Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery


Before last month’s fire I received a random note in the mailbox of the property where I keep Sparta. Some guy had spotted my trailers from a nearby ridge while hiking and asked if he could come by and photograph them. Apparently, he was involved in a photo-study of vintage trailers and needed more material. My reward for letting him come by and take a few pics would be prints. Sounded good to me, so after the chaos of the fires had passed we arranged a meet and he spent an hour snapping away.

Heavy on special effects but pretty cool nonetheless. And look, no staples.

Trim ad nauseam

To continue my riveting discourse on trim, the bundle of birch cove ceiling trim has arrived and I am pleased to report it will work perfectly. Already I have conditioned, stained and polyed it and the hue is much better than the pine experiment. Sorry pine, you’re just a little too soft and pale for Spartans.

Bundle of joy
Conditioned and stained awaiting poly.
See how much better the birch works (bottom) than the pine?

When the smoke clears

Back to work without the fear and distraction of Sparta going up in flames. I continue to work on trim. With the input of my Spartan-crazed friends on Facebook (yes, there are several groups devoted to the restoration of and affection for Spartan trailer homes), I have determined that I need cove trim for the ceiling perimeter. I could not find 3/4″ cove trim in birch so I tried a piece of pine. As you can see from the picture below, pine ends up too light even after repeated staining.

That horizontal strip up top is just too light

Fortunately, I found a bundle of 17 count, 95″ unfinished birch strips online. They will arrive in a week.

Another small task recently behind me is cutting out slightly larger holes for Sparta’s tail-lights. They were not fitting flush. My little Dremel with a cutting blade worked great!

Note to self – “Stop using duct tape to weatherize”.

California Burning

It is day four of the power outage where I live and the Kincaid fire to the north has now consumed 75,000 acres. It is 6 AM and dark as pitch and I am up early as usual. The lack of artificial light has me going to bed at 8 PM and so getting up early has become the order of the day.
I was fearful that the trees surrounding Sparta would either burst into flames or crash down in the hurricane force winds, crushing her. So I hitched her up and moved her just 75 yards away where there were no trees but still lots of dead grass. It may have been futile, but I have raked the grass out from under her in case the fire should arrive.

Higher ground
The world is upside down
In spite of it all, Work must go on.

Fire on the Mountain

Yesterday was an interesting one on Sparta hill. Imagine if you will… There is a brisk and gusting wind forcing me to take my poly-coating work indoors. Due to fire concerns these winds have already caused power-outages throughout Wine Country and, despite the precautions, a 10,000 acre fire is already raging 17 miles to the north. Remembering the horrific fires two years ago, everybody is on edge. Inside Sparta I’m brushing Varathane on trim strips. The wind is buffeting my trailer and the oak branches overhanging are groaning. Acorns are dropping, tap-dancing on the roof and smaller branches and twigs join the fray, creating an otherworldly din. I try not to think about the possiblities. Ambulances can be heard continuously. Then helicopters and winged aircraft start buzzing overhead. Something is seriously wrong and I’m reminded of the end-of-times feelings I had in 2017 when a perfect storm colluded to burn nearly 200,000 acres in Sonoma County. I step outside and see smoke just over the hill to the southwest and helicopters and airplanes are flying every which way.

The first puff of smoke not 1/2 mile away
An airplane makes another pass to drop retardant

I suspend my work on the trim, get the propane tank out of the trailer and go rent a hitch in case I have to move Sparta.

Although this small, 3 acre fire was put out, the Kincaid fire to the north is only 5% contained and more high winds are forecast for tomorrow. More rolling blackouts are predicted. California – the new abnormal. Makes me glad I am creating this house on wheels.


Hard to believe but I’ve not blogged in a month. Progress on Sparta slammed to a halt when I went to Italy last month and then returned to a succession of catering events, PG&E power outages and so on. Alas, my power is due to be interrupted in one hour due to wild fire concerns and what they are now calling the “new normal” in California. So I am rushing to get this typed before the plug is pulled.

Progress on Sparta was also delayed by my running out of stain (Sherwin Williams Professional Series oil-based “Golden Oak”), only to find out that the product was discontinued. Yikes. The local SW store had a MinWax product called “Golden Oak” of which I bought a sample size. Not even close! So finally I had the store mix up a pretty good match.

The exciting news here is that I am making 1/8″ X 2″ wide strips for all the interior panel seams. Have a look:

My usual crude methods
Wood conditioner
A specially blended new can so I can finally finish staining

Once these strips are covered in poly X2, they will be cut to size and tacked into place to cover all those unsightly seams.

Reefer cubby vent

I was sitting in my son’s flat in Verona, Italy while eating a sandwich and I glanced to my left and saw his oven. It is a SMEG. While my reefer is not a SMEG – they are too expensive and too tall – I was, nonetheless, reminded of my new refrigerator and the recent work I’ve done on its enclosure. Have a look:

My crude method – a Sharpie and a can lid.
Looks pretty good.

Tales of Trim

OK. It’s been awhile. I suppose because the subject matter fails to inspire gushing. I mean, we’re talking about trim here. But while the subject may cause yawns, I must admit this stage of Sparta’s rebirth is exciting. As each strip of trim is applied I feel more confident that this project will be completed. Believe it, I have had my doubts these past few years.

Ripping the 3/8″ Baltic birch to size
Stained and cutting crude angles
Nothing a little wood putty can’t hide
Note the nice two-tone ply edge

So I am finished with interior window trim. Which brings me to my next challenge. First, an aside. One of the benefits (and dangers) of having a blog detailing one’s labor of love is receiving unsolicited advice. On several occasions both of my readers have weighed in with something like, “Have you thought of ?…” . Well, no. Actually I haven’t, but now that you mention it. And that’s how it starts. My brother-in-law, Jim, has been useful in that way and now my brother, Bill, has jumped into the fray, creating heretofore unimagined complexity. The subject was kitchen counter trim and initially my solution to the back-splash edge was going to be aluminum “L” strips. Yeah, the matte silver didn’t match the copper sink but, whatever. Bill said to me “Why don’t you use copper. It will look better.” Gr-r-r-r. So I accepted his challenge only to find that copper trim is hard to find. And when you do, it’s expensive. My janky solution was to take my aluminum “L” strips (Oh yeah, did I mention I had already bought them) and paint them. Oh, but were it just that simple. No. aluminum doesn’t take to paint – or vice versa. In fact, paint just sloughs right off. So I had to vigorously sand each strip to make it more receptive to treatment, spray each with self-etching primer (5 coats), then spray with copper paint (4 coats) and finally 3 layers of clear top coat. Jeesh.

But it looks great. Note protective plastic on Formica. Oh, and dumb finger over view finder.
Not the cleanest corner. But…

Thanks, Bill. No. Really. Thanks!

Tid Bits

What color blind moron thought this was a match?!?

Maybe if I wanted my seams to glow in the dark.

I emailed Cabinet Maker’s Warehouse and they offered no better match to finish-off my Formica seams – just a refund. So I am left with a few options. Find a better product elsewhere or go with aluminum seams like I did in the shower. Or, if I really want to make myself crazy, find a dark green tint and try to doctor this stuff up to a closer match. Option three sounds like a fool’s errand.

Meanwhile, on a more positive front, the 3/8″ Baltic birch has been ripped, sanded and finished. I have begun cutting it down to make my interior window trims. One down, sixteen to go.

I am using brass screws to make a nicer look.

Of course, in true janky fashion I am using a mitre box and hand saw to assist this process – painstakingly slow.

The search continues for a suitable piece of land to put Sparta. I am looking in Quincy, Ca. to be near my daughter. Maybe we’ll start a family compound, circle the wagons and fend off the assault of progress altogether.

“When I’m 64”

Culled from the Internet, here are just a few of the facts regarding this classic Beatles tune:

  • Paul McCartney wrote the music for this when he was about 15, and used to play it when The Beatles were still known as The Quarrymen. He put lyrics to it later in honor of his father’s 64th birthday.
  • McCartney wrote and sang the lead vocals on this song which asks if a woman will still be with him when he got older, when he was 64 years old. On May 17, 2006, Paul and his then wife, Heather Mills, separated, finalizing the divorce in 2008. McCartney turned 64 on June 18, 2006, so the answer to his musical question with regards to Mills, would be no.
  • John Lennon said of this: “I would never even dream of writing a song like that.” [probably because he couldn’t fathom being with Yoko that long]

Why the interest in this old ditty? Because today is my 64th birthday. I vividly remember listening to Sgt. Pepper’s way beck when and thinking “God, 64 sounds OLD”.

Well, it does beat the alternative.

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