Now that I’ve had my stroll down memory lane, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get some work done. Up to now all this BS I’ve been boring you with has been a stall tactic – a means of delaying my public humiliation resulting from a decision made in haste four weeks ago in Fresno. What have I actually bought here and was I taken? Will I have a major case of buyer’s remorse? Beats the hell outta me. How would I know.? It’s not like there’s a Kelly Blue Book for 60 year old trailers or a Carfax history offering explicit detail of service records, accidents, flood damage or tainted titles. Any assessment of the wisdom of this investment will be of the “seat of the pants” variety and largely subjective.
But since one objective of this blog is to help you, the reader and a potential trailer owner, along in your dream to acquire and renovate one, I will herewith offer my assessment:
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (insert Ennio Morricone soundtrack)
There is, in my humble opinion, a hell of a lot to like about Sparta. The low purchase price of $4,000 is among them. But let’s examine her other virtues from the ground up. Where the rubber meets the road, I made a sound decision. The tires are good, brand new and, though only 6-ply, will offer enough tread life and traction to make my 3 or 4 (at most) anticipated journeys. Remember, at 45′ Sparta is not a travel trailer. She’s a movable house. I have successfully made one of these trips already so I feel pretty confident about moving her around a bit.
As mentioned earlier, the electric brakes did not work as expected, but with a large enough truck, that was minor and my tremendous driver, Gus, seemed unconcerned. The axle is fine and the wheels turn which about covers my expertise on that subject. The steel frame supporting the perimeter of the trailer is rust free as is the tongue and hitch. As I discussed in my first blog, rust is a genuine concern for these old trailers, especially if they have been parked for any length of time near the ocean. I saw one on the California coast that was so badly rusted, a steel cross member had disintegrated and the weight of its collapse had brought the belly pan to the ground.
Speaking of belly pan, as you can see from the picture below, Sparta’s undercarriage is clean, seamless and puncture-free.
This prevents me from actually examining the cross beams for rust, but because the steel perimeter is free of rust, I am going to assume that I am in good shape around and across. This unbroken belly pan is a great sign for several reasons. It would indicate that there has been no major trauma to the trailer like an accident, that it was stored/parked in a mild environment, that the past owners were conscientious and, perhaps best of all, that vermin infestation has been minimal. Also, note unbroken and well-affixed propane line running to the kitchen.
Continuing up Sparta’s exterior, the aluminum skin is in great shape. Though oxidized and dull, it is relatively free of dings, dents and punctures. If, at the end of this extensive renovation I should decide to buff her, Sparta will shine up very nicely.
Another area of difficulty encountered with these old relics is the windows. Frequently they have been removed, broken or sealed shut for a variety of reasons. Worse, I saw some Spartans during my search with white vinyl window replacements, a truly unfortunate upgrade. Though I have not attempted to open any of them and cannot yet verify their function, I am pretty confident I won’t have to spend a ton on glass or new frames. As an aside, she came with removable clear and tinted plexi-glass curved windows for the aerodynamic bow. Also, as new as I can tell, all of the screens are stored inside.
As you will note in the photo, the tail lights and cool side airplane-style side lights front and rear (pictured top right side) are all original and unbroken. Further, the door latches, electrical plug-in port and screens all are as original. The piece de resistance is that BOTH door step-ups are present and work. If you have checked out any vintage Spartans you know this is a rare bonus.
I cannot yet comment on the condition of the roof because I have yet to venture up top. More on that later.
Stepping inside there is more good news. First, there is quite a bit of original wood, some as nice as the day Sparta rolled off the factory floor.
The bedroom closet and drawer combo above is incredible. It speaks to the craftsmanship and attention to detail that Spartan Aircraft Company put into these beauties. You may be aware that Spartan endeavored to build the best trailers that money could buy. At a retail price of $6,000+, the 1957 Imperial Mansion, which I am now proud to call my own, was double the price of the nearest trailer competitor and cost as much as many single-family houses back in the day. Spartan took a big gamble on this quality/pricing strategy and, while it resulted in the creation of enduring classics, it did not ensure them a long corporate existence. Spartan ceased production in 1961. Their loss is our gain. We will never see their like again.
Many of the other built-ins are present and totally salvageable. Although I am handy, I am nothing near a finish carpenter. I did not want to start over with cabinets, doors and other finish work, nor did I want to pay handsomely for someone else to build out my kitchen and bedroom. Though I may have to pull some of this woodwork to get at the floors (read on under Ugly), I will be able to refinish and restore much of the cabinetry before re-installation, resulting in a big cost saving and semi-faithful restoration.
Another plus is that many or the original fixtures and doohickeys are still usable, intact or repairable.
There are many funky touches that anywhere else might be considered kitsch but within this context rise to a level of beauty and authenticity. With the possible exception of the, admittedly, cheesy kitchen dome light, The light fixtures and parquet trim pieces are all destined to retake their position in my restoration.
Even a really cool ceramic drop light, which was broken in transit, can be brought back to life.