Step 2: Belly Pan

I remember the day Papa Nomad returned from his road trip across the U.S. from Washington to South Carolina. He had exchanged our cozy, red teardrop for the Airstream in Salt Lake City, Utah and I had been waiting eagerly to have my husband back, as well as lay eyes on our new addition.

We heard it before we saw it... Metal scraping against pavement. The screeching noise must have reverberated in the ear drums of every person within a 5 mile radius. For the first time (but definitely not the last) I asked myself "what the h-e-double hockey sticks have we gotten ourselves into?". It was not the first impression I had been anticipating. 

Papa is home!!  

The look of exhaustion on his face told the story well enough. At one point he had to pull over on the highway and axe off pieces of the falling metal belly. There were multiple flat tires involved. The rear airstream panel fell off, forever lost to the interstate debris. Very glad he made it back in one piece but I can't say the same about our 1967 Airstream. 

The belly pan needed to be stripped and reinstalled with new aluminum and new insulation in order to seal up the underneath, there was really no point in salvaging the shards that were left. I actually had no part in this process, other than cheerleader/child rearer/cleaner upper, so I am going to switch over to interview style to answer all the questions of how it was done. 

What materials did you need for this project?  

  • 0.025 gauge aluminum - here is a link to a similar product - http://www.airpartsinc.com/shopexd.asp
  • Stainless steel washers (Size 10)
  • Stainless Steel Self Tapping Screws (Size 10)
  • Leak Seal - I used a combination of the paste form as well as the spray
  • Rust-Stop Paint Spray
  • Peel and Seal Aluminum Tape
  • 100's of 1/8 size drill bits ( they break all the time)
  • R-13 Faced Fiberglass - 3.5 inch thick - originally intended for 2x4 walls 

Which tools would you recommend?  

  • Jig Saw - for cutting aluminum sheets
  • A drill (if you have a one with a chord USE IT!)
  • Impact Screw Driver
  • A car jack
  • Friends (although not tools friends do come in handy) doing this job alone was the bane of my existence)

What was your process?  

I started by removing the old belly pan (drilling out the rivets is the easiest and quickest) - Size 1/8 drill bit did the trick. I removed all the old asbestos like insulation, dead mice, and a number of assorted "surprises". Once I could see the frame and the existing floor boards I took a lot of time applying a rust-stop spray as well as painting rustier areas with Por-15 (heavy duty rust stop) paint. I then sprayed Leak Seal wherever wood met metal and the possibility for any moisture damage could happen. After I had sprayed enough leak seal I went to town installing the new R-13 Faced Fiberglass Insulation. I stuffed as much as possible in every place I could find space - the less space for moisture, rodents, or air the better.   I then ordered 4x8 foot, 0.04 gauge, aluminum sheets for the entire bottom - wholesale these were roughly $86.00 per sheet so all in all I spent about $400.00 for complete piece of mind knowing the bottom was better sealed than off the factory line back in 1967. The original Airstream used a 0.025 thickness which is obviously thinner and lighter than what I did. I wanted this bottom to be able to withstand years of highway hell and potential larger than expected "bumps" or bruises. To secure these aluminum sheets to the frame I used size 10, stainless steel self-tapping screws with stainless steel washers in between for better surface area. (see pictures). The old rivets originally holding up the aluminum belly pan had completely rusted out over time so I wanted to try and improve on the previous design with something stronger. Because the aluminum sheets are secured to the steel frame with 500+ stainless steel washer and screw pairs I feel confident about the strength and durability of this job. After I had completely finished and felt as sure as I could in my work I went over every seam with "Leak Seal" rubber spray from Lowes. I did this last step multiple times to safeguard against moisture, bugs, and anything else trying to sneak its way into my beloved. Anywhere I couldn't get just right with the rough aluminum cuts ( I didn't go off any plans or have any experience and was by no means a "perfect" job) I used an aluminum faced, weatherproofing tape. This stuff is awesome - its bendable, extremely tough, and one side is aluminum while the sticky side is a thick layer of roof cement like paste. This type of tape is popular within the window industry and can drastically improve on insulation. It listed RV use as a potential application so I felt that it was a good choice. 

If you could go back and give yourself some advice before you started what would it be?  

  • Jack the Airstream up earlier on - I basically did the whole build without the Airstream lifted until the last few days of work
  • Since we are going to be building a composting toilet (see future blog post) we do not need our black water tank that I had removed from the trailer - I failed to consider a gray water replacement tank and insulated/sealed where the black tank had been - this left me wondering what I could do for gray water - THEN WE HAD IT! I will be sharing our idea in a future update when I discuss our water system

How does it feel to have the belly sealed up?  

  • Sweet relief - I am looking forward to doing future projects while standing or in at least an upright position. This project had me feeling incredibly sore and discombobulated the entire time and longing for a day when I would be doing work on the inside of the trailer - It was like being in an MRI for weeks on end (except theres no radiology tech there to talk to you through the intercom to let you know everything is going to be okay). 
  • I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment and comfort in doing the work myself - if i ever need to open it back up I know the entire process from start to finish - for those considering an airstream renovation I would recommend literally laying underneath the trailer and doing a thorough inspection - you will to see the age of the trailer and the amount of work involved (in a place you rarely see) you may want to reconsider the trailer- for those debating not replacing the belly pan and the insulation underneath I strongly urge you to reconsider - I was able to discover small  "would be" future problems way ahead of time - before I invest on anything inside the airstream I wanted to make sure the "bones" of this beauty were well inspected and respected.
  • After completing this project I felt much better about my choice of materials - there is definitely something to be said about a complete restoration that is true to the history, tools, and equipment used back when this puppy rolled off the lot - this renovation is NOT going to be one of those - I am bringing this 1967 Overlander up to speed with economical solutions, sustainably sourced materials (when possible), a focus on efficiency , and a DIY (maybe no-plans-needed) attitude - it won't always be pretty but its always going to be pretty damn fun!

What is the next project?  

  • I'm glad you asked! The next project is going to be replacing the two 14 x 14 inch vents with two Fantastic Fans! I cannot wait to feel the air blowing through this trailer!
  • In tune with air flow and comfort I am also going to install our new Dometic 13,500 BTU Air Conditioner (more to come on my decision making process and why we chose this AC in a future post) 
  • After this step in complete I will begin the electrical system - so much research and back and forth but luckily I have some time to decide .... Batteries, solar, inverters, chargers, ect OH MY!   

There you have it folks! We have FINALLY finished the belly pan, and are moving on up!