Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Zen and the Art of Airstream Maintenance

Its been a good day

It’s been a good day

©Bert Gildart: Actually, this could also have been entitled RV Maintenance 101, but my theme here is that there are some fundamental maintenance procedures that must be performed regularly, else you might loose some mighty precious cargo. I mean that both literally and metaphorically.

Our problems started several days ago when we discovered that not only was one of the taillights on our Airstream not working but neither was the associated brake light. Initially, I thought the problem might be in the actual bulbs, but a friend said “No, it’s probably a wiring problem.”

So we’d been looking around, and yesterday I discovered that the wire connecting our Dodge Pickup with the Airstream had been partially severed right where one of the sway bars and forward part of the Airstream frame are in close proximity. In my haste I had apparently passed the wire between these two components and then, making an extremely sharp turn–something one might do when navigating into a tight campground site–the sway bars had rotated toward the frame thus pinching the wire.

I discovered the partially severed wire yesterday and though it was something I could repair myself, I certainly can’t perform such repairs as quickly as a mechanic. What’s more it was late in the day and we were close to Baker, a small southern California town, and when we saw a garage, we pulled in. Though the garage was a small one, the mechanic had all the right tools as well as the color-coded wire connectors.


Stopping for repairs was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. The mechanic quickly made the repair, but then as we were hooking back up–passing the connecting wire on the outside of the sway bars–the good man discovered a substantial crack in the hitch, as shown in the accompanying photo. The crack was on both sides of the slide-in hitch.

Cracked Hitch!

Cracked Hitch!

I immediately called George Sutton RV in Oregon, the firm that sold us our Airstream. The service rep said they’d never had such a problem before and that they would check with the company that actually makes the hitch assemblage and see about remuneration. Hitch assemblages are not cheap and run about $700.

Back in Baker now, the mechanic said he was also a certified welder, and that if he wasn’t he would not undertake the job. “I would not,” he emphasized, “send you back on the highway with a problem that could be life threatening.”


An hour later and $100 dollars poorer, we wax philosophical, joking about how I once forgot to inset the cotter pin into the shank of the slide-in hitch that in turn fits into the receiver. I caught that problem, but it became a metaphor for the two of us on travel and on life in general.

We have concluded that we must, on a regular basis, inspect not only the cotter pins on the connecting components of our Airstream and truck, but also the cotter pins of our lives. I guess we could now add wiring and shanks. Pretty corny, perhaps, but it has helped make all of our journeys proceed more smoothly.

And so we were reminded again last night about Zen and the Art of Airstream Maintenance and all of the attendant ramifications. (Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my favorite all-time books.) Of course, a little luck is involved sometimes, but tonight we’re counting our blessings.

The sun is setting, we’re camped FREE on a small parcel of our nation’s vast BLM lands, and there is a red glow on the nearby mountains.

It’s been a pretty darn good day.

3 Responses to “Zen and the Art of Airstream Maintenance”

  1. Tim Van Buren Says:

    Thank goodness you found the crack before it cut loose!

  2. Tim Van Buren Says:

    You guys look sweet there in the setting sun of the Mojave.

    When do I get to see some lizards and scorpions on this here blog?

  3. Bert Says:

    Ain’t no creepy crawly critters out yet, Tim, and believe me, I’m a lookin’. Nothing would give me more satisfaction then to find a scorpion–or a friendly Mojave rattler to photograph!