Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Beam me up…

I found this cool Henningsen pendant light fixture to hang above the dining table. It is a Scandinavian classic design from mid-century and the look and color fit perfectly in Sparta. It is a new reproduction – the originals are prohibitively expensive. I love the spirit of the space age that it evokes.

That’s gonna be it for awhile. We’re down in Brazil now. Tchau!

Bridal Suite

True, the prospect of being wed lends a certain urgency to the task of trailer fixing. This primal urge is hard-wired. I’ve got to make this cave more habitable. Another motivator is the fact that my daughter, Leslie, the originator of trailer mania (the Airstream variant), is coming to visit. I must show her that I’m not a slacker.

Truth be told, I (and Cristina) have put up with an unsightly gap under the refrigerator for a year now. I just never got a round tuit. I couldn’t have my daughter see me for the procrastinator I am.

Would you look at that…shameful.
That’s better. Janky, but better.
The poppies are blooming behind us. Beautiful!

Even Shadier

In addition to our recently installed blinds, I am happy to report Cristina’s completion of the bedroom curtains. These, she made herself and they turned out beautifully. She picked out the fabric, enlisted a friend with a sewing machine and cranked out six drapes. Then, to give them her personal signature, she highlighted them with multicolored embroidery. I am quite confident in saying that they are unique in all the trailering world.

I hung them with stained hardwood dowels and 3/4″ copper pipe straps. We now have total privacy on Sparta just in time for our wedding night next week. Z-Z-Z.

These really dress up the bedroom
Hardwood dowels stained and poly-ed.
Copper mounting hardware. Ooops…time to reputty that window frame.

One thing for sure is that trailers settle and shift – even when they are immobile. Time to go around and inspect for cracks, fizzures and seams. The work is never done.

Made in the Shade

We were very excited to get our bamboo blinds delivered yesterday. They were custom made at Installation was a snap and they fit perfectly. Why did we wait so long?

They look great from the outside too.

I’m running out of things to do.

Oh…Wait. Is that a loose navigation light wire up top?

Firewall (cont’d)

Good morning trailer geeks. As pandemic pandemonium nears its 1-year anniversary in these United States, I can’t help reflecting upon how different the world looks today. A year ago I had great catering events teed-up for season, we were living in our apartment, Trump impeachment round one was underway and a trip to Italy was in the works for the spring. Well, today we are comfortably settled into Sparta, still sheltering in place while collecting unemployment and looking forward to a much better year despite Covid’s continuing rampage. I hope we have heard the last from Donald.

Regretably, many things remain unfinished on my ’57 IM. But I am happy to report that we have made significant progress of late. Bamboo blinds arrive today for installation in the Observation Lounge. Cristina is making cool curtains for the bedroom AND I have just about finished the fireplace wrap-around.

In my last entry I told you about the salvaged metal that I beat into submission. I also mentioned using chemicals to weather the metal. I decided to go with paint instead to move things along and give me a little more control over the result.

I cut it to size, primed and painted it with multiple hues using salt to create random patterns. In pictures:

This primer just happens to tie into our existing orange scheme.
Then a coat of burgundy, leaving peek-a-boo orange spots.
On my test piece I experimenting using sand to create blotches over which the “Aged Rust” Rustoleum would go.
Then I brushed off the sand letting burgandy and orange colors through in random places.
Then I wiped on a thin coat of acrylic chalky green to create faux oxidation
Finally a top coat of “flame proof” sealant good up to 1000 degrees.
These will be installed on top of thin, aluminized fiberglass fabric to further protect the wood walls.

So it looks like I will have the fireplace finished just in time for the spring warm up. Fiddlesticks.


No, I am not fortifying Sparta against a cyber-attack. Could you imagine trying to explain such a concept to the orignal Spartan owner in 1957? Rather, I have finally decided to proceed with the surround for my little fireplace as well as finalizing the heat distribution system.

My undersized but hardworking little stove – The Annevay Traveller

You’ll notice the Wonderboard covering the wall installed months ago as a means of deflecting heat between the stove and birch walls. You may also remember the 12 volt bilge pumps and tubing situated years ago running the length of Sparta’s midship to move heat from the fireplace to the bedroom.

Ducting and bilge pump to move air fore to aft

For the firewall I have settled on a large piece of corregated metal I found half-buried on the property. (Remember, the prior occupant was a packrat cum artist.) It is distressed from time and weather but still not funky enough for my project. I have been to the art supply store to look at various chemicals to accelerate colorful alchemy in the metal.

See…I need some more green, copper and other hues to make this interesting and then I’ll try to figure out how to cut it down to size

After I get this metal converted into art, I will drill holes at each end of the cabinet so that the ventilation can suck up all the hot air theoretically generated by my fireplace.

What the…?

OMG! Did this year really happen? The two of you reading in real time will know exactly what begged this question. Twenty years from now some wannabe Spartan geek may stumble across this entry and ask what went wrong in 2020. Well, there are plenty of better qualified resources recounting the horrors of this past year (Time magazine, National Geographic, etc.) so I’ll not go there. Hey you! Trailer-head. If the option still exists in 2040, Google 2020. That should keep you busy.

For me, the year was a mixed bag replete with loss and blessings. On the left side of the ledger there was: COVID-19 and its many tragic consequences, my 1948 Spartanette was stolen, I could not see my grandson who appears to be growing up without me, my catering business tanked as a result of C-19, I got the dreaded plague and, overall, the United States was a nasty, contentious and beleaguered place to spend the last many months.

But, on a positive note, I finished Sparta (more or less), found new and helpful ways to make money (food delivery & Gov’t assistance), moved into Sparta, got engaged to Cristina and finally visited Brazil with her. We both had mild cases of Covid and have recovered our health. In my book, if you finished the year standing, it was better than not.

Better get some curtains or we’ll end up observed rather than observing.
Beautiful views from every window.
A great little stove that cooks too.
Overall, we are blessed to be here.

Here’s wishing you and yours a great new year.

Fireplace (cont’d)

It was a quick process to finish up the chimney install. I got an aluminum inner sleave to go between the stack and the ceiling baffle, fireproof rubber to line it with and silver, heat resistant insulating tape to further protect against a fire where it is not wanted. Also, I got two metal finishing rings to mount top and bottom, one of which I painted with flat black bbq paint to match the flue. A few screws, a little caulk and BINGO. Done.

I wrapped the ceiling wood with fireproof tape and lined the hole to further insulate it.
Note flat black finishing ring on top

I am looking forward to firing this up when we get back. At that time I will cut and mount some corrugated metal to line the walls behind it where you can see the Wonderboard.

Controlled Burn

Sparta has survived yet another horrific Northern California wildfire. This time the Glass Fire came within 300 yards of our trailer and forced our hasty evacuation at midnight. Through the smoke and mired in crawling traffic, we inched our way to safety. I could actually feel the heat of the fire through my open car window. I saw a house literally burst into flames. I feared that our home would be lost.

The approaching flames from my car window

Alas, upon our return to Sparta 6 days later we found her standing. Though heavily dusted with ash and smelling of smoke, she was fine other than needing a good cleaning. I thank God for firefighters and everyone involved with containing this year’s maelstrom. Luckily, the loss of life and property in Sonoma County was nothing compared to 3 years ago, though this year California has shattered the previous record for acreage burned – over 4 million!

It is a little hard, therefore, to focus on our imminent departure for Brazil next week. This long-delayed (due to C-19) trip to Cristina’s homeland is going forward, despite the ongoing travel risks. I am reluctant to leave while still in the middle of the fire season. But this trip is overdue, esp. for Cristina. We will be returning on December 8 to a much different situation. It will be cold and the trailer a potential icebox. So before leaving I have to get the fireplace working. That requires a chimney. You may recall the cute little Anevay stove I bought some time ago. I never got around to installing it. I haven’t a flue.

A perfect perch but with a flue to nowhere.
A round hole for starters.

With the stove in position, I dropped a plumbob to set dead center for the hole that had to be cut in the ceiling. I cut said hole with my Dremel. Then, I carved out the 2″ foam insulation with a knife, clearing a passage to the aluminum roof. I then drilled a pilot hole to establish the location for the roof cut – also with my Dremel.

Pieces of foam.
The roof cut.

Today. I am going to the hardware store to get gaskets and other materials to finish the job.

Look, listen, learn and fake it ’till you make it.

Learning is cumulative. It builds one lesson on top of another, slowly adding to one’s expertise and skills. It is incremental. Perhaps that’s why they call a college education a degree. Confidence also grows by degrees. As I mentioned many posts ago, I probably would not have had the nerve to take on the trailer restoration without first having worked on my 50+ year old Vespa. Prior to that I wasn’t very mechanical, having never so much as changed my car’s oil. Oh, my background contains some home improvement and going way back to my childhood, I stripped a lot of wire while working in sibling servitude to my older brother. But for most of my adult life I worked with my head, not my hands.

So the work on my Vespa and Spartan brought me to a place where, at 65 years old, I had enough guile and know-how to install a new HVAC system in my rental house in Pittsburg. The decision to do this myself was driven mostly by thrift. I had quotes to replace my central HVAC unit up to $11,000. I simply didn’t have that kind of cheese lying around. They say “necessity is the mother of invention”, but I will add that it is also the mother of imitation and, turning to youtube, I did a lot of that monkey see/monkey do kind of study.

No, I didn’t decide to hoist a 1,500 pound HVAC unit to the top of the roof. I went in a different direction, installing instead a mini-split system. The mini-split system is a hybrid of sorts. featuring an outdoor compressor as in conventional central HVAC systems coupled with a network of indoor air handlers. Pictures and captions will explain it best.

The Beast
The Beauty
This 12,000 btu interior air handler both cools and heats for year-round comfort.
Placing this 35 lb. unit from the top of the ladder was a bit daunting. Cables and tubes run straight out the back into the attic.
Here’s another and in this case I had to route the refrigerant lines and electical “controller” cable through the ceiling.
Holes had to be drilled through 3″ masonry walls to bring tubing and cable to the outside condenser down from the attic. I wore out a few bits.
Lines and electrical to power the condenser.
I had to splice into the old 220 line in the attic.
Ugh. What to do with this tangle?
Getting more orderly with vinyl gutter material repurposed as sheathing for wires and tubes.
Finished with a nice coat of paint.
The big grey electrical line feeds the condenser and the Romex distributes juice to the three interior atr-handlers.
Much better, but that line to the left coming from the master bedroom needs some attention. Notice the white tube. This drains condensation from each interior unit.

For those still reading, I realize the aforementioned has nothing to do with trailer renovating. However, as I mentioned at the outset, I never would have taken on this A/C project without the knowledge and moxy gained from restoring Sparta.

So, if you’re wondering, the skills and attributes are transferable. Get started!

The best part? Total out of pocket was about $4,000.

Post script: I purchased a Blueridge mini-split system from Alpine Home Products online and it has been working beautifully now for two weeks. Online and phone-based customer support has been great and I highly recommend Alpine. Also, special thanks to my bro-in-law, Jeff, who assisted me one day with some of the heavy lifting and those tasks made easier with two people.

« Older posts