Flying with the Falcon

Pros and Cons of Living in a Used Airstream

Right now, in the darkest time of the year, it feels like years have passed since we purchased our Airstream. Last March between Michael’s contracts, we drove from New Hampshire, back to our hometown of Olean, NY, and then to Casey, Illinois to pick up our newly-purchased Airstream, sight unseen. On that cold, crisp day in the sparse edge of winter we pulled into the parking lot of the dealership and signed the papers for an RV we had never seen other than in pictures online. Crazy? Yep. And yet, neither of us has ever felt the choice was a bad one. In fact, we truly love living this way. Our lives are streamlined in a way that makes us both feel freer, and we look forward to selling our home in Olean to streamline our lives even further. For us, living tiny does not feel like a sacrifice, but a delightful and surprisingly rewarding experience. There is, however, going to be a price to pay for purchasing used, and it’s adding up already.

What we love most is the freedom to travel anywhere in the country…well, sort of. Reality is that we can travel anywhere warm enough to allow us to live there without our pipes and tanks freezing. You see, the Airstream is a fabulous design for travel because it mimics the aerodynamics and weight construction of an airplane, so it tows like a dream. Unfortunately, the aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, meaning that any heat we make for the interior of the RV will readily be conducted to the outdoors. We do have insulation sandwiched between the outer shell and interior, but it’s thin. Michael also purchased some grey waterproof vinyl to make a skirt for the base of the RV, which keeps the base of the RV warmer. Don’t get me wrong—we are warm enough here in the Carson Valley of Nevada, where it can get rather bitter at night, but when it got down into single digits I was grateful to have a really warm comforter to pull over my head while I was sleeping. The down side of having a used RV: broken furnaces. The Aluminum Falcon (our geeky name for the Airstream) is outfitted with two furnaces, one for the front end, one for the back, and neither works. Fortunately we discovered that between a small space heater and an oil-filled electric radiator, we can stay warm enough. Cha-ching!

On the other end of the spectrum, when it gets hot, the aluminum readily conducts the heat inside the RV, especially when the sun is beating down directly on us. We were here in Nevada for 100+ degree heat, and our AC unit (being 30 years old) did not cut the mustard. At some point before next summer, we are hoping to find the cash to purchase a new AC unit, but those babies can be expensive to replace. The darn things are heavy, and really require professional installation due to the fact that it has to be fitted into the roof of the RV. So even though Michael is great at fixing things, this will be a job for a pro, which costs a lot extra, and will eat into the budget for fixing other things, like our stove and refrigerator. Oh, yes, those are 30 years old, too. Our fridge will need replacing soon, I believe, as the temp controls are VERY sensitive, and it won’t operate on propane like it should (a convenience for keeping things cold when on the road or boondocking). Anytime we touch the temp control, the fridge either melts everything in the freezer, or freezes everything in the fridge portion, and the interior of the fridge fills with ice over time no matter what.

The stove top, fortunately, works well still, but the oven temp is off by a mile. If I turn the temp to anything above 300 degrees, the oven interprets that as, “Oh, so you wanted me to broil that?” and proceeds to burn my food to a crisp exterior, while maintaining a raw interior. I am making do, but I really look forward to having a working oven again. I cook and bake a lot, and not having an oven is difficult. For the price tag of a new RV oven, we decided it would be best to pursue the option of ordering an apartment-sized range and retro-fitting it for propane. Michael can install it himself, so that will also be the option we pursue for the fridge. It will save us more than half the price if we were to go with the RV fridge and stove. The only concern with this choice is that we have to remove the furnace which currently resides beneath the range (but it’s broken, so who cares), and we will never have the option of using propane for an apartment fridge (but we don’t have it now, so, again, whatever). Meh.

Thankfully, we have managed to be able to keep using the hot water heater (whew!), though lots of other things in the RV are starting to break, or were already broken when we bought it. The cabinets all over the RV are falling apart, for instance. I believe every single cabinet door has either the face falling out of the casing, or the hinges make it hard to close the cupboard properly. The bottom step of the folding step assembly for the only door in and out is loose and hangs at a precarious angle. Michael built new wooden steps to take care of it, but for a long time I was using those steps and crossing myself, even though I’m not Catholic. The fan in the shower broke the first time I used it, burning itself out in spectacular style. Once again, my husband saves the day by ordering a new one and replacing it. The vent over the stove was gummed up badly and would often shut itself off, which was bad, since even the slightest bit of smoke from cooking would readily fill the entire trailer. Again, Michael fixed it—for now. Our shower seems to be leaking somewhere, which is letting water run down through the base of the RV around one of the wheel wells, and the ceiling around the AC unit leaks when it rains or snows. Good thing we don’t have too much precipitation here, but it does warrant a rather more insistent need to repair the AC unit.

When we bought the Aluminum Falcon, we knew we were going to rip out the guts and build it back to make it our own, a sort of compromise for the tiny house we really preferred. Why didn’t we do the tiny house? Regulations, plain and simple. A lot of RV parks won’t rent to tiny homes because of insurance regulations or even city or state legislation against tiny homes. When we finally decide where we want to plant ourselves more permanently again, that may help us in making the choice, since we like living tiny now. If we build, we would prefer to keep it small and portable. In any case, Michael knew Airstream makes a great trailer that lasts, so we realized if we purchased an older Airstream we could remodel the interior to a contemporary style all our own. That’s the eventual goal, but we first have to nickel and dime ourselves on appliances and machinery to keep things running. For now, we’re living with the 1980s interior with a few minor alterations to make it livable until we can take the time and money to gut our home.

In the meantime, we are living in the Falcon with its original interior to learn what we like, what we don’t, and to dream about the possibilities. The fun part is the planning for the day we tear out all the old, broken parts. Right now, we have schemes and dreams to fuel our imaginations until the time comes to put our stamp on this home. It’s exciting to imagine how it will look when we remodel: a new cozy couch built into the living area, where the scenic windows wrap all the way around the curved front end; a new bed built into a slick and stylish bunk of usable storage space; a new booth in the kitchen in a quarter moon shape to capitalize the living space, while still allowing for extra seating with guests; extra counter space regained from the microwave nook, and a better space for the countertop appliances; better kitchen organization in the overhead compartments, which will also allow for more head room over the sink so Michael doesn’t have to hit his head anymore; new floors which will be properly installed (as opposed to the flooring installed by the previous owner—and poorly); new walls on the interior to remove the unfortunate 80s wallpaper and sponge paint; a bathroom completely redone with all new everything, because we hate the spray-painted plastic that the previous owner tried to update (the yucky gold color of the shower and sink is showing through where the paint peeled away); and new storage built for the living area to accommodate our office supplies, books, and movies. All this, and more. It’s going to be a labor of love and hate, I can tell you.

All in all, regardless of the stuff that doesn’t work, we still love living in the Falcon. It’s home now, period. I really do love having more time back because I do less house work, and having so little space means I can’t go shopping at flea markets and garage sales to bring home stuff I don’t really need. There is a freedom in not being able to fill a void with unnecessary material stuff. It means you have to fill the void with what is meant to be there: life purpose. Since we started traveling, I have spent a lot more time doing things I truly love, like hiking more, writing more, and playing music. There are some things I miss, like having space for my art, but I am finding other ways to fill that void for now. Eventually we will find the funds to remodel, and hopefully then we can also figure out how to make room for my art and Michael’s tools. We both miss making things, I think, but exploring the country can hopefully make up for that for a while. Though we are planted in the Carson Valley until February, we do have at least one more fun trip planned while we’re here, and I’ll write about it after we come home. I am interested to see what kind of weather January will bring to us, since we haven’t seen much in the way of storms here yet. No matter what the weather does, we’re here. Until then, we have the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains across the street, capped in white for the season, and lots of Christmas lights blinking in the RV park to add a little more sparkle to the dark.

P.S. The above photo was taken on the road in New Mexico at a rest stop. We actually took the famous Route 66 from Casey, Il to Gallup, NM…I have a journal entry I wrote about that trip, so in the future I’ll post an article about it, maybe on our one-year anniversary for owning the Falcon. Michael is on the back bumper looking at something, and you can see one of our dogs, Luna, behind him.

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