Restoring My Vintage Spartan to Glory

...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Month: June 2016

A fool and his money are soon parted-out.

Happy Friday.  I have enjoyed a couple days off to work on Sparta and am about to launch into another weekend of cooking and feeding the hungry hoards that sweep, like locusts, into Sonoma County this time of year.  I consider this a vital public service and like to think that the sustenance I provide will mitigate the effects of our primary export, grape-based intoxicants.  So before I attend to making this a safer place for the next few days, I thought I might discuss trailer security.

One of the revelations learned from this project is just how much people are willing to pay for Spartan trailers that haven’t been produced for well over 50 years.  The reason for this is pretty straightforward.  The first Spartan shown below I just pulled off Ebay and it is selling for $3,400.  The second, culled from the same source, is selling for $85,000.  Now, call me Captain Obvious, but why do you suppose that is?  Three things – parts, materials and skilled labor.

3400 spartan

This can be had for $3,400. Almost exactly what it sold for originally

85,000 Spartan

This shiny beauty is yours for $85,000. Granted, it is a longer model.

Materials like wood paneling, flooring, appliances, etc. are variable in cost depending on the source and quality and the skilled (or semi-demi in my case) labor is a value only you can quantify. Parts, however, are only available in a limited market and are typically very expensive. They are quite rare but they are out there.  Places like http://www,vintagecampers.com  and Vintage Trailer Supply are great places to start, as is the aforementioned Ebay.  But these will cost you thanks to the immutable laws of supply and demand.  Take, for example, a door latch.  Once made by the Theodore Bargman Co. in Detroit, MI, the mechanism for opening and locking both doors on my ’57 Imperial Mansion is very valuable.  The item in question, the L-66 lock set is not available at either of the above vintage trailer websites.  I could only find various parts and components of the lock set I might need.  I did find on Ebay a complete L-66 latch for $499.99 (don’t you just love “charm pricing”?), but it was a slightly newer model than mine and lacked the art-deco flourishes.

sparta door latch Pictured at left are my two lock sets which I have removed, cleaned and oiled.  I have opened up the latch on the left to reveal the inner workings and, if you look closely, you might notice that the latch bolt is broken.  That is the vital piece that extends from the latch into the door frame and it is so often missing or broken in these old lock-sets that Vintage Trailer Supply has decided to fabricate and sell them for a very reasonable $19.49.  I recently ordered one of these bolts and two lock/key cylinders which should arrive shortly.  God willing, that is all I will need to get these locks working and securing my precious Sparta.

The point of all this blathering on about locks and parts is two-fold: First, if you set out to buy a vintage trailer, check the small details before settling on a price with the seller.  Things like locks, latches, fixtures, windows, crank knobs, doors, lamp shades and a host of other original and rare parts can set you back big time if they are broken or missing on your intended purchase.  So factor that in before writing a check.  I bought my trailer in haste and, truthfully, ignorance and I’m just lucky most of Sparta’s hardware is present and functioning.  Second, The sum total of the value of removable parts may well exceed, in the after-market, what you paid for your entire trailer.  For example, a 13″ X 28″ window, commonly found on Spartans built between 1956-60, can be purchased at Vintage Campers for $90 each.  With 20+ windows in my Imperial Mansion, many of which are larger and more expensive, they alone could set you back over $2k if you had to replace them.  This is where trailer security comes in.

There comes a time in the life of any trailer restoration when your dulled, rat-infested eyesore becomes a thing of emerging beauty and, potentially, a target for thieves.  All twenty plus windows in Sparta are removable and most simply by swinging them out, up and away from the frames.  In ten minutes, a thief could walk away with thousands of dollars worth of windows, among other things.  I would posit that the time to secure your project is sooner rather than later.  Don’t wait until your trailer is nearly finished and worth, potentially, tens of thousands of dollars.  Secure it now.

Because of the broken door locks, I have had to jury-rig (not to be confused with jury tampering) my trailer security.

sparta temp lock

A slick $20 cable lock for the two doors routed through the opening where the latch has been temporarily removed.

So the doors are secured with the cable-lock pictured to the left and motion-activated spotlights and alarms purchased at Harbor Freight for under $30 each.

Also, when you leave your trailer, don’t just lock the doors.  Lock every window from the inside with the small latches present.

Clearly, these are all deterrents and will not stop a professional and determined thief, but I think they will foil or, at least, discourage a “smash and grab” amateur trying to support a drug habit.  We shall see.  It’s too bad that this is the state of the world, but an ounce of prevention, as they say…

 

 

sparta keys

A couple new parts and keys and BINGO, she’s locked up tight as a drum.

Postscript (6/29/16) – Yeah!  I got my lock-bolt and key cylinders from Vintage Trailer Supply and installed them today.  Bueno.

 

sparta motion detector

Motion activated security light.

I do windows

Well, I am coming off 7 straight work days – catering here, there and everywhere.  There are times when my three jobs conspire to pull my attention, reluctantly, from Sparta.  But she is patient and has waited years for this rebirth.  Besides, this is Wine Country, and I’ve got to make hay (and bread) while the sun shines.

We were last discussing sealing up the trailer’s many presumed leaks, so that future flooring work is not damaged by the elements.  At the moment, that means making sure every window (and there are 20 of them) and skylight (exactly one) are water-tight. Once that is done I will bring on the garden hose and create a mini monsoon to shower the exterior while having a friend monitor the interior for leaks, labeling each with a sharpie.  Window fixes are pretty straight-forward and readily identified.  Skin seam leaks, on the other hand, are a bit trickier – both in terms of their identification/locating and their solution.  We’ve all seen RVs with obvious roof patches.  You know, the ones where globs of sealant ooze like dried toothpaste from the many breaches.  That is not the look I’m going for.  I need to find a product that is inconspicuous and still effective.

A brief digression while I share my love of Amazon.  As I mentioned a few posts ago, my hiatus from trailer work was necessitated by my past indiscretions.  As a result of these same offences,  the California DMV deemed me unfit to drive, at least temporarily (ouch, stupid me).  Ok, you get the picture.  Thank God for Amazon Prime!  Last week I received  by courier/mail a  plethora of goodies helpful to this project, some of which would have been difficult to find and transport on the back of my bike. I searched, found and purchased, with free delivery, some great stuff.  I got a gallon of aluminum restorer (Aluminox), 100 feet of self-sticking window stripping, respirator replacement filters, wire brushes, steel wool and “Captain Tolley’s Creeping Crack Cure”.  I shit you not – creeping crack cure.  No, this is not yet another dubious rehab option for those over-indulging in that insidious version of cocaine, it is actually a British product used for boat repair in the damp and inhospitable North Atlantic.  It is a liquid that is runny enough (as the name suggests) to infiltrate seams in the aluminum skin while drying to a hard, impenetrable clear finish.  Sounds good…we shall see and I will show you the results later.

But, back to windows.  As the last blog mentioned “improvements”, this is now the point where I transition from demolishing certain aspects about Sparta and begin incremental progress towards her beautification and renewal.  Although she is far from a butterfly, she is now a chrysalis – making the change from eyesore to asset.  The many windows are a vital first step and can only be  restored with good old-fashioned elbow grease and the miracle of opposable thumbs.  Here are the basic steps I have undertaken over the past couple of days to restore their functionality and beauty.  First, I unhinged the windows from their frames which also required decoupling them from their crank mechanisms.  Second, I removed the rusty steel sliders from each window (where the window crank arm slides) and immersed them (along with their little rusty screws) into watered-down acid (Aluminox).  Third, I vigorously wired-brushed all windows front/back/edge to removed encrusted gradoo and oxidation, followed with an orange cleaner bath. Fourth, I rinsed the sliders of acid (after an overnight soak) and first primed and then painted them with Krylon rust converter and silver paint.  This probably sounds like overkill, at least as it relates to the minor slider parts, but the deeper I get into this project, the most fastidious grows my attention to detail.  Check out these pics:

sparta windows

Flaps up…

sparta before rusty

Rusty sliders attached to windows

Acid bath

sparta acid washed

Cleaned and primed

sparta painted sliders

Painted and shiny like new

sparta before-after

Always! carry a Sharpie.

sparta clean and tools

Got this wired

Let the improvements begin…

You may have noticed there is a recurring theme in my trailer-blog concerning Sparta’s durability, quality and construction grade that would suggest that she was definitely built for the long haul (pun fully intended).  I think I just found the ultimate proof that the only corners cut in her were the rounded contours of her aerodynamically-shaped bow.  I am speaking about the floor.  The plywood under-laying the vinyl flooring in the bathroom area is nearly two inches thick!  That’s right.  I was expecting maybe 3/4 or, at most, 1 inch beneath my feet…but 2 inches??  I am guessing that the extra thickness in the subfloor was to support the extra weight of a water-filled tub, since the shower is 18″ deep and doubles as a little soaker.  Remember, Spartans were built by a company experienced in airplane manufacture and there was  a tendency to over-engineer some of the details.  Back then, things were built to last and probably without the expectation that they would someday be restored.   Sparta’s floor certainly would have outlived me but for the unfortunate fact that wood-boring insects and water discovered it somewhere along the way and have made Swiss cheese out of small portions of it – the worst being those areas of chronic leakage – mostly perimeter areas.  I may be able to cut and patch but I am also evaluating the use of epoxy floor restorers like “Git Rot” – a very promising alternative.  I may not have to tear out the floor except in the most heavily damaged areas.  More on that later.

Sparta floor

But before proceeding with any floor demolition, patching or reconditioning, I must first identify and remedy any and all leaks.  What’s the point of fixing the floor if rain continues to have its way?  So, my next task is the window seals.  60 years of accumulated grime, grease and weather have taken a toll on all the windows.  While the glass and plexi’ look good, the weather-stripping, sills and opening mechanisms are filthy and a bit corroded.  So I stripped off all the rubber seals with a putty knife, brushed inside and out with wire brushes and then finished with steel wool where the build-up was especilly stubborn. Have a look at the improvement:

sparta window grime

Before

sparta clean and tools

When steel brushes meet aluminum…

sparta dirty sill

Dirty, greasy. funky sills.

sparta clean sill

Much better.

 

Asbestos?…Not!

Some of you may have noticed that I took a two week hiatus from blogging and, for that matter, trailer restoration.  This was not of my own volition, but was certainly of my own doing.  No, Thomas doubters, not a relapse, I was just dealing with the unsavory consequences of past misbehavior.  Sorry, that’s about all the detail I’m prepared to share at the moment…still processing.

At any rate, while I was away I received a wonderful piece of news.  That sample of vinyl flooring and adhesive that I sent off came back negative.  That’s right.  Sparta is asbestos-free!  All those nights I laid awake dreading the task of decontaminating her were for naught.  If you are undergoing a total trailer restoration and wondering about the presence of asbestos, you know why I am so thrilled.  The process of removing asbestos can be very expensive if contracted out or tremendously labor-intensive (and a wee bit risky) if DIY’d.  Spend the fifty bucks and have it checked out.  I used http://www.western-analytical.com,  Pull it up.  Go “Residential Customers” under the “Quick Site Guide” and follow the instructions.  Cheap, fast and a huge return on investment.

That’s it for now.  Nothing more to report until I start ripping up the floor this week.

PS – Remember way back when in my first post, The Search, I mentioned Lawson’s Landing, “Where old Spartans go to die”.  I just saw a Spartan on Craigslist so badly corroded by salt and sea that she was nearly black…asking price, $500.  She deserved a better fate.