washing the gasket

washing the gasket

The gasket had hardened a bit on the lower side (where water and minerals had sat in the frame), but there was only one small split in the actual material, so I decided to reuse the gasket instead of ordering more and having to wait for it to arrive (VTS: 70’s Window Gasket).  This also meant the gasket would be a single, continuous piece and already sized for the window so I didn’t need to worry about over stretching the gasket material.

I have read on other blogs that people have forgone the gasket and just set the glass inside the frame after applying liberal amounts of silicone, but I like that I don’t have to  worry about the glass touching the metal frame, and the gasket gives it a firmer hold (it is tight in the frame channel).

After washing the gasket thoroughly and cleaning out the window frame channel with a brass wire brush and mineral spirits, I squeezed clear 3M Marine Silicone (purchased at the local big box store) into the gasket and slipped the gasket over the edge of the window glass.  I then squeezed a liberal amount of the clear silicone into the two pieces of window frame and slid the two pieces of the aluminum frame over the glass and gasket.

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You need to clamp the frame onto the glass while it dries.  I used a ratched strap for the long axis, and cheap Harbor Freight grip clamps for the shorter axis.

clamping while the silicone dries (note: don't clamp the center too tight!!)

clamping while the silicone dries (note: don’t clamp the center too tight!!)

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of clamping the center of the frame too tight and ended up with a slightly “bow tie” shaped window frame; the added bonus here was that the center holes no longer lined up to the skin for riveting.  What this means is that the corners of the frame are not snug against the glass, thus you shouldn’t try to make the center of the frame snug against the glass or you will end up with the bow tie like I did.

I solved the problem by using a clamp (reversed) to stretch out the center of the frame and am just crossing my fingers that the seal holds up (I re-siliconed the gaps where the gasket pulled away from the frame, but I’m hoping there was enough silicone in the channel that it wouldn’t have leaked anyway).

Butyl tape (that stuff is GREAT) was placed around the perimeter of the window frame before riveting the window back in place.  I am leaving the butyl tape “squished out” for a while so it can shrink and expand in the sun, then I’ll trim it with a utility knife.

showing the butyl tape

showing the butyl tape

Hopefully the leaks are now banished forever!  See the complete photo gallery from the job below.

Others Who’ve Done It (Airstream Restovations)

Here are some links to other Airstream renovators who’s posts I’ve found helpful.  There’s no way I could do what I’m doing without these people having posted their experiences (and advice).  I’ll try to keep adding to this list as I find and use more and more threads/blog.:

Interior Skins – Inventory and Cleaning

The nastiest thing I have to deal with regarding our already gutted Zeppelin is the interior skins.  I’m sure they were pretty nasty to begin with (nicotine build up since 1972 and the adhesive on the back side), but they’ve also been stored on the floor of a barn for quite a while, so they’re covered in goat and chicken sh*t, and the resultant mold and other weird goos, fuzz, and oozy things that have grown on top of that.

Still, I will consider myself lucky to have the panels, as these metal skins are part of the the monocoque design and strengthen the trailer by riveting to the interior of the ribs.

I still haven’t decided if I’ll end up painting the interior side or trying to remove the vinyl covering to reveal the bare aluminum, but first things first, I need to see what’s there and get them cleaned off for the drive home.