This is the story of Tim, Caroyl and their beautiful 1964 Airstream Overlander named “Gracie”. Tim and Caroyl raised their children in Arizona where they spent 23 years of their lives. During that time they owned three pop-up campers; as the kids got older and life got busy, however, they found they camped less. But Tim always had dreams of spending their retirement years traveling in an RV. A layoff for Tim made those last few years of work life a little complicated as they found themselves moving to Georgia, Saudi Arabia and Simi Valley, CA before returning to Georgia.
But, as the vision of retirement was in sight, they set out on a journey to find their perfect recreational vehicle. They started their search at the LA RV show where they spent all day in search of something they’d love. They had never paid much attention to Airstreams, but Caroyl remembers how she fell in love with how light and bright they were. She liked how they didn’t look the same as everything else. A new Airstream seemed beyond their budget so they started researching vintage Airstreams; they had a good tow vehicle which could off-set the cost of the trailer. A friend referred them to an Airstream restorer he knew of and they coordinated the purchase of Gracie through him. There is both good and bad to that connection. The “good”? They love what Gracie the Airstream has become. The “bad”? That first part of Airstream ownership was full of disappointments.
Take a look at these "Before" Pictures.
With a promise of several months of work, they found that 15 months later there was very little accomplished and the work being done was not up to par. They decided a rescue mission was needed and they set off to reclaim their baby. At that point, they’d put too much money and energy into her to walk away. They drove from Georgia, picked up their Airstream. The restorer had accomplished a few things in that time - she was stripped and polished; her axles, flooring and subfloor were completed, she had new safety glass, fans and A/C. Not enough, however, for 15 months worth of work!
They drove Gracie straight to RetroRV in Phoenix, Arizona; there they left the trailer, parked their tow vehicle at a friends house and flew back to Georgia. They had a fabulous experience with RetroRV - just three weeks later they flew back to pick up Gracie - she had all new plumbing and electrical. They were particularly excited about the installation of the Green Pipe plumbing which is freeze proof and can be connected to standard household parts and fixtures. They drove back to Georgia with a trailer that was completely empty except for the original bathtub, new tanks, water heater and toilet. They were ready to get to work.
Fellow Airstream Addict, Tim McNutt, has also been tremendously helpful and a true professional during their renovation. He polished their gorgeous propane tanks and several patches that had been previously installed, but never polished. He installed all of their appliances and an entirely new propane system including new copper lines, valves, etc. He built custom rock guards; and, he even drove down to their home to help with several issues that they felt unable to address themselves.
But, with all of that said, these two put a huge amount of their own sweat equity into this project! I followed their work on the Airstream Addicts Facebook page and what never ceased to amaze me were the projects Caroyl would take on - woodworking, sewing….and not just standard projects - she has tackled some of the things all of us wish Airstream would think of in the design of their trailers.
My most pressing question for Caroyl, “How in the heck did you learn how to do all of that?” The answer was not what I anticipated. After 15 years of living in their house in Arizona, she decided that she wanted to tackle a few home improvement projects, It wasn’t about “keeping up with the Jones’” as much as loving the space they were in. They didn’t want to owe money on the projects they took on, so being a Naval Reserve Officer, Caroyl took on a few extra weeks of "Annual Training" work. Tim, who had been paying extra on the mortgage each month, reduced that payment until they built up the savings. With some money in the bank, patience and hard work, they would have a new kitchen. She bought the book, “Building Traditional Kitchen Cabinets” by Jim Tolpin and Caroyl taught herself how to build quality cabinetry. For under $5000 they had a new kitchen. What happened when they bought their house in Georgia? Well, much of the same…..if she could do it once, she could do it again. Once Gracie arrived home, there was no project they didn’t feel they could tackle. Building the bulkheads (interior wood walls) was the biggest challenge. The original restorer threw everything from the interior away without asking them. This made making templates from scratch rather tricky. Except for one bulkhead, all of the wood used was 1/2 inch maple plywood. They knew they wanted enough structure to build bunk beds for their grandkids.
Let’s take a look at some of the amazing projects they’ve accomplished. Caroyl doesn’t sketch out a lot of detailed plans - she says she feels like the statue “The Thinker.” She’ll just sit in the space and create a vision - pondering all of the details until she comes up with a solution. Everything in Gracie is custom - each cabinet, wall, drawer, table, bed and closet was built by Caroyl and Tim. And, it doesn’t stop there…..the cushions and bunk were upholstered by Caroyl and the curtains and throw pillows sewn.
Airstream, Inc. should see this living area. The beauty and attention to detail is amazing. The banquette serves many roles - seating at the dinette table, storage and youth bed. A small walnut shelf was shaped to fit under the window to create a more functional use of space. But, the table is the piece I could not take my eyes off when I first saw it. Caroyl glued maple, cherry and walnut into a large “blank”, then took it to their local cabinet shop where they used their drum sander to smooth and flatten, and cut the blank to the finished size, but in two pieces. She then fit hinges to connect the two pieces and varnished the wood. When fully extended, the table is 26” (W) x 47” (L). She designed maple legs that fold up and a drawer underneath to support the half that flips out and create extra storage. And, do you ever feel like you have to slither your way onto the cushion to sit at your dinette table? Their’s moves side to side along the bottom edge of the window sill making access to the banquette easier for adults. Sweet!
Quite possibly the most functional table in an Airstream.........
The floor is 1/2" engineered hardwood flooring with a hand scraped hickory surface layer. And, the cabinet face frames and door frames are solid walnut with 1/4" maple plywood panels. This style door is called frame and panel. Youngdale hinges were used throughout.
Because they love traveling with their children and grandchildren, the sleeping arrangements were also well thought out. They can use the beds as twins, convert the twins to a king, if desired, and they built a bunk over Caroyl’s bed. (Caroyl thinks she has Tim convinced to build a second bunk too.)
Tim’s bed is 76" x 31" and has hidden storage for fishing rods, or other long narrow camping gear. The front edge is supported by a walnut face frame, and the water pump is accessible via a door that drops down to utilize the space in front of it for storage. Accessing the two 6V AGM batteries under Caroyl’s bed was also something that needed to be taken into consideration.
They wanted to be able to transition the twins to a King bed if desired. They ordered 500 pound drawer slides from www.wwhardware.com (Woodworker's Hardware) and you can see from the photos how Caroyl’s bed can be extended across the aisle to butt up against Tim’s twin. Using a purchased piece of foam which they upholstered, they can transform it into a bed that is 76” wide X 88” long. The foam can easily be stored on the bunk or left at home if not in use.
The bunk, which is 24” x 72” is supported by galvanized steel pipes and maple u-shaped cleats. With the extra fabric they had from the other cushions, they created a bunk any grandchild would love to sleep on. Buttons underneath the bunk and button holes along the back edge of the sleep sack allow the bedding to stay in place. There is also a pouch in the sleep sack to to hold a pillow. A waterproof pad is positioned under the sleep sack and a pool noodle acts as a small safety edge. Everything can be removed and washed. The youngest granddaughter, nicknamed “Kitty” traveled with them recently - Caroyl found the perfect fabric for her sleep sack at Joann’s.
Take a look at the features in the bath area - two wardrobes, refurbished tub, an adorable port-hole mirror, towel rack, a custom shower curtain and rod. Caroyl also figured out a way to provide a changing area and the necessary privacy for their bathroom. The larger wardrobe's door can open up and, with the locking mechanism she built, remain closed. Brilliant!
Gracie was named for Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, US Navy - Caroyl and Tim are both retired Navy Reserve Captains, each having served over thirty years.
Tim and Caroyl - you have created an amazing space. When I look at Gracie’s “before” pictures, I am shocked at the difference. I hope you can relax with family and friends and enjoy all that you’ve accomplished. She’s a beauty! Thank you for sharing her with us.