AFTER YOU BUY: The rebuilding of Sputnik
by: Elaine Andree
From the moment we laid eyes on an antique teardrop at a Route 66 festival, we were smitten. We began researching teardrops online and when we found the T@B trailers, we knew we’d found the perfect camper for us. One important reason we chose the T@B was the fact that we didn’t want to build our own, knowing we’d probably never finish it if we started such a big project. Finally, in 2006, after several years of waiting and watching for one, our dream became a reality. We brought home our very own Jolt Grey & silver T@B, christened it Sputnik and immediately began camping.
We traveled on short weekend trips, holiday weekends and long vacations, loving every minute of our travels with Sputnik. We had gone from camping anonymously in our tent to giving tours and answering questions about our teardrop wherever we went.
Fast forward to 2013, and it was very evident that there were some major issues with Sputnik. What had begun as a barely noticeable “soft spot” in the walkway in front of the fridge became more and more pronounced and was now a major source of concern. The curb side wheel fender was actually rubbing on the tire because the entire side had started to slip down. We attended a factory sponsored rally and had the technicians do an underbody inspection, which revealed that the floor was badly deteriorated. They installed a couple of I-beams to help support the floor and we began to look at our options.
Without a floor replacement, our T@B would be worth little to nothing as a trade in and we couldn’t afford a new trailer without getting something for it. Having the factory fix the floor was a possibility, but without knowing the full extent of the damage, we did not have a good estimate for the total cost of the repair.
That brought us to our last option, replacing the floor ourselves. Remember that we didn’t want to build a teardrop from scratch because we were afraid we’d never finish the project? Evidently, we were about to find out if we could take on the project of completely deconstructing and rebuilding Sputnik. With some wonderful advice from a fellow owner who had built his own replacement floor, an unexpected opportunity to help another couple replace their floor and a LOT of prayers, we began the process.
Dane removed absolutely everything from the T@B except the upper front and rear cabinets, carefully bagging and labeling all the parts and hardware. The factory shipped us a new floor and on a cool November day, we pried the body off of the old floor, rolled out the old floor and left Sputnik suspended in mid-air on a collection of bottle jacks, concrete blocks and lumber. After removing the trailer chassis from the old floor and installing it on the new one, we reversed the process and began to put Sputnik together again.
While the floor swap was completed in one day, the rebuilding of the inside was a much longer process. With no garage, weather dictated the rebuild schedule, but by April, the work was completed. We finished Sputnik one weekend and left the next to attend a T@B rally in the Smokey Mountains. Our first night back in the T@B felt just like home, sweet home.
One of the questions we are asked about our damaged floor is “How did this happen”? In our case, there were several contributing factors, including broken welds on the frame of the old floor, a likely front window leak and a front seam leak where the roof wraps around and meets the floor. With the rebuild, the floor framing is made using tubing that is twice the thickness of the original tubing and better welds. The front window has been caulked and sealed as has the front seam. Also, we added some shiny aluminum rock guard on the front to cover and seal the seam. With all of the improvements, we have not seen any new issues and are happily celebrating our fourth season of post rebuild camping. Hopefully, Sputnik will provide us with many more seasons of happy camping!