At 7:55am on the morning of August 11th, 2014, I passed a small, vintage “canned ham” style camper trailer on my way to work. She was sitting in a field, little forlorn “For Sale” sign posted, alone save for a John Deere riding mower… just waiting for me to drive by.
By 9:00am, I had the title in hand and she was mine!
This wasn’t an impulse buy; I’d been dreaming of restoring / renovating a vintage travel trailer for years. I wasn’t finicky about the model, but I did have a few requirements that made the pickings slim: I was looking for a 1960’s, or earlier, camper trailer in original condition (i.e., not gutted), that was structurally sound, with working plumbing, appliances, propane, and electric. At a price I could afford.
I’d had experience with how quickly these old trailers move in my area; they come up for sale only rarely, and when priced right, they are a popular choice to begin a new life as a “hunter’s special”. I called the seller right away, and once he arrived, I made a deal to purchase within five minutes of looking her over. Considering others were already showing up to see the camper, and the seller’s phone was a near continuous ringing in his pocket, I knew she’d be gone within an hour. I had to act quickly if I wanted her.
I looked long enough to ascertain a few pertinents: No visible, massive water damage -check! Original appliances present and working -check! Windows and door unbroken,working, and appear to be all original -check! Structure and floor appear sound -check! Axle is in good shape and tires have good tread -check! Is there a clear title? There is? She’s mine!
The seller assured me that “everything works great” with the electrical system, appliances, and propane, and that has turned out to be somewhat true. “All her lights work” actually translated to all interior lights working, and three or four of her running lights working sporadically; my husband ended up repairing most of the electrical connections to the running lights before we had “works great” electric. The propane connections and appliances do indeed all work, though, (at least on the limited basis that I’ve tested them so far) and the seller made sure he included two propane tanks with updated valves so I wouldn’t have difficulty getting them filled. He was a nice old guy. He was asking $1000.00, I offered $800 cash, he settled for $900.00, and I drove away with a 1969 L&M RoadRunner Fine Travel Trailer. She’s 7′ 10″ tall, and 8′ wide, making her almost a perfect little square can. She’s 11′ long with a 4′ tongue, an easily towed, lightweight single axle with a clear title and, amazingly, all of her original paperwork and manuals!
RoadRunner travel trailers were built by L & M Trailer Manufacturing Company in Ephraim, Utah in the 1960’s. The designation RoadRunner was not a model name, all of their trailers were called RoadRunners. It was a very small company; I read it started with just a single rancher building campers in Utah. The company was purchased by DiGiorgio Leisure Products of Kalispell, MT in the early 70’s. And that’s really all I’ve been able to find out about RoadRunners.
In a perfect world, I would have found a vintage trailer with that most coveted of assets – turquoise appliances…Mmmm 🙂 …. The RoadRunner’s Holiday Trav’ler appliances are a rich, golden orange, apparently called ‘Sunset’, and by God, I’ll take them. Could have been worse, they could have been the ubiquitous vintage shades of dark avocado, or (worse!) woodtone brown -my least favorite vintage shades. Her dinette cushions are a bordello inspired red vinyl with flamboyant gold embroidery, but those will be getting a facelift, so meh -not a problem.
One of the first things I did when I got her home was to remove the Walmart special ’90’s wall clock and pull the curtains, which may have actually been original, and were definitely vintage, but which did not endear themselves to me with their plaid, homey cabin feel. I washed those curtains, folded and tied them up in a pretty bow and sold them at my vintage / antique shoppe. I have definite ideas for my vintage travel trailer interior, and none of them involve plaid, brown, or the cabin look. (Not that there is a thing wrong with those colors or that look, they are just not for me. 🙂 )
I have learned a lot during the renovation process of this trailer, which my husband and I have done entirely on our own. I had hoped to drag him into my newest project as infrequently as possible (which is why I wanted a trailer with sound structure, electric, et cetera -those things are beyond my personal fix-er-up capabilities), but as it’s turned out, he was sucked in to the RoadRunner vortex -she’s irresistible, apparently! If it involved automotive exterior painting, welding, plumbing, electrical repair, building anything from steel, or anything to do with the tongue, hitch, couplers,wheel bearings, and propane connections -my husband handled it. If it involved sanding, stripping paint, masking, designing color schemes, polishing, interior painting, ripping out, rebuilding, paneling, sealing, re-sealing, screening, installing, upholstering, repairing holes, building anything from wood, researching and decorating -I handled it. 🙂
Things I learned:
- How to operate a table saw and a jig-saw, as well as various other assorted power tools.
- How to upholster cushions and create curtains when you can’t sew.
- A whole host of things about vintage trailers
- You can accomplish an amazing renovation on comparably little money if you do all the work yourselves. (Our total financial outlay on the trailer, parts, and materials is now at just over $2,100, and there is very little left to purchase… we will come in well below $3000 on this great camper!)
- There is a YouTube video to teach you absolutely anything in the world that you need to learn how to do. Within reason.
- I had no mechanical or construction type skills -but I learned… and then created!
- I’m incredibly lucky, as my husband has mad skills (of the type I couldn’t have learned on YouTube) that enabled us to not have to outsource any of the work done on the trailer.
- All vintage travel trailers have a name.
- Figuring out what your vintage travel trailer’s name is doesn’t happen in one day.
Also? For every three things you fix, you discover one more thing that needs attention.
My first day working on the trailer can best be described as vacillation. I went back and forth between things to be done, unable to settle long enough to accomplish much. The problem was, I’d identified so many items I wanted to tackle that I couldn’t focus on getting any one thing done. My brain was stuffed full with all of the things that I wanted to do to this trailer.
The next day I created a spreadsheet. (What can I say, I just think better on paper, I guess) …I let everything that was clogging up my brain pour out all over Excel, then organized it in a to-do list that made sense to me. For instance, I’d probably want to strip old paint before polishing aluminum, heh. Simple, but made a world of difference because it gave me one thing at a time to focus on, and I could add things to the list as I discovered them, thus I could quit worrying that I would forget something if I didn’t try to address every single issue the moment I noticed it.
That list has grown exponentially.
On the plus side, around 90% of the list is now complete! I’ll post the list here, at the end of this blog -just in case you have a wild desire to renovate a travel trailer yourself, and would like to know what to expect. 🙂 The list, however, is not comprehensive. Occasionally, when I’d notice some new repair that was necessary, I would actually be able to get to it that day, thus it never made it onto the to-do list.
We’ve come a long way, and finished nearly everything on the list below, but the details on each, as well as before and after photos, will come in subsequent blog entries. 🙂
The to-do list, a.k.a. -my random little notes…
|TO DO LIST|
|Repair holes in aluminum body -fiberglass patch kit|
|spray foam insulation in repaired areas|
|Remove truck box|
|remove propane tanks|
|screw down front bottom aluminum strip|
|Polish aluminum front bottom strip|
|install new battery box|
|install new battery|
|upholster cushions / create cushion covers|
|hammer down protruding edges on little windows|
|Strip paint remnants from back section|
|Remove back window|
|replace and seal back window|
|re-screen all windows|
|remove and reseal left side windows|
|Auto paint -prime, paint, and clear coat exterior after masking / sanding|
|paint propane tanks|
|install a 2nd propane hose|
|paint battery box|
|reinstall all parts after painting|
|front door bottom window frame bottom tightened and screen replaced|
|measure for and order vintage awning & ropes / poles to fit existing awning channel|
|order custom license plate|
|repair hole in trailer underbottom -aluminum rivet|
|reinstall propane tanks|
|check all the propane connections|
|Build a new back steel bumper|
|install leveling jacks and tow hitch|
|build a spare tire holder|
|paint new bumper and jacks white|
|rivet the front window awning where it’s loose|
|install new doorknob|
|polish all interior / exterior window chrome trim|
|running lights repaired and re-sealed , installed|
|wire tubing on front connections|
|rear tail lights need special screws installed|
|extra reflectors on patched areas in back?|
|Repack wheel bearings|
|paint inner wheels white|
|order baby moon hubcaps and install|
|porta potty out and soaking in a bleach water mix / scrub out|
|build an exterior water drain|
|remove half of the top bunkbed|
|electric wires checked, repaired|
|install new batten insulation where water damaged paneling and moldy insulation removed|
|underlayment down under storage areas -rebuild back corner floor areas|
|new wall panelling sheets installed in back|
|glue / repair the loose laminate on bunk|
|silicon / wood glue repair remaining moisture damage splits near windows|
|lightly sand panelling to be painted|
|paint interior storage areas under dinette|
|build and install dais for porta potti|
|remove hooks, mirrors, etc from interior|
|cargo hold scrubbed out and replace broken key latch|
|inside door -chalkboard paint|
|pull water tank, clean area with bleach, install new water tank or repair tank leak|
|Clean area under kitchen sink and stove thoroughly|
|Clean sink, icebox, stove,|
|clean inside of all cupboards|
|paint the port potti|
|relaminate or paint kitchen counter|
|repair the sink faucet pump|
|porta potty back in|
|create and hang curtains|
|paint bathroom door -install new knobs, fix door to hang right|
|polish all interior chrome|
|find a spare tire, paint wheel white, install hubcap|