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A 1975 Airstream Land Yacht
In August 2021, I started thinking about my next step in life, what excites me most, and what my next creative endeavor might be. I started considering something like buying a patch of property and building a cabin in the woods, but as fate would have it, one day I was online and stumbled across a 1975 Airstream Land Yacht in (way the hell up) north Arkansas.
I called up the owner, Brian, a retired Army veteran, and a super nice guy. The Airstream initially appeared to be in great shape for decades old, and the dreams started rushing in. Fast forward a few days, and I was on my way to Arkansas to make a deal.
Starting with a Trip to Arkansas.
When I met Brian, he offered me a beer and gave me a quick rundown of the Airstream. We talked about its history, and he told me about his abandoned plans to renovate it.
I took my time inspecting it, trying to wrap my mind around the possibilities and the potential headaches. After researching Airstreams, I knew where to look for problems, and I sure did find them. With my camera, I peeked in areas you typically can’t see. I saw parts of the rusty frame eroded away, discovered squirrel nests, rat feces, and even a snakeskin that had been shed under the kitchen counter.
I shook Brian’s hand and left out for my Airbnb, letting him know I was going to sleep on it, but I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Laying in bed, looking at photos of the damage I had inspected, I just didn’t feel right knowing how much work would be ahead. I decided I was going to pass.
I texted Brian at 7 am and thanked him for his time. He responded in a friendly way, and with a few messages back and forth, we ended up making a fair deal. Part of the deal was Brian letting me keep the Airstream at his place for a couple of months while I figured out my next steps. Two months later, I was towing a silver bullet back to Texas.
My plans were never just a cosmetic fix-up. I knew I wanted to transform this Land Yacht into a tiny home, but I didn’t know how deep the transformation would actually go.
I removed the old built-ins, fixtures, and inner aluminum skins. An Airstream’s shell is made of a lightweight ribbed frame with outer-and inner aluminum skins, similar to an airplane- and they are still made this way today.
We have lift-off!
Once I opened the “banana-wrap,” which is a piece of aluminum that encloses the trailer’s chassis structure, I discovered how close the Airstream was to falling apart. The outriggers were rusted through, and cross members were broken in half. Leading to the only correct way to fix it: a complete shell-off-the-chassis renovation.
To lift the shell, I built a pair of 12′ gantry cranes. I drilled out hundreds of rivets and the bolts that secure the shell to the chassis; I then hoisted the airstream body into the air and pulled out the trailer’s foundation.
Fixing the foundation.
The chassis required the removal of the subfloor wood, nasty insulation, holding tanks, and anything attached to it.
After lifting the shell (which is actually integral to the structure), I discovered that the frame had a 6″ sag behind the axle. The shell had been holding up the whole ass end of the Airstream. Major bummer.
I identified the “kink” in the frame and decided on a location to make a full cut-through on both sides. After the frame was cut, I jacked up the main frame rails using bottle jacks at the end. My welder closed the gaps and then added thick steel plates to the inside of the rails for extra rigidity.
After fixing the kink in the frame and welding on 23 new outriggers, I also welded in new steel length-wise to increase the rigidity of the floor, then coated everything with four coats of MasterCoat paint.
Mastercoat is a poly-based paint used on equipment where corrosion is common. The top coat is a super-durable black paint that was initially formulated for the NYC subway system. It almost feels like a glossy powder coating.
Polishing, Patches, Windows
I removed the blue stripe (not just paint, but an integrated vinyl-wrapped piece of aluminum), stripped the clear coat, and started the polishing process.
Other major modifications included relocating hatches, simplifying the shell with 20 hand-fabricated patches, and adding four new windows, bringing the total 23 windows (a record for the most of any Airstream)
To be continued…
A special thank you to my project sponsors, who provided equipment for my Airstream Build and partnered with me on the Airstream Master Field Guide. I chose these companies after I did tons of research, so I highly recommend working with these folks:
AirParts Inc – Aircraft Grade Aluminum & Supply
Cubic Mini – Tiny Wood Burning Stoves
ZipDee – Classic Awnings & Outdoor LIfe
Sailrite – Awning & Outdoor Fabric & Foam
TreePublic – Solar Panels & Equipment
BattleBorn – Batteries & Off-Grid Components
Cerkote – Ceramic Coatings for Aluminum
Thank you to my Airstream Sponsors: