Taking Care of my Baby

It was time for Elvis’s little brother Tradewind to get some attention from the Mothership. Seeing a 13-panel in the service area the day before was somewhat reassuring.

Up at 6 to ready it for towing to service. It’s 7 AM, I’m signing in. Why am I nervous? I feel like I’m bringing my baby to the pediatrician. Chris Burch fills out the forms. “Yes, it’s ready to bring over. I’m in C4. And by the way, the black tank is FULL.”

I’ve had to resort to creative dumping methods done at home into the septic cleanout since the Cherry Blossom Rally this year. Limiting use and traveling home with full tanks has not been fun.
The Tradewind waste valve has been reworked 5 times. All hung low from the belly so that a speed bump or grade change would knock it off.  One local RV shop’s version looked like an anaconda clinging to the bellypan. It lasted around 4 months before failing.

The last incident broke everything off right up to the old Thetford valve. There was no way to attach a fitting anymore and the valve’s functionality wasn’t always reliable.
After a very short wait a service representative named Casper came out and asked me to follow him to the bays. One can look at Casper and immediately tell he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Good thing. “So, how long have you been with Airstream?”

“Forty-three years.”

YES! Someone who should have a clue about vintage. And he must know what he is doing or he wouldn’t still be here after forty-three years. My trust level escalated a few points.  I gave Casper an overview of the problem.  “Well, let me work on dumping the tank first. I think I can rig something up without making a mess.”

Somewhere over an hour later Casper retrieved me from the waiting room. “Your tank is flushed out better now than it’s been in years. Let’s look at this thing.”

We crawled under the Tradewind together and examined the problem, discussed possibilities, and agreed that the original installation design was a major issue. Valve rebuild might be an option IF the valve could be removed.  Wayne, a 49-year veteran, came over to consult.  Then Kevin.

When over 100 years of collective experience began collaborating, things are bound to happen. I returned to the waiting room to await the Tradewind’s fate.  Just like any good medical facility, I got timely updates and opportunities to visit the patient.  During my visits I noticed a tool cart with the pocket of a carpenter apron attached.

It had, “Pocket Full of Miracles” written above it.
Yep .  .  .  might need one of those.

The gate portion of the valve came out after some resistance.  Rather than bolted to the tank with an exterior flange, the valve housing was screwed tight to a pipe nipple glassed directly into the tank interior. Forty-nine years of funk and corrosion had cemented everything.  One wrong move and the tank would crack. Should this happen, the tank would be a special order with a long lead-time and I would be stuck.

It took nearly 8 hours, lots of patience, penetrating oil, elbow grease, and eventually pneumatic power tools. It took cutting into the valve housing to make the old beast surrender. Casper went over several options with me, but a Thetford valve worked best to keep things as flush with the belly pan as possible. With one small adapter I can dump at any campground again with confidence.

One really cool side note about Wayne.  His first job with Airstream was fabricating the countertops and bath bulkheads that went into my very own Tradewind. He spent time in my coach going over things with me, noting that the interior was still so original, examining the counters, checking out the original drop-leaf table, explaining how the waterproof covering was applied to the bath bulkheads, remarking on how refer venting evolved over the years, and so on. It was extraordinary to have someone who actually participated in the building of my beloved Tradewind  share his early Airstream memories so many years later. Totally an honor.
These Airstream service guys ROCK! I can’t say enough good things about them. Casper, Wayne, Kevin, Chris Burch, Dave Schumann, and all the rest whose names I don’t know are my new heros.  True, most coaches in the service bays are more recent models. Probably because most early vintage owners do much of their own work.  But all my unfounded negative perceptions about Airstream‘s service on vintage coaches disintegrated. I’m not even sure anymore where I had gotten those impressions.

Returning to the Mothership is exactly what needed to happen and I will not hesitate again.

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