Not long after the last recession ended, Nadia Haddad and her husband, Ryan Fall, scooped up the mini-home on wheels that she calls their “little cutie.”
Six years later, with COVID-19 running rampant, they’re happier than ever to have their Minnesota-built 1972 Scamp RV trailer — albeit with the stylish and structural updates they gave it in the meantime.
“We couldn’t afford a new one,” Haddad recalled, “so we improvised.”
Paul Creager and Angela Knudson bought their 1966 Holiday Rambler camper on the cheap in 2018 to fix up as a green room for performers at the Square Lake Music & Film Festival, which they host on their property near Stillwater. With no fest this year, though, their family is getting a lot of other use out of the vintage RV.
“Even just having it as a play area for our daughters to set up a little cafe in has been extra welcome this summer,” Creager said.
As camper trailers rise in popularity again while the economy edges downward during the pandemic, many people are joining the wide, weird world of RV ownership by buying older trailers and remodeling them for a fraction of the cost of a new or slightly used model.
It’s a trend that Family Handyman magazine picked up on and ran with for its July/August issue. The staff took three months to turn a rusty 1972 Avion Voyageur trailer into what may be the coolest little house on wheels currently parked in the Twin Cities.
Road trips, home offices
“People want them for road trips now,” Family Handyman Editor-in-Chief Gary Wentz noted, “but they are also looking at them to use as work-from-home offices, extra space for visiting grandparents and a lot of other purposes.”
Wentz’s team paid $6,800 for the vintage Avion, and then spent about the same amount to fix it up with modern amenities including LED lighting, Wi-Fi, new appliances, cork flooring and even a movie projector and cellphone signal booster. A new or newish Airstream trailer with similar quality and amenities would cost five to 10 times that total amount.
The Eagan-based magazine staff originally wanted to restore the Michigan-made trailer to its original look but decided it would be easier to just update it.
“You could spend months on end just trying to find the right parts,” Wentz said. “This way, it freed us up more, and we could get more creative.”
But it still took a lot of work. Family Handyman’s team members spent three solid months working on the trailer and ran into plenty of roadblocks even with their know-how. Associate Editor Jay Cork spent several days trying to rebuff the aluminum exterior into a mirror-like facade, without success.
“It just was not happening,” said Cook, who finally settled on a durable oil-based red paint instead. “And I think I like it more this way anyway. It adds more character.”
“You always have to expect surprises like that,” Cook added, “especially when you’re working on unique, older trailers like this. But that can be part of the fun of it, too.”
A one-woman crew
Betsy Vork-Howell of Excelsior knows about those surprises. She had to scrap plans to remodel an old Holiday Rambler when she stripped it down to find it “rotted to the core.”
Instead she settled on an even older Airstream, a 1959 Tradewind model that had “way more solid bones,” she said. She then worked her bones to the core; it took her nine years to complete the makeover, much of which she did on her own.
“My ex-husband thought I was crazy to do it, but I did it,” she said, crediting various vintage trailer websites and an RV repair shop she came to trust.
“There is a lot of help out there, a whole community of people who love this sort of stuff,” she said.
Since finishing the makeover in 2018, Vork-Howell has been crazy in love with her Tradewind. She planned to park it on land she owns in British Columbia, but with the border closed this summer, she has been instead using it for weekly trips to Duluth and taken it on longer road trips, too.
“It’s just huge knowing that wherever I go with it, I’ll have my own comfortable place to stay at the end of the day,” she said.
Not all vintage RV owners are so eager to overhaul their vehicles.
Jolynn and Dale Schuster of East Bethel ripped out the carpeting, painted, added new lighting and heavily cleaned the 1962 Shasta trailer that they inherited from a friend, but they preferred keeping its old character. They now have it parked in their backyard to host guests and enjoy themselves as “sort of a clubhouse.”
“It’s nice to have it right now just for getting out of the house, almost like taking a little mini-vacation in the backyard,” Jolynn said.
The Stillwater family with the 1966 Holiday Rambler also wanted to maintain its vintage look for campy camp value.
“If somebody is getting rid of seat covers with the original hideous 1960s floral designs, I’ll take ’em,” quipped Creager, who still put in a lot of work. The hardest part was probably sealing up leaks.
“If anyone tells you their [old camper] doesn’t leak, just wait a while. The right direction of rain or wind can change that.”
A bigger expense will be upgrading his tow vehicle so his family can take the trailer on longer road trips than to the state parks they’ve already hit.
“Those old ones are really heavy, so you don’t want to go very far unless you really have the right vehicle,” he said.
The Scamp owners have no problem hauling their little cutie on long trips. They hope to do more of that now — possibly to Arizona this winter — since they still see air travel as too problematic during the pandemic.
“Smaller is way better from a convenience standpoint,” said Haddad, an interior designer and creative director for Bludot, who added new touches to brighten up the Scamp’s interior. “It’s super cozy now.”
The Family Handyman team plans to use the Avion as a base for their next big project, building a cabin in the woods from scratch in budgetary phases. After that, the remade trailer will probably be sold — but not without hesitations.
“We’d all like to take it and use it,” admitted Wentz. “We have that personal connection to it now.”