Monthly Archives: March 2015

High Volume Low Pressure

September 2013

No one ever said this was going to be easy, did they?

With the major inside components upgraded, and a lot of the small stuff in progress also, we turned our efforts to completing the exterior insulation/vapor barrier so that we could get the skins on and throw some color on. We had a deadline, in that we wanted to take the camper to the Texas Renaissance Festival in November, so we had a lot to get done before that happened. As I’ve already talked about earlier, the insulation was cut and installed and two layers of heavy millage plastic sheeting stapled down over the insulation for a vapor barrier.  I had also purchased another batch of the #8 stainless square drive screws for the exterior aluminum panels. We test fit all the windows in their respective frames to ensure that all was square and flush. This is important!  We had completely replaced the front end and the framing around the front window and dinette side windows and you really want these to fit like they are supposed to!  So after several days of fitting, stapling and trimming  excess plastic, we pulled out the panels to reinstall them onto the trailer.   This is a task which requires at least two and possibly more people, as long, flexible panels don’t cooperate easily.


Insulation and vapor barrier in place.

When you work with these old trailers you will notice that in most cases, long horizontal seams along the sides are joined with a curiously folded joint that kind of locks the two sides together. This is called a “Pittsburgh Lock” and was the standard way to create an overlapping and secure fastening between two panels.  We installed the upper panels on each side first, then pushed the lower edge into the upper edge of the bottom panel until the Pittsburgh lock was fully seated from front to back.  Take your time and make sure that the edges are flush and that the edges of your metal fit against the edges of the camper as they are supposed to. If done properly, the window cutouts will line up perfectly and you can use the existing screw holes in the skin  to fasten to the frame underneath.  (We also test fit the windows after putting exterior skins on again, just to make sure).

At this point in the game, we got real friendly with ‘butyl tape’.

Butyl tape is the sticky, rubbery stuff that come in rolls and is laid down under wherever metal seams occur, as it is both adhesive and waterproof. You can get butyl tape at RV supply stores or from Vintage Trailer Supply.  When working with the stuff, a good idea is to put the rolls in a freezer the night before you need them because they will be MUCH easier to work with when somewhat stiff with cold. Butyl tape becomes very tacky and sticky and adheres to everything in warm or hot temps. Save yourself some cussing and frustration and freeze it beforehand.

The panels went back on with a small amount of finessing, and getting them into the same exact spot they had been before, so using just enough screws to hold them in place securely, we were ready to tackle the painting.

This is the area that probably causes the most heartburn with folks who are renovating these old trailers. What kind of paint scheme? Original? Custom? What type of paint? How do I apply it?  So many questions…

We know that Tallulah Belle would have the best paint job we could accomplish, with colors that were appropriate to the period, and done in the factory style.  We had gone round and round over colors, and finally got choices down to either a butter yellow to match the interior upholstery, or else some variety of aqua/blue. Now, you can use any kind of paint you wish and spray on, use rollers, or even rattlecans, but since I already owned professional painting equipment and have over 20 years experience painting cars, gas pumps, etc, our choice was simple.  We went with automotive urethane enamel base coat/clear coat. We got our supplies from a local shop called Cajun Color, in  Broussard, LA, and when we went in to buy they were having a sale on Valspar auto base/clear systems. We chose Shorelink Light Blue  and Olympic white for the basecoats and high solids clear coat with UV stabilizer for the clear top coat. Since the panels were faded  but NOT flaked or corroded, all I needed to do was spray some urethane primer, to separate the new paint from the old and give the new stuff a good base to adhere to. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The base coats we used. Love me some Valspar!


My paint gear. The blue gun is a Sharpe SLP used for primers and coarser bodied liquids, the silver gun is a Sharpe T1 Titanium for most all around work and the small black and green gun is a Finex detail gun.


Panels in place ready to be primered. Note the cargo and heater doors are primer grey as the PO had done that before we bought her.

I won’t bore you with the “Zen of Painting” but to get a good outcome you MUST do a good job with the prep first. I had powerwashed the panels before reinstalling them, making sure they were free of grease, dirt, tar or anything else that would cause a problem.  The primer was purchased already reduced and ready to spray so I rigged up my compressor, set air pressure (18 lbs) and got busy.  (BTW  this type of paint gear is called High Volume Low Pressure, or HVLP. It wastes much less material as overspray and puts a smoother and finer coat on the surface. )


Here you see masking paper in place behind the window openings as I mask off before primer.



Spraying white primer. September 10, 2013.  102F in direct sun. It was HOT!!

I sprayed two medium coats of primer over the whole trailer, and due to the heat the primer flashed off almost immediately. I wish I could have had an indoor space to work in but you play the hand you’re dealt.


After finishing the primer, the afternoon sun baked it quite thoroughly, so the next day  I started early and sprayed the white base coat over the entire trailer. Old painter’s tip…if you use a white base coat, a color coat on top will ‘pop’ more.  Base coat paint dries to a semi matte finish and is easier to spray without runs or drips. The clear coat is what gives the real gloss and shine.

Three medium heavy coats of white base coat, (in early morning for cooler temps) and another day of baking in the 100F September heat gave a rapid cured surface ready for masking.

I had to duplicate the Shasta stripe by eyeball, as there are no templates for doing this, but it’s not that hard. Just take your time and don’t hurry!

When the stripe area was masked off, I waited until next morning to spray the blue. Also masked and sprayed were the wheels and two brand new 30 lb. propane tanks. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Note the heavy sweating. Even at 7 AM it was still HOT!

Just like before, after three medium heavy coats and 24 hrs to bake in the intense sun, I removed the masking paper and FINALLY the finished image was swimming into view!

Last step was to spray the clear coat. Again, work in early morning and get three coats done before temps got above 85F, then let afternoon sun bake all the solvent out and leave a glossy, tough surface behind! We let the trailer sit for a few days after clear coat, then we installed the windows and eyebrows (finally finished polishing) and had enough daylight to snap a few pics of the glossy new paint with shiny bits installed too!


Starting to look like a righteous trailer…finally!

Herding Cats

August 2013

It occurs to me while writing that I have been remiss. I have not addressed a significant amount of work done at various times. Remember that I mentioned the frequent summer showers that South Louisiana is known for? Being only a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico, prevailing offshore winds brought in lots of moisture which almost daily turned into sudden, mini-floods. Of course this happened with little or no warning, which meant a mad scramble to gather up tools and pull the tarp and fitted cover over the trailer before the wall of water struck. Great fun!

Obviously, heavy downpour means no work on the camper itself, but there was always something else to grind away on.  The window frames, cabinet edge trim and other shiny metal bits all needed to be polished, so I spent many hours hunched over a Harbor Freight buffing motor bringing a shine back to tons of 53 year old parts. Polishing is not difficult, but it IS dirty, messy work, and has to be done if you want the ‘look’.  I can also recommend most highly using a heavy duty cordless drill with buffing wheel, to get into smaller areas.  If you are buffing stainless, you will need buffing compound made for stainless as well as the torque of a buffer motor to get a mirror shine. Aluminum parts will polish out quickly with the drill/buff wheel and a good general metal polish. I use Blue Magic.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES The Princess stove after painting,  and the cooktop, while being polished.

Our trailer has aluminum edge trim along the outside seams and we wanted that to be shiny also, so there was a really tremendous amount of metal to be polished. Like everything else, take your time, work on one piece and make it look great before going to the next one. It is WORTH it.  Some of the edge trim was banged up pretty bad, so I bought several sticks of new trim, in order to have a smooth uniform appearance, and also because it did not have a half century of oxidation, black gunk and other crud all over it.  When you shop for edge trim–sometimes called “J rail” but in reality J rail is a different product entirely–you will find it is sold in extruded lengths of 16 feet. HOWEVER, the freight carriers will only carry parcels of 8 feet, so you will either have to pay a freight trucking company $$$ for the full length, or settle for 8 foot lengths and have UPS bring it, in addition to a crating and shipping fee.  Yeah, I know. It sucks.

During this same time frame, while I was working on all the abvementioned tasks, Melinda was getting upholstery farmed out, finding vintage barkcloth in an atomic pattern for the curtains, and doing a lot of the work getting interior items pulled together.  After weeks of searching on Ebay she finally found some really cool vintage barkcloth in an amount big enough for our needs, and won the bidding war to get it. She also found a pair of 50’s atomic styled double cone wall sconce lights which were a perfect fit for the look we wanted!


Dinette table in place, bench in place and new sconce lights installed. Note all the new birch panels. Umm…yes, the gaping hole in front HAS been repaired by this time.


Here you see exterior shot of new curbside panel and door frame. The rest of the trailer had been insulated and vapor barrier in place.


Front view showing new panels and framing, side window is in place to test fit.

About this time is when we finished up the exterior insulation. Originally  it had a 1/4 inch of fiberglas  (really??  a whole 1/4 inch??? )  insulation…this is the golden tan colored stuff you see in some of the pics. Of course we upgraded with Owens Corning pink insulation R-13 rated, and put two layers of heavy millage plastic sheeting over the insulation for vapor barrier.  There are different ways to do this of course, I have seen restorations where the liquid insulation that expands and turns to  foam is used, and then trimmed flush with the framing lumber after it has cured, and in fact as we found out a year later, if you have to remove a panel and work on something its better to have insulation that can be moved out of the way too.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Most of the insulation done.

The extra insulation really paid off later on when, in January 2014 we were camping at Fredricksburg, TX and an unexpected Arctic front blew in, temperatures falling to 13F. With a small ceramic heater in the camper we stayed warm enough, but all the water froze and caused problems. More on that later.

The flooring was another issue we dealt with at this time. Original flooring was a truly institutional putty/beige drabness and it had to go.

Or maybe not.

You see, much flooring fifty years ago used asbestos, and we all know now what  asbestos can do. So rather than scraping up all the original flooring and creating asbestos dust, we left it in place and used Armstrong VCT tiles to cover in a butter yellow/white checker pattern.  The interior color palette was butter yellow, turquoise and amber, with a lot of shiny metal accents. Yep, VERY atomic age!


Mocking up the new floor tiles for orientation. You can see the hideous original tiles underneath.  Appliances are in place, but I have not yet painted the new Frigidaire refrigerator, seen at right.

Allow me to brag a bit.  Melinda took it upon herself to do the whole floor project, from selecting and ordering thousands of color samples to actually cutting and installing the tiles. IMHO, she did a world class job, especially as it was her first time doing anything like this!

Things were starting to get exciting now. We could sort of visualize what the whole would be like, and this is hugely inspirational.  It was finally ALL COMING TOGETHER.



July/August 2013

Having just installed the electrical system, tested and found it to work correctly we felt that we had made some REAL PROGRESS.  Well, technically, everything that was done was some sort of progress, but you, gentle reader, know what I mean…the kind of step forward that can be bragged upon. In writing this account, almost two years later, it seems linear and straightforward, but in reality it was no such animal.  The truth of a restoration like this is that there will be times when it all seems just too much, that the amount of work (and $$$) expended will appear to be showing no dividends. This is normal.

Almost daily I would be working on one aspect of the trailer and reach an impasse or an obstacle which I could not (at the time) see a solution for. At such times I would step back, walk away and then after a mental health break come back to work on something else. Remember, this is a whole slew of completely separate tasks. Melinda had accepted a job which allowed her to work at home, and being honest and diligent she put in a solid 8 to 9 hours of work per business day inside…which meant I was left to my own devices outside in the staggering heat and humidity.  Fortunately Tallulah Belle was parked under partial shade, so for most of the day I was not working in full sun, but it was still really damn hot. I consumed countless gallons of water and PowerAde, and discovered that frozen ice treats —the ones in plastic tubes–worked great to both cool off and to get some fluid.  The result of all this is that I lost 40 lbs  body weight from May to August, and  on several occasions came close to heat exhaustion, or whatever it is called nowadays. Why am I mentioning this???  To illustrate a point. Do NOT let your eagerness to MAKE PROGRESS get you into trouble!

So at this point, electric was done, and power to the inside was working. The front curbside panel and door was off and a big gaping hole existed waiting for new birch, the unobtanium Formica was being routed and fastened to the table, counter top and the slider doors by a good friend (BIG shoutout to Smitty!), new framing and carpentry being done where needed, Melinda was researching fabrics and upholstery availability and I was collecting parts for attacking the plumbing issue. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES   SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES New Formica in place! SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGeneral appearance of Tallulah Belle during this period.

One of the most frustrating, yet rewarding jobs is making decisions about what path to take. We had a general idea of the outcome, but each decision was prefaced by a LOT of research first. Being complete noobs, we had no experience to go by and once again the great folks on VTT helped out with their advice and experiences. I had never done any residential plumbing, so I did major reading about trailer plumbing and materials. I learned that there is now a type of semi flexible plumbing line called PEX (this is a generic name)  which is recommended for RV’s as it has superior heat/cold tolerance and is easy to work with. I also discovered a brand of fittings for PEX  called Sharkbite (band name).  If you are considering  ANY plumbing upgrades, USE SHARKBITE FITTINGS. These fittings are brass, and they literally just press on, no adhesive, sealant or anything else needed!  If you need to, you can remove them easily. I got all my supplies from the  big box stores, you know the “orange and white sign place”  or the “blue and white sign place”, so they are available everywhere. Tallulah Belle came from factory with a shower and ceramic toilet in the bathroom and a sink in the galley. There was a water heater in a locker on the rear streetside exterior but I removed and discarded it almost immediately. (more on this later)  Under the streetside dinette bench was a sweet 20 gallon stainless freshwater tank. The factory setup had all the water draining into a 20 gallon tank under the toilet, and a black water outlet on the outside.

Remember I said we were ‘noobs’?  Well, we realized that we really DID NOT want to deal with a sewer line to connect and drain the blackwater tank into dump stations at RV parks. Ever see the Robin Williams movie  entitled ‘RV’?  Yeah, you remember that scene also, doncha? We reasoned that we liked the shower, the sink and the freshwater tank, but the ceramic toilet was broken–foot valve non functional– and definitely did not want umm…black water to drain into the holding tank. So, we decided to ditch the permanent toilet, and we got a Thetford Porta Potti. This is a small self contained toilet unit with a lower cassette (5 gallons) featuring a level gauge, and when full you just remove it and take to a roadside gas station or fuel stop to dump into a toilet there.


SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThetford Porta-Potti in place. Oh, and we painted bathroom white also…


This means that the water going into the holding tank is now just grey water and can be emptied almost anywhere reasonable.  Grey water is just shower and sink drainage, soap and water basically, so no worries. First off, the factory sink was perfect.. not a mark on it, so we used it in the rebuild.

NOTE—These Shastas usually have date of manufacture of mirrors and sink stamped on the backside of these items. Our mirrors had none but the sink had 3-10-60  stamped underneath, so Tallulah Belle was built sometime shortly after that!

We had removed the old countertop to replace and this allowed much easier access to the under-sink area to install plumbing. New hot and cold PEX lines were run from sink  and shower, everything was measured, test fit and finally cut, ready to install.  Now back in the day, campers were fitted with a faucet on the sink which included a hand pump, whereby you would pump to pressure up to the water tank and allow water to flow. We went modern, and bought a new shiny tall spigot faucet. Remember me droning on about making decisions?  OK decision time again. We included a line from the exterior to the sink, so se can connect to ‘city water’  and have continuous flow at an RV park…you need a marine or RV water inlet to install on the outside skin and run a line to your system from there.

What?  Questions??  What about camping where there is no water?  Glad you asked!  Remember the nice big water tank?  Well during the electrical install, I also installed a 120V water pump in the area under the sink, for use when no running water was available. The switch for this pump is in an out of sight location under the cabinet above the stove.  PLAN AHEAD! Thanks to PEX and Sharkbite fittings, snugging up the new lines is quick and almost painless.  Remember to use a check valve  (sharkbite, of course) to prevent city water pressure from returning to the tank!   Last part of this project was to install the water heater. We had decided on a Marey 5 liter/minute model, which fit neatly in the outside locker the old heater had resided in.  It has a summer or winter heat setting, and a low to high flow setting, turns on instantly when water flow is detected and best of all provides all the hot water you want! No more running out of hot water in the middle of your shower after a long dusty day. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Perfect fit! To test the system out, fill the water tank, turn pump on and check for leaks,  test sink and shower, pump tank until empty and repeat. Next, connect water hose to city water inlet and turn on water, check system for leaks again and test sink and shower for function. No Leaks!!   No hot water at this time because we had not connected the heater to propane line, mainly because we had not tested the propane system for leaks. Time to do that.

Propane is a great thing, but it can be deadly also. ALWAYS have your system tested to ensure no leaks!!  Easy way to test is to take a spray bottle and fill with water, add some Dawn dish soap and mix well. Spray this soapy water on every fitting and every inch of your propane lines. If a leak exists, you will see soap bubbles forming at the leak. Repair or replace leaking fittings/lines/connections before you do a function test. KaBooms are not a good thing… Once the propane system checked out, I did a full function test of water, with propane turned on. The heater has a sensor that ignites instantly when flow is detected. You will hear clickclickclick…whoosh when heater lights up, and then a few seconds later glorious HOT FREAKIN WATER is available in the sink and shower.  This is a moment to celebrate!!!   One BIG BIG step closer to the finale!!!


It was now time to address Tallulah Belle’s electrical upgrade. The original wiring was 16 gauge two wire (non grounded) cloth wrapped, and perhaps was adequate in 1960 for three light fixtures. In NO WAY would it be adequate for a modern camper, so it would all have to go.  I asked for advice from the gurus on VTT and got some real guidance, which I will now share with you gentle readers.  First: perform an energy audit. This means take a pencil and paper, and list EVERY electrical device (which will be drawing current) you might possibly use while camping. This includes cell phones, computers etc.  Next to the listing write the amps that device will draw–relax, the amperage can be found on the UL tag of the item.

You will need to get the amps needed for ALL devices, or your total power load.  Our chart looked like this:

Refrigerator =1.3 amps

air conditioner=8 amps

Flatscreen TV=.4 amps

game system/dvd player= .2 amps

60W light bulbs x8 = .5 amps

water pump= .2 amps

coffee maker 1.0 amps

radio= .2 amps

TOTAL=              11.7 amps

So the max usage at any one time would be 11.7 amps (round to the next higher whole number).  Once you have your max load, add a 50% safety buffer…so in our case this would be +/- 17 amps. Now I knew that I needed to install circuits of 20 amps!  NOTE: Most house circuits are 15 amp, but recall that an average room in a house does not have ALL the appliances on one circuit!

Now that load was established, it was time to determine where to install new receptacles and fixtures.

It was time to purchase the supplies for the electrical upgrade so another trip to Home Depot (daily, at this point) yielded a 5 circuit breaker box, 30 amp x1 and 20 amp x4 circuit breakers, grounding kit –VERY IMPORTANT–100 feet of 12 gauge Romex wire, 50 feet of 10 gauge Romex wire and all of the receptacles, boxes, wire nuts and supplies you will need. (Hint–buy a wire stripper. WELL WORTH the $10 price!)

Supplies in hand, it’s time to get started. I had decided that the breaker box would have to be placed in a location where it would be out of the way yet easily accessible. Some old trailers had the breakers under a bench seat, or in really difficult places, but if it’s dark and a breaker trips you want to  be able to get to your box without a lot of cursing and thrashing around. Trust me.  The logical place seemed to be inside the main cabinet next to the entrance, and on examination this turned out even better than I hoped, because the heater which was now gone had been on the other side of the panel, and there was a ‘chimney’ space about 6 inches deep and 12 wide where the heater vented up to the roof. I measured and made the cutout for the breaker box and there was just enough room behind the panel for the box to sit, and the chimney was used to route the Romex wire to the top of the trailer, where it branched out to the different circuits.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Breaker box cutout and wire drops from top of camper. Yellow is 12/2 Romex (20 amp)  and orange is 10/2 (30 amp) main in from shore power plug on streetside.

In designing our camper’s electrical system we decided to add several receptacles and so we have 4 circuits, each rated at 20 amps, and the main power in is 30 amps from the shore plug. This will be plenty of capacity to run whatever we need. The box therefore has one 30 amp breaker for power in and four 20 amp breakers. The breakers are the snap-in type, which means that you terminate leads to the buss bars in the box, then just snap in the breaker to complete.  OK sports fans…pay attention!!  YOU MUST add a grounding kit to your breaker box, and your circuits are all grounded to this buss bar!!  Trailers are NOT common grounded like in a home installation…they have a separate ground and this is to prevent you from being shocked from touching the skin of the camper. No joke, people have been killed from  so called ‘skin ground’ when trailers are not properly grounded. Electricity does not care, it will find path of least resistance and it that path happens to be you, then so be it…

Oops…forgot to mention, the PO had included a Marinco 30 amp shore power plug, which we used. This is a really nifty outside plug with a waterproof screw down cover, is VERY heavy duty and is made of polished stainless.  To use, you unscrew the cover, plug in your 30 amp cord (you DID check amperage didn’t you?) and then screw the plastic retaining collar onto the plug to keep it from being pulled out. Neat stuff, and shiny shiny!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNew box in place, with cover on. Pretty slick!

So now the old wires are removed, the new wires are run and terminated, the new receptacles are installed–along with new switches for sconce lights, water pump, etc., and the whole thing is properly installed.  Test each circuit, one at a time and make sure that they are working correctly.  And just like that, Tallulah Belle was coming back to life!!!  With internal electricity I could now  work when it was dark, use fans to move air and cool off , all the good stuff!

Remember, this is July in the Deep South.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESHere you can see the placement of the new Romex electric wires. The bundle of orange sticking out the hole is where the shore power plug is to be installed.