Monday, December 29, 2014


They are found in Airstreams both modern and vintage - some version of the roughly triangular overhead cabinet, its slanted or sloping rear wall courtesy of the exterior curvature of the motorhome or trailer:
Miscellaneous representative Airstream upper cabinets, clockwise from top left:  A unit under reconstruction with the end cap removed, a vintage trailer, and a view screengrabbed from a 2015 Flying Cloud.  
Our 2007 Airstream Interstate also sports its own version of this cabinet throughout, albeit in a smaller and blockier form than some of the historical trailer renditions.
Looking lengthwise down one of our cabinets.  This one measures 31" long x 11" high x 11" (at the bottom) to just 3" (at the top) deep.  There's a wood trim piece across the lower front; it is intended to keep items from launching out of the cabinet when the door is raised.   
I must confess that I have been having a devil of a time keeping stuff organized in these cabinets, which constitute a large percentage of our available storage (our vehicle has seven of them).  Some of the Airstream trailers have cabinets that are large enough to accept an extra shelf in the middle despite the sloping rear wall.  This is not the case with the Interstate's cabinets, which are just too small for a shelf.  So what happens is that everything tends to end up in a heap at the bottom of the cabinet, no matter how well organized it might have been to start with.
Like my entire travel wardrobe, for instance.  I prefer to keep it in one of these overheads right above the bed, but obviously this isn't working from an organizational standpoint.  I start out each trip with a nice neat folded assortment of clothing which inevitably becomes jumbled to the point where I have to scoop the entire works down onto the bed and paw through it every time I need something.  Simultaneously, there is space in the upper part of this cabinet that is being wasted.
To improve upon this mess shown above, my husband and I custom-cut and installed segments of 4-inch PVC sewer pipe to form a series of cubbies to hold and organize all that clothing:
As you can see, every cubic inch of that unusual three-dimensional triangular shape has now been taken advantage of.  And I think it looks cool also!!!
I am an average-to-small sized woman and so this arrangement works very well for me (my clothing is correspondingly small).  Four-inch pipe would probably not accommodate all the clothing that a large man would need to take on a trip, and of course it wouldn't be large enough for very heavy clothing such as sweaters.  But as my husband noted, many traveling men are less inclined to change their clothing as often as women anyway, so maybe it evens out.
BTW, the trick to using a storage system like this is to roll your clothes rather than folding them.  I tend to travel with non-wrinkling clothes and I find rolling to be the most efficient packing method even if I am just using a suitcase. 
Here is our build sequence for this project.

We removed the front facing but left the existing wire conduits in place, as they did not require modification for our planned improvements.  We will save the front spacer in case we ever sell our Interstate so a future owner will have the option of re-installing it if they wish.  
I took the best measurements I could of the inside of the cabinet.  It's made of a thin finish plywood and is not totally uniform from place to place, so even if you measure exactly, you might see some variation as you move from one end of a cabinet to the other.  
If you are not an experienced DIY person, this pipe-fitting process can be very frustrating.  I measured the vault angle at 45 degrees, but in practice, it actually proved closer to 47 degrees.  
Note that we were using PVC sewer pipe, which is not the same as water pipe - specifically it is much thinner.  Schedule 40 PVC would have the same outer diameter as this sewer pipe, but it would be too thick for this application.  We got a 10 foot length of this at Home Depot for less than nine dollars.

This project requires a fairly sophisticated saw because you have to set precise angles and also cut into a cylindrical object, which would be difficult to do manually.  
Unless you are a skilled craftsman who does this kind of thing routinely, expect to make some mistakes and do some trial and error.  Here you can see that we got the rear angle correct, but we initiated that angle at a too-high location on the pipe segment, such that it does not push all the way to the back.  
Working methodically is the key.  Once you get a test piece that fits well, then size the others off that piece.  
The saw left some rough edges and chips, so I created this apparatus for sanding:  A 220 grit piece of sandpaper taped to a flat board which, in turn, was held in place with one of my husband's 45 pound weights.  I could then grab the pipe segment with both hands and rub it against the sandpaper.  
And I also took off the sharp edges using the same grit sandpaper.  
Here you see the entire bundle dry-fit on our Interstate's couch and awaiting install in the cabinet.  You can see that the top row sacrifices depth and volume to the sloping rear wall, but there will still be good storage space available even in those shorter segments.  
There are a number of fastening methods you could use in a situation like this.  I chose heavy-duty double-sided tape because I am notorious for pulling my inventions back apart again for the purposes of re-tweaking.  This tape holds firmly but if I want to modify this pipe bundle at some point down the road (pun intended), that option remains open.  
For the deeper bottom row, I put one square of tape beneath the pipe and one square on each side where each piece makes contact with the next.  Those pieces of tape hanging in the foreground don't yet have their red protective covers peeled off.  
For the shallower top row, I put one square of tape where the upper pipe contacts each of the lower two.  I found that it was best to first dry fit and position the rear oblique cut against the sloping wall, raise the segment up a bit as shown here, and slide each piece of tape into the contact points.  This way I would not accidentally skew the rear cut angle of the pipe relative to the wall slope, if you get my meaning.  
Everybody loves a before-and-after shot.  This is the very same collection of clothing in each shot, nothing added, nothing deleted.  
How about an oblique shot as well?  Now you see it...
...and now you don't.  
I must say, my initial reaction to the final result has been better than I expected it to be.  In other words, I like it even more than I thought I would!!  I can see all of my clothing at a glance, and I will no longer have to think about when I need to do laundry on the road - the empty cubbies staring back at me from the cabinet will tell the tale as to how much clean clothing remains (there will be a different area set up for dirty laundry).

Now I need to come up with additional space-maximizing ideas for the other six triangular cabinets that will hold other equipment and food.  That will be a subject for future posts.
Me organized now!  At least in this one cabinet!

Saturday, December 27, 2014


In this previous post, I talked about the importance of having a highly-reflective custom-fit sun shade for the Airstream Interstate's generous windshield, especially for those of us who live in the subtropics.  But of course, as with every piece of new equipment that comes into a Class B RV, you also need somewhere convenient to stow it while it's not in use.
How about right there above the windshield?  It even looks aluminum-appropriate.
Our 2007 Interstate has a seam in that location where the Sprinter body meets the Airstream interior finishes (aka the aluminum goodness).
There is a piece of trim there held in place by capped screws.  The caps just pop off.  
The screws are sufficiently long to hold Velcro strips.  
There is nothing difficult about this storage idea.  You simply take a piece of two-sided Velcro and use either a punch tool or a nail to make a screw-sized hole...
...and you put the screw back where it belongs.  In this way, a Velcro "bracket" of sorts can be added without having to drill any new holes or attach new equipment. 
Sun shade loop, one of two.  Wrap the Velcro snugly around the shade and let it hang.  
This method saves valuable closet and behind-driver's-seat space (we have a mid-bath Interstate model so there's a small but important stowage area behind that seat, and we don't want to waste that space on items that can be stored elsewhere).

Convenience note - this stowage method does consume a few inches of headroom in this location, which might be bothersome to taller Interstate owners.  I am 5'6" and I can walk beneath the hanging shade without bumping it, but my husband will have to duck a bit lower than he otherwise would.  If someone accidentally whacks the shade really hard, they are not likely to damage their noggin' but they could loosen or bend those finish screws, so it might be good to keep that in mind.
Not cool (pun intended).  

Monday, December 22, 2014


The T1N Interstates were a hybrid of Mercedes Sprinter and Airstream-applied body modifications, including the running board option that mates with the front bumper cover.  However, one feature was odd for an American-modified product - the front license plate area was apparently designed for neither European nor American plate sizes.  There are two bolts on the front of the cover that appear to be approximately the same width as German license plates, but that might just be a coincidence because the trapezoid-shaped inset area would not have accommodated their rectangular shapes (and also because those bolts are holding the bumper cover to the bumper).  The net result was a potentially awkward configuration when license plates are applied, as required by law in many American jurisdictions.
Well, that looks a bit less than ideal!  The owner of this baby appears to have simply screwed his plate directly to the bumper cover.  Just sorta stuck it on there like a postage stamp.  

Screengrabbed from a sales listing. 
I'm using a reference to the T1N Sprinters here but I really don't know how many model years this affected, because Interstates differ from year to year.  This appeared to have something to do with the historical hot-potato transfer of American Sprinter sourcing from Freightliner to Dodge and ultimately back to Mercedes Benz (?).  This is a screengrab from a 2004 Interstate sales listing, which shows a completely different front plate area and grill.  This one was obviously designed for the American style license plate.  
When we bought our 2007 Interstate a few months ago, we noticed that there had never been any front plate installed on it.  In some states, it is apparently legal to only have a plate on the rear of the vehicle; Texas law is convoluted and therefore a front plate is advisable (I don't think a missing plate is potentially worth getting pulled over for).

The first thing my husband did was research via the Airstream site how to get an appropriate plate bracket.  "You are not going to like it," he warned after he had located the information.
He was right.  I don't know what this cheap contraption is or how it's supposed to function, but it's definitely not the effect we were after. 
So, as is the case with so many Interstate modifications, we decided to make a plate frame ourselves, and this is what we came up with.
Aluminum diamond plate.  Pretty spiffy, in my opinion.  Certainly an improvement over New Yorker's version.  One could argue that, to be consistent with the Airstream aesthetic, maybe we should have used smooth aluminum instead of diamond plate.  However I felt that, without some kind of distinctive texture, it would simply blend into the bumper cover. 
Closer view.  Yes, I did redact our license plate.  We do not, in fact, have a plate number as cool as this generic example from TxDMV.
Here are the DIY instructions on this little gem, which was more tricky to construct than you might first imagine.

We decided on aluminum because it would be strong and would not rust (it is a bit pricey by virtue of those desirable characteristics).  My husband was able to pick up a small sheet similar to this one at Home Depot.  (Humorous aside:  Home Depot stocks various aluminum sheets, and Airstream DIYers sometimes refer to it as the BORG, which stands for Big Orange Retail Giant.)
Like everything else that comes into our houses, the item to be created was first mocked-up out of cardboard.  My husband first traced the outline of the inset area on the bumper, and then traced that onto the back side of the aluminum diamond plate sheet.  
He then cut the shape out with a small jig saw.
Clamped in place so that it can be cut.  
The result was as follows.  Note that the angle of this photograph makes the cardboard appear bigger than the cut aluminum, but they are really the same size.

The cut aluminum needed to be filed down to remove very sharp edges.

Here's where the installation gets a bit interesting.
Our original plan was to attach the plate frame to the two existing bolts and then bolt the license plate to the frame.  However, there were two problems with that.  First, this area is slightly curved and so flush-mounting an aluminum frame would have been a challenge.  Second, those bolts were apparently intended to simply hold the bumper cover to the bumper, and finding long-enough bolts to also accommodate a plate frame proved to be challenging.  So what my husband did instead is to replace those original two bolts with new stainless steel bolts (so they would not rust) that had shallower heads, such that they would lie closer to flush with the inset area.  And then he had to use a tap to thread two new holes in the upper part of the plate area, pushing through the cover into the underlying bumper itself...  
...such that the upper two plate screws were sunk directly into the underlying bumper.  By virtue of the way this area was constructed, the lower two were attached only to the bumper cover, so my husband had to include a wide washer on the back side of the cover to distribute the force across a larger area of fiberglass.

In this way, the plate was bolted to the bumper with the diamond aluminum plate frame simply sandwiched between the two, rather than via our original idea of using the existing two bolts to first secure the plate frame.  
Before-and-after style view, with the upper vehicle being a redacted sales listing screengrab (both vehicles are identical 2007 Interstates but the lower pic was taken with a wide-angle lens, so they appear a bit different).  
As usual, this is a noncommercial post presenting personal opinions only.  No retailer has provided any consideration in exchange for being cited.
An internet meme invoking a scene from a movie which, IMHO, was one of the worst ever produced.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014


All of the hanging utensil racks that I found on the internet were designed for houses that do not roll down the highway.  Any utensils placed on them would cause an unnecessary ruckus whacking against each other and the wall or cabinet behind them, and maybe even get bounced off entirely, if installed in an RV.
Oh hell no - you do not want anything like these in a motorhome!

Screengrabbed from Google image search.    
Therefore, I had to create my own silent version.
That's a four-dollar small sink mat screwed to the inside of the cabinet door.  Short pieces of common sewing elastic are fed through the grid pattern of the mat and knotted to form loops.  The the utensils are fed into the loops.  The mat is a soft polymer such that vehicle shaking will not cause the utensils to make any noise bumping up against it.  The elastic also holds them more tightly in place than an ordinary hanging rack would.  
The beauty of this system is that you can re-position the knotted elastic loops if you later decide that you wish to accommodate a different set of utensils or tools.  I left the tails of the elastic pieces long in case I later need to re-tie them during the process of affixing larger items.   
Here's the sink mat that I used.
Items like this are sold in home decor and home improvement stores.  This is the Sink Works Euro sink mat.  
The elastic was similar to this.
Screengrabbed from this Amazon listing.  It's about four bucks but this project only consumed a tiny fraction of it. 
Here are the basic installation instructions:
Here are the basic tools.  That green handled thing is a punch tool for making holes in the sink mat.  That's not really required, though, as the drill can do it.  
Select screws that are not as deep as your cabinet door is thick.  
I was doing this as a one-person project (no helper), so I first masking-taped the sink mat to the inside of the door to hold it in place while I affixed three screws along the top and two along the bottom.

LOL - you can see that my top screws are not very straight.  This was my third Interstate project of the day (the other two were the ART FOCAL WALL and the COROPLAST PRIVACY SCREEN) and I was fatigued by this point!!
Oh, BTW, I also tape my drill bit so that I won't overdrill and accidentally punch through to the front side of the cabinet door.  That Would Be Bad!!!  
As usual, this is a noncommercial post presenting personal opinions only.  No retailer provided any consideration in exchange for being cited.
If you can't find the product you need in the market, invent one of your own.