Trailer Blazers: A weekend up north with vintage trailer restoration gurus

Christie Webber and Shawn Fairchild are collecting and restoring vintage trailers in their spare time.

Shawn Fairchild and Christie Webber are collecting and restoring vintage trailers in their spare time. Their addiction is our gain.

Smaller Living

So you like the tiny house movement, right? Want to fit everything you own into a 100-square-foot house with a lofted bed and a toilet that converts into a dining room table? Better yet, do you want the ability to tug this incredibly adorable house on a flatbed behind your Prius and park it wherever you like on trips across the country?

Great, that will only cost you a kabrillion dollars. Of course, if you don’t have that much disposable income, you can just build it yourself. No big whoop.

Christie's beloved Shasta, mid-restoration. Shastas were built between 1941 and 2004 and were originally constructed as housing for United States Armed Forces. One of their most charming features are a set of wings on the rear sides of the trailers. These are often difficult to find as they've been stolen off of most of the older models. They are mostly cut off in this pic, but you can see them in the picture above and on the Vin Tin Tin Facebook page.

Christie’s beloved Shasta, mid-restoration. Shastas were built between 1941 and 2004 and were originally constructed as housing for United States Armed Forces. One of their most charming features is the set of wings on the rear sides of the trailers. These are often difficult to find as they’ve been stolen off of most of the older models.

Don’t get me wrong, I love DIY, but building such a thing without experience would require a whole lot of patience and whole lot of time and still would cost some serious moolah. Want an efficient, mobile structure that has everything you need to live, actually was built to be transported, and does not require existing infrastructure to land somewhere for a while? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to rekindle our love for the good old American trailer. Ta-da!

I recently drove up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to meet with Christie Webber and Shawn Fairchild to learn about their passion for restoring vintage trailers. Airstreams have been embraced by hipsters from Austin to Seattle, but there are so many more options that for some inexplicable reason, we never hear about.

Rolite made the first hardwall pop-up trailers. This guy (with a trunk!!) was build in the 1960s and opened in less than two minutes by pushing a button. The inside sprouts a furnace, stove, sink, closet, dining area, beds and a couch, which fold up or down when the walls and roof are raised. (What?) This particular find has had only one owner--a family that went camping all over the place, sleeping 7. Yes, 7. The other great part is that this trailer was created in Wisconsin, home of Vin Tin Tin. These are super rare.

Rolite made the first hard-wall aluminum pop-up trailers. This good looking guy (with a trunk!!) was build in the 1960s and opened in less than two minutes by pushing a button. The inside sprouts a furnace, stove, sink, closet, dining area, beds and a couch, which fold up or down when the walls and roof are raised. (What?!) This particular find has had only one owner–a family that went camping all over the place, sleeping 7. Yes, 7. The other great part is that this trailer was created in Wisconsin, home of Vin Tin Tin. These are super rare.

About 2-1/2 years ago, Christie and Shawn got together to start Vin Tin Tin, a business restoring mid-century trailers. There are many components to the business, but perhaps my favorite is their plan to acquire land to rent out a collection of their favorite restored trailers in the same way you would rent out cabins on a plot of land. They would be pretty much permanent in their locations with period-appropriate awnings and regular maintenance to keep them looking as amazing as they do in their temporary warehouse home.

Kristie and Shawn don't mess around when it comes to keeping everything strictly to period. They even plan to have these original mattresses specially cleaned and disinfected to keep them in their original home. Want.

Every detail of these restorations is kept strictly to period. They even plan to have these original mattresses specially cleaned and disinfected to keep them in their original home. Want.

Shawn works on mega yacht interiors during the day and therefore has a wealth of experience working with the same materials found in these trailers, as well as furniture set at a smaller scale. Christie is passionate about research and scouting for new trailers—in fact, they both do all of the work and love all of the components of this business. They are happily hoarding any and all vintage items to fill up these trailers in their huge warehouse—from canopies to ashtrays—all completely to period and in excellent condition.

Nothing can compare with authenticity. And heck, the 50s and 60s were already campy and the vibrant colors and boomerang patterns and metal and curved corners elevate the heartbeat and can’t help but make one feel cheery.

ToolMade drove a Craftsman C3 impact driver kit all the way up to Door County, Wisconsin as an excuse to come meet these folks and see their work. They need these drivers to deal with the insane number of bolts during the restoration process--they once counted 400 on just the BACK of one of a these trailers.

ToolMade drove a Craftsman C3 impact driver kit all the way up to Door County, Wisconsin as an excuse to come meet these folks and see their work. They need these drivers to deal with an insane number of bolts during the restoration process–they once counted 400 on just the BACK of one of a these trailers.

Mobile Home History

In the beginning, the mobile home was an innovation for the wealthy. They came up around the start of the automobile era and allowed for long, leisurely trips before highways sprawled and cut across the landscape and emptied into avenues lined with motels. During WWII, the federal government, focusing more on portability and convenience than luxury, purchased tens of thousands of trailers to house workers producing goods for the war. After the war, trailer parks started popping up on college campuses to house former soldiers under the G.I. Bill.

Stripped down to the "studs."

Stripped down to the  studs.

Things shifted further in the 1950s and the mobile home became a low-cost residence, often parked permanently in a rapidly growing number of trailer parks around the country. Today, there are 8.6 million of these homes, housing around 12 million people. A stigma still surrounds the trailer park, though that may be shifting again as retirees are buying them up like crazy.

This luxury camper is similar to the model that Lucy and Desi made famous in the 1950s. All of the trailers that Christie and Shawn buy are rare or coveted for one reason or another. There is no lack of personality.

This luxury camper is similar to the model that Lucy and Desi made famous in the 1950s. All of the trailers that Christie and Shawn buy are rare or coveted for one reason or another. There is no lack of personality.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of regulation surrounding trailers—often in an effort to combat this stigma. Christy and Shawn explained that the smaller trailers that they work on are generally not welcome to park in otherwise trailer-friendly areas. There are rules in place that restrict trailers over a certain age—rules like this are basically intended to keep out people like Cousin Eddie and his rusted 1972 Ford Condor. Of course, trailers made now are made with increasingly lousy materials in an effort to keep them enormous but also meet fuel efficiency regulations. They’re downright flimsy compared with vintage trailers, and utterly forgettable. But, as we’ve seen with architecture, we are told to value bigger, crappy living quarters verses smaller, quality spaces that work. Don’t get me started.

Fortunately, to combat this nonsense, Christy and Shawn also plan to make land available for smaller trailers to come and hang out and live their handsome little lives. Check out the pics and links below for more information, and especially follow Vin Tin Tin’s Facebook page for more pictures and information on their future endeavors. I’ll wave to you from the Shasta I’m renting on their land.

For more on the restoration work of Vin Tin Tin, check out their picture-laden Facebook page.

For more on the history of pop-up campers.

A rather fascinating New York Times article on today’s trailer parks.

My god, even the curtains are original in this puppy. Swoon.

My god, even the curtains are original in this puppy. Swoon.

Some bigger projects outside of the warehouse space.

Some bigger projects outside of the warehouse space.

I can't stop posting pictures! These are some other immaculate vintage finds that will eventually accompany their appropriate trailer at the rental park. None of this stuff is reproduced. Original or nada.

I can’t stop posting pictures! These are some other immaculate vintage finds that will eventually accompany their appropriate trailer at the rental park. None of this stuff is reproduced. Original or nada.

 

Details. Sigh. These things will be cleaned up, but man, they even look good in this state.

Details. Sigh. These things will be cleaned up (sorry, Christy, I know you don’t like the rust pictures), but man, they even look good in this state.

Eat your heart out.

I mean, eat your heart out.

 

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