RV Camping
& Travel Tips

Follow me on Twitter
Join Our List!

how i learned to stop worrying and love the awning

Our Zip Dee awning—the one all Airstreams have been fitted with since the Earth’s crust was cooling—was trouble from the start. For reasons that were later revealed, our first attempt to raise it went badly, and subsequent attempts got progressively worse. Here’s why.

Women who tow alone will attest: if a gal is seen struggling in any way (or even just calmly and competently hitching or unhitching), a nearby male from an adjoining campsite will swagger to the perceived rescue. Well, here’s a tip from me to helpful guys everywhere: thanks in advance, and we love you, really, but a lot of the the time We’ve Got This. Simply calling out “say, if you need a hand, just let me know,” is all that’s needed and trust us, we appreciate the offer and we will DEFINITELY let you know. Trailer chicks, can I get a what-what?

That said, I’ve legitimately received and begged for help with the awning. A delicate flower like myself has lacked the upper body strength needed to hork it into position (again, reasons will be revealed) and my male camp neighbors, too many to count, have opened it for me, explaining how as they did so. One hundred percent of the time they’ve each done it a different way—each swearing that theirs was the one true  way. As a result, I’ve never committed the sequence of steps to memory, and referring to the Zip Dee manual was no help. (Have you ever read it? Hieroglyphics.)

But I noticed that my male helpers were suspiciously struggling with the damn thing, too, (as well as Ralph, not as suspiciously). Ha, I’d think, watching my Good Samaritan grapple and sweat. Told ya so.

So I grew to hate that awning. If temps were below 90, I stopped even raising it—especially in t-storm country where I’d have to drop whatever I was doing twice a day to lower it so it wouldn’t catch a gust and take the trailer with it. Once, I just pulled it open without engaging the arms and tied the sash to a nearby tree.

And furthermore. Those Zip Dee awnings couldn’t be more old school with their Rube Goldbergery mechanism and little circus hook. (“Zip Dee: Why, oh why, doesn’t Airstream upgrade?” begins one rant on Airforums). But whenever I complain to other owners I usually get a blank stare in return; most people have no trouble at all with their awning and love the design. Once though, refreshingly, someone waddled over to commiserate with our difficulty. “I’ve had mine down three times and it ain’t never comin’ down again,” confessed this Airstream owner, who actually had some kind of maiming accident as a result of trying to use his awning. “I’m so scared of it now” he drawled, pointing to his body. “It beat me all up here, and on mah arm…and I’ve seen ‘em flyin’ down the road, just smackin’ trailers to bits.” He solemnly shook his head at the memory.

After a time Ralph learned to deploy the awning under pressure at rallies, with random men staring from afar and two Wally Club guys standing by and who knows who else peering out their RV windows. (“I feel like I’m working for the county,” he said.) 

Everything changed at Alumapalooza. 

After a heated argument with yet another awning-user “expert” the night before, I opened my door in the morning to see none other than Jim Webb, PRESIDENT OF ZIP DEE, installing a new awning on the International docked next to me. (Jim has since passed away. A great guy. He is missed.) Anyway, I casually mentioned that I was told so many different ways to open mine, I now don’t know the correct way at all. Jim gladly and immediately offered to show me—and while he was doing so said, “Well, no wonder you’re having trouble.” He found several install problems with the DWR awning, and had it removed and the length trimmed and fitted with different arms. THANK YOU, sir, for proving me not crazy and/or incompetent—at least in this instance—and demo-ing the correct way to operate the awning on video for all of us to see.

I was at a Cher concert once, and the Village People opened for her. At one point they addressed the audience and said, “you’re all doing it wrong!” and proceeded to demonstrate the correct way to perform the Y.M.C.A. arm movements. The moment I learned how to open the awning from Webb, The Man Himself, was not unlike that.

I’ve had zero trouble with it since, and I take back everything I’ve ever said about Zip Dee, their products, their affiliates, and their family members. 

Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the video containing the official, definitive answer you’ve been seeking: “How to Deploy Your Airstream Awning”.

Leave a Reply