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The restoration of my
1951 Spartanette model
by Craig Dorsey
10 / 28 / 98
For my second Trailer Of The Month story, I am going to tell you about my 1951 Spartanette. I found my Spartanette while driving through Riverside California one day last April. I got off of the freeway and was driving down the main drag of the old part of town, when I passed an old antique store on a large lot filled with rusty metal and farm equipment. Being the scrounge that I am, I was rubber necking to see if I could spot any good finds and there it was! The trailer of my dreams sitting on the side of the store with a faded out " FOR SALE" sign sitting in the front window. I couldn't see much of the trailer from the street through all of the junk and fences, but I knew that I had to have it . So I took down the the number and gave them a call and three weeks later I handed the owner the cash and drove home with my new 1951 Spartanette model 24 travel trailer
Needless to say, the neighbors' bottom jaws hit the cement when I pulled up in front of my nice suburban track home and parked the beast in my driveway. I could see them scratching their heads and wondering how long I was going to keep that ugly old eye sore there. I knew that I had to work fast to keep the neighbors at bay, so I set out to clean up the exterior. With 48 years of oxidation ahead of me, I started to clean, scrub and polish and got nowhere fast.
What a mess! I don't think that the body had been touched since the day it left the showroom in 1950. What I needed was a good acid wash! After buying at least a dozen different products, I discovered MAG WHEEL CLEANER by EAGLE 1 car care products. This stuff really does the job! So I acid washed the exterior and brought it to a nice white aluminum color. What a difference that made. It made the trailer not look so ugly, and it kept the neighbors happy as well.
Now that it wasn't such an eye sore, it was time to go to work on the interior. The first thing that I did was a very disgusting job. With my industrial strength respirator on, I had to take lacquer thinner and boxes of rags and wash every square inch of the wood to remove 20 years of smoking in a confined area. The nicotine was so thick that it came off like goop. I was sure glad when that job was over. Next I had to remove the interior wood from the back of the trailer in the bedroom. This had to be done for two reasons. First, because I needed to do some body work on both of the back corners where the trailer had backed into things and second because there was some dry rot and water damage from the windows leaking. I then took to the body damage from the inside with hammers and body blocks. I got it fairly straight but not perfect. It looked a lot better than it did before I started. I then moved on to replacing the paneling and detailing the trim in the bedroom, then varnished my way towards the front.
I then moved on to the kitchen., I think that the kitchen was
built at 3 o'clock on a Friday. What I mean by that is that the
trailer was built very well and then they cut corners when building
the kitchen as if they had to finish building it by the end of the
day, so they just slapped it together.
I rebuilt the counter tops and covered them and the back walls with a new, old style linoleum and finished the edges with fresh aluminum trim. I installed a new faucet and replaced the old dried up rubber hose type plumbing with new copper pipe and a water heater which it never had before. Next I reworked the face frame of a stack of drawers to accept a new modern microwave. I cleaned and restored the original Dixie stove and the Frigidaire refrigerator. The motor and wiring were shot in the frig so I had to have a new motor installed at a mere $400. oh well!
The next step was somewhat of a challenge. On the right hand side of the trailer, at the length of the kitchen, was one long cabinet 22" deep by 8' long that housed the refrigerator, clothes closets and storage. At the front end of the cabinet there was a clothes closet that was 22"x 19" . The closet fell short of reaching the front door of the trailer by 19" . In this space there used to be an old oil heater which had been removed some years ago leaving vent holes in the floor and the ceiling. What I did, was to remove the end portion of the cabinet , which had a rounded corner on it, and moved it over 19" until it butt up with the door frame making the closet now 38" x 22". Using the same full length closet door and filling in the open spaces with new birch plywood, I finished off the face of the cabinet to match the rest of it . What I now had was the beginnings of my new very small bathroom. I ran copper plumbing up the end wall and finished it off with vintage style fixtures. I then covered the walls with new 1/4" birch paneling, shellacked to match the rest of the wood and coated it with several coats of marine varnish to hold up under the water.
I then went over the entire interior, detailing every square inch
along the way. I then hung traditional 2" venetian blinds on all of
the windows and the interior was finished.
The next step was the part that I disliked most of all, polishing the outside. But I did it, and I did it all by hand. No power tools just lots of good old fashioned elbow grease and a little Ben-Gay. Doing it by hand is not the easy way but it leaves your finish with little or no swirls.
Next I made new upholstered doors panels and refinished the screen doors. I worked on the brakes, painted the rims and put on 3" white port-a-walls. I then made new decals for the trailer using a templet that I had made from the original sticker before I started to polish the exterior.
The trailer was finally finished! well it is not completely
finished, I still need to install the storage tanks and a few other
things, but it was finished enough for my son and I to haul it up to
Azusa, CA. the week of Oct 21 - 25 1998 to the Lost Highways long
long weekend vintage travel trailer and motor home rally and show
where I picked up awards for "BEST RESTORATION" and "PEOPLES CHOICE"
which is exactly what I set out to do when I started the project in
May of 98.
In writing this story I left out a lot of the details and steps that I took to transform the ugly beast into an award winning show piece, such as the fact that I spent between 600 and 700 hours on the restoration in 5 months, that's 30 - 35 hours a week! But to me it is all worth it when you see the expressions on the peoples faces that see it flying down the road or pulling into a campsite, not to mention the joy and pleasure that my family and I will get from it in the years to come when we travel on our many Vintage Vacations.