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Old 11-28-2012, 08:06 PM   #1
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2000 American Eagle Basement Rust Repair - Episode #1

Our 2000 American Eagle has rust issues in the rear wheel well area of the coach. Apparently, this rust problem is not unusual in coaches of the same vintage and basement construction (American Eagles, Traditions, Dreams). What initially seemed like a quick fix (cut out a couple of rusted frame members and weld in some new), turned into a more extensive project.

As others with the same coach design may be interested in the repair, I’ll document our efforts through periodic write-ups – complete with pictures. Please let me know if you would like to see anything specific about the problem or repair.

Background: The coach has rust issues in the aft end of the basement. We first noticed problems in the water bay – a gap formed between the floor and the rear bulkhead. Over time, the gap grew to about 1/8 inch, the white fiberglass bay liner started to lift away from the bottom edge of the bulkhead frame a bit, and rust flakes started to fall out of the gap as we traveled.

We lifted both rear wheel arches, and found more problems. All four of the wheel arch attach points were rusted through. Here is the curbside aft corner of the wheel well by the battery bay – but all four corners looked like this:



The sealant used to seal the corners of the wheel wells had been compromised in all four corners. This allowed water to enter the structure of the bay walls and floors, and over time, these structural members rusted as well. Notice the gap between the fiberglass panel and the metal frame members:



We had no idea how bad the rust was until we pulled back some the inner white fiberglass panels. The lower frame member of the rear bulkhead was severely corroded. Looking at the damage, it's easy to tell that the problem started in the outside corner and traveled inward and upward along the bulkhead frame members. This is the aft corner of the water bay:



We pulled the exterior steel angle on the bottom of the basement to see how far inward the rust had travelled. The angle is not a structural member – it is used as flashing to seal the corner joint. The sealant on this piece of metal had also failed. We found the box tubing on the basement floor, as well as the lower tube of the rear bulkhead to be severely rusted as well – rust had also worked its way up the vertical tubes of the aft bulkhead. This are the rusted floor and bulkhead frame members with the flashing removed:



In total, we found severe rust all across the aft floor and bulkhead of the last basement bay (ahead of the rear wheels), and in the walls and floors of the battery and power cord bay (behind the rear wheels).

Initially, we explored leaving the bay panels in place, peeling back the fiberglass on both sides of the panels, cutting out the internal rusted steel, and welding in new frame members. All this would have to be done while working under the coach, and/or in tight spaces – and then we would still not be sure if we fixed all of the damage.

We decided instead to remove the affected bay/floor panels from the coach, open them up, re-use what we could, and build new panels in their entirety as required. We got the structural diagrams for the floors of the entire basement, electric and battery bays from Fleetwood. The walls and bulkhead diagrams are no longer available – we would have to pull the dimensions off the existing panels and replicate them.

Each bay is constructed of individual panels, screwed together to define the size/shape of the various basement bays. Each wall/floor panel is a sandwiched panel of relatively simple construction. Each sandwich panels is made up of box tubing welded together into a frame. The space between frame members is lined with solid insulating foam. This is then sandwiched between the white Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic liners (walls), and/or aluminum sheeting on the underbelly (floors). At the factory, when the exterior fiberglass/aluminum are glued up, the panels are cured in a vacuum bag that presses everything together tightly. We do not have access to vacuum bagging – we will have to heavily load the panels during curing of the glue.

The vertical panels (walls/bulkheads) are suspended by bolts from the outriggers. The horizontal panels (floors) are screwed to the vertical panels. Sealant is applied between joints.

We are starting with roadside power cord bay. This is the smallest bay, constructed of three sandwiched panels (left wall, right wall, floor), and one pre-stamped metal panel on rear of bay. We cut away sections of the wheel arch support, in part because they were rusted and needed to be replaced, and in part because we needed to make room to get the bay out from under the coach. We now have the bay out of the rig and on the ground:



Stay tuned for episode #2 where we disassemble and reconstruct the power cord bay.
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Old 11-28-2012, 11:06 PM   #2
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Holy cow! What a job. Thanks for sharing and I'll be following your repairs. Good luck with it.
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Old 11-29-2012, 01:43 AM   #3
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You can make up a vacuum system very easy. If the panels will fit in a space bag than you can use a shop vac. If you can find an old air hockey table and remove the blower and replace with a vacuum pump and then cover the panels with heavy plastic. You can also use a 4x8 sheet of ply, some heavy plastic sheeting (rolls from Lowes work) and a vacuum pump. You can get just the vacuum pump and bolt to your air compressor replacing the compressor. I hope this helps in your panel reconstruction
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Old 12-07-2012, 07:02 AM   #4
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Wow!

I just inspected my 98 Eagle and cannot find any evidence of rust anywhere underneath the coach or within the luggage compartments. I will continue regular fresh water rinses of the undercarriage and the exposed chassis components for sure now!

I know that one member of the Yahoo group had similar issues and I saw a video of an Eagle for sale in Minneapolis that had extensive rust around the rear wheel wells.

Do you know where your Eagle traveled prior to your purchase? Was it in an area where salt is spread on the road?

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Old 12-07-2012, 08:03 AM   #5
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Yes my '99 Dream is going to be very similar when I rip into it to fix the rust problems. I bought mine in May 2012. It has evident issues in the very similar areas as yours (near the back wheel wells and the front right wheel well by the entry step). Thanks for the detailed posting. I will keep watch to gain some encouragement before I cut into mine. I was thinking of replacing any bad structure with stainless steel to eliminate this from happening again. Build it like a high end tour coach.
I first have to pull my tranny and fix that problem first as I lost 4th gear.
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Old 01-12-2013, 08:16 AM   #6
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Any updates?
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Old 01-12-2013, 08:36 AM   #7
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With some automotive restoration experience behind me, your photos almost make me ill. I am truly sorry to see this happen to a coach that new.

Has this coach ever been driven in snow or road salty conditions?
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Old 01-12-2013, 03:07 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by okgc View Post
HHuester
With some automotive restoration experience behind me, your photos almost make me ill. I am truly sorry to see this happen to a coach that new.

Has this coach ever been driven in snow or road salty conditions?
That's definitely "SALT EATEN". I am antious to see updates and more pic's also as mine needs some of the same repair. Yours gives me a little motivation to start carving into it.
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Old 01-12-2013, 08:41 PM   #9
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I went through the same repair on a 06 National tradewinds. It was a big job. we removed all the old basement frame half way toward the front of the coach, then built a new frame and cold galvanized it on the floor of my Propeller shop. Then we jacked all the water tanks back up and tied in new frame to the old up front. Worked great.
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Old 01-17-2013, 09:49 PM   #10
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have worked on heavey equipment all my life and it look's like your going to have a quality repair, will be watching for updates.
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Old 03-26-2013, 06:12 AM   #11
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Were you able to remedy this?

Hoping you got it all done and are back rolling down the road!

Dave
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Old 03-26-2013, 11:49 AM   #12
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Yes.............Waiting for updated, detailed pic's.
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Old 03-26-2013, 12:31 PM   #13
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Last summer on a fishing trip we had driven through some torrential down pours all day long. When we got to the CG I opened up the compartment in front of the back starboard wheel well and it was full of water. The compartment is all fiberglass and everything was stored in slide-in trays off the floor of the compartment so no damage done there. I bought a spray can of that black tar stuff you see on TV that floats a boat and used the whole can plugging up the seam between the wheel well and the compartment. Now, I will look a little closer to see what if any damage may be occurring on the structure underneath. Thanks for this thread. I hope you continue this thread to it's finish.
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Old 04-05-2013, 07:54 AM   #14
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WOW, me that just purchase a 98 American Dream, I'm running outside to check it out. I'm back checking out my wheel wells and compartments, my is in very good shape. This unit came from the South State, it don't look like this one went on salty roads. Very nice of you M. Huester to share this with the rest of us, hope your repair are going well and keep that positive attitude until the Job is done. JoeMoe
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