Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet Lulu: My summer project

Last summer I shared with Gary my birthday wish: to find a vintage travel trailer to fix up. I thought it would be a fun project and I love those cute trailers.   Always the sensible one to bring me down to earth, Gary opened my eyes to the potentially complicated realities of such an endeavor.  

I put the idea aside until driving home from a camping trip this past June. Maybe we were still tripping on the weekend getaway high, but this time Gary seemed downright supportive. Right there in the car I perused craigslist on my phone, found a few to look at, and exactly one week later had Lulu parked in my driveway. 

She came with the name, and we decided to keep it. Lulu is a 1964 Fleetcraft travel trailer. The exterior is adorable I think, although in need of some cosmetic repairs. The interior had great potential but unfortunately the necessary repairs inside are more than skin-deep. 

Major exterior repairs completed: fix broken window seal, repair rear bumper, waterproof and seal entire exterior,  replace front trailer jack, lubricate and re-carpet doorstep.

The inside had five or six major areas of dry-rot and/or mold. To truly restore Lulu to "showroom" condition one would have to practically strip her down to the steel and start over. My goal was simply to have a cute, functional trailer that smells good and isn't going to fall apart when you sit down.
So to begin I had to bake the wet spots dry with a heater, then strip away the damaged wood paneling. My original plan was to replace all of the wood paneling, but I am grateful that my Dad (former professional painter) convinced me just to paint the interior instead. This meant I could leave good paneling in place and simply clean and sand the bad spots. I applied a layer of KILZ to seal in any odor that might have remained, then sanded it down to smooth finish.  In the collage above, each row shows one corner in progression from left to right. 

The previous owner had dismantled the dinette area in the front and used it as storage shelving only. The top left picture shows the bottom shelf which extended all the way across, plus he had a second shelf the same size sitting on top of the support rails he nailed around the outside. I removed the middle section to restore the bench-style seating base. Since the wood inside the walls in the front of the trailer was a little soft, I decided it would be best to leave his supports in place and build out new paneling. I used a nice beadboard panel and added trim around the top.

Painting! My dad, the pro, helped me get started with a complete interior paint job. He even donated the paint out of his supply of random mismatches and leftovers. I chose to leave the cabinetry unpainted because I do love the character of the whitewash wood paneling, and it was still in decent shape on the cabinets. Plus there is really great copper hardware on all the drawers and cabinets that I did not want painted and didn't want to mess with removing or taping them either. 

Describing a few collages of before and after pictures makes this project seem comically simple! I must interject now that it took many weeks of hard work to get to this point! I consulted with a great vintage trailer expert at a local RV shop who provided a lot of free advice and assistance, and I also purchased some parts from him and hired him to complete a number of projects that were beyond my scope of comfort. Unforeseen challenges cropped up continuously. I spent a lot of time researching, planning, figuring, working, and cleaning. Some of the projects were dirty and difficult. Others were kind of fun...and difficult.

I found the greatest fabric material online.  It was just what I wanted: a funky, psychedelic design that incorporated Lulu's turquoise and white color scheme. Without any sort of pattern, my mother and I figured out how to sew the curtains so that the pattern could be seen from inside and outside the windows, could be hung on a rod if desired (I chose to use the vintage ring clips but wanted both options), and looked professional and gorgeous! I had Lulu's zebra rug cleaned (by my wonderful brother) and trimmed it to a better fit. I absolutely love being able to store all of our camping gear right inside the trailer! Lulu has tons of storage space for such a small vehicle. 

The pièce de résistance for me is the dinette set. I bit the bullet and ordered the more expensive vinyl I fell in love with. It has a great textured pattern of circles and has a soft finish that is very comfortable. Since Lulu isn't all square and symmetrical, I custom ordered each piece of foam. My desire to have a table that converted seamlessly into a bed required some creative thinking and mathematics, and I am so proud of the way this engineering feat turned out. 

When it's time to lay down, lift the back cushions out and slide the seat back. This leaves the exact amount of room for the tabletop to rest on the edge of the bench base.  The two back cushions not only fit exactly on top of the table, they are thinner than the seat cushions by exactly the thickness of the table so that the cushions are flush for the bed. It makes me a little giddy because it was not easy to get it all worked out but it turned out so nicely! 

And I sewed the vinyl covers myself too! They look pretty darn good for amateur work, I think. 
A collection of before and afters: The left column shows the back bench/bed area from moldy walls and ugly curtains to finished in the bottom picture with fresh paint, brand new cushions inside the washed folding cover, and adorable curtains. The right column shows the front dinette area from rotten walls to new paneling to finished dinette set. My brother-in-law Randy made the tabletop out of cherry hardwood.

And lastly a collection of different angles and close-ups of the near-finished project. Original mint-green appliances was one of the major selling points for me on this particular trailer: a stove and oven, sink, and old-fashioned ice box. Also the louver-style windows are so charming. 

I wish I could say that Lulu is all done! She was done "enough" to go on her first adventure: a road trip to Southern California and Yosemite National Park in mid-August. But there are still a number of projects to complete to make her as wonderful as she can be. Some are functionality issues such as mounting the spare tire underneath, fixing a broken taillight cover, and getting the plumbing operational (the hand pump works if I put the tube into a jug of water under the sink, but the built-in tank is disconnected and the city-water supply has a crack in the pipe).  Other projects are more cosmetic or fun such as welding on a hitch where we can put our bike rack, repairing the dents and chipped paint on the front panel, and having Lulu's name applied on the outside. And there's more. 

Lulu has been an interesting and challenging project. I purchased the trailer for a good price (Steven, the RV shop guy, reassured me of that when I started learning about all of Lulu's problems and feared I'd been swindled) but we doubled our investment in supply and repair costs. Still, Steven is confident that when we're ready to sell Lulu we will make a profit because of her significantly upgraded condition. In fact, while Lulu spent some time in his repair yard, he had people walk in on a daily basis inquiring after her. I hope we'll get to enjoy many more fun vacations with Lulu before we're ready to get our money back. But it's nice to know the investment isn't just a waste. Now...the additional cost of gas hauling her fat butt might be...that upper bunk bed makes for quite a drain on the MPG. No wonder Airstreams took the industry by storm in the mid-century.

Here is a picture of Lulu on her first road trip, parked in the Yosemite Valley under a towering granite cliff. I am so grateful for all the help I received from Bryan, Steven, Randy, Gary, and my dad on this project. Oh, and Madelyn too! Thank you everyone!

1 comment:

Sujay said...

So beautiful the site is.Thank you.


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