Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Legend Olaf Sunderson

Happy Holidays. A lot going on, but not much to say. A lot of driving.
This will be one of the last Airstream postings. The project is done. It will be officially unveiled and photographed on January 7th, in Fresno California, during Art Hop, the monthly art tour. After that, I'll post the photos, and video (it has action).
Until then, here's one last story for anybody restoring an Airstream:

I changed some of the plumbing around. Lost the kitchen sink, and swapped out the 5 gallon propane hot water heater for an electric tankless. I wanted to simplify things. All of the plumbing is tied together with flexible copper tubing. Not a problem. Got out my torch and box of fittings and went to work. But wait...these fittings don't fit. I didn't feel like going to the plumbing supply house, so I moved on to something else.
The following morning, on my way into the East Bay, I stopped at Moran Supply.


"I'm having trouble with this tubing," I said, as I passed a small piece across the counter. "It doesn't seem to work with my fittings. I'm not sure what size it is."
"That's 1/2 inch" said the man behind the counter.
"Naw..I don't it is."
"No, that's 1/2," he repeated, in the all-too-typical condescending voice of "The Counter Guy".

Allow me to digress for a moment. I don't know why this happens. Maybe it's from years of having to explain too many details to too many amateur plumbers (or electricians, hobbyist's, or wherever there are people helping us from behind a counter). Whatever it is, I experience this way too much. A sort of attitude, which, by the tone, distinctly says "I'm smarter than you. That's how I got here, on this side of the counter."
I have a great deal of respect for these guys. I really do. I've seen some of the people that they have to deal with. I'm sure it's not easy. And if there's one thing I know, it's that I don't know much, and I've a lot to learn. But I'm not an idiot. And even if I am, at least give me the chance to prove it before you treat me like one. Anyhow...back to the story...

"Ok, well, can you get me a couple of couplers then?"
He raised his eyebrows and walked away, returning with a handful of 1/2" couplers. "These don't fit. This isn't 1/2 inch pipe," He said, in a tone suggesting I sent him for the wrong thing. "Must be 3/4." He walked away, and back again. "This isn't 3/4 either. I think you got refrigeration tubing. You gotta go to a 'frigeration place."
"Any place you suggest?"
"I don't think there are any more refrigeration suppliers."


I headed over to APED (Appliance Parts something something), not to be confused with "Apehead", which is how I heard it said the first time, and not in the phone book. This guy was a lot more helpful.
"What'cha got there?"
"You tell me. I think it's refrigeration tubing. It's not regular 1/2 inch pipe, that's for sure."
"No problem. What do you need?"
"Gotcha. Be right back," and he ducked in back. He returned a minute later, "Nope. Not refrigeration tubing."
"Aw, c'mon. You're kidding me." I said, deflated.
"You sure it's not regular pipe?", he asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"OK. Well....we oughtta be able to make something work." He walked up and down the aisles in the back, picking up the occasional part, and returned with calipers and assorted fittings. He started with the calipers. "Aw man. This is weird. This stuff is 1/2 inch on the ID (Inside Diameter). Everything we got is measured on the OD. I don't have anything that's gonna help you. Sorry man."
"Alright. Thanks anyway." I grabbed my sample pipe and turned to the door.
"Hey! Try Berkeley Plumbing. They've been around forever."
"OK. Thanks!"


"OK. This isn't 1/2 inch pipe, or 3/4, and it's not refrigeration"
"Well, let's check it out..." He grabbed a tape, measured, then grabbed a box of random fittings." After a few failed attempts at making something fit, he scratched his head. "Hmmm."
"Yeah. Hmmm."
Then he looked up at me with a half smile, "You working on an old house in Berkeley?"
"No. A '68 Airstream."
"A what?"
"A 1968 Airstream travel trailer. You know, the round, silver ones?"
"I guess so. Either way, this guy Olaf...uh, Olaf something. I can't remember his name. Either way, he musta done the original plumbing."
"No, I don't think so. I'm fairly certain it's the original factory plumbing."
"Well, they musta got it from this Olaf guy. He was a plumber here in Berkeley. Worked on a lot of houses around here. After the war, he bought up all the Navy surplus tubing from the shipyards. This is Navy ship pipe. He made a lot of plumbers around here mad, cuz you couldn't follow his work. They musta made this pipe specially for ships, because there's nothing else like it. We used to carry fittings for it, cuz we'd get the occaisonal plumber in here working on a Olaf What's-his-name house. Yeah that's what you got. I'll see if we got any of those old fittings around here."
As he poked around, I continued to rummage thru parts on my side of the counter. I found a dusty rack of assorted compression and flare fittings. "What do you think about flare fittings?"
"That's for gas pipe."
Then I remembered the old hot water heater. It had flare fittings. I never use flare fittings, and didn't really intend to use them to make repairs, so it never crossed my mind on my parts search. I found a 5/8 inch to 7/8 inch gas line adaptor, and amazingly the 5/8 side fit!
"Hey, this 5/8 flare fitting fits!"
"Really? Let's see that." He handled the brass fitting, "Well I'll be...there you go."
"Great. So I need a 5/8 fitting that will go to something I can use."
"If it's not on that rack, we don't have it."
I checked every peg, twice, but it was the only 5/8 flare fitting. Damn. I gathered my sample piece and once again headed for the door.
"Thanks for trying."
"No problem. Good luck with that thing." As the door was about to close behind me I heard the man say, "Olaf something!"


At least I had a lead. Flare fittings. I felt like a detective. Well, not really.
Orchard Supply Hardware is a great place. I go to EVERY hardware store and lumber yard in and around the greater Bay Area, and for a large chain, you can't beat the service and selection at Orchard. I've still seen people complain because they can't get help, but clearly, they've never been to Home Depot. This sounds like unsolicited advertising, and it is. But it's also self-serving. I want the places I like to stay busy, and stay open. I've seen a lot of good hardware stores shut down since the big box boom. It's a shame. I'd like to say there's no substitution for good service, but clearly, Home Depot's success has proven me wrong.
Sure enough, Orchard had a wide selection of 5/8 brass flare fittings (and a guy to help me find them). Finally. I gathered up an assortment. Then I got a pipe flaring tool, and checked out.
Back at the trailer, I opened my packages. The 5/8 flare fitting fit perfectly! I opened my new flaring tool doesn't work on 5/8 pipe. You're kidding me. It only goes up to 1/2 inch? Aw...
OK. Orchard didn't have it, so I'm gonna have to go to a regular plumbing supply. Cal Steam is close, but they're the worst when it comes to treating me like an idiot, so I go to Ashby Plumbing.


"I need a 5/8 flaring tool."
"5/8?" He shrugged and pursed his lips. "I don't think we have that. Hey Bob! We gotta 5/8 flaring tool?"
Through an open door a voice replied, "Sorry. No such thing." Then Bob came thru the door (Actually, I can't remember the guys name. I'm just using Bob because it sounds right).
"Well then how do I make these flare fittings work?"
"I don't know. People don't use that stuff much. I guess guys just make they're own tool. What are you trying to do?"
Once again, I pulled out the pipe. Bob pulled out a tape. Scratched his head. "Here we go again," I thot.
A smile crossed Bob's face. "You're working on an Olaf Sunderson house. He's a guy that used Navy surplus tubing. Made a lot of plumbers mad."
"Yeah, I heard the story at Berkeley Plumbing."
"We don't see this stuff much anymore."
"Do you have anything that'll work?"
"Yeah. You gotta take a 3/4 male to 1/2 female adaptor, and reverse it, so that you use the inside of the 3/4 instead of the outside. It's not a very common fitting, so they're not cheap."
"I don't care. I'll take half a dozen."
"They don't quite fit though, so when you go to sweat it on (the plumbers term for soldering) you gotta use a lot of solder. There'll be a big gap, and you just gotta fill it up. It's not pretty, but it works."

And it did work. Amazing.

No thanks to Olaf.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Airstream Sneak Peek!

Join us this weekend for a sneak peek of our Airstream Project!
It's not quite finished, but we're almost there and want to share...

We don't want to post photos yet because we want you to be surprised!

Where: Berkeley, CA. Dwight and 8th St., corner parking lot
(the Airstream is parked at the corner lot of the Sawtooth Building)

When: Sunday, Dec. 13: 11am - 6pm

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thanksgiving thru Unique LA

The day after Thanksgiving , we took a look at the site in Fresno where the Airstream will ultimately be parked. Behind me is Vicente Aello, the proud new owner.Afterwards, we drove to San Luis Obispo. We hit a little rain during the drive, which made for an incredible sunset.
We spent the weekend celebrating my nephew Luke's 1st birthday, and the 40th anniversary of my in-laws.
We had several suites, including the "Pick and Shovel" room, which was 2 story, 3 bedroom, 2 baths (with heated toilet), and this living room with this giant red leather couch.
The Madonna Inn is more than worth a stop, even if it's just to take a leak or get a cup of coffee.
The main dining room is always pink, but the special Xmas decor is nuts.
The wood carving on the right is the entrance to the hand carved bar .
My Nephew David.
Richard Zahigian tells another story.
The following weekend I traveled down South again for the Unique LA show. Here's a shot of our booth/store.

The event was held in the penthouse of the downtown LA Market Center. Great views.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Unique LA

This weekend I'm sharing a booth with Jen Zahigian at Unique LA. While setting up yesterday I saw a lot of cool stuff. You should come by and check it out. Also, if you manage to get ahold of me, I might be able to get you in. As always, feel free to bring me something. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sorry I'm late...

On my way to work. Not sure what time it is. Whenever the sun comes up, I guess. I hear about snow in some parts of the country...Last Sunday, instead of blogging, I went to breakfast with my old friend Chris, his Wife Sylvia, and their son Theo, which may or may not be short for Theodore. Leaving the restaurant, we passed by this little yellow schoolhouse in Albany where I saw an old green planter box, which I happened to build. Prior to this it sat in our backyard for a couple of years.

The beautiful Jen Zahigian.

I met Chris in 1984. I met Theo more recently.

Of course, I couldn't write in my digital journal without mentioning the Airstream. This is the template for the bathroom wall. That's John Curl in the background.

Finally, the drive back to The City at the end of the day.

...and the next day, back at the Airstream.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apartment Therapy! , & Airstream Open House!

Good news. The loft I designed and built in Oakland is featured on Apartment Therapy (.com).

In response to a couple of the comments about the sheetrock and ceilings, I thought I would post a few pics that show the framing in progress.

This was easily the most complex thing I've ever framed. It's basically a series of arched steel trusses, similar to a bridge, joined by ribs. I wish I had a photo looking straight up from the floor. That was one of the coolest views.

Obviously, my drywaller is pretty talented.


There will be an Official Open House for the AIRSTREAM the weekend of December 12-13th, which will correspond with the Berkeley Open Studios. Conveniently enough, the open studios takes place at the Sawtooth Building in Berkeley, which happens to be the same location as our shop and the Airstream.

By the way, this blogging website has changed the way things are entered and formatted, and I can't get it to display images properly. I'm not much of a computer guy, and unfortunately, I feel like the computer does a good job of making work that would otherwise seem impressive look pretty dumb.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ventura California. Looking for new shop.

This week is a little slow. We're in Ventura looking for our new Southern California shop location.
In the meantime, here's a couple of gratuitous pics.
The new Deluxe Sofa Bed design, which is based on the prototype I built a couple of weeks ago. I personally designed the operating mechanism and think the bed will ultimately be one of the Airstream's highlights.
You'd have to see it in person to see why.

I hadn't included any pictures with the floor in previous blog entries,
so here you go.
Not bad.
Side table / Cabinet designed for a friend.
A lamp I designed last night.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Little X Little, the Airstream lives on.

I've gotten through most of the tedious interior work. The stuff that takes the most time, but is the least interesting (electrical, plumbing, leak repairs, caulking, hole
fixes, riviets, clean-up, etc..). I'm finally well into the fun stuff.
Masking Tape Removal

The finished paint scheme

Check out these cool coat hooks.

I hate to admit it, but they're IKEA. At least they're not particle board.

I've had trouble articulating what I was trying to accomplish with the paint scheme.
I'll let you be the judge.
What I was going for, was mid-century Space/RV/TV Sci-Fi. Not the cool part of Sci-Fi, but more like my impression of the kind of graphic design an old guy would do for a NASA office, 1965. Before Star Wars. An era when people thot we'd all be driving flying cars by the year 2000. A little bit Six Million Dollar Man, but in this case, more like Six Hundred Dollar. I also didn't want to use too bold of colors. Something simple, official, clinical and sanitized.

As much as I want to show everyone all that I've accomplished so far, I don't want to reveal too much too quickly. For now, here's a few shots of the sofa-bed prototype, which has been completed since these photos were taken.

You should also check out this cool link, which was in Monday's SFGate, the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Finally, here's a shot of the new door knob. Someone had drilled the lock out of the original one, and I couldn't find replacement parts. $160 later...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Airstream Electrical, and a little polishing

This things taking forever. I'm having a good time though. We don't really have it in the budget to polish the Ambassador, but I had to see what it would look like if we did, so I stuck a guy on the back end with a buffer. It's every bit of the process that people warn about on the websites, and 300 hours seems about right for someone who can work hard. The rest of you might end up spending 500 hours.
Juan was doing fine with the aircraft polishing compound and the equipment we had, but a couple hours into the first day a loud chain smoking hippie came by.
"Flour! You gotta use Flour!"
He spent several emphatic minutes preaching to Juan about the merits of flour, how it would save his tarnished soul. Juan stared blankly at the man, as if he were speaking a foreign language, which of course, he was. Then the man proceeded to take the buffer from Juan and began to work a 2x2 section.
"How do you slow this thing down? Here.... wipe that off."
He grabbed Juan's bicep, squeezing it while looking at me, "You gotta put some muscle into it! This guys strong" he said, as if trying to boost our confidence before the big game. "Just keep going. You guys'll get it!"
He was right. After he left I re-explained to Juan what the man had said, and his results instantly improved. The next day we had some flour, which he told us to put on our rags when wiping off the polishing compound. I guess that worked too.
And the results...

Here's a few electrical changes, such as 110v track lighting.

I modified the original circuitry. I took the four 12v circuits that went to the original "Airstream Control Panel", figured out what went where, and diverted two of the circuits to a new 110v panel. The result was that I had two 12v circuits operating off of the original battery back up, powering the original fans, and a couple of 12v lights, .
Then, with the other 2 circuits now powered by the new 11ov panel, I was able to use the existing in wall Romex to hook up new 110v lights & receptacles, without having to actually re-wire much of anything. The only thing I screwed was leaving the 2 forward 12v sconces on a 110v circuit. Instantly blew the bulbs. I'm hoping I can just wire up a 12v transformer at the sconce and the problem will go away.

I also moved the "Airstream Control Panel", as you can see in this picture, and the one below. I temporarily mounted it on a piece of OSB approximately where it will end up once the new cabinetry is installed.

I added a couple more receptacles using surface mount "Wiremold" above where the new desk will be. When all is said and done, the trailer will have two 12v circuits, six 110v circuits, and one 220v circuit to operate the new electric on-demand water heater. I'll include the schematic I drew up in a future post, just in case it helps any owners of a 1968 Ambassador Twin.

Monday, September 28, 2009

New Item - Picture Frames, $50 each

I had a request for some custom picture frames. The client wanted 40, simple, white box frames. I've had requests from others as well, so I think I'll put together a frame package, based on the same design. I'll have to work out the details, but they'll probably end up around $1000 per 20 custom frames ($50 each), depending on size & finish. It's a lot of labor.
I didn't take any photos during the milling and assembly stages, but here are some assembled Poplar frames, prior to finishing.

Inspecting the surface and joints.

Another pass through the surface sander.

Frames in the finishing room. These received 3 coats of a Shellac based primer (sanding between coats, of course) and 2 coats of Satin Lacquer. Nothing but the best.

"And Voila!", as Gerard would say.

...and in the gallery.