Monthly Archives: July 2014

Project Management

By now, with the new birch panel in place behind the gaucho area, I could claim that ‘progress was being made’. Problem was, it was a teaspoon of progress in an ocean of ‘still to do’. And this is where the enormity of what we were trying to accomplish set in. SO MANY THINGS TO DO. SO MUCH MATERIAL TO BUY.  At this point is where doubt begin to creep in.

Once again, the sage advice of Vintage Trailer Talk forum really helped out.  The key was to look at the whole restoration as a series of small but related tasks, and to focus on one task at a time, and DO IT RIGHT!  Made sense to me.  So, with new birch in the back, and everything else left to do, I decided to pull the aluminum skins to assess frame status and to start designing the electrical system, because the old wiring was going to be completely removed.

Breaking out the drill and square drive bit, I started removing screws from the skins. As the pieces came off I stored them in our side yard leaning against the fence, but another option if one does not have any storage space is to store them underneath the camper. They will be protected from wind and storm damage until you are ready for them.  Once the skins were off, I could see where the PO had replaced some of the skirt boards (2×6) with new lumber, and that the existing framing was basically good to go.

What’s that??  Yes, you with your hand in the air!   Insulation??   Ok let me explain.  As built, this camper had  a layer of yellowish fiberglas insulation attached to the back of each birch panel. A thin layer. A VERY thin layer. As in maybe 1/8 thick. Now then gentle readers, can anyone tell me what 1/8″ of 53 year old fiberglas insulation will do for heat or cold loss in a hollow box of a vintage camper??  Bueller…Bueller…  It does NOTHING AT ALL!    New insulation would have to be installed.  Now, realize that there is only 1″ of void space between the birch panel and the aluminum skin, or rather the framing pieces are 1″ thick so the skins and panels are touching in most places and the 1″ is where the frame is.

Time to MAKE A DECISION.  For our usage we had decided that we would be camping in Tallulah Belle in all seasons, from beach to mountains and therefore good insulation was required. There are several methods one can use namely

1. Fiberglas pink insulation

2. Reflectix or mylar coated bubblewrap sheets

3. Spray on polymer expansion foam.

We chose  R14 Owens Corning pink insulation due to ability to cut and shape for odd sized areas and overall cost.   Since the back curve was done, and the rear walls were not needing replacement, I began installing insulation and vapor barrier. (Vapor barrier is needed to stop moisture  from migrating into the fiberglas from the interior of the camper).

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Adding insulation after reframing rear curve.

I knew that pulling old wires and running new would be happening soon so I did not worry about the insulation on the side walls at this point.    The unending Louisiana summer heat and crushing humidity was a constant now, and afternoon rain showers were almost daily, so we had purchased a 20′ x 30′ tarp from harbor Freight as well as a form fitted cover of a nylon type material to ensure that rain did not leak into the work-in-progress. With the skins off, the fitted cover would not slide into place over the bare wood, so the tarp was used to cover the trailer and then the fitted cover could be pulled over and secured, as it would slide over the slick green poly tarp material.

As work (slowly) progressed, I would become frustrated at inevitable problems and delays, so I found myself working on several different areas simultaneously so that when I was just burnt out on one area I could continue on a totally different set of issues show and progress rather than just stopping work. I now started to turn attention to the countertops/table/Formica covered areas. The galley counter was covered with a remarkably hideous tan/beige Formica and the countertop wood itself was warped and heavily stained from water seeping over the years.  One good point was that the original sink was in almost mint condition, and so would be saved and reused.

HISTORICL NOTE—On many of the travel trailers of this period, the date of manufacture (of the sink or mirror) was stamped on the underside of the sink, and the backside of the mirrors found on the closet doors. Our mirrors were not stamped but our sink WAS.  3-10-60 was the date we found on ours, so we knew that the trailer was assembled shortly after that date.

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Test fitting new countertop in place with original sink and new chrome faucet.

Off to Home Depot I went and came home with a hardwood project board that was 3/4″ thick x 24″ wide x36″ long. Using the old counter as a template I cut a new counter and then marked and jigsawed the opening for the sink.  Normally one would discard the cutout piece from the sink, but since counter space is so limited in a canned ham, I decided to use the cutout piece as a filler panel to place over the sink when travelling or the sink would not be needed. I did the handrubbed shellac treatment on it at the same time I shellac’ed the rest of the new birch. It looked great!

About this time Melinda and I finally settled on a color palette for interior and exterior treatments. We had gone round and round about different colors, ‘themes’  and whatnot, but could not agree on the final look we wanted. We definitely were not the ‘glamper’ type so leopard fur waterbeds and lace curtains were out.  She collected a really enormous number of images on Pintertest to compare and contrast, and we had already decided on an upgraded retro look. Original Shasta campers were usually white with a contrasting color, most often yellow, red or aqua, so we decided that the exterior would be aqua and white. As for interior colors, the amber birch was the predominant color so we went with a light, buttery yellow for appliances and upholstery, with aqua as the contrast color.   NOW I had a direction and could start on appliance restoration!

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Princess stove cooktop during polishing. High quality stainless steel, but it was a beast to polish!

 

First up was the Princess three burner oven/cooktop which was a lovely, Mississippi river muddy brown. I removed it, disassembled and polished the shiny bits, primed and painted the enameled parts in  Krylon “bright Idea” yellow spraypaint, and at the same time I also did the same to the heater cover.

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Oven after paint and polish.

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Heater cover refinished in bright Idea yellow, and the grilles painted in hammertone copper.

We would be adding a hinge to the heater cover and using the space the heater had been for pantry storage and utility area…first aid kit, broom, dustpan, etc.

So now several different areas were being addressed and if the weather was bad outside I could work inside the trailer, or under the carport…polishing window frames and edge trim and cleaning 50 years of gunk off the awning rail.  Remember Dory, from “Finding Nemo”?   Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!

 

 

Just Don’t Panic.

As May rolled into June, I returned from my final 21 day hitch fired up and ready to get busy on the trailer. We had taken it to a local RV repair shop for them to assess and perhaps repair some of the issues we had identified as needing work, so when I returned home, we went to pick up Tallulah Belle.

And got a reality check.

The shop had kept the trailer for three weeks, had done basically nothing, and charged us $100 for the ‘privilege’. I had asked the owner to especially see if the plumbing system was salvageable, and his learned, ‘professional’ diagnosis was,  “…it a’int hooked up.”  Wow.

At this point I really ‘got’ the idea that this was to be all on us to do it and do it right, that locally there was nobody who could offer assistance or advice on the restoration. And again I was glad for the Vintage Trailer Talk forum.  Soooo, I got busy.

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Step 1. Remove all windows and doors.

I began by removing all the windows and doors, and storing them in a  place where they would be safe. It is a REAL PAIN to try to find parts for 53 year old jalousie mechanisms or window frames, take care of them while they are in storage!

The PO (previous owner, in vintage trailer parlance) had done us a favor when he had pulled the skins by ditching all of the rusty, original clutch head screws and replacing them with stainless steel, #8 square drive screws. I highly recommend this if you are doing a restoration, as the square drive screws are quick and easy to drive and remove and have a ‘neat’, almost rivet like appearance.

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Square drive screw

 

clutch head

clutch head screws

Most of us do not have a clutch head driver or attachment, and these screws were used back in the day by most of the trailer manufacturers. It is just  better to ditch them and go with the better, modern version.  You will need a lot of them. I bought about 800 new screws in addition to the ones the PO had used. It’s worth it!

When removing the windows, you will find that the frames are stuck in place by a sticky, gummy material. This is normal. It is  called Butyl Tape and is rubbery, tacky sealant that comes in rolls, is available in different widths and is available online at Vintage Trailer Supply or other vendors, and usually at a local mobile home or RV supply shop. Mineral spirits will dissolve and remove this residue from frames and trailer skin, and it needs to be done before painting anyway, so might as well do it when removing the windows.

Once the windows and doors were removed I next moved on to the skin. Since we did not have an indoor storage/work space, I was forced to do this in the yard, and at the mercy of the weather. I decided to work on one area at a time, leaving the basic structure in one piece for support. A vintage trailer is essentially and empty box and derives it’s strength from the four walls fastened together. If much of a wall is removed there is nothing to support the remainder, so I started on the rear.

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Windows out!

 

The skins are screwed to wooden frame pieces and to the edge material (in this case t was dilapidated plywood strips) and the seams where the sides meet the roof are covered by aluminum edge trim. This is a strip with a rolled edge, with holes every six inches or so that is screwed down to cover the seams. First step is in removing the screws on the edge trim and gently prying loose the trim piece, which is also sealed with butyl tape. Take care to not bend the edge trim too much as it is easily bent and won’t have the same shape when bent back.

Once the edge trim was removed the pieces were stored with the windows, as all the aluminum would be polished before replacing. The rear of the trailer now was bare but for the lights and license plate holder. The PO had installed really sweet ’56 Fairlane tail lights so those were keepers but the butt-ugly license plate light would have to go.  Okay, now it gets real!

Removing the screws from the skin on the rear curve was straight forward and pretty soon the sheet metal was free. This exposed the birch panel and framing. The window frame had a sort of sleeve of thin aluminum which fit between the wood and the window frame, this was removed and stored, and it was time for DEMOLITION!!  YAYYYY!!!

The rear birch panel came out after the wood screws, tacks, staples and squiggly metal things (??) were all painstakingly removed by hand, with pry bay, screwdriver and colorful compound complex strings of expletives. And blazing sun. And Cambodia like humidity.  Finally the entire rear panel was OUT!

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Demolition in progress! This view almost caused a panic attack when Melinda saw it!

Note to other trailer restorers.  Be SURE to let your significant other know what you are doing during this process!!  Melinda rolled up in the driveway after work and saw this, and almost melted down.. she thought the trailer was destroyed!

Now it was time to begin fabricating new panels for the rear. I kept the old panels to use as a template for the new ones, and had previously bought several sheets of 1/4 inch birch at the local Home Depot. We looked through many many sheets to find some that did not have ugly inclusions or flaws but  we ended up with about six sheets of really nice wood. ($27.00/per 4×8 sheet).

I had set up a folding table under a tree for shade and deployed a circular saw, various hand saws and a jigsaw. These tools were fine for a project like this, where each piece would be hand fitted. When the new pieces were marked and trimmed to final size, I cut new framing from 1×4 lumber to frame the rear window and span the back arch. The panels were attached from the top down, and at the bottom they screw into the footer board under the flooring.  Once in place, the new frame pieces were carefully aligned and screwed to the edging, and fastened from the inside with twisty nails.

OOPS, I forgot to mention twisty nails.

Sorry about that. Twisty nails were used by OEM builders because they have nominally more holding power than a straight nail, and have a domed nail head which is better looking than a screw head. These can be had at a Lowes or Home Depot or can be ordered online. They are a bugger to drive with a small hammer so I bought  a small air powered hand held nail driver from Harbor Freight. This makes it much easier to drive a twist nail straight and true without denting your new wood.

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Interior view of gaucho area showing new birch in place.

The Long, Hot Summer

The first major hurdle having been conquered,  getting Tallulah Belle home safely, was a milestone for us. It was also time for me to go back to work for 21 days, again.  This was to be the last of the three week hitches as the project I was working on was winding down. Now, being offshore for all that time meant that I had a lot of time in the evenings with not much to do, but I could get online and start accumulating some of the tools and parts needed for the trailer. I purchased all manner of items and Melinda started receiving an ever growing number of parcels delivered to the house. In fact, we set aside the spare bedroom as a storage depot for the items until they were needed in the renovation process, and we began calling it Tallulah’s bedroom.  Among the first items found online were a Bargman Trail-Lite–this is a really cool rear light which illuminates the license plate also, that a lot of trailers had back then, but ours did not–and a set of the Shasta wings, since Tee Girl was missing those also.

Shasta made three different sizes of wings for their trailers, and needed were the 42″x9″ size. We found a website for a guy who makes Shasta wings, does an OUTSTANDING job, and who owns a gorgeous early 60’s Astrodome ( it is an Airflyte with a cabover sleeping bunk above the dinette table). His name is Tyler Bessette and his website is called From Nasty to Shasty.    http://nastyshasty.blogspot.com/

The wings were actually the FIRST item purchased, as we knew that whatever happened Tee Girl WOULD have a shiny new set, and it was a kind of symbolic purchase. Little did we know the length of the path before we installed those wings!

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Early stages of accumulation. Note Bargman trail light, newly plated baby moon hubcaps and Shasta badge. The chevron items are drawer pulls.

We also scored a Shasta badge, since the trailer was missing hers,  and some chevron drawer pulls. The chevron was used by Shasta as a design element during the ’58-’64 years and would figure prominently in our makeover also.

These first weeks were a time of planning the tasks ahead of us, of making decisions about upgrades and learning what was practical and what was not.  Melinda put together a binder of photos showing other Shasta restorations, in color combinations that we liked, and interior design choices–fabrics, vinyls and Formica patterns. Tallulah Belle, as equipped had functional but bland and soulless flooring, Formica and upholstery. This would change!

Now to make a plan…we looked at all the systems and areas of the trailer that would need attention. First, the electrical system was hopeless.  There was a 120V lamp over the dinette, one over the galley and a small shaded reading lamp in the back corner of the gaucho area.  The wires all met under the sink, twisted together in a ball, and there was a hole in the side through which an extension cord had been run to plug into shore power.  The 12V running lights were not working properly either and there was a mess of wires under the frame that theoretically had been a working harness at some point, This would ALL have to be replaced.

Onward to plumbing. There was a nice stainless 20 gallon freshwater tank under a dinette seat, and it held water but the hand pump by the sink had been replaced by a mobile home faucet, and the 1/4 inch copper lines had been cut, and so the shower and sink did not work. The original toilet was in place but with no water supply was non functional also, and it drained into a 20 gallon blackwater tank under the bathroom. Ok…complete replacement of plumbing also.

Next, the propane system. The previous owner had installed a nifty dual selector for the propane tanks, and when we fitted a full tank we found the stove worked, and the propane light above the dinette worked also. So at least that was functional. The trailer also came with a propane water heater, which looked like a prop in a horror movie–rusty angular jagged metal plates and copper lines snaking through the entire hot mess– and a propane heater by the front door, which was in reality just a burner inside a metal box, with no fan or way of distributing heat…it would burn gas and heat would radiate from the burner grille. Ummm, NO. That got nixed early on along with the water heater.  We were pleased with the amount of heat that the ceramic heater produced and eliminating the gas heater gave us an extra space to work with. Sooo, back to Amazon, where I did some research and found a Marey brand tankless heater rated at 5 liters/minute, which would fit into the vented locker the old water heater was stored in on the street side of the exterior.  A few clicks and it was purchased and on it’s way.

The skins were in great condition and could be kept, the windows were all there and the jalousie mechanisms all worked, so that was a bonus. The Bargman L-66 door latch was in good condition but pitted and would need to be plated, but we decided to do that later on.

Ok, now the interior. Oh boy.  Here is where you can get bogged down, gentle readers, with  the myriad of choices facing you. Keep the original materials??  Replace with retro styled product?  Go nuts and completely replace everything with current choices?   (Editorial moment–we love the 1950’s amber shellac over birch paneling look and it is the main styling element we are attracted to in these old canned hams. THEREFORE, all the subsequent design choices would have to blend with amber shellac. NO PAINT. EVER!)

Our trailer had the typical amount and type of water damage, delamination and staining under the front and rear windows but the cabinets were in excellent shape. So, panel replacement in dinette area, street and curbside, and rear wall over the gaucho would need to be replaced.

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Streetside dinette area showing water damage.

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Curbside dinette area showing delamination and staining.

Flooring and countertops would wait a bit until we had replaced the bad panels, and upholstery was something that we needed to research and decide, so with this in mind, we began to remove windows and exterior skins, to see what needed attention in the frame.

 

Having identified several areas of attack and planned a strategy it was time to begin the long, hot summer of 2013.

The Road Home…Day 2

Sunday, April 21, 2013 dawned overcast, windy and damp in Story City, Iowa.  And cold, about 28F.  We crawled out of the double Coleman sleeping bag (Hey!  I remember that!) and packed up loose items for the day’s driving back toward home. No coffee because the 120V wiring was all twisted together into a lump of bare wires and we dared not attempt to hotwire a coffee maker into that rat’s nest. When we ventured outside it looked funny (to us) to see $$$$$ campers with satellite dishes and hot tubs and our forlorn, faded camper nestled between the bohemoths.

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LOL

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So we nosed back out onto I-35 South and settled in for another day of driving. No surprises today, just lots of miles, and driving through Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.  As dark approached we found ourselves near Guthrie, OK, and again the park finder app proved useful and we chose a large RV park just outside of town. Very nice place, great amenities and friendly owners there to help us newbies out.  We got the trailer settled, unhitched and drove into Guthrie to get dinner and found a  GREAT steakhouse called “The Stables” built in an old livery stable barn. The cool thing was that it was FULL of restored and unrestored gas pumps, soda machines, pedal cars, signs and other pieces of Americana. As a collector and restorer of these items myself I was impressed. And they had truly Promethean steaks. Glorious, seared slabs of USDA prime BEEF!  Now, Melinda and I are both foodies…we love good food, and will try to find out of the way places that have some local color, and this was a score.

 

Since we had traveled several hundred miles south of Iowa, the temperature was much warmer, so we did not need the heater that night. The inside lights were only sporadically working and so we were using flashlights much of the time.  Night passed quickly and then it was Monday morning, and time for the final leg of our drive home.

 

Monday was much warmer and pleasant, and so we hitched up and rolled out back onto the Interstate again. We were becoming accustomed to the trailer being behind us and anticipating lane changes and idiot drivers. As we made progress through southern Oklahoma, we were buffeted by strong crosswinds which really pushed us around–a 19 foot long by 9 foot tall box on wheels has a LOT of ‘sail area’–but we looked upon this as a learning opportunity to sharpen our skills shepherding the Shasta (nice alliteration, yes?) down the road.  Oklahoma City passed us by, then many hours later,, Dallas/Ft Worth, and then we turned onto I-20 towards Shreveport. After the always stuporous drive from Shreveport to Lafayette on I-49, we pulled into our neighborhood just before dark.  Having nowhere else to store the camper right then we pulled it into the front yard and unhitched, and breathed a HUGE sigh of relief.

 

Tallulah Belle was HOME.

 

By the numbers

Total Milage–2632

States driven through — 10

Food and fuel costs–$700 and change

Obstacles encountered–Several

Experience of travel to claim our new project–PRICELESS.

If it’s Saturday, This Must Be Minnesota

Friday morning, April 19, 2013.  We rolled out early as I had a dental appointment in Baton Rouge at 8:00 AM before we could head to the Land Of 10,000 Lakes. And hotdish, doncha know… (Google ‘hotdish’..it is considered a delicacy in MN). So by 11:00 we were northbound on our grand adventure. Baton Rouge to Jackson, MS, to Memphis, TN, etc. We stopped in Blytheville, Arkansas for dinner and found a BBQ joint named The Dixie Pig and decided to give it a try, knowing that in these parts of the world, BBQ meant PULLED PORK cooked over HICKORY.

NOTE–I am a Native Texan, my blood type is Mesquite Negative and pork means BACON to me. Back to the narrative.

We were pleasantly surprised by the fare, and the owner, who is an Arkansas graduate and staunch fan and Melinda, who is an LSU graduate and staunch fan, had a lot of good natured verbal sparring about their respective teams and SEC football in general. Great place.. Highly recommended! Despite there being NO BEEF BRISKET on the menu.

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We KNEW this would be a fun place to eat when this greeted us inside the front door!

Back on the road again, we made miles…passed through Cape Girardeau, MO…home of Rush Limbaugh. Crossed into Iowa,  and it was like we drove into a different dimension. Flat terrain, corn fields, farm houses, tractors and more corn fields. Lots and LOTS of corn fields.  About midnight we were crosseyed and stopped for the night in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Total miles for the day 973 from Lafayette. Grabbed a few hours sleep in a nondescript motel and back on the road for 6AM. Heavy frost sparkled on our truck and the trees  (FROST???   APRIL 20th???)  but we were excited.. for we were but hours from OURNEWCAMPER!  After a bit we crossed the Iowa/Minnesota state line

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and the Garmin said we were  just 3 hours from St. Paul.  The same Garmin told us to take a state road through Rochester, MN (Mayo Clinic fame) and then on to St. Paul.  We did, and ended up behind Papa Olaf in a dilapidated old pickup whose top speed was a blistering 40 MPH. The road was too narrow to pass, there was SNOW on the ground on both sides, so we just plodded along until he decided to turn off.

So we rolled into St. Paul at about noon –FINALLY–and called the seller to tell them to expect us in a few minutes. We crept along the picturesque snow lined streets (there’s that snow stuff again!) until we spotted the camper in the driveway of a house. We were there!

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Our first view of the Shasta Deluxe–in person!

 

Hardly an auspicious beginning…several inches of cold white stuff on the ground and she was covered by a ratty old camo tarp.

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The seller and his wife were tremendously helpful and had the title ready and lots of extras they had purchased but had not used yet, but included anyway. We were so grateful for all their help (remember the tires/packing the bearings?) that we gave them an extra $100 for all their efforts. After a walk through and solving a glitch with the trailer lights…the turn signals  and brake lights worked but nothing else did, we hooked up to the Kobiyashi maru and  pulled out on our 1600 mile trip back home.

We got two blocks away when the curbside dinette window blew out.  No idea as to why but it was just GONE. We double checked the rest of the windows and THEY seemed sound, so we crept onto I-35 South for the trip home.

At first, we kept the speed down to 50 mph to ascertain if the trailer swayed, if there were any issues with the towing, but it pulled almost effortlessly, so we soon found ourselves creeping over 60mph…and then settled in at 65 mph.

We were in disbelief. IT WAS OURS!   Our conversation was about what we would do to bring it back to glory…but Melinda decided that the first thing was to give it a name. Since she (the trailer…they ARE female, aren’t they?) would be a Southern Lady, a Southern name would be in order, and accordingly we agreed on “Tallulah Belle”.  By now we were back into Iowa again and darkness was approaching, the running lights were still not working so we decided to not drive at night, and to find an RV park and CAMP. IN OUR OWN TRAILER. Melinda got on her smartphone and downloaded an app that will find RV parks in your area, and we selected one a short ways ahead, in Story City Iowa, she called them and made a reservation, so we were set!  When we pulled into the park, we unhitched and then drove into town to get some cardboard to block the broken window and some  kraft paper to tape over the windows as makeshift curtains.  By the time we got back to the park, affixed the cardboard and paper and snaked an extension cord out the hole under the sink to connect to the electrical hookup it was full dark. And cold. 29F and misty. We had brought a small ceramic heater, which actually did a great job of warning the inside of Tallulah Belle.  Of course, the interior was a glorious mess with our travel stuff, cooler, pillows, etc.

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First night camping in Tallulah Belle.

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It’s a MESS, but its OUR MESS!

It had been a long day, we were tired but what a day!

 

Holy Letdown, Batman!

Now that we had made The Decision, we got serious. Double extra serious, man.  My (brief) time at home was spent poring over Ebay, Craigslist and local classified ads.  An early contender was a Shasta Airflyte being sold on Ebay, located in Utah. It had ‘pretty much’ all the required furnishings, and seemed to be in okay shape. Not good, just ‘okay’. We looked at the realities of a round trip to Utah from Lafayette, LA: three days reasonable driving each way, condition of the tires and rolling gear basically unknown and the price was on the upper end of what we wanted to pay. Plus travel expenses both ways, and the fact that having only seven days off, with six days travel time meant if we encountered an “OOPS” on the road, it left me with basically no time margin before I had to be back at work. We agonized about bidding on it, and seeing how rapidly similar units were being snapped up, the creeping doubt arose that if ‘you don’t get this one, you won’t EVER see another one for sale’.  In the end we decided to let this one pass but we watched the auction closely. It sold for more than we would have paid, to a family from California, who obviously were MUCH closer to it anyway. About this time we stumbled upon an online forum called the  Vintage Shasta Trailer Forum, and became members. We suddenly could find answers to all the questions burning in our canned ham addled brains! Reading about the things to anticipate and to take with you when going to look at a vintage trailer, the steps and obstacles to getting a trailer home safely, why you should NEVER NEVER buy a trailer without a title…so much to learn. We learned that a lot of people rush headlong into buying a vintage trailer, not owning a suitable tow vehicle to pull it. (Who knew)   We had a 2006 Ford F 150 Supercrew with factory tow package, so we were good to go on that issue.

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Our Ford, or The Kobiyashi Maru

By now winter had turned into spring (2013) and while I was offshore  Melinda found a listing from a guy in Des Moines, Iowa, for a 1959 Shasta Deluxe. She exchanged several emails and learned that the trailer was in fair shape, the seller actually owned several Shastas and was selling the Deluxe as it was the biggest one. Now, the Shasta Deluxe is a 19 foot camper, with toilet, shower, room to sleep four adults and two kids, closet space, heater…the whole smash. vintage-shasta-1900-deluxe-trailer20350w This was The One!  Over a period of a couple of weeks, she collected information and talked to the seller on the phone, and eventually made a verbal offer which was accepted by the seller. I was scheduled to come home on a Thursday, and we would leave on Friday to go get the trailer. Or so we thought. On the Sunday before I came home, Melinda got an email from the owner saying that he could not sell us the trailer because he had “…promised his daughter that he would keep it”.  Verbal and email contract be damned, he was just crawfishing on us (a colorful Cajun phrase meaning to weasel out of an agreement). Needless to say we were both really, REALLY angry at the sellers lack of integrity. Melinda, that same night, got back online to search for another likely candidate. And lo and behold, she found one.  She found a posting on a hot rod webpage, listing a 1960 Deluxe, located in St Paul, MN. She fired off an email to the owner, who responded back almost immediately, and she learned that it was a indeed a Deluxe, in original condition, and that the seller had owned it for a few years, had removed the skins and replaced all the rot and the roof bracing because it had been used as a hunter’s cabin in Wisconsin and snow load had cracked the roof ribs. The seller was a hot rodder and had just bought a teardrop to pull behind a 32 Ford coupe and the Deluxe was simply too big for his needs.  Some photos were sent and it looked good to us.  We inquired about tires and bearings and he repacked the bearings for us,  we called a local tire shop and paid for a new set of tires which he  then had mounted and installed on the trailer, so the rolling gear was good to go. By Thursday the trailer was ready for us and all we had to do was to drive to St. Paul to pick it up!

Warning Signs

For those of you unaware, Pinterest is a website on which people post, or ‘pin’ images that they like, for other browsers to see. There are bajillions of images covering almost any topic you can imagine, and Melinda had found images of vintage camping trailers, or “canned hams” as they were called back in the day. A LOT of images.  A truly ginormous number of images.  It seems that a national resurgence of interest in the campers we travelled in as kids had hit and hit hard.

Melinda spent hours looking at photos of canned hams and advertisements selling old trailers, tried to get me to look at some of them, but in my mind, “old camping trailer” meant a dilapidated wreck on wheels that someone had plopped into a field and used as a hunting camp.

deer camp trailer

My mental image of an old travel trailer.

Needless to say, I was not interested.  She refused to give up, and kept looking on Pinterest, perusing ads selling canned hams and…plotting.  During the 2012 holidays  we stopped in a local firework vendor’s roadside tent/store to buy some Saturn missiles for New Year’s Eve–one of our traditions–and she noticed an old trailer that the owner lived in while travelling selling his wares. She asked him if she could peek inside and cajoled me to look with her. Again, I was Not Impressed. It was a shambles, and piled high with cardboard boxes. Anyway, after the holidays, my work schedule changed and I was working 21/7 which means I was offshore for three weeks and home for one week. She had plenty of time to scour the camper photos and ads, and to get a feel for the prices that were being asked for and realized for canned hams.  She is a meticulous and detail oriented woman and had began to compile a legitimate ‘want list’ of features to look for in an old camper. Meanwhile she began bombarding me with emails showing really nice examples of restored campers. Being a huge fan of  Mid Century Modern design, I could appreciate the gleaming chrome, the boomerang Formica, the  futurist starburst graphics that many of those old campers sported.  And the wings.

Ahhhh yes, the wings, my Achillies heel.

Confession time. I am a Car Guy. I am also a long time collector and restorer of gas pumps, soda machines, the occasional car, and I LOVE 1950’s  space age stuff.  I had begun, but due to divorce  was not able to complete, a 1960 Chevrolet Impala twenty years ago. Gentle readers, the 1960 Impala was a watershed in American car design, for as the fins which cars sported in the mid-1950’s became larger and more elaborate, the design cues also evolved, with references to jet fighter airplanes, higher speeds and the flying cars that we would ALL be driving by the year 2000.

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This was my 1960 Impala, painted–wait for it–aqua and white. Note the chrome chevron on the trunk lid. You will see this material again.

The 1960 Impala had wings on the rear fenders, glorious overblown ludicrous By God  WINGS!

And coincidentally, so did a brand of canned ham called “Shasta”.  I was intrigued, to say the least.   I could truly appreciate a bulbous camper trailer with wings..that made it ALL BETTER. So suddenly I began to seriously look at some of the email photos and try to learn about these trailers. Melinda was way ahead of me and was watching auctions and Craigslist postings, getting a good read on what we could expect to pay for one of our own, and how others had restored theirs. It was about this time that she learned of a new word being used…”glamping”.  I had no idea that trailers were being outfitted with chandeliers, four poster beds, leopard fur banquettes and all the rest. Not my thing at all, but I applaud the creativity and passion that others have poured into their campers.

After a lot of phone calls, emails and photos being sent back and forth, we had arrived at a decision.  WE WOULD GET A TRAILER. Now the search began in earnest!  We quickly learned that because of the boom in old trailers, prices were getting to be outrageous and some sellers were truly greedy, with rotten units selling for $$$$, so that the only thing left salvageable was the frame.  We wanted a camper in restorable condition, with original interior and appliances, we wanted a shower/bathroom…and it must have WINGS!

Welcome to the Asylum

 

 

Greetings, gentle readers and welcome to ,my blog. This will be  a voyage detailing how we (for future reference, my wife Melinda and myself) plunged into the wildly addictive hobby of vintage campers.  It all started innocently enough.

As a child my family camped all across the US with a tent, and later a rental Jayco or StarCraft pop-up trailer pulled first by a 1967 Ford station wagon and later by a 1970 Ford F-100 pickup.

Not ours but this is what our wagon looked like.

Not ours but this is what our wagon looked like.

 

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A 1970 F-100 pickup identical to ours, which pulled a popup camper for thousands of miles with us kids in the back.

As an adult I camped sporadically, using the gear my father had built and utilized when I was a kid. It worked, was good enough and there was  no reason to replace it, was there?

So now the time is 2008 and I was feeling the urge to go camping, but my wife Melinda was an obstacle. She had NEVER been camping before. Ever. She was quite certain camping was NOT HER THING.  Period.  End.  Full Stop.  In order to ‘sell’ her on the idea I purchased on Ebay, a new Coleman double wide sleeping bag and regaled her with tales of majestic pine and fir trees, of crisp evening air and coffee by the campfire, of sparkling bucolic mornings in the bosom of nature’s splendor. And frying bacon.

To no avail.

The sleeping bag was packed away with the camping gear, unused.  In 2011 she started to become interested in  maybe seeing what camping was all about, so one warm fall day we packed the tent, a coleman stove, lantern and chuckbox of cooking gear, circa 1968, and camped for a weekend in a nearby Wildlife Management Area here in Louisiana.

She was hooked!   After that we went camping as often as we could, and my job as an offshore production operator afforded me 14 days in a row off to travel and enjoy the adventures we now shared together.   At her insistence, we soon upgraded our camping gear, and as she is an inspired Cajun cook, a full outdoor kitchen with separate tent was also added to the camp gear.

 

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Note three burner stove on left, full outdoor kitchen/workspace in middle and 1968 chuckbox on right.

 

Pretty soon we had accumulated a LOT of camp gear, so much that it took four hours to set up or break camp and load all the gear (inside  military medical gear transit crates) into our truck.

 

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Typical campsite in 2011..not shown is the separate privy/shower tent.

As much as I loved camping, I hated humping all that gear into and out of the truck, setting up the campsite and playing roustabout. There had to be a better way!

So I thought back to the days of the popup camper my family had dragged all over the US 40 years previously and that seemed to be a reasonable alternative to the tons of camp gear which we were currently using.

1968 Jayco popup.

1968 Jayco popup.

I triumphantly informed her that a popup would solve all our problems, be easy to set up, easy to maintain and tow and allow us MORE time to enjoy the splendor of nature. Great idea, elegant and simple. BUT…as I was away offshore on one of  my two week deployments (called a ‘hitch’) she had wandered into the Devil’s Playground—an online website of unmatched evil,  arousing lust and envy in the hearts of millions of unsuspecting innocents.

Yes, she found Pinterest.   And that is where this tale truly begins.

 

 

 

 

 

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