Sunday, July 17, 2016


Our 2007 Interstate came with a 26-inch Valterra EZ dump hose carrier that had been installed by Airstream.  Valterra makes these devices in sizes of 18", 26", 46", 64", and 94".  The problem was that the 26-incher was not big enough to hold an adequately-sized hose for the Interstate.
Here is the original carrier dismounted from the chassis but with Airstream's plate brackets still in place, with the cap off and a normal-sized "stinky slinky" pushed into it and compressed by my foot.  Way too short.  
Furthermore, with the Interstate being a Class B RV built on the T1N Sprinter, there wasn't sufficient room for the next standard size up, which was the 46" Valterra.  Therefore, we had to devise a way to either adapt a new material for this function, or modify the Valterra carrier as supplied.  

Here's a piece of veteran DIY advice:  Every time you have a project involving hardware, pack up your materials in a tote bag and take them with you to the big box hardware store.  It may look a little funny if you sit there on the floor as I do, fiddling with various pieces, but it is by far the most efficient method of converging upon exactly what you need.  Most people won't do this for fear of looking like the nerd I aspire to be.  They will instead go to the store, pick something, take it home, and return it if it does not suit.  A lot of good ideas will be missed that way.  Case in point.
I started chuckling like an eccentric fool when I realized our solution to this project challenge, a solution that would not have made itself apparent unless I had dragged my dump hose, carrier, and mounting plates with me to the Big Orange Retail Giant (BORG).  Do you see it? 
Valterra made their hose carriers a non-standard diameter, probably as a means of discouraging people from using cheap stock materials to affect modifications (they'd likely prefer you to buy the more expensive Valterra components instead).  I knew going into this project that the Valterra pipe was not compatible with standard 4-inch PVC sewer pipe.  But what I did not realize until I got into the BORG is that the *flared end* of a thin-walled PVC pipe was actually a pretty good fit to the ID (inner diameter) of the Valterra.  
See the flare?!  Ohhhh yeahhhhh...  easy solution found!
Once we realized that, it was a simple matter of buying a 10-foot length of this pipe (which incidentally is the same product from which I fashioned my clothing cubby storage system), and expanding on the original Valterra.  This approach represented a great economy of effort because it did not require that we buy all-new hardware, replace the OEM brackets, or drill new holes in the chassis.  
The 26-inch Valterra stopped at this bracket.  We cut a hole in it using a little air saw so that the extension could pass through it.  
There's something very Diego Rivera about this photo.  This shows an intermediate stage of production in which the PVC extension was added, and the new hole cut and rimmed in rubber tubing so that the knife edge of the bracket would not impinge on the PVC.  
Another view prior to finishing. 
Capping the distal end was easy - we used a floor drain for that.  We glued it in place with PVC cement. 
Along the way, we replaced the original Airstream hardware with stainless steel, as we always do when conducting repairs and upgrades.
This is what fits the original Airstream / Valterra bracket on the front end. 
I was dealing with challenging sun angles while writing this post, but here are two views of the final result.
View along the length.  The carrier pipe is now penetrating the metal plate at which the original had stopped.  
A close-up view of that penetration.  The carrier is now long enough (38") to contain the hose shown in the first pic of this blog post. 
Because the metal plate bracket positions the carrier tube several inches below the chassis, it easily clears the Sprinter's leaf spring.  Scratch another project off our formidable list!!
We may actually prove this wrong, because we are getting close to finishing everything we wish to do.  

Saturday, July 16, 2016


Like every other T1N Sprinter, the vehicle that was upfitted to become our 2007 Airstream Interstate was not built with the option of pivoting the sun visors over to the cab door windows to block the sun when it comes from one side or the other.  The T1N aftermarket did offer some modified brackets (e.g., see this Sprinter Forum thread), but (a) I never did like the quality and (b) swiveling the visors would not have solved one of my essential challenges, which I call "Texas white sky".  Sometimes it gets so hot here and there's so much haze and glare that the entire sky turns blindingly white.  On those days, I need both a front and a side visor regardless of sun angle.  So I could not simply pivot the existing visor even if I wanted to.
It would work well for some people, but not for me as a person with sensitive green geriatric eyeballs who lives at 29 degrees north latitude with all of its brilliant sunshine (it is true that people with light-colored eyes are more sensitive to bright light).  Photo screengrabbed from Sprinter Forum. 
I tried a pull-down shade that I got for about five bucks at a big box auto store, and that gave some relief but was not ideal.  Furthermore it had to clip onto the top of the window, so every time I'd roll the window down, it tended to pop off and go flying into the foot well of the cab.  For that reason, it was time to try another approach.
Most of my DIY approaches begin with a paper or cardboard template.  This project was no different.  
I made a butcher paper tracing of the side of the window and used that to form a pattern.  I layered together two remnants of fabric that I had leftover from previous projects - the "Interstate gray" nylon that I used to create tubes for storing our sleeping bags under the jack-knife couches of our Interstate, and the metallic fabric I used to overlay the side window shroud.

In the pic above, you will see that the paper pattern is reversed relative to the shape of the driver's side window.  I wanted the reflective fabric facing outward and I wanted to roll up the gray hems over the metallic so that they could receive tiny neodymium magnets to hold this creation on the upper portion of the door frame.
This is how it looked when pinned, prior to sewing.  
I must admit, every time I tackle a new project that uses neodymium magnets, I start to get into a black mood.
They are just soooo, sewwww, hard to work with that I am tired of fighting them!!  This is a good way to store them, though - on one of the sewing machine spindles (that stack of different sizes to photo right).    
It's hotter than blazes in Houston right now, and here's a funny aspect of this project.
I didn't actually fit the project to the Interstate in real time.  We have done a large number of projects in a short period of time, and I'm starting to feel burned out, literally and figuratively.  All I needed to work with was a metal surface, and so I squatted in front of our back patio door and fitted the project there in air conditioned comfort, all the while thinking that I probably had a snowball's chance in Houston summer hell of having this thing turn out with a good fit, because I was not reality-checking it as I progressed. 
Lo and behold, it actually worked.
Good God, it fit!

There is no steel trim on the left hand side of the door - that's covered by plastic molding, so no magnet on the bottom left corner.  That's the only place where this device is a little bit loose.  If that proves to be a problem in the future, I will stick it there using some other method.  
You can see that the bottom of the fabric is about at the same level as the bottom of the OEM sun visor in front.  It's a tiny bit lower because I'm shorter than the average Sprinter driver, and I fitted the fabric to my own height.
It does not obstruct my left-hand driver's view all the way to the horizon, nor does it obstruct my mirrors.  If for some reason in a certain atypical situation it did pose an obstruction and I needed a wider angle of viewing, I could just snatch it right off the window in a split second because it's only held to the door frame by those useful but pesky magnets.  
Here are the other advantages of this kind of solution versus a pivoting visor.
I put a few magnets in the bottom hem so that I could raise it up if I needed to.  Those magnets are aligned with the top ones that hold it to the door frame.  
There is no obstruction when I open the door.  It just stays on there.

It also does not obstruct when I roll the window up and down.  There is no interference. 
This is what it looks like from the exterior.
Well, I suppose if I wanted to be more stealth about it, I could have made the outer layer black instead of reflective.  
It also packs up nice 'n' small.
Comme ca.  Except I cringe when I see that sewing seam visible above.  Messy!  Like I said, I was burned out and ready for a break when I tackled this project, so my execution was not my best effort.  But I also needed the final result to be produced so that I could start using it.     
Anyway, I have not yet had an opportunity to road-test this device, but so far, I am pleased.  When I sit in the driver's seat, it feels right to have it there.  We'll see what the road proceeds to tell me in terms of whether it needs any possible refinements.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


In Part 1 of this series, I described the predicament we faced in obtaining a hitch carrier for our Yeti cooler.  Part 2 described our solution, which we (mostly my husband) custom-fabricated ourselves. But we also needed to accessorize this accessory, so here's Part 3 to describe those add-ons designed to make this project easier and safer to use.
The first thing I needed to do was to fashion a cover for the Yeti, both to repel road dirt and to provide an extra measure of protection from the fierce southern sun.  We noticed as we were building the hitch carrier that the Yeti would become almost too hot to touch as it was sitting there in its carrier rack, and that cannot bode well for its on-road insulating potential.  To help combat this solar heat loading, I cut a top piece of closed-cell foam (cut from a six dollar sleeping bag pad obtained at Walmart), because the top is where the worst of the sun's incident energy lands.  I also fashioned a cover out of what is now being called "reflective" tarp.

I had the camera flash on for this pic so that the "Woman Working" reflective sign would light up like that.
It used to be that most tarps were blue, and the "blue roof" phenomenon is well-known to those of us who live in hurricane country.
A collection of tarp-covered roofs, reportedly from somewhere in Florida, as the pic appeared in some FL newspapers. 
But at some point in the recent past, someone apparently got the brilliant idea that something closer to a radiant barrier would be a better bet for tarps, and they started making them out of this semi-reflective silver material instead.

Here are a few pointers on sewing a device like this cover.
I got a tarp of approximate size 7' x 9' at Harbor Freight for about eight bucks.  This project only consumed a portion of it.

 A really good T-square is indispensable for this job. 
This cover didn't need to be completely waterproof - the bottom of our hitch basket is open, after all.  So I wasn't shooting for waterproof-ness, but neither did I want any horizontal seams to invite water in.  Using the T-square, I cut out an appropriately-sized cross-shaped portion of the tarp, leaving margins for four side seams.  
As with almost all of my projects, I tend to fit as I go rather than relying on precise measurements.  This is especially true of strange materials that are not typically run through a sewing machine, like tarp, for instance.  It was a challenge to sew - I had to foot it myself as the machine would not advance it in the usual way, probably because it was too slippery.  I folded together the side seams and fit them one by one, sewing right sides together using an outdoor grade of heavy thread, and then turning the resulting cover right-side out when finished. 
If you read my blog posts, every once in a while, you will be forced to listen to me pontificate about some aspect of healthy lifestyle.  Today the topic is yoga, which is my all-time favorite exercise practice.  How many women in their 50's do you know who have the strength and flexibility to sit spread-eagle on the floor like this for the purposes of completing a sewing project?  How many women in their 50's have the strength and flexibility to work both on the roof of an Airstream Interstate, and upside down squeezed under the chassis?  Without yoga, I simply wouldn't have the physical capacity to do any of these things, and life would be so much more restrictive and less fun.  OK, sermon now concluded.  
Here's what the proto-cover looked like once all seams were completed and right sides were turned back out.
Dog be like, "Huh?? The Interstate is in the driveway - are we leaving soon?!"

Once the project had reached this stage, I needed to put it back on the carrier in order to fit the bottom seam, which is shown cuffed up here like a pair of 1970's bell-bottom pants.  
I'll show the finished tarp below, but let me also mention the other accessories.  I wanted to obtain a product called 3M Safety Walk to line the step of what I'm now calling the "back porch", but I couldn't buy it in a convenient size, so I went with this instead:
A competing product, apparently, and both the size and price were right.  
Two of these pieces fit quite nicely.  There's one piece dry-fit above, as I was sanding out a patch for the other.  
I also edged both the hitch carrier and the hitch apparatus beneath it with DOT C2 reflective tape.  Small quantities are available for sale at big box auto supply stores such as O'Reilly Auto Parts.

Reverting to the tarp cover for the cooler, once I completed the bottom hem, I just cinched it with two ordinary rubber bungee cords linked together, but we may eventually do something more polished, such as snaps or marine fasteners, as time allows.

This money shot is also a night shot.

That pic above doesn't appear nearly as homey as this one below, which I took using a flash to show up the DOT C2. "[A] report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency under the United States Department of Transportation states that reflective tape can effectively reduce impacts into trailers by 29%", said this article.  I wonder what the percentage would be for the extended rear ends of camper vans?  As my high school Driver Ed teacher used to chant, "See or be seen."
Home is where the see-able back porch is.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


In Part 1 of this post, I described how we commissioned custom carpeting for the cab of our 2007 Airstream Interstate.
It's so danged pretty, I have to show it twice!!
The carpet was a wonderful addition, but we also needed weatherproof matting to go on top of it.  Because we have such a prominent aisle with fresh carpeting on it, I initially didn't want just those little insert mats that go in front of the bucket seats - I wanted a one-piece all-encompassing job.  And here was the overwhelming problem with that wonderful idea:
EVERY mat-like raw material that I found came in widths of four feet only, whether it was on the internet or in brick-and-mortar stores.
Four feet is the reason why the off-the-shelf T1N weather mats offered by aftermarket sellers would be too short for an Interstate.
No matter how skillfully they are cut, they are always going to be a foot short due to those material size limitations.  That is why they would extend only as far as the emergency brake (notch on lower left side shown above) rather than to the seam with the Interstate's main cabin flooring.  Compare this outline to the carpet photo above.  I think it would look ridiculous.  I would have three different types of floor covering visible in the space of twelve inches - the mat, the cab carpet, and the sheet vinyl of the coach.    
I don't think it would look right, and furthermore, David at Sprinter Parts Depot didn't think that such a one-piece mat would fit right either, due to the fact that carpeting had already been installed.  In view of these factors, I completed an exhaustive search for some alternative material that might be adaptable to this application.
For crying out loud, I even ordered samples of dance flooring to see if that might fulfill the need.  Wonderful stuff, but too thin.  
The T1N's cab cannot be be one-piece'd with an uncut raw material smaller than 5' x 5'.  In view of that, the only feasible option that I could find that was cost effective was to buy a garage mat and cut it myself in order to make it fit the cab.  How did I know for sure that the raw material must be 5' x 5' minimum?  Because I got down on my hands and knees and templated it.
Like this.  It was a bit tedious, but it had to be done.    
Again with more detail this time, why go to so much trouble to cover the whole aisle?  I had two concerns here:

(1) I have a dog with frequently muddy feet, plus two humans with muddy feet.  Furthermore, it's not ordinary mud we're talking about - some of our intended destinations have deep black tannin-rich organic mud, the kind that can ruin a carpet in a single day. Therefore, the entire cab aisle needed to be covered if possible.  No side or end gaps.
Fresh, fresh bear tracks, my foot at bottom for scale.  That's the kind of mud I'm talking about.  Even if I don't invite this bear into our Interstate for a snack, I still get the mud all over my own feet.   
(2) Knowing that I was buying a material that was not developed or intended to be a vehicle mat, I wanted to make sure that it was large and heavy enough to stay in one place, and that I could assist immobility by "locking" it against the sides and front edges of the bucket seats and also the seam between the cab and the cabin.

This is what my template ended up looking like.
Well, shoot, not surprisingly, it looks pretty much identical to the commercial templates for T1N Sprinters, except it's a foot longer, duh.  
Alas, that templating work was all for nothing - not every project can be a hit, and this one fell into the category of very big miss.  There just isn't any way to re-purpose a different material to make a floor mat, unless you spend far more money than I was willing to spend.  The garage matting I ordered wanted to curl badly once cut, and I just didn't want to struggle with it.  Furthermore it, too, did not want to fit right.  There were too many irregularities in the cab floor for a larger area to be covered like this.  

So I capitulated, tossed that idea (and my prototype) out the cab window, and went with individual 2006 T1N Sprinter stock mats from AutoAnything.  They are made out of Lloyd's Rubbertite product, which I have in my daily driver and really like.
Driver's side.  The coverage area is limited but the fit is pretty good.  
Passenger's side.  Not going to win any awards, but not offensive either.  
The round circles in the mat material echo the perforated aluminum used in the new computer table I just finished assembling, so at least I've got good design cross-referencing and repetition going on here.

As for those really dirty hiking days and the potential for the aisle carpeting to get soiled, I'll just have to cross that bear-ridden bridge when I come to it.

Monday, July 4, 2016


I tried - I really, really tried! - to find an off-the-shelf solution for carrying either our original Yeti Tundra 50 cooler, or a replacement cooler, on the rear bumper of our Airstream Interstate.  Some of that agony is described in this recent Air Forums thread, and other parts of it are on different threads still, including this inaugural discussion from almost two years ago.  And even more agony is described in Part 1 of this post.
A wing, a prayer, and an over-stuffed mini-van that became the inspiration for our September 2014 Airstream Interstate purchase, for we drove that floggin' mini-van on a 6,000 mile trip earlier that same year.  While a mini-van may suck for long-haul comfort and convenience, it sure swallows a Yeti cooler with ease.  Which is very much unlike an Interstate.

Here's a key piece of information, though:  That Yeti you see above was packed with water ice and thus could be safely stored inside the mini-van.  The same would not necessarily be true if it had been stuffed with dry ice, which off-gasses carbon dioxide that could potentially displace oxygen and create a safety hazard. 
To make a painfully long story short, no existing exterior carrying product met our needs.  Or, if something did show potential to meet our needs, it was either:

(a) too heavy given our GVWR restrictions
(b) not yet in final design, let alone production, and thus not readily available commercially
(c) not sufficiently engineered to be as durable or as secure as we needed (pretty much every mass-produced hitch carrier fit that description)
(d) scandalously expensive if it was sufficiently engineered, or
(e) some combination of the above.
Do you see that custom bumper upfit in this pic chosen at semi-random from the internet?  This one is carrying a spare tire, but an apparatus to carry a cooler would be constructed in a similar fashion.  This thing is gorgeous, it's superbly engineered, and it's as heavy as hell.  Two out of three ain't bad, but we needed something lighter.  
As the old saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.  And so we did.  Here's the sequence of steps involved in the production of our custom hitch solution.  As usual, I'm giving general descriptions only here, and if someone wants greater specifics, please feel free to email me and we can discuss.
The journey started with a trip to a local steel supply shop to pick up the raw materials, which they were sizing down for us in this photo.  
My brilliant husband designed this apparatus with the intention of minimizing weight while maximizing strength, durability, and security.  It started with the frame of a shallow tray into which the Yeti could be placed. 
Bottom braces were then cut and welded into place. 
It was slow going with plenty of rest and water breaks on this fabrication effort, as late June temperatures climbed toward 100 degrees.  
Art shot of raw materials - I insisted on buying an itty bitty Texas embellishment, about 3 inches across. 
Did I mention that it was almost 100 degrees?  As hubs did the welding - in cargo shorts despite the sparks flying everywhere - I watched in amusement from the relative comfort of the Interstate where I ran the A/C, mounted the Reflectix window covering keepers, and templated the cab for a custom weather mat overlay (no blog post to come because that project turned out to be a total failure).  I think I got the better end of that deal, although I did trip breakers about ten times trying to keep the Interstate cool by shore-powering it into a regular household circuit (hubs had dibs on our 220 circuit for the welder).  
From this pic you can start to get a feel for how this hitch carrier was engineered to be different from most other products on the market.  See that square tube cross piece that has been inset into the Yeti frame?  That is part of its extra strength.

Here's another view of the Yeti in its proto-hitch tray.  Note how this is shaping up to be much smaller and lighter than a conventional hitch platform or basket.  It only has to be large enough and heavy enough to get the job done safely.  

As for the positioning of this Yeti carrier relative to the rear end of the Interstate, that was determined by trial and error.  I knew I had to compromise on this design - originally I had wanted a swing-away arm so that I could keep a cooler back there and still open both rear doors.  But I had to meet practicality half way and adjust my expectations such that only one of the two doors could be opened at all times without restriction (that much was non-negotiable).  If I need to open both doors at some destination, then I will simply have to drop the cooler to the ground for the evening and tether it with a lock - no big deal.
Husband and I settled on this configuration - the Yeti centered on the port rear door, and a large platform which will serve multiple purposes on the right, as outlined in cardboard (we don't do anything around here without first mocking up out of cardboard).    
The back door on the passenger side is the one with the door handle - that's why it was chosen as the one to be open-able.  And the large platform underneath it will serve as:

(1) a generous step (much better than the tiny hitch step I'm currently using)
(2) an exterior seat (it's the perfect height)
(3) A small table or staging platform if no picnic table is present at a location, and
(4) a potential lashing point for general cargo that doesn't require the same magnitude of structural support as a loaded Yeti 50 cooler (I'm thinking perhaps a future inflatable kayak in a stuff sack).

This photo shows the hitch connector being positioned with support plates that were later welded into place. 
After everything was welded up, both my husband and I spent quite some time grinding and polishing all those welds.  The point was not to make it look flawless but to prevent future cuts and scrapes from burrs as we were handling it.  This was my husband's first major welding project and I could see his skill growing each day that he worked on it.

Now, on the issue of the cooler itself, I was initially very skeptical that it could be attached securely, given that Yetis are such high theft targets.  We took a two-fold approach to addressing that risk.
My husband welded two heavy steel bars that will extend down through the Yeti's security ports (the bars are 3/8" by 5/4" and weigh 2.5 pounds each).  They will lock to the hitch apparatus individually in a way that will make removal extremely difficult, certainly with enough robustness to thwart the typical smash-and-grab theft scenario.  At the same time, they will prevent the cooler from bouncing off the shallow tray as we go over bumps.  This approach kills two birds with one stone - security and stability.  
Additionally, I made the Yeti itself a much less desirable theft target by defacing it utterly.  I spray painted my phone number, emblazoning it across the entire width of the cover.  And I also added various stickers and patches, some with industrial-strength adhesive.  Nobody will ever be able to steal and fence this thing as a virgin untraceable cooler.  It is now ruined for many theft purposes.  
This minimalist hitch apparatus ended up weighing 57 pounds - significantly lighter than many of the other options we identified in the commercial market.  Either one of us can get it on and off the hitch without assistance (although in my case, there may be some cuss words involved).
After many rounds of welding, the moment finally came when it was ready for me to de-grease, prime, and paint.  Notice those two key-hole slots on either side of the Yeti (open) side of the apparatus.  Those are where the security bars come down to be locked in place.

Oh, and see all the little rings welded on the side?  They are there in case we have to lash cargo to it.  Now that we have this base apparatus completed, in the future we can fabricate additional accessories to fit the needs of a particular trip.  Perhaps a bike carrier insert, for instance, if we need bikes but not the cooler.  
Most if not all jurisdictions require rear license plates to be illuminated, and we addressed that by fabricating a bracket that will accept a light that wires to the hitch's existing electrical pig tail.
Spray painting in action.  Square tube was used for the bottom of the bracket so that it would stand out about an inch and a half from the front of the Yeti cooler.  That allows for easy placing and removing of the cooler (it's not too tight a space).  This because the Yeti blocks the original door mount for the plate.  
Incidentally, it wasn't lost on us that we created an apparatus that was so unique and custom that it may end up being a more desirable theft target than the Yeti cooler it was originally intended to secure.
Ooooh la la!  Sexy!  Some women model swimwear - I model Pewag security chain.  Arm for scale.  
I procured this Pewag chain so that I could supplement the hitch pin, as some of those can reportedly be defeated using a sledgehammer even if they are the locking type.  I'm not going to publish how I used this, but if anyone wants to discuss, feel free to email me.

And now for the great reveal, aka the money shot:
Smiling dog mirrors owner's mood.  
We will be adding a bed liner traction coating to the step / seat / table portion of the apparatus to make it non-slip.  I will also add some DOT C2 reflective tape to the trailing edge, because when the cooler is not in place, it's difficult to see from a position behind the interstate.  I'll do that after the bed liner product is applied.
Minimalist.  Streamlined.  Wonderful.  Looks like the Interstate was born with it already there in place.  But from a practical standpoint, it needs more visibility so that other drivers do not accidentally get too close.  
I will also be crafting an insulating and waterproofing slip-on cover for the cooler; all that spray paint and sticker defacing helps to discourage theft, but it needs to be covered during severe weather, including the heat of our summer.  (EDIT:  Those trim-out elements are described in Part 3 of this series).

Last but not least, the most efficient way I deduced to handle carbon dioxide overpressure in the Yeti cooler was to buy a couple of extra drain plugs (West Marine has two for ten bucks) and drill a small hole in the one that is intended for use with dry ice.  The intact plug will be reserved for use with water ice.
Just a small hole, because Yetis are well-known for being air-tight, and according to internet reports, a great deal of pressure will build up in the cooler.  This was a better way to deal with the situation than piercing the cooler itself, which would have been a non-reversible decision.  
One more shot of the pooch, who was thoroughly bored with my photo shoot by the time this one was taken.
"Yeah, whatever.  It's time to get over yourself and feed me."

For those readers who are not familiar with the construction of Yetis, her butt is right up against one of the two steel bars that extends downward from the lid and locks beneath the apparatus. 
Thanks for reading.
One day soon, it won't be my driveway that I'll be sitting there staring at.  It will be the next million dollar view.