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Lassiez les bon temps roulez!


July, 2014

As June morphed into July,  we seized another opportunity to camp in Tallulah Belle, this time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Melinda had been involved with BeautiControl  cosmetics, and the company was hosting  it’s annual convention in Grapevine, Texas this year. She could have stayed at the convention center, but found out that there was a very nice RV park only two miles from the location, so we decided to take the camper and log some more time camping!  The park is named “The Winery”, also in Grapevine, and is one of the most upscale RV parks we have ever seen.  We reserved a space for  the event, and drove in on a Wednesday afternoon.

This park caters to the ginormous motor coach crowd, and a majority of the sites are large pull-through type, but all that was available to us was an unusual site on an elevated shoulder of the main road through the park, with a railing and a small set of steps leading down to the picnic table/seating area.  At least we were able to set up the awning over the picnic table. During the three days of Melinda’s conference,  I walked around the park, took some photos and got some more practice putting the tarp up at short notice, as it was unseasonably cool and rained several times.


Our site at The Winery RV park.

The park itself was large, several hundred acres, with rolling green grassland hills and small ponds, several different locations for pad sites and cabin camps, and very well maintained.


Looks like a golf course, doesn’t it?




Every Saturday evening there was a firework show over the main pond, which was straight away from our site, so it was like a front row seat.




Evening photo under the awning. We forgot the clip on lamps for outside illumination.



They spent a bit more on their campers…



Street view of our campsite.



We’ve added the name to the rear of Tee Girl by this point.



Birch glow at sunset. Nothing like it!




Streetside view at dusk

We had the usual visitors, wondering about what year and brand of camper, and  hearing their fond memories of parents and grandparents who owned trailers “…just like that.”  We had a great visit, and as we  were leaving we were hailed by a fellow who worked for the park, wanting to see Tallulah Belle. As it turns out, this man had worked at the Shasta location there in Grapevine, Texas in 1962 when he had graduated from high school, he was wondering if maybe ours was one of the ones he had personally helped to build!

On the way back to Lafayette we stopped in at Terrell, Texas to take some photos of Tallulah Belle along with a late 50’s Soviet MiG 17 fighter, which is displayed in front of an antique store.


Mid Century Jet Age!



All clear on the flight line….



The MiG was rated for 1300MPH, but the Shasta sleeps 5.












Somehow these two Cold Warriors seemed to belong together in a photograph, although only one of them is still on active duty!

Home gain, after Grapevine, and we noticed something troubling. The birch wood above the front window had become discolored, and worse yet, was soft and spongy when touched. What the hell??  It seemed as if the wood had gotten soaking wet and was delaminating from inside.

Well, we had paid for a spot at a vintage rally in Fentress, Texas in September, which was to be Tallulah belle’s first rally, and we were going to have to fix whatever was causing the problem before that time. Problem was that with my 14 on/14 off schedule, that left precious little time until the rally.  So, upon my next time home again we would find and fix the issue.

With a VERY small window of time left, we started on repairs, which meant, remove the front window and the front skins, to find soaking wet insulation, which had caused complete failure of the interior birch.  To this day we stil have NO IDEA how the water got in as every seam was sealed with double layers of butyl tape, but somehow there it was, and it needed to be removed and replaced.  We ended up removing all the front wood, the streetside dinette panel and much of the framing. Gentle Readers,  remember that it is now September in Southern Louisiana and 100F temps are everyday. It was literally a frenzy, as we tore down, remade and reinstalled an entire front end in FIVE DAYS. I will let the following photos tell the story.


Front end removed, ready to start cutting and installing birch.


Another view of the missing front end.



Blank slate…new birch about to become vintage.


New front lower installed.



Storage bin in place.


New birch matches the old pretty well…



About to fit the upper curve birch panel in place.


Skins back on, getting it buttoned up.


Five long exhausting days and the work was done, the trailer buttoned up and ready to go to the Fentress rally.

So we thought.

While I was offshore, Melinda was cleaning and getting the shine on for Tallulah Belle’s rally debut, and she plugged in a vacuum cleaner in the front of the trailer, to find a dead circuit. The entire front circuit was not working. No lights, no power, nothing. CRAP!


Really???   Yes, really.  So with heavy hearts we had to cancel our trip to the rally. When I came in ashore again I had to remove the newly installed roof metal and trace the wires, to find a nick in the Romex which had cause a short. Four more days of work to remove, replace and button-up AGAIN.

At least the damage had been repaired.


Back to Fredricksburg

Late May, 2014

After the bone-chilling and quick trip to the Texas Hill Country in January, we fell in love with Fredricksburg and wanted to return, with better conditions, as soon as we could. When the neverending winter of 2013-2014 finally retreated it was mid May, and Memorial day approaching, so we decided to get Tallulah Belle trip ready again, and this time we would be taking our camping buddies along…out three Snowshoe cats!

I know that many of you, like us, have pets and enjoy taking them on your travels. We had never had opportunity to take our cats along while tent camping, so this would be our first time.  To get the kitties used to the camper, we would have a movie night once or twice a week in the trailer, where we would put the cats into carriers, bring them to the trailer, let them out to explore and claim their own territory while we relaxed on the gaucho and watched movies. ( A favorite is “Puss In Boots”) After  several weeks of this routine the cats had learned all about the camper and had acclimated to it as an extension of their home space, so we had no problems in that regard.  We did, however, find some problems that were a result of the frigid January trip.

We discovered that during the 13F temps, the water in the lines had frozen solid –mentioned in a previous entry–which had caused damage. We replaced the Marey on demand water heater and had to repair the OEM shower diverter as a 3″ on center replacement could not be found. Sometimes working on these old trailers will force you into creative solutions that you never otherwise would have considered.  Speaking of ‘creative solutions’, during this period of repair and getting ready for camping season, we also finally addressed the refrigerator issue.

The PO had thoughtfully installed a new Frigidaire 4.4 foot dorm sized fridge before we took possession, and it is a nice size and quiet little fridge, perfect for the application. Except it was black. Not at all in keeping with the turquoise and yellow color palette of the interior’s final design. So we went over our options at that point. We found that available were

A. Nostalgia Electrics retro style fridge, which on the surface looks fairly retro, but if you read reviews it turns out to be cheaply built with plastic door hinge/handle and fittings, and lots of problems listed by those who bought them. This was available for a MSRP of $239.00

2729282_saNostalgia Electrics fridge


B. Big Chill brand retro style appliances. These are meticulously designed and crafted appliances which have rave reviews, look perfect, and perform flawlessly. Unfortunately the MSRP of a dorm sized fridge is $1700, and another $300 shipping to get it to Louisiana. We were NOT going to spend $2K on a trailer fridge, no matter HOW great it looked!  bigchill_minifridge_beachblueBig Chill Fridge.

We decided to get creative, and make our 2013 model Frigidaire look the part to fit into a 1960 trailer.

OEM FrigidaireThis is a stock photo of our fridge.

Now then, how to make the new, blocky, unappealing fridge look like something that woud be in a Jetson’s era camper of the future??

Well, Gentle Reader, if you have been with me all this time, you will remember my referencing the use of the chevron detail in Shasta’s design scheme. (And in an early post, you’ll recall the chrome chevron on the trunk of my 1960 Chevy Impala.)  The answer was to paint the fridge a 1950’s appropriate pastel hue–in this case soft butter yellow to match the other appliances–and use various trim to get the correct look.

I started by taking the door off, since the fridge would not fit through the trailer doorway otherwise, and setting up a painting area outside under shade. I cleaned the exterior and  wiped down with  wash thinner to remove any traces of grease, then sprayed three light coats of sandable primer, available at any auto parts store. Let this dry for at least 24 hours, then lightly wetsand with 400 grit wet/dry paper and running water to give a totally smooth finish. I use an air compressor to blow water off and out f any crevices when finished but if you do not have a compressor available, just let it dry. Completely. When ready to paint use a clean cotton rag to sweep  surface of any dust or particles. and then I used three light coats of Krylon bright Idea yellow rattlecan paint, same as was used on the stove and heater cover.  Paint in good light and pull a solid wet glossy coat over the whole surface. Let cure for several days at least, Krylon takes a bit longer to completely cure. I chose to not clear coat since the other appliances had a soft satin finish rather than a deep high gloss finish, but make yourself happy on this point! When the fridge was cured, I used 1/4 inch chrome self stick auto trim to create the twin strips on the door, and a chrome trunk emblem from a 1960 Impala, ordered from a car restoration supplier. I had to grind off the lugs on the back of the chevron so it would sit flat on the door, and I used clear silicone RTV sealant to glue it into place.  I think the results speak for themselves.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNewly finished 2013 Frigidaire dorm fridge in place. Looks like it was installed from the  factory!

Having gotten these details completed, we went camping back at Fredricksburg over the Memorial Day holiday. We stayed at the KOA campground which is a few miles out of town and close to several of the wineries, which we were keen to visit!SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESLoaded up and ready to roll to Fredricksburg!

Arriving at the KOA we found that the sites we really wanted were taken, and we had to take a somewhat rainsoaked low site until a better site became available. No problem, except that there was no room to deploy the new yellow and white awning we had commissioned from “Awnings By Marti”, so we parked and spent the first night quietly. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES


The next day we moved to a site on the high side of the park, under a Texas live oak tree, where we set up the awning, the flamingos, the astroturf…the whole smash!


It was Memorial Day weekend, we were in a Shasta and we were HERE!  Well, a little rain must fall on the even the best of occasions, and this weekend a LOT of rain fell on the Hill Country. It rained heavily three days in a row, but as always we were prepared…we brought a tarp to cover Tee GirlSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES from the worst of the rain, and between showers we visited several local wineries. Highly recommended is “Six Shooter Tasting Room” which represents six different wineries, located all over Texas, and a very entertaining host. Of course, we just had to visit some of the BBQ joints in town also, doncha know.

One of our ‘traditions’ while camping is to sample local cheese, fruit, sausage and other delectables from wherever we are camping. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOf course we tried that here as well!

During the times of heavy downpour, when the trailer was covered with the tarp, we watched movies or news on the flatscreen, and of course, the Snowshoes lounged ferociously (as they are famous for doing).SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Believe it or not, there was plenty of room inside the Deluxe for us and three cats, (be SURE to bring two litterboxes and change them completely daily!) but it was disappointing having so much rain fall and not be able to play tourist as much as we like to. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Despite the weather, we had a GREAT time. met another couple camping in a vintage Cardinal trailer, and of course they came to tour ours and we looked at theirs SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES but after the long weekend it was time to head back to Louisiana. Thankfully we had no issues or problems and the long drive passed smoothly. We now had successfully camped several days in another state with our kitties and bad weather, and had a great time.  Vintage camping has a way of making even the not-so-great days become memorable experiences!

We had come a LONG way in just one calendar year, as we were just beginning teardown  at this point in 2013.



A sad day.

As I type this, the date is April 13, 2015. Our Showshoe cat, named Gibbs, who was a  family member and camping buddy died last night. He was 9 years old. He was a finicky and peculiar cat, but he loved camping in the  Shasta. The gaucho was his turf and he loved to cuddle up with us at night. His last trip was in March, when we moved the camper to the family ranch for secure storage, and icy roads forced us to camp in a Walmart parking lot overnight. The cold and ice did not faze him, he had his humans and a warm safe place to sleep.

Farewell Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Happy camping.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Gibbs in foreground sleeping on his gaucho, Fredricksburg  Texas, May 2014

Ice Station Fredricksburg

January 2014

Having completed two trips with Tallulah Belle in late 2013, we looked forward to more adventures on the road, and so as the New Year rolled around, and I returned home on January 2, we thought that a trip to visit my folks on the family ranch in Central Texas would be a good idea. They had not seen the trailer except in photos and we had belated Christmas gifts to deliver (since I was offshore during the holidays). We also figured that while we were there, a short jaunt over to Fredricksburg, Texas would be nice. Fredricksburg is a lovely old German-Texas town, with wineries, peach orchards, lots of history and of course good food. (barbeque AND sausage). Melinda and I are both BBQ aficionados–remember my blood type is mesquite negative–so while travelling this would give us opportunity to hit some prime BBQ joints along the way.

We rolled out on a bright sunny warm (75F) day and travelling conditions were good, but as we got into Texas a strong wind started up, which demands lots of caution and attention. Pulling a large box in a 30MPH crosswind can be tricky, and the tail can wag the dog if you aren’t careful. Our path took us through Round Rock, and we stopped at the Salt Lick, a locally well known bbq joint.

photo 4 - Copy photo 2 - Copy photo 1 - Copy photo 5


The Texas BBQ Tour had commenced!  After lunch our drive to Central Texas took us through Temple and Gatesville and we finally pulled off the road at Star, Texas to make the final few miles to the ranch.   Stopping for a photo at Bennett Creek, we had to hurry as the road was in constant use from 18 wheelers enroute to local dairies, so we had to take a quick photo and then skedaddle, but we were just a few miles from the ranch, so it was not a problem.

photo 1

Bennett Creek, Mills County, Texas

That night a STRONG cold front blew in, and temperatures dropped to the mid 20’s, so as we set out the next morning we had clear but frigid conditions.  Finding ourselves in Llano near lunchtime we HAD to stop at Cooper’s…one of the best damn BBQ joints on the planet!!

photo 2

BBQ heaven…Cooper’s in Llano.

We got to F’burg in late afternoon, the temps were still in upper 20’s and we wanted to stay close in so we camped at a big RV park inside city limits. Very nice place, great amenities and the owners were canned ham people also, with a  old Mobile Scout in the process of restoring.  Once again we were slotted between ginormous motor coaches from cold weather states (the term is ‘snowbirds’) who stayed in warmer climes during winter months. The town still had Christmas lights up, but holiday crowds had gone so it was a very pretty place.

Also very cold.

The temp that night got down to 13F and we had the ceramic heater to keep us warm. With all the new insulation, the trailer stayed cozy enough but all the water in the tanks and lines had frozen solid. We were noobs, remember? Thankfully there was a large shower facility, laundry station and ‘community hall’ in the center of the park so we really did not need to use any of the facilities inside the trailer.  Good thing,, too. Even the water in the Porta-Potti was frozen solid.

After a couple of days we hitched up and began the long (13 hour) drive back to Louisiana, which was pretty uneventful, however when we got to  Beaumont, Texas (it was full dark by that point) we were pulled over by a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper on the side of I-10.  We had all our paperwork in order, but when the officer greeted us she pointed out that our trailer license plate was missing.

When we bought the trailer, the PO had just bought new Minnesota plates, which were good until March 2014, so we were waiting for those to expire before we got Louisiana tags. Since we had bill of sale, title and other paperwork, the trooper let us go, but she admitted that she really wanted to see the trailer and the missing plate was a convenient excuse!! We gave her a tour of Tallulah and also gave her a photo because she commented that she really wanted to show her mom what a restored camper could look like. Vintage trailers have fans all over!!!

Arriving home safely, we unhitched the trailer and unpacked the truck. All is well, right?  Well…not really.

Unknown to us, the hard freeze had frozen up all the water lines and had ruptured the new on demand heater and the original 1960 shower valve/diverter. We did not make this discovery until May, when we next planned to go camping. The ridiculous winter and cold temps of the 2013-2014 winter kept us from even thinking about camping until the last weeks of May, and then as we were planning a Memorial Day trip, we discovered the damage.

The heater was out of warranty, so we were out of luck there…$150 for a new unit. The PEX lines I was able to replace fairly easily but the diverter was made of brass and split on it’s backside. NO replacement could be found. The water taps were 3″ on center, which was standard then but nothing is made in that size now. I was forced to remove the diverter, file the back smooth, use JB weld to seal the split, file it smooth and then another layer of JB weld to completely cover the backing plate.  What a painful lesson to learn.

When cold weather is coming, DRAIN YOUR SYSTEM.  Oh sure, we know that NOW.  There’s that RV learning curve again.

Fledgling (again)

   Part II    Road trips, lessons learned and other ephemera.

November  2013

After all the sweat, all the blood (literally) and hours of toil, Tallulah Belle was ready to go on her first camping trip. Now, don’t get the idea that she was COMPLETE, for what you learn is that  these canned hams are never truly COMPLETE. You just go camping and when you get time you make whatever change or upgrade you can. Remember this whole endeavor is supposed to be about , err… fun. Yeah, that’s right, fun!

One of our oldest traditions is an annual pilgrimage to the Texas Renaissance Festival, held in Plantersville, a small town north of Houston.  I can see furrowed brows from here already…I will try to explain. RenFest is an event that is held for 8 consecutive weekends in the autumn, on a large site built to resemble an English village, circa 1500 A.D.  Musicians, minstrels, jousting, knights, pageantry, food, drink all to be found in abaundance.  There is a large, 300 acre campground nearby where the performers and anyone else who wants to camp can do so for a small fee. We had been attending this event for many years but this year, we were camping. In a by-God real winged trailer!!

The campsite is just open space, with water taps and port-o-lets scattered around, so obviously no hookups would be available. We had purchased a Yamaha 2000 watt quiet generator to produce power and we had the water tank full of freshwater as well as several jugs of drinking water, so we were prepared. A word to the wise…when you buy your generator, be sure and buy a good length of HEAVY DUTY chain and a solid Master lock. Sad reality is that not everyone at an event like this respects your personal property.

Our trip took about seven or eight hours from Youngsville to Plantersville, and we got there with no problems. Tallulah Belle pulled easily and no surprises. Rolling in on a Friday afternoon, we made our way onto the grounds and pulled up at a likely spot. Now, when I say it is an eclectic crowd, that is writer’s shorthand for everything-from-500K-motorhomes-to-canvas-lean-to’s. And the owners who accompany those motorhomes and lean-to’s. We were parked near a large pine tree and no one else within 25 feet or so.  We were here!  Of course we had not yet obtained an awning, so we just set up a fire pit and a couple of folding chairs near the door,and had a campsite!


Note the Yamaha generator chained to the tree for security.

That night we enjoyed a nice fire and hot cocoa, while a non stop stream of fellow campers trooped by our Tee Girl, asking to see the interior and being amazed that a vintage camper could be this comfortable.  Of course, a slow soaking rain had started, but we had brought a green poly tarp just in case, so I deployed the tarp over the trailer and we listened to the patter of rain. And the continuous pounding of the drum circle.  Yes, a dedicated cadre of hipsters forms a drum circle near a huge bonfire and carries on all night. Despite the rain.   Ahh  youth.


Nothing like that warm birch glow at night! We carry an Astrofurf mat for the door to try to limit grass and mud migrating inside.

Next morning we were greeting by a sunny, bright crisp morning, so we made our coffee and went outside, to find that overnight  a LOT more campers had arrived and now we were in the middle of an enclave of haphazard tents and pull-behind campers of all descriptions. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Our first morning.

We have accumulated fairly elaborate costumes for Renfest, so we made ready and found our way to the entrance, dressed as a nobleman and his lady.



View of a small part of the Renfest grounds.


The Sea Devil tavern, with bawdy wenches and singing pirates. Great fun!



At the Ded Bob Sho.

One of our favorite attractions is the DedBob Sho, a ventriloquist act, with a smart-ass skeleton (Ded Bob)  and his human (Smuj) who insults, makes bad puns and hits on the ladies. If you go, make sure to watch Ded Bob!

The second night was thankfully rain-free, but the campground had become very crowded, so we had lots of close (10 feet away) neighbors, and the revelry at the campgrounds was really crazy.  One of the pirate performers has a mid 60’s canned ham, with a stripper pole inside and a bonfire and lifesize Jenga game next to a roaring bonfire. No cameras allowed there, for obvious reasons!

On Sunday, after a late breakfast it was time to head out for the trip home.  The best part was, that we can pack everything up and be ready to roll in about 20-30 minutes!


Stopping for lunch at Yo Mama’s BBQ in Montgomery, Texas. Excellent BBQ!

Of course, being a part of the vintage camper clan, Melinda always keeps her eyes peeled for other old campers on the side of the road during our travels. While passing through Cut-and-Shoot, Texas (YES, that is an actual name!) we spotted an old canned ham in a dilapidated used car/junk lot and pulled over to investigate.


Turned out to be a late 50’s Yellowstone in sad sad shape, but who knows, someone might be willing to bring it back to life?

Needles to say we had a rollicking good time on Talluah Belle’s first trip, and in fact the next weekend we took her to a local Wildlife management Area on the Atachafalaya River (pronounded chaff-a lie-ya) to spend several days, just us and nature. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES 10247318_10201943547458499_6015135792360486996_n SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

As RV newbies we were still learning what to do, what to pack and how to camp. This sure beats the heck out of the ‘roustabout’ days of the tent and tons of gear camping trips!

Next chapter– “Ice Station Fredricksburg”




It Don’t Mean A Thing if it Ain’t Got That Bling

Mid October 2013

I was back at work on my two week rotation by now, so when I returned from my hitch we dedicated ourselves to getting Tee Girl ready to go camping in November. First up was finishing installation of the external aluminum trim, windows and edge molding. And reinstalling all 1200 stainless screws holding the aluminum panels on. We had not done this in order for the new screw heads to retain their shiny appearance, and add a bit more ‘bling’ to the  overall effect. This was a tedious and time consuming task but worth the effort. After several days all the (now gleaming) polished trim and windows were back in place and the trailer was looking spiffy.

Remember the wings, from the earlier chapter?  The first thing we bought?  IT WAS TIME.  Tallulah Belle got her new shiny better-than-original wings installed also. A milestone, and we could not have been happier. Wings, bay-bee!!!!!

During the summer we had found a website which offered the wide whitewall tires that are an essential item for a trailer like this, and had ordered a pair. The vendor is Diamondback tires, and they sell genuine trailer tires, which have stiffer sidewalls than passenger car tires, as well as have white rubber rings vulcanized onto the tire surface. You CAN buy a type of white rubber ring that is held in place by the rim of the tire but those can flap at road speed and we really didn’t want that kind of fix. No compromises, remember?

With our new tires we visited a local tire shop and had them mounted on the trailer’s wheels, and then the wheels put back on the trailer. Our camper uses Ford car/truck 5 lug 5.5 inch bolt pattern wheels, which were standard issue on gazillions of Ford vehicles from mid 50’s until the late 70’s, and can be found in wrecking yards everywhere. ALWAYS HAVE A SPARE!  We had also bought two beauty rings for 15″ wheels, so that the wheel/tire combo would have that 50’s cruiser look we all love so much.


Come Fly With Me!


New wheels, tires, baby moons and beauty rings installed.

The same week, we took Tee Girl to a local trailer business so that they could install all new 12V wiring for exterior running lights and tail lights. I was just too worn down and time critical to do this myself, it was worth $200 to have it done.

We were also frantically fitting out and wrapping up the interior as best we could…the upholstery and gaucho were in place, trim and hardware installed, flatscreen TV in the gaucho area installed, all the details which make the total. We had cut and shellacked a panel for the inside of the door, installed the newly rechromed Bargman L-66 door latch with new lock mechanism, curtain rods and fixtures above the windows, etc.

Melinda drug out her sewing machine and the bolt of vintage 1957 atomic barkcloth she had won on Ebay and made curtains for the windows, and we had also accumulated period correct dishes, drinking glasses, anodized aluminum cups/pitcher and other such items as one would find in a camper in 1960, so we found places for all these items to fit, in a frenzy of detailing.


Door birch panel.


Inside and outside detail of Bargman L-66 door latch.


Dinette area details.


Before curtains.


Dinette and gaucho with new barkcloth curtains.


29″ Flatscreen for watching movies on rainy days.


Nighttime illumination is two remote controlled battery powered LED lights. Since we did not install a 12V system inside, we use these while travelling or when no power is available.


Note the 1950’s rounded toaster on the shelf above the cooktop. Pretty slick, yes?

You can also see the cutout from the sink opening used as a way to give more counter space.


Interior details.

Tallulah dishes

The dishes and glasses we found. Pattern is Salem NorthStar, circa 1958.


You didn’t think we’d forget THIS did you??

By the end of October, with RenFest  just around the corner, we knew that we’d be able to take her CAMPING!!  Of course, it’s not finished, but more on that to come…



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.