Above is a photo of our 1972 Airstream Overlander just moments before I pulled into the shop to swap out the axles.
My good friend and owner of National Glass in Stratford, CT, Joe Negro, was nice enough to let me use his shop to do the axle replacement. I arrived around 9:00am on a Sunday morning and met my friend Andrew Dietz, who is a mechanic. Andrew is a great guy with mad skills and enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity to help me.
I am pretty handy around the house and found many of the plumbing, electrical and carpentry skills I’ve learned over the years to come in quite handy with the Airstream renovation. I am not however much of a mechanic. I don’t think I would have attempted the axle replacement without Andrew’s help. Now that we are all done, if I ever had to do it again I think I could handle it myself…but I’m sure glad I had the help of such an accomplished mechanic the first time I did it.
My first concern on that day was getting the Airstream into Joe’s shop. His door is approx 9 feet tall. The Airstream with the AC on the roof measured just a tad under that. I spoke to Colin Hyde of Colin Hyde Trailer Restorations who said that in his old shop he had a door that was 10 feet tall and never had a problem getting a trailer in or out. All of this info made me a bit concerned about getting the trailer in the shop.
Well, to make a long story short, it just fit. We had some issues with a rack that was hanging from the ceiling, but we got it in.
The first step was to jack up the trailer and support it with jackstands.
Removing the axles was pretty straight forward. I sprayed the bolts with PB Blaster a month or so before (Andrew swears by the stuff). The bolts came right off and we removed the axles.
Below is a photo of the first axle we removed.
Below is Andrew bolting on a new axle. (more on that later)
A new axle in place (below)
The initial removal of the old axles went very smoothly and dare I say – quickly. It seemed like less than an hour into this and the axles were off and the new ones in place. But then we ran into a problem. The new axles came with new, grade 8, hardware. Included in the hardware package were new locking nuts. I had never seen these before. They did not use a split washer or a plastic insert to lock the nut, but there was something built into the threads that caused the nuts to “dig” into the bolts and keep the nuts from backing off. The problem here was that were impossible to put on! We tried doing them by hand but couldn’t get them to turn more than a 1/8 or 1/16 of a turn at a time. After 15 mins or trying, we only had the first nut on maybe a third of the way!
Andrew had his pneumatic impact wrench with him and we hooked it up to Joe’s compressor. It didn’t appear the compressor produced enough CFM because the impact wrench didn’t do the job either.
At this point we were stumped. If anything, we thought the old hardware might be a problem getting off. We never imagined that our problem would be getting the new hardware on!
I called Colin Hyde, who we ordered the axles from. Now remember, this was Sunday morning and I really didn’t expect him to answer, but we didn’t know what to do. I left him a message and a 1/2 hour later he called back! I can’t say enough about how helpful Colin has been throughout this project. I am so appreciative of him calling us back on a Sunday.
Colin said that the nuts are hard to get on, and that he uses an electric impact wrench to do the job at his shop. So, off I go to Harbor Freight Tools to get me my very own electric impact wrench. Andrew mentioned to Colin that we were thinking of using lock washers, locktite and the old bolts and he said that would be ok.
I come back with the electric impact wrench, attempt to put on the nuts and fare no better than before. 😦
At this point we have lost nearly 2.5hrs and decide to go with plan B. We use the new bolts, new lock washers and the old nuts. I forgot to mention that we went to Home Depot and an auto parts store looking for new nuts but they did not have them in the size we needed.
Once we got back to work, the rest of the install went very smoothly. We tightened up all the bolts, rewired the brakes, put the wheels back on and we were done. But then we ran into problem #2…
The new axles have the proper amount to “spring” in them and raised the trailer a good three inches higher than it was. Remember I said earlier that the trailer “just fit” in Joe’s shop?
The photo above shows the new height of the trailer making it too tall to get out of the shop!
I decided to let air out of the tires to see if we could lower the trailer enough to get it out of the shop.
Above is a photo of the tires deflated to 5psi (they are typically at 50psi). We backed the trailer out with only millimeters to spare. (See below)
Overall it was a very rewarding project. By the time we left the shop it was 6:00pm, but that included losing 2.5hrs because of the hardware problem and at least 45mins or so deflating and reinflating the tires. So, if not for the problems, it would have been a six-hour job, start to finish. Not too bad in my book.
Many thanks to Joe Negro from National Glass who let me use his shop. And special thanks to Andrew Dietz, mechanic and all around good guy who was the real reason we were able to accomplish all we did. That’s him below.