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. This isn’t 1/2 inch pipe, or 3/4, and it’s not refrigeration tubing…so…”
“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.”
Then he looked up at me with a half smile, “You working on an old house in Berkeley?”
“No. A ‘68 Airstream.”
“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!”
ORCHARD SUPPLY HARDWARE
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 and…wait…it 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.