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Archive for Caravel project

Slow start

In the past week I have neglected the blog more than any other time in the past three years.   I find it curious that as we approach our third anniversary “on the road” next week, I have suddenly run out of things to say.   It surprises me more than anyone, I think.

The dry spell is probably because things have changed for us.   Without getting into personal details, we are facing a confluence of events that seem to be telling us that our time for full-time travel is coming to an end.   It feels like it is not a choice, but an inevitability — which is also a strange feeling, because I am not a fatalist.

So we are talking and thinking. Why does it feel like the end of this phase?   What will our lives look like next year?   What do we want to achieve?

There are some things we know.   We know we still enjoy travel and will continue to go on frequent and extended trips with the Airstream.   We know we’ll be together.   The rest will follow.   More on this later.

The Caravel project is off to a slow start.   Work has interfered, and I have yet to find the appropriate wood to match to the oak in the trailer.   Modern oak looks different.   Fortunately we have some excellent wood specialists in Vermont and I’m sure eventually they will set me up.

In the meantime I’ve been getting the workspace ready.   I have use of a 20×10 tent shelter with electricity, a tarp floor, and all the tools I should need.   The cabinets are spread out so that I can see them all, and I have a long work bench in the middle.   This weekend I hope to have some time to start sanding the good pieces of wood, and putting a few test coats of polyurethane on them.

Polyurethane … There’s a smell I had hoped not to detect again anytime soon.   In our last house, Eleanor and I urethaned every single piece of door trim, window trim, baseboard, railing, crown molding, plus all the stairs, about a dozen pine doors, and 17 windows — three to four coats each.   (We also built most of the trim ourselves.)   We earned our Polyurethane merit badges several times over.

Our new house has no polyurethane in it at all.   In the southwest they go in for paint instead, which suits me fine.   But I have a 1968 Airstream and the wood needs to be finished with something other than paint, so out comes the poly …

The good news is that I have recruited some helpful labor.   Brett is coming up in early July to lend a hand.   (He thinks he’s coming for a visit and some boat rides.) If you read our Vintage Thunder blog in early 2004 you know what happens when Brett and I get rolling on a project.   Progress should be fast, which will be good because on July 9 we’re leaving for the Vintage Trailer Jam.


I will leave you with this photo taken on Lake Champlain last week, a reminder of the times that the weather is good here.   It hasn’t been good lately.   The past week every day has been in the 60s with frequent rain. The forecast is for this to continue until at least Monday.   Such is the way it goes here.   It is green, damp, buggy, and gray most of the time.   Vermont is beautiful, but you have to be patient for the weather to let you see it at its best.

A new project

I have hung back on the blog this weekend to let my thoughts catch up with events. It has been a time when a lot of “not much” seemed to happen. Sometimes I find myself simply living the events of day to day without having any motivation to analyze them, which is lot different from how I normally act. This was one of those times.

Most of the time I am like a cow, regurgitating my experiences during the day to re-think them — mentally chewing the cud so to speak. But sometimes the flood of events overwhelms me and I find that at the end of the day I have no thoughts to share, no results of introspection, and even though things have happened they feel like secrets. It’s a feeling like being washed down a river and there’s nothing to be done about it but wait until you land on a sand bar.


It’s a particularly strange sensation because quite a few things happened and yet I wasn’t writing about them.   On Friday night we took the boat out for an evening tour of the lake. Across the lake and a few miles south there’s a spot called Split Rock, and just west of the split rocks is a beach famous for its beautifully round rocks and driftwood. Somehow conditions are just right for the slate and granite to become circular and nearly polished, and wind up here on the beach.


On Saturday Eleanor and I took off to Plattsburgh, where Colin Hyde restores vintage trailers.   We met Colin at the shop and toured a few projects in progress, but our main task was to take a look at our beloved 1968 Caravel, which has been sitting at Colin’s shop for three years.   We left it there, partially restored, and haven’t gotten around to finishing the project.


Until now.   I want the Caravel to be usable for next summer, so we loaded up a minivan full of interior cabinetry   to take back to Vermont for refinishing or rebuilding.   It is now proven that you can fit the entire interior of a Caravel in a Honda Odyssey with room to spare.   I’m going to return all the parts to Colin over the next few weeks, either refinished or completely rebuilt from new wood.   It will take a while but I think I can get it all done before it’s time to go. I plan to document the process here, so you’ll be seeing more of this.

On Sunday we had Colin and his wife Suzanne and son Malcolm over for a day of play by the beach.   They hit it right because the weather was gorgeous: about 80 degrees, sunny, and very calm on the water.   We did all the usual beach day stuff:   a little wakeboarding, catching rays, playing in the water, then dinner on the grill, a game of whiffleball on the lawn,   and finally saying farewell to our guests at about 9 p.m. (when at this time of year the sun is just setting).

It was in every way a pleasant day, and at the end of it I began to feel the writer’s block breaking down.   I think a heavy workload and lots of little concerns built that block during the week.   While I don’t expect this week to be any easier, I think having a little project as a distraction will help keep me writing in this period of non-travel.

So I’ll talk about that for a moment.   The interior of our 1968 Airstream Caravel is supposedly oak.   It does not look like the sort of oak you see in lumberyards today.   The grain is very broad and knot-free.   The color is sort of a yellowish, possibly due to the age of the varnish.   This makes it very difficult to match.   Some of the wood is 1/4″ veneered plywood, and other pieces are solid 1″ thick   planks.

Water damage, physical abrasion, burns, and hack repairs have all taken a toll on the wood, and many pieces are beyond refinishing.   If I replace just a few pieces and finish them with modern polyurethane, they are likely not to match the older pieces, and in most cases will make the older stuff look terrible.   The solution appears to be to refinish everything so it all looks about the same.

This isn’t as bad as it seems because there isn’t really a lot of cabinetry inside such a small trailer.   The whole thing amounts to perhaps three sheets of 1/4″ plywood (albeit expensive veneer plywood), and some 1″ planks ripped to appropriate width.   My first mission this week is to take some samples to the local wood specialists and see what I can get to match the grain and color.   I may have to adapt the wood with a light stain.   I also will consider changing all the wood to a new species if the cost is not outrageous. Personally, I think the Caravels I’ve seen with cherry interiors are very nice.

While the interior is out of the Caravel, perhaps this fall, Colin’s elves will start to finalize the interior.   The serious work on this trailer was done in 2004, including a new plywood subfloor, stripping of clearcoat, re-wiring, refurbishment of the bathroom, plumbing fixes, new axle, a spare tire holder, extensive exterior metal work, dent repair, new insulation, new belly pan, Marmoleum finish floor, upgraded power converter and electrical panel, window repairs, refrigerator refurbishment, etc.

That was a hunk of work, especially the metal repairs, but there’s still a fair bit left to do.   We need to reinstall the interior, reinstall the appliances (fridge, catalytic heater),   finish the plumbing, get new foam and upholstery, add curtains, add a vintage awning, refurbish some exterior nameplates, and polish the skin.   I will likely also remove the TV antenna (the trailer doesn’t have a TV), add LED clearance lights, and get the trailer clearcoated as it was originally.

Not all of this can be done in the next few weeks, of course.   But if we can have the trailer ready for next summer, I’ll be satisfied.   It will be fun to take to the Vintage Trailer Jam in 2009, and   we could even use it as our temporary house in Vermont rather than taking the big Airstream across the country again.   I’m not at all sure what sort of living situation we’ll have next summer, but it’s nice to have options.

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