Tag Archives: renovation

Installing the Fresh Water Tank Fill Spout

The fresh water tank (the only tank in the COMET – no grey or black water tanks) lives underneath the rear couch/bed. Originally it was under the dinette bench on the port side, but that meant that there was about 15 feet of tubing wrapping around the entire trailer to get from the tank to the faucet on the other side. We moved it to underneath the rear bench to be closer to the faucet. The fresh water tank is 15 gallons and I refill it about every 3-4 days. You don’t really use a lot of water when you have to pump it by hand. And the hot water is just one of those black bag camp showers that I hang up outside.

Here’s how we installed the new fresh water tank.

Here's where the new fresh water fill spout goes. Thanks Timbucktu RV Supply in Worcester for all the parts needed for the water tank installation!

Here’s where the new fresh water fill spout goes. Nothing is pressurized, so it’s just an angled spout where you put water form the hose. Thanks Timbucktu RV Supply in Worcester for all the parts needed for the water tank installation!

Close up of the fill. We caulked around the edges, and screwed it into the wall. The small spot to the left of the spout is the vent, which allows the tank to empty correctly.

Close up of the fill. We caulked around the edges, and screwed it into the wall. The small spot to the left of the spout is the vent, which allows the tank to empty correctly.

Here's what it looks like from the inside. We toe-nailed in a piece of plywood so that we would have something more than just aluminum to screw it into from the outside.

Here’s what it looks like from the inside. We toe-nailed in a piece of plywood so that we would have something more than just aluminum to screw it into from the outside.

Here are the lines attached, using hose clamps. The blue and white striped line (the larger one) is the water fill line, it goes from the fill spout to the tank. The clear, smaller line is the vent line for air to escape as the water drains. It goes from the tank to the spout, then outside via that vent.

Here are the lines attached, using hose clamps. The blue and white striped line (the larger one) is the water fill line, it goes from the fill spout to the tank. The clear, smaller line is the vent line for air to escape as the water drains. It goes from the tank to the spout, then outside via that vent. Don’t skimp on the caulking when you’re dealing with the water situation. Better safe than sorry!

Some context.

Some context.

The tank! It came with no pre-drilled holes, so we could decide where to put them ourselves. Using a hole saw bit on the drill, we cut out the correct holes for the hose attachments. There were 3 holes in the tank total: one for water to come in from the spout, one for air to escape when it's draining, and one for water to travel from the tank to the faucet via another line, which is down at the bottom.

The tank! It came with no pre-drilled holes, so we could decide where to put them ourselves. Using a hole saw bit on the drill, we cut out the correct holes for the hose attachments. There were 3 holes in the tank total: one for water to come in from the spout, one for air to escape when it’s draining, and one for water to travel from the tank to the faucet via another line, which is down at the bottom.

Then we cut the new panel for that wall (the old panel was all water damaged under the window and at the floor) and tacked it in.

Then we cut the new panel for that wall (the old panel was all water damaged under the window and at the floor) and tacked it in.

We then put in the framing and front of the rear bench (not tank yet) because we needed to see how we would run the line from the tank to the faucet and make sure everything would fit.

We then put in the framing and front of the rear bench (not tank yet) because we needed to see how we would run the line from the tank to the faucet and make sure everything would fit.

Now, we actually installed the kitchen before attaching the water tank and hooking everything up, so that’s where I’ll stop for now. Basically, the tank got put into it’s spot under the bench, it fit very snugly. We hooked up the fill line to the appropriate fitting that we had installed in the side of the tank, and the air vent line to the appropriate fitting. We put the fitting (barbed) into the bottom for the faucet line as well, but didn’t hook it up until the kitchen was finished. So we’ll look at the kitchen then get back to finishing up the water tank. Photos to come!

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Interior Floor Demolition!

This is what I was doing the last few days. Later on I’ll post pictures of what it looks like now, with the new framing, insulation, and flooring.

Basically the entire rear floor, under the bed/couch under the window, had been destroyed by a combination of water damage and termites or carpenter ants. There was no framing left in the rear 4 feet of flooring, it was just dust at this point. We ended up pulling out an entire wall’s structural members and floor studs: there was a lot of day light coming through. This is the most structurally-intense renovation/repair I have ever had to do in a trailer, but it was similar in nature to the repairs I had done to fix water damage in other trailers, so progress has been going very quickly!

I’ll walk you through peeling back the layers of rot. Don’t let this discourage you  if you’re considering repairing your own vintage trailer. If I can do it, anyone can. Oh, and a big thank you to my friend Matt for helping me out in these hectic weeks before Tiny House Summer Camp, and all the other weeks he’s helped as well.

The thing about repairing the framing in these is that you peel back one wall to fix one problem, which then allows you to see about 8 other problems that you hadn’t noticed before. And everything is built originally from the frame up, so you’re trying to get into places that were put together in an order that makes it challenging to get at things retroactively. We ended up pulling back some of the exterior aluminum to be able to reach certain spots better.

This is the rear of the camper where I pulled back the linoleum sheet floor to find a soft pile of dusty wood. You can see the corner was just rotted through. But I didn’t know how far the rot had gotten until I dug deeper.

I used the SonicCrafter and my hands to pull out all of the rotten wood framing. The wood was so rotten it just came right out for the most part. Some of the stuff I pried out with the Wonderbar. you can see the black wood in the corner, where day light is coming in. That’s not good! Basically water rots where it sits, which is why the wood under the window is fine but the floor is ruined. Even though the water was coming in through the window, it was flowing down into the floor and had no way to escape.

I then tore out the kitchen, realizing that the floor framing on the starboard side was rotted out beneath the kitchenette. I also knew by stepping on it that the floor next to the heater, below that big round hole in the wall where the vent was, was all rotted out. I carefully removed the kitchen so I could get at the floor there.

This is the view from the outside. This entire length of member was rotten with water damage.


Here you can see where I used the SonicCrafter to cut out the rotten wood to where it was solid again. Those straight cuts are where the wood is no longer rotten. It looks like a huge mess, but is surprisingly simple to fix when you have control over how you want to re-build. I knew I wanted to rebuild it ten times stronger than it was originally. Originally, the studs in the wall were stapled (yes, STAPLED) to the floor beams. Not exactly sturdy construction.

I’ll post pictures of what we did to fix this mess later on. I think it turned out pretty good!

Anyway, one of my best friends just bought a vintage trailer to live in (we’re going to have a caravan!) and she’s in the process of repairing the rear rot as well. Today she’s coming over to help me out and see what you can do to fix that sort of damage. If I can convince at least one other person that living in a trailer is an awesome idea, I would say this project has been a success already!

**Another huge thank you to Green Building Supply, who really helped me out yesterday on such short notice. I was having a really hard time figuring out what to do about the countertop in the COMET. I wanted to re-use an old Formica table, and I ended up getting one off of craigslist, but it turns out is isn’t the right size for the counter. I called up Green Building Supply looking for a solution and they recommended Marmoleum, the same stuff that my flooring is made of! You can get Marmoleum in tiles or planks for floors, or you can order it in flexible sheets, which works like a natural laminate countertop. It’s completely non-toxic, natural linoleum and basically indestructible. I picked out a really cool teal color, Azzuro. It is a similar pattern to the flooring, sort of swirly and marble-y.

I also got some of the non-toxic Forbo (who makes Marmoleum) adhesive to put the countertop onto a piece of plywood I have lying around. I’m going to re-use the vintage aluminum retro trim from the original countertop around the edges, so it will still have that vintage look. Can’t wait to get this in the mail!

As always, thanks so much for reading. I’ll update again later on, gosh-willing I can keep my eyes open after I’m done in The COMET.

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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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