Tag Archives: vintage campers

Check out this Pinterest page – all about tiny houses and camper restoration

Someone shares my obsessions!

I found this Pinterest page (board?) a while back and have been refreshing the tab regularly ever since. It has all sorts of great links to DIY tutorials, camper eye candy, off-grid trailer ideas, and more. New things are added to the board all the time. Check out this link for camper and tiny house ideas!

Not Quite Vintage Tiny Homes/RVs

This is a great idea for linoleum tiles. You could do this with Marmoleum flooring pretty easily!

**Tiny House Summer Camp is SO SOON! Less than 2 weeks away, and the COMET has no floor and a wall is being replaced and reframed. I need to get the pictures off of my camera and onto the blog so you guys can see what I’m talking about! It’s crazy.

Anyway, I PROMISE pictures and details about all of the repairs later. I think you guys will enjoy the walk through. It isn’t pretty, and it’s more structural repair than I’ve ever had to do in a trailer before, but it’s encouraging because, thanks to my prior experience with last summer’s trailer, Matt’s help, and the Rockwell SonicCrafter (I need to do a tool review – this thing can’t be beat), it’s taken me 4 days to do what it took me 2 months to do last year. Amazing!

 

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I’m BAAAACK! And it’s crunch time for The COMET.

Hello Readers!

Thank you all for your patience these last 2 weeks while I was at Yestermorrow fulfilling my Core curriculum in a VERY intense 3 weeks of classes. I was doing 20 hour days in the studio every day while I was there (not complaining – it was the most fun, creative, an productive 2 weeks of my life!) and just couldn’t keep up with blog posts on top of studio time and the occasional few hours of sleep. I love Yestermorrow, and would recommend it to anyone looking to further their knowledge in sustainable building, permaculture, or woodworking. What an awesome learning environment! And Vermont was gorgeous. Below you can see some of my designs from the final week of class: it’s a camper and a tiny house – the camper docks into the tiny house and one wall of the camper swings open and becomes one of the walls of the house. Pretty cool! Maybe in the future I’ll build something crazy like this.

My model of the tiny house component. It’s supposed to look space-age!

However, now I’m back in Massachusetts and it’s time to put the pedal to the metal with the COMET, because Tiny House Summer Camp is in 16 (16? 16??) days (that’s it, 16 days? – and check out the nifty countdown at the bottom of the page). I have tons of catching up to do here on the website (I saw many interesting things while I was in VT these past few weeks, and can’t wait to share stories and pictures with all of you) and in The COMET. I have to have this thing that is very much mid-construction in somewhat presentable shape for the workshop in VT July 6th-9th (Tiny House Summer Camp hosted by Derek Diedricksen of Relaxshacks.com). Luckily (and I’m being facetious here) every time you are about to fix one thing in a vintage camper, you find 2 other things that are broken or damaged. For example, yesterday while I was getting ready to re-frame the rear wall in order to support a bumper garden, I found that the floor of the rear of the camper, under the bed/couch which is just storage, was totally soft. I pulled up the laminate and the floor just disintegrated underneath me, down to the frame. The joists disappeared. It was either termites of carpenter ants, but all they left was dust. So now I get to replace the floor of half of the camper and replace all of the rear floor framing around the two back corners. I’ve done this sort of repair before, and it’s always touch to get in to these spaces retro-actively and replace the structure that was put in first.

LUCKILY (and I mean it this time) for me I have the greatest friend in the world, and I’ve enlisted my friend Matt (inventor, fabricator, builder, designer extraordinaire) to help me with the COMET the next few weeks in preparation for Tiny House Summer Camp. He did tons of body work yesterday while I pulled out rotten floor, and the exterior of the COMET looks good as new. All of the holes and scratches are filled and dents are pulled. Loads of pictures to come!

Another HUGE thank you to Timbucktu RV in Worcester (1047 Southbridge St, phone # 508. 459. 1132), for the water tank and all of the other goodies for the COMET. If you’re looking for appliances for your tiny house or camper, or need any type of repair, give them a call. They’re the greatest.

 

OH! And don’t forget about the vintage camper/tiny house rally on July 20-22 in Brattleboro VT at the Brattleboro KOA. Go to the Brattleboro KOA website to register your vintage camper, and all unique mobile dwellings get a discount! We have about 20-30 vintage campers already, it’s going to be a great weekend. Check out my EVENTS + APPEARANCES page on this website to see more details and find out about registering.

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Marmoleum Click flooring SketchUp model

Hello!

Yesterday I received my pallet full of goodies from the wonderful Green Building Supply. I got the UltraTouch denim insulation (which is so soft and squishy I want to make a bed out of it), lots of no-VOC paint for the interior and exterior, and my Marmoleum Click flooring! I’m really excited about the Marmoleum flooring – it’s antimicrobial, all natural, and really nice to step on. I know the flooring doesn’t go down until everything else is done, but I made up these models in SketchUp so I would know exactly how to lay out each panel (the Marmoleum I got comes in 12″ x 36″ planks).

I chose the black (“Lava”) and white (“Arabian Pearl”) because I felt like it would go with whatever color scheme (or lack there of, haha – I like to mix and match whatever I can find) I choose for the interior. I also think it’s a nice nod to the past, as many vintage campers had the classic 50’s-style black and white checkered linoleum floors. This design is a modern, updated version of those classic black and white tiles!

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Oh, and here’s a teaser for the DIY vacuum form table step-by-step DIY project, which is coming to CometCamper.wordpress.com very soon! It’s taking me a little bit to get the instructions and materials list together, because I’ve been so busy out in The COMET working every day, but a full DIY guide is on it’s way, I PROMISE!

That’s me, cutting out the frame for the plastic. Photo credit + moral support credit: Matt Carroll. Thanks, buddy!

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Demolition: Tearing out the Trash in The COMET

Two days ago I began pulling out the rotted wood and un-salvageable parts of The COMET. This post will be most useful to those of you who are thinking about (or in the process of) restoring/re-doing a vintage camper. Here are some of the “fun” things you might find when working on a camper that is over 50 years old!

WALL PANEL

Here’s the rear wall panel. As you can see, there is visible dry rot and water damage under the window. I took off the window frame and decided I need to replace the wood from half way down the window and below (imagine a straight horizontal line continuing off of both sides of the window where the gap in the panes are – everything below that). I began going at it with a chisel before deciding that the job needs a more precise hand held multitool, something like the Rockwell SonicCrafter, which can cut flush up again the walls. I peaked behind the wall panel, and all of the wood back there looks great, no damage. I’m still going to super reinforce the framing of this wall with more beams though, because I’ll want the extra supports when I go to mount the bumper greenhouse later.

 

WATER TANK

This is a photo of underneath¬† one of the front dinette benches, where the original water tank was. The water tank was a big hunk of rusty metal, so I used a sawzall to cut it out of the wall and then pulled it out. You can see that this area once kept a mouse very warm! I’m going to clean this area up and put down some new wood, maybe paint it all white so that you can see it better, then have the new water tank (which I ordered yesterday from Timbucktu RV in Worcester, MA) installed in here. I don’t know why there’s an outlet in this box, but we’ll find out!

 

TOILET

Here’s where I tore out the old camper toilet. Kinda gross! I’m going to try to re-use the tiny camper toilet seat from the original toilet, since it’s so small and perfect sized for the tiny closet. You can see that the toilet closet is a step up from the rest of the floor of the camper. I think I’m going to saw through the floor of the toilet closet and replace it with one that is at the same level as the rest of the camper. It’s probably a little higher right now to make room for a black water tank and plumbing, but the composting toilet doesn’t require a tank or any plumbing for water, so it doesn’t have to be a step up like that. Can’t wait to take out the floor and see what’s lurking under there… Can’t wait to show you all the mock-up for the squatting composting toilet.

 

INLET

Here’s the 30 amp/120V AC inlet that is on the exterior wall of the COMET. The male inlet is missing, so I got a whole new assembly (Thank You TIMBUCKTU RV!!). This is just temporary, so that I can use the lights and outlets in the camper, until the PV system is installed.

 

It’s been pouring rain the yesterday and today, so I’m hoping it lets up soon so I can get back to work! Someday I’ll have an indoor workshop and won’t have to rely on good weather. I’ve been collecting all of the materials I will need for the first few repairs (hardware, electrical, wood) so I won’t run into any unexpected roadblocks.

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Solar RV Eye Candy!

I’ve been so caught up in technical details surrounding The COMET lately that I haven’t done a just-for-fun Eye Candy photo in weeks!

The madness ends now!

Here’s a wonderful image of a solar-powered motorhome.

Based on the size and number of those panels, looks like it’s about a 750-Watt system. I wonder if those panels tilt up for when they’re parked, of if they are snowbirds and just follow the peak sun. Anyway, it’s a beautiful and unique RV, I love the seafoam green accents ;)

Speaking of beautiful and unique RVs, a friend of mine just began working on a rare vintage motorhome called a Clark Cortez. He’s fixing it up mechanically and also planning to build the interior from scratch, as it is completely gutted right now. Apparently there were only 3000 Cortez’s ever built while they were in production between 1963-79. The people who are into them are REALLY into them, it’s like a club! After pouring over the owners and parts manuals that my friend had (which was way more fun than it should be…vintage motorhome owners/parts manuals are definitely the way to my heart!), which was as thick as a dictionary and had schematics for EVERY single detail of every aspect of the Cortez, I realized that a house not far from me has not one but TWO Clark Cortez’s in their back yard, one brown and on pink (!). Considering how rare they are, one person owning 2 Cortez’s is sort of mind-blowing! This family also has a vintage Winnebago and a couple of other 1960’s campers in their yard, so they seem like my kind of people. I’m considering knocking on their door (with my buddy who wants to see their Cortez’s interiors for ideas) and asking them how they came to own so many interesting, classic RVs, and hear their story…but maybe that would be an odd thing to do?

The Cortez at the RV Hall Of Fame, a lifetime destination for me.

Anyway, enjoy the camper eye candy, and later I’ll share some photos of my fermentation set-up that I accomplished for less than $5, which was my goal! (I found the greatest gallon glass jar at Salvation army – wait till you see).

Until then!

 

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Camper Eye-Candy

Here’s something cute!

This is the Shingle Shack – a restored 1967 Forester 13 ft. camper. She’s up for sale on Tin Can Tourists (see the listing with more pictures and a description here).

I want to see more creative campers like this! I have sketchbooks full of ideas for weird, one-of-a-kind campers. If you or someone you know has a unique camper or motorhome, please share it with me and I’ll put it up on the blog!

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Part 2: Advice For Buying Your First Vintage Camper – “She has good bones!”

“She has good bones!”

That’s what I said when I bought my first vintage camper. She did have good bones, but I think if I had known the tidbits of information I’m about to divulge to you, I would have had a better idea of what I was really in for! So, let’s get to it!

This is Part 2 of a post about what to look for and what to avoid when checking out potential camper projects. See Part 1 for advice on how to find your own vintage camper project!

*Disclaimer! I am most familiar with 1950’s and 1960’s camper construction. This guide will be particularly helpful to people looking at camper trailers from that era. I’m sure these tips can be applied to most campers, but my experience is largely with 1950’s + 1960’s ones (which means you’ll see wooden frames, gas lights, and non-standard wiring…yay!)

Because I have yet to tear open (with care and love of course) The COMET, some of these pictures will be from other campers I’ve done. however, most of them will be of The COMET, because she’s a good example of what you might encounter when you go check out a potential camper. You can guess what is happening behind the scenes (seams?) by what the camper looks like on the outside. I hope these tips help to diminish the surprise of opening up a wall you thought had a little bit of water damage to find that entire half of the frame is rotted!
There are ways you can begin to tell what’s happening within the camper from the outside surface, without removing the walls.

First, let’s talk about things you should look FOR in your potential camper. I’m talking about things of value and things that can be salvaged. Even if you don’t like the look of, say for example, the original gas lamp, you can still probably sell it and use the money for lumber! I’m also talking about things that should be in good shape because they are a pain in the butt to fix, unless you have lots of time and skill.

Original gas lamp inside The COMET

*PS – Know the towing capacity of your vehicle and ask the seller what kind of hitch the vintage camper has…these weren’t all standardized back then. Make sure your car can tow the camper…if the seller doesn’t know the exact weight, that information is pretty widely available online for certain makes and models.*

Good things you might find in the camper you’re looking at to convert/fix:

Original window in good condiiton

Original windows/window hardware: Vintage camper windows can be hard to come by because most of them are no longer made and the ones that exist are few and far between. You can get replacement windows by contacting vintage trailer restoration places and asking them to remove some from their “parts” trailers that they keep around for that purpose (. However, they will likely charge you a “pulling”
fee on top of the cost of the rare window. If you’re lucky you might be able to find a local junkyard with old trailers to part out for windows. But your best bet is having all of the window frames and hardware in the camper when you find it. Broken glass is easy to replace, so don’t worry if glass is broken, just make sure the frames and bits are there.

Camper people love vintage light fixtures.

Light fixtures: From a vintage enthusiasts standpoint, original light fixtures are awesome. They look great and can usually be re-wired easily if for some reason they aren’t working. If you decide to replace them with something new, you can usually sell the originals.

Hydro-Flame!

stove and sink - matching pink!

Original appliances: If you’re going to do a green/off-the-grid overhaul, it isn’t necessary to have the original appliances. But if it does, it’s a plus because you can either sell them as a set (especially if they’re teal or pink!) or convert them or just use propane to use them. I have an early 1950’s camper and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stove works great! They were made to last in those days…if you end up with a newer model camper, I’m not sure how well those appliances will do on full-time use.

Things to watch out for:

Water damage, under the wood wall panels

dry rot in The COMET...a good reason to replace the wall!

Water damage: For the most part, older campers from the 1940’s-1970’s have wooden frames, with aluminum exteriors, some thin insulation, and 1/4 inch ply interiors. When you see signs of water damage on a wall, it can mean water damage, dry rot or mold in the wooden framing underneath. So most likely you will have to replace not only the wall with the visual water damage but also anything below the highest point of water damage in the frame. The most common place to find water damage is underneath a window or around the ceiling vent openings. This isn’t impossible to fix, but just know that the framing will need to be replaced if the wood under the wall panel is soft, or you’ll have nothing to nail the new wall panel into. It’s usually a process of removing anything soft or rotten, chiseling it down to solid wood, and putting in a new piece.

Tail lights in good shape

Modern towing hook-up next to the original 5-prong hook-up

Electrical: It isn’t that electrical is hard to fix, it’s just that you have to remove all of the walls to get to the wiring. Remember, these things were built from the ground up, so in order to get to the wiring, you have to take everything apart. If you’re planning on doing this anyway, it’s no big deal. But if the interior wood in your vintage camper is in good condition, you probably don’t want to remove the walls just for fun (those original wall panels will crack and break when you try to pry them off…they’re OLD!).

There are two separate electrical systems involved in the vintage camper: the tow wiring and the interior electric. The tow wiring controls the running lights, the directionals, and the break lights. It may also control your camper trailer’s brakes IF the vintage camper has electric brakes. Most likely, your modern vehicle doesn’t have the same tow hook up that your vintage camper does (the wiring was not standard back then, and the tow wiring has changed). If possible (and this is assuming you are really interested in this camper and aren’t sure whether or not the tow wiring works), I would suggest bringing a modern 7-prong female plug (or whichever plug will complement/match your male socket on your vehicle) and cutting off the original 4-prong socket in order to re-wire those towing wires into the modern female plug. This is a “best-case scenario”. It is likely that the colors of the wires on the original tow wiring kit are random – like I said, not standard colors like modern wiring kits. It might take some trial and error, but you may be able to test and see if the tow wiring works (also, this will only work if there are bulbs in the rear lights and the running lights – and that also assumes that the fixtures aren’t rusted out completely and totally trashed.) If the tow wiring DOES work, it will save you a lot of time and headache and you hopefully won’t have to remove any walls to replace the wiring. But if you DO have to replace the tow wiring kit, it isn’t the end of the world.

Took off the ceiling! (Another past camper)

The interior electricity is usually supplied by a 120V plug accessible from the exterior of the trailer. If you have access to electricity and an extension cord, plug in the camper and try plugging something (cell phone, lamp, anything) into the interior power outlets (like you have in your house). There’s a good chance these will work if the camper is in decent shape. If a light works, even better! If not, you’re going to have to test the wiring throughout the interior of the trailer, which might mean removing walls. Or if you’re planning on replacing the electrical system anyways, this won’t matter either because those walls are coming off one way or another!

uh oh!

We can fix that.

Separating aluminum siding:
This is a really common problem found in older vintage campers. Oftentimes old age and general use (weight) will mean that the aluminum sheathing in the rear two corners of the camper, towards the bumper, will have separated. The trim that covers the seam between the two aluminum sheets will most likely be pulling up and away from the corner. It is very unlikely that you will be able to get those two pieces of aluminum to line up in a nice seam again: The structure and the frame of the camper has warped and settled over time, and likely won’t get small enough for you to force those aluminum sides together without some serious frame work. Fortunately, I had yet to deal with this common issue, until now. The COMET has this problem and so I will have to experiment with the best ways to repair the corners and cover the exposed wooden framing from the elements. Most likely it will mean adding on more aluminum – patching up the gaps. I will have lots of tips on how to do this when I get to it!

Hole

Holes in the exterior sheet metal:
Hopefully the exterior metal siding of the camper won’t have gaping holes in it. Dings and dents can be filled and sanded and painted over…but large holes are a little harder to fix. Like with the separated aluminum at the corners, these will have to be patched. Depending on your skill and the hole, it will be more difficult to make this look good. The COMET has one hole on the outside where it looks like something sharp snagged on her side. Hopefully I’ll be able to rivet on a patch and smooth it out with filler. Same as above, I’ll have a tutorial for this when I do it.

This is a great cross-section of the "belly of the beast".

Undercarriage issues:
Oh, the mysterious undercarriage. You probably don’t even want to get down there and look around, but you definitely should. If the undercarriage, (which is usually laid down in this order: steel trailer, roofing tar material, wooden frame, insulation, subfloor, floor) seems to be in rough shape, it can be VERY difficult to repair. It can be a pain in the butt mainly because the campers were built from the frame up, and so going back in and retroactively trying to repair and replace something that is now under 3000 lbs.¬† of wood and metal is not easy. If you get under the trailer and see that the black tar paper (roofing underlayment) is sagging, that can be repaired. It isn’t fun but you can use large washers and screw into the wooden frame, pulling the sagging tar paper under the carriage back up into place. If there are holes, the roofing tar paper will need to be replaced. You don’t want more critters making nests up there or water getting into the insulation and subfloor area. Depending on where the holes, tears, or cuts are in the original tar paper under there, they can either be patched and re-sealed or just sealed up. In my first vintage camper I had to replace half of the tar paper on the undercarriage because it had sagged so much it was completely falling apart in the rear of the camper. This meant jacking up the camper just enough so that I could slide new tar paper under the frame but above the steel trailer frame/chassis. It was a b*tch to do, and a 3 person job, but nothing is impossible.

Rats/mice:
There’s a good chance, depending on where your camper was stored, that there will be some evidence of “mice activity”. If it’s not out in the open, you may find pockets of mouse nests in the insulation under the floor or in the walls. It’s not the end of the world, just be careful and make sure it all gets cleaned up. Replace any and all insulation that has mice or rat feces in it.

This list will probably become longer and more comprehensive as I encounter new problems in each camper I work on. But please feel free to contact me with questions! I really want this blog to serve as a resource for people looking to get into alternative, mobile lifestyles. I want it to be helpful! So if there’s anything you’d like to see on here, please don’t hesitate to let me know. AND DON’T LET THIS LIST DISCOURAGE YOU! Vintage campers are a pleasure to work on. We’ll be able to appreciate it more when I list my Top 5 favorite things about The COMET, tomorrow!

Stay Tuned!

XO

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