Airstream Preparation – getting a 1966 vintage US travel trailer ready for 4 months touring the Swiss and French alps ski resorts
1 – polish alluminium Airstream exterior:
From totally oxidised grey, to a mirror shine takes 2 people 2 weeks and 5 different grades of cutting and polishing – lets not get into that here! – if this is your bag, you can read an amazing Airstream polishing guide or get it done by pros like like Sarah Jane’s company American Caravans, as I did – this blog will stick to the “before” and “after” shots of the sno mobile
2 – make sno mobile road-legal in UK – also done by Sarah Jane’s talented chaps
– convert brakes from US “electric” to UK “over-run”
– replace running gear & suspension to work with over-run hitch
– replace towing hitch A-frame and add a hand brake
– convert road lights and add UK yellow turn-indicators (from a 60’s morris minor)
3 – buy a huge 4×4 large enough to safely pull a 2.5 ton caravan at speed on the highway
– US trailers have a much higher “tongue” weight (direct downward weight on the tow-bar) so only a Landrover can really tow a big Airstream safely (our trailer is the longest and widest you can legally tow in the uk with a car) – Defender, Disco or Range Rover? – it transpires that only a Range Rover is heavier than our trailer (safer at highway speeds if tow car is heaveier than trailer), so I had the perfect excuse to empty the bank account and buy a cracking mota
4 – build a cot for Jimmy and suspend it from the Airstream ceiling
not much need be said – parts of the process, here in pictures
5 – fit a massive battery bank, so we can keep working on the laptops, even if we’re in a ski resort where we can’t hook up to electric
– for the tech lovers among you; 6x Trojan T105 6v batteries wired in series and parrallell to give nearly 700 amp hours at 12v (its a monster!) – I got a spark in to check my handy work and his old dad asked me if I used to work on submarines…
– a big 2.5KW inverter/charger which can charge them all back up over one night on hook up, or power prett much anything on 240v AC from the batteries (all hidden in dead space under the bed and nicely centralised weight between the axles)
– a big yellow builder’s transformer to give 110v US-style, so we can keep the fab vintage fridge and the US power outlets (if you check your phone and laptop charger, you’ll see it can work on either EU 230v 50hz or US 110v 60hz)
– 3x fairly inconspicuous UK power outlets plus 3x cigar lighter outlets for things like car chargers (charge things direct from 12v batteries without wasting lots of battery power in the inverter)
6 – get mobile broadband working in French and Swiss ski resorts (3G for the laptops)
we’ll need to be reliably online every day in lots of different mountains and not at rip-off UK roaming data prices! so I need to find a way to get French 3G (ie a dongle) working in remote mountain places inside an Airstream (which is basically a Faraday cage – ie not radio signals go in or get out!).
Why is this hard? (1) dongles are locked to the network you buy them from, so my O2 dongle won’t let me use a French Mobicarte SIM and (2) we need to get the 3G signal from outside the Airstream where its strong, to inside the Airstream where its warm and dry!
I found this excellent 3G antenna from Panormama Antennas and fitted it to the old American TV mast – the old mast has a very cool little winder inside so you can turn the aerial for best signal, from the inside! I love it when old tech meets new – a really nice way of keeping this brilliant piece of 60’s engineering in use!
NB: You MUST buy a dongle with an aerial socket and also get the right lead for that dongle – marvellous chap at Panorama Antenas helped me get the right kit and it gave me excellent 3G reception in an English campsite where I couldn’t reliably connect before.
I unlocked the dongle online at unlocked-dongle.co.uk but have yet to get it working with another SIM, so I won’t make this link active until I can tell you it actually works (news-flash: it didn’t work!). You need to use a French SIM because you really don’t want to be surfing on a UK SIM with your laptop while abroad – the prices are jaw dropping!
My backup 3G connection is my old Nokia N95 which has Joiku-Spot installed – the clever (and cheap) bit of software allows this excellent little phone to act as a mobile wifi hotspot from anywhere using it’s 3G connection to the inernet, and shares the internet connection with my laptop via wifi! Again, simply buy the French Mobicarte SIM when over there… and pay for the Internet Max option (tip-1: don’t buy it by the hour as they try to make you… buy “Illimitee” for a monthly fee and you get at least 500MB allowance for around