Monthly Archives: August 2014

Unobtanium

Late July, 2013.  The work has settled into a rythmn of it’s own by now. Up at Oh-dark-thirty, drink some coffee, and plan the day’s tasks, plotted against the percentage  chance of afternoon rain showers. My project offshore had wound down and I had the luxury of six weeks time at home to get work accomplished. Of course, with the almost daily rains, this DID NOT mean that blinding progress was being achieved.  However, by now I had removed the curbside dinette wall, and had cut and framed a new birch panel, applied the shellac, admired my handiwork and then when trial fitting discovered that I had cut the panel wrong and it DID NOT FIT. ARRRRGGHHHHHH!!

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Dinette side removed, debris everywhere, trailer looking really bad about now.

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New panel during application of amber shellac. This is the second panel, the one that DOES fit!

 

Applying shellac was an education in itself. I was intimidated initially, but after watching Mobiltec’s videos on Youtube and asking him directly on Vintage Trailer Talk, I figured out how to do it correctly. Yes??   Question??  Sure, I’ll explain how it’s done.  The French Polish method is how I learned it,  so you take a golf ball size tightly balled wad of cotton cloth, wrap it inside another layer of cotton twisted around the ball, and dip this into the shellac, soaking the ball fairly well. Next, you start applying shellac with a round swirly motion and moving rapidly across the panel. By the time you get to the end of a panel the end you started on will be dry and ready for another pass. Keep the fabric ball wet with shellac (thin with denatured alcohol if you need to) and KEEP IT MOVING. You can spray or brush on shellac but this is how I did it. Keep applying coats until you get the correct shade of amber you are wanting–in our case it was about 4 coats–and each time you add another coat you are ‘polishing’ the layer already there so the finish starts to become really glossy and slick. For a true French Polish, which is mirror bright, you would use finely ground pumice as a polishing agent and by hand keep swirling your fabric ball   on the surface as you bring the sheen up to a piano finish. Actually, applying shellac is not difficult and gives an incredible glowing, luminous finish to the wood and makes the birch grain seemingly pop off the surface in a sort of 3D effect. NOTHING like it!

I had planned on using layers of clear shellac on top of the amber for a kind of ‘clear coat’, but I learned that if I applied clear shellac to a finished amber surface, the cleart would thin or melt the existing layer and leave it showing patches that were lighter than surrounding coverage. I may have been applying the clear improperly but I had to go back and repair several areas on the new panels after using the clear. Needless to say, I chose to skip the further usage of clear, and polish the amber to a high gloss while applying.

When I removed the curbside dinette panel, I learned just how fragile and weak a vintage trailer truly was…with the panel out, a large percentage of support for the roof was gone and the roof sagged down. For this reason I did the curb side, then the front, then the street side in sequence and I propped up the ceiling with 1X4 pieces cut to length to keep it at the correct height.  Always brace the ceiling or walls when support has been removed!

The PO had replaced broken or rotten framing and in fact had also replaced some of the skirt boards (these are 2X6 lumber that frame the edge of the floor area and are what the walls are actually secured to) but I replaced the section under the curbside dinette area as it looked iffy as well, and now was the time to correct any issues such as this.

During this stage in the workflow, as I was working on the fabrication issues, Melinda was planning the finished interior, and ordering fabrics and materials. We knew we wanted a unique look for the dinette seats, and since the frames were in really great condition, we could reuse them and just buy new upholstery fabric. I had planned on doing the seats myself–I have done much automotive upholstery in my past–but as the weeks passed we decided to have the seats subbed out to save us some time. We found a local artisan in  Carencro, who does boat/RV/custom auto upholstery, so we negotiated a price with him to do our benches, and we would supply the materials. We found the right shade of butter yellow from Great Lakes Skipper marine supply, in a pleated marine grade (UV resistant) heavy vinyl. The design we chose was a pleated tuck-n-roll look with a large white chevron n the center of the seatback, and white piping or ‘welt’ as it is called in the biz.

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Newly recovered dinette seat. marine grade vinyl and white chevron design.

Now was also the time that we looked at the countertops/sliders and what treatment to install. Of course, there was only ONE  real choice.

Aqua.

Aqua Boomerang Formica.

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Yeahhhhn bay-bee! THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!

This is the ubiquitous, penultimate NINETEEN FIFTIES’ look. We knew that whatever trailer we would have, it would sport aqua boomerang laminate. And so we looked for some.  And looked some more.  And learned a cold, hard truth. This stuff is REALLY difficult to find.  Hence, “Unobtanium”.   This pattern had been reproduced a few years ago in a variety of colors, but apparently only one run of the aqua was produced, and no more. Fancy that…the MOST POPULAR color/pattern and only a small amount is reproduced, while unpopular colors are still in production. We spent a great deal of time on the phone, on the internet and scrounging through catalogs, but to no avail.  We despaired, and had about given up.

Until a post on an online forum we belonged to.. www.vintageshastatrailerforum.com

and a woman posted a vendor whom she had purchased from, and who had a small amount still in stock. We immediately called the vendor and learned that they actually DID have about 6 sheets of the aqua laminate in stock, for the low low price of $500.00 per 4×8 sheet.

Wow.  The choice was to be gouged on price, or completely change the interior scheme. We remembered our agreement at the beginning of this project..NO COMPROMISES.   So we paid the exorbitant price and got the laminate shipped to us.  Buy once cry once, right?