Tearing Down Elvis – The Awful Truth

This week I received a letter with an SD card containing a digital pics from Trailer Buff. It was a thick envelope. Thick envelopes can be indicative of either good or bad. This one was a bit of both.

When you start peeling the layers off these old Airstreams, they begin to tell a story. I so appreciate Dave Makel for not sugar-coating the story. He has no problem telling the plain truth. The awful truth is, Elvis has been through a lot. After reading Dave’s laundry list, I’m amazed it towed so easily back from Texas.

The awful truth is the trailer floor is basically shot. I wasn’t surprised since the last owner said the trailer had been involved in a flood while waiting for repair at a Dallas dealership. Tile had been installed directly over the damaged flooring. Nearly all the flooring at the shell edges, which is necessary for stability in the monocoque design, had rotted away completely. The flood is the primary reason for so much of the casework damage as well.

Sheets of plywood had been stacked in the rear to compensate for the 3 inch frame sag. Yes, rear end sag was a problem even before the ’70s models. The forward axle position on Elvis doesn’t help either. It appears a shorter frame was rear-lengthened at the factory during the original build to complete the 30 foot trailer order. Unfortunately, it wasn’t strengthened for the additional rear weight. The awful truth is that Airstream had build and quality issues even back in Wally’s day. Another shattered myth about superior vintage workmanship.

 The awful truth is that the trailer was apparently hit on the streetside. The interior floor and frame was forced in and up causing this tear in the interior roof skin at the first bulkhead. The frame wasn’t repaired properly. Steel pop rivets were used on interior skin and we all know what happens with dissimilar metals. The wheel well was never repaired nor was the axle spring replaced.

There is a host of additional issues, a few of which I was already aware. But then there is the frame. The awful truth is the frame is worse then we ever realized.

 No one said this would be easy. Or cheap. But while reading Dave’s letter I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Then his last paragraph was like a soothing breeze calming the sting.

“The good news is that we have a plan and will rebuild it to a condition so much better than original that it will only be related by looks. Don’t worry a bit about the final product, it’s just a trailer and I know what to do.”

Yes, he certainly does.

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