I was on a business trip to Chicago and before dinner decided to skip the bars and took a walk to Oak Street beach, at the north end of Michigan Avenue, the “Magnificent Mile”. It was dead empty being late September. The light at dusk was a powerful combination of reds and oranges with puffy clouds in the sky after a storm. A particular shaft was coming through a gap in the buildings to the west, and was at the perfect angle to hit just the crest of waves rolling in from Lake Michigan. A solitary and beautiful moment to absorb.
If you’re going to restore a vintage camper trailer, you’re going to become friends with Butyl tape. OK, sounds like an odd friendship, but water is the enemy. Pretty much 100% of unrestored vintage campers out there have water damage. The old putty that was used in the 50’s and 60’s didn’t hold up to the elements over time, and eventually they leaked. Water damage and wood rot was the result. You want to remove every door, window and seam that represents a joint between metal, scrape off the old stuff and replace with black, synthetic rubber Butyl tape. I started with the alunimum edging that joins the roof and outer walls. It’s a sticky, yucky job, but unless you live in a desert, or plan on camping exclusively indoors, you’ll need to do it. Here’s a before and after on one particular seam.
Emptying the thing, taking the windows and seams off, and ripping out rotted wood feels good, but is not an accomplishment. Rebuilding and finishing a part is. My first proud restoration is the little cargo door in the rear. The frame wood was rotted and the seals were old and gross. I rebuilt the frame with furring strips making sure there was wood for the door frame to be screwed back into as well as the edging. I replaced the seals using weatherstripping glue (very expensive – $16 a tube) and new seals that the old owner had bought but not used. However, I think the right kind of seals can be purchased at www.vintagetrailersupply.com. Butyl tape is your new best friend. It’s going to be used at every sheetmetal joint that could leak, such as at the top of this door. It’s placed on the underlying metal on top of the screw holes and the door is screwed down on top of it. If you’re buying new screws make sure they are #7, round head sheet metal screws 3/4 or 1 inch long (I used mostly 3/4″ but 1″ come in handy when you need a deeper or stronger connection) and zinc plated. There, I just saved you an hour and a half of wandering the screw isle at Home Depot or OSH.
We made it back, including a trip up and over the Grapevine (topping out about 4000 ft). Turning off the air conditioner out of paranoia of overheating caused quite a stir. “Dad, it’s getting stuffy out here,” my kids said. “Ok, I can’t talk anymore, it’s too hot,” my wife told her friend on the cellphone. It was 95 degrees outside. The minivan did great however, and so did the trailer.
Back in our driveway, it was exactly 48 hours to the minute when we received the obligatory letter from the Homeowner’s Association reminding us that we are out of compliance with the rules. Those Neighborhood watches are efficient!
So, the next weekend was spent ripping out plants in the side yard and cutting a fence panel out in order to move it to the back patio for continued maintenance.
The renovation is going well, seams are being sealed and cargo door frames rebuilt due to rot. All effort is focused on prepping for the big paint job! I’ll submit additional posts for those restorers out there who would like to know details.
Well, I continue to loose sleep because this ridiculous thing is still in my head. (Our 1954 vintage camper trailer which WE HAVEN’T EVEN PICKED UP OR PAID FOR YET!)
We found out yesterday that it won’t fit in the garage. Great. But it was going to be an outdoor sewing room anyway so I guess that’s ok…except…there’s no easy way into our backyard. Right now the best bet looks like tearing down and rebuilding 35ft of fencing so there will be a removable fence panel to drive through.
So I was up at 3:30 AM trying to figure that out in my head. I gave up trying to sleep and just got up to research fence panels. Found the perfect thing at Home Depot, then started thinking about painting.
It’s primed but needs a color topcoat. I want that shiny durable automotive finish, which means urethane. Which means acquiring an HVLP spray gun set up. I had no idea what that was until this morning around 4:30 am. Turns out you need at least 6cfm and 30 gallons of air, which is a big compressor. If that’s Greek to you don’t worry it was to me too until about 5:00am this morning. My wife thinks I just want to acquire toys, uh, I mean tools, and poo-pooed the whole thing. She found something on the web about using rollers to paint tractors. What??? Who ever put an automotive quality finish on a vehicle with rollers and tractor paint??? I thought this was supposed to look cute? Cute is a 30 gallon air compressor atomizing low volatility acrylic urethane with minimal bounce back or overspray. And don’t even talk to me about pressure regulators and fan patterns. I’m a You Tube painting graduate! So that’s all priced out and ready to go. If I ever actually paint it, between my wife’s mistrust of my motives, and this project ever really happening, I’ll post how-to details of what I learn for you all. (Honey, but then we’ll still have the equipment for other projects!)
Did I mention that WE DON’T EVEN OWN THE CAMPER YET???