What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Last night I drove the Diamond T out to the State Park to have dinner with my wife (we’re camping, it’s a “working” holiday, so I was only going for dinner, having to work today).  When I left the house, something in the front of the Diamond T made a “clunk” noise, but I was backing over the edge of the garage’s cement pad and didn’t think much of it at the time, and drove to the campground with out a care.

We got in the truck to go to a local pub, when I backed up to leave our campsite, that same “clunk”, but again, rough ground, bumpy, turning, no worries.

We got to the rangers station and Kim said, “I smell anti-freeze”.  I had just noticed it too, and looked at the temp gauge which was about 260.

Not good.

I went to turn into a small parking area, and the steering wheel turned almost 3/4 of a turn before anything meaningful really happened.
“This is BAD”, I said as we finally turned in and stopped.

Getting out and looking under revealed a waterfall of coolant from the radiator, and the steering idler had come apart, letting the center link drop down and forward, hitting the bottom tank of the radiator, punching a hole in the plastic tank.  It would steer going forward, so we made a big U turn in the parking lot and got back to the main visitors lot.  I called Hagarety Insurance’s road service number, and soon a roll back was loading my prized possession up and hauling it home.

There’s a new radiator in the garage already, and I’ll have to pull the grill shell to swap the radiator, but it could have been worse. Nobody hurt, the truck isn’t bent, and I learned to tighten all the bolts in the steering…

imageYou’ll recall last weeks adventure retrieving the Spartanette trailer, and that under the mess and debris, the better if looked, and smelled.  After three days of scrubbing, bleaching, throwing out more and more stuff, I finally got to the trailers “bones”, and it was amazingly good.  So good, I was tempted to keep it.  We have some family property up north, and have talked for some time about getting a large vintage trailer to park in the big pines next to a beautiful little pond.  As tempting as this was,  one more project didn’t seem like good idea.   Kim and I agreed we’d both be worried about leaving a classic trailer unattended for fear of vandalism or theft.  Besides, for what we’d spend restoring this Spartanette, we could have a site cleared, electric brought in and drive a shallow well, and take the Manor up.

So I mentioned it on the Tin Can Tourists Facebook page.

i was inundated with responses, and a fellow TCT member from Indiana bought it. I had a friend from high school and fellow hot rodder and trailer enthusiast standing in the driveway looking at and drooling while I sealed the deal on the phone, and a list of people who said they wanted it if either of those folks passed.  That’s the way to sell something!

It ultimately cleaned up very well, with only very minor work needed.  The paneling is BEAUTIFUL, no water damage under any of the windows, the varnish still gleams.  No rot, the only damage anywhere is the cabinet above the sink and a ceiling panel where water leaked in through holes in the skin from an awning rail long removed.  The ceiling will be easy, the joist is not rotted, just a firing strip attached to it that the paneling attaches to (the seam and the joist didn’t line up, so it was had a firing strip added to meet the paneling seam) and the paneling can even be saved.  The cabinet repair will be a little challenging, but there’s enough left of the beautiful curved front to cut the bad off, put a new flat bottom piece on a narrow trim strip.  It’ll look like it was supposed to be that way.  We kept the Dixie stove and fridge, replaced the fridge with a great but smaller Marvel that I kept beer in, and the Dixie stove that had been damaged in transport here breaking all the knobs.  I left the cool, and very rare Bargman  door latches and handles (even though we need them for our Manor), the beautiful glass tail light lenses and stainless bezels, and the two marker lights that were still on it when we got home from Ionia.  I figured those items would be needed by a new owner to make the trailer worth restoring.   Our friend Mike at Sierra Custom Interiors is going to have the fridge converted to an RV gas/electric unit, so we got we want and the trailer is going to get the restoration it deserves.

Everybody wins!


Time capsule cupboard.

Time capsule cupboard.

Cool Dixie stove.

Cool Dixie stove.

Frigidaire fridge by GM to be converted RV gas/electric unit.

Frigidaire fridge by GM to be converted RV gas/electric unit.

I hated to leave these Bargman handles and latches, they're made of unobtainium.

I hated to leave these Bargman handles and latches, they’re made of unobtainium.


What we have here folks, is a 1952 Spartan “Spartanette” (a misnomer if one believes that the suffix “-ette” should mean something small and dainty) 33′ trailer.  We weren’t looking for a trailer like this, or ANY more old travel trailers for that matter, but this one fell into our laps, another deal too good not jump on.  As if I didn’t remember last summers “free” motorhome…

It was at least closer to home than the Spartan Manor we got a couple of years ago, just 40 miles.  My friend Butch came over bright and early the other day, and we headed out with the dually, a 2″ ball in the GMC’s receiver.  Things seemed to be going smoothly and I figured we’d be at the place by 1000, drag it out and be home by 1 or 2 in the afternoon.  I had a floor jack to put under the tongue, long planks to roll the floor jack on, and figured I’d slither under the trailer, wrap a chain around the rear axle, drag it out, replace the wheels and tires, hitch up and go on our merry way.

Good plan, right?

Things went slightly awry when I remembered I hadn’t put the lock pin in the hitch when I flipped the ball to the drop side in order to use it on the dually high hitch.  I pulled into an AutoZone on the way, walked to the back of the truck, and sure enough, the whole thing was gone.  So, I bought a new one, and put the pin in this time.

We got to the guys place with the trailer, meeting another buddy Mike there, who lives nearby.  We quickly decided dragging it out backwards wasn’t going to work, because it was sunk in the ground up the frame, the entire bottom edge of the body was laying on the dirt.  In addition,  a grove of box-elder trees (a kind of soft maple that are widely regarded as weeds) had grown up in front of it and long the curb side.  In the tongue, between the body and the hitch, was a clump of them, three trunks about 4″ in diameter.

This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

To make a long story short, the owner, a retired excavator, had a new compact 4wd tractor with a loader with forks, and he made quick work of dozing the brush away, and he also whipped out an electric chain saw that we used to cut down the trees and brush.  He lifted the tongue with the loader, I cut the stumps off at the ground and he swung the trailer out towards his drive.  This angered a HUGE woodchuck which bolted from its den under the trailer.  That may have accounted partly for its sinking, as the chuck had undermined the wheels, letting the trailer drop down onto the frame.  As it was, it took us until 2:30 to get it out and on the road, I’d have had to hire an excavator if the owner hadn’t had his own equipment.  Made me appreciate how easy getting the Manor out really was!

The first tire will blow in 3-2-1....

The first tire will blow in 3-2-1….

After we had it out in the drive, we were shocked to see that the original, 1952 BF Goodrich tires all had air in them.  The did look a little soft, and Frank, the owner, appeared with a small air compressor and began airing the softest one up.   Butch and I debated going to Mikes to change all four, or simply head home and hope for the best.  That question was answered by the cannon-like report of the curbside rear tire exploding.  We changed that one, which took almost an hour, we had to dig a hole to get the tire out, and headed up the drive towards the road.

I got about a trailer length, and another tire blew, so we set about changing that one.  While we were digging the hole back out, the tire we’d put on, over-loaded by bearing all the weight on that side, and probably being a little soft, came off the rim and went flat.  So, two blow outs and one flat before we ever got on the road.

We decided to had for Mikes house, just two miles away, and change the other two tires.   This turned out to be an excellent decision, as one of the street-side tires blew about a mile up the road.  Butch asked what I was going to do if the other ancient, rotten tire blew before we got to Mike’s, and I said we’d just drag it on the rims.

We didn’t have to do that, because amazingly, that 4th 63 year old tire made it, and after changing the two tires on that side, we  headed for Delton,  We went slowly, about 40 mph, because two of the tires Butch had brought along, we discovered that although they were new, that they are implement tires, rated for 20 mph!

Wheel cut outs would help...

Wheel cut outs would help…

The Three Stooges.

The Three Stooges.

As found.

As found.

After getting the trailer home, I took a closer inspection.  At some point in the recent past, a door was left open and a family of raccoons moved in.  A word of advice if you’re thinking of having raccoons house-sit or trailer-sit for you.  Don’t.  The inside was a horrible mess, and smelled worse than it looked.  The trailer had been simply closed up when Frank’s mother died in 1982, leaving everything in it that was there the day she died.  It would have been kind of neat if the raccoons hadn’t moved in.

Today I started cleaning up and throwing stuff out, and I’m happy to report that overall, it’s better than I’d expected.  I’ll share photos of that and what we plan to do with it in another episode, so until then,

Happy Camping!


Because I don’t have enough projects going already with Kim’s ’63 Riviera, sprucing up Craig’s ’68 Mustang convert to sell, and the perennial ’59 Thunderbird, I started on the ’47 Spartan Manor we got from the Heighton family in Manton Michigan.  It’s been setting in our back yard since we brought it home three years ago, with no progress aside from collecting some of the components we’ll need to build it.  Selling the ’46 Manor last December and now being without a comfortable RV to camp and travel in this summer may be a motivating factor.

Two weeks ago I took a chance on a guy in New York who had a set of windows made for his own Spartan project and was offering sets of the molded windows to offset his cost.  They are acrylic (plexi-glass) not Lexan, but that shouldn’t make a difference, and I wanted properly formed windows.  These were also a couple hundred dollars less than I could get them from elsewhere, so I bravely Pay-Pal’d him hundreds of dollars and hoped for the best.

They turned out to be great, and the day they came, I spent several hours and installed the street side curved window.  I originally tried to re-use the original rubber gasket, which seemed pliable, but I couldn’t get the rubber tucked over the “glass”,  In the garage I had a partial roll of windshield gasket left over from our first Manor, and ended up using it.  After I gave up on the original, and used the new windows, the window went in easily, with just a little trimming with a grinder. It looks fantastic, so now I’m inspired to get started on the project.  The original curtains, “Up North Cottage” style look hilariously decrepit through the crystal clear window, so that’s a nice touch.

I have to get some more of the rubber gasket, as I’m about a foot short of having enough to all three (of course), but I can get matching stuff locally.   Now the fun part, picking flooring, countertops and lighting, it’ll be a fun project.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

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Last week when we out to the little Shelter-logic garage to get something for the Del-Ray, I noticed with horror that the fiberglass “Filon” skin on the Tini-Home trailer had split above the front window on each side, from the corners to the outer edges.  Evidently that stuff shrunk so much in the bitter cold last winter that it contracted as far as it could, then simply tore at a stress point.


What to do?  I don’t want to re-skin it, simply because it’ll be a lot of work and I have several projects that are a lot of work, and I’d rather work on them.  I didn’t want to do a funky patch, although simply taping them off with duct-tape or Gorilla tape would have worked, and I couldn’t just leave it because it would have leaked like a sieve.

The answer came in the form of some .030 polished diamond plate used for gravel shields on new little RV’s from Bontragers Surplus.  I made a gravel shield of a half sheet drop over the window, after sealing the tears with self leveling RV roof sealant and HVAC tape over that, and today I made lower gravel shields of some scraps to flank the diamond plate tool box already on the tongue.

I think the result is actually an improvement.  It looks like it was always there, it all matches, and, it was easy, the key to a good cobbled up “repair”.  A buddy offered to help me re-skin the trailer, which I may do when after the T’bird, the Riviera, the ’47 Spartan and the Chris Craft are done.

If we’re both still living, that is…

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With the Del-Ray firmly anchored in the box of the GMC dually, we headed for Milford MI last Thursday for the Tin Can Tourists Spring Rally.  We spent the the three days prior to that frantically cleaning, packing and getting ready, and spending all our allowance money on 6 new tires for the truck.  It seemed like a big expense, but the peace of mind riding on 6 new tires, opposed to 6 ancient, weather-checked ones was worth every penny.  On the plus side, I’ll never have to buy tires for the truck again!

At any rate, the truck and camper were a hit once we got there, much to my surprise.  We  had a line of people to see it Thursday and Friday, received many complements and what we think is a pretty serious offer to buy the camper.  All in all it was a successful trip, if you don’t count the the roof vent over the bed leaking (of course, it had to be over the bed…) during a torrential downpour on Saturday.  It’s cozy and comfortable for two people, although accommodating the six it’s capable of sleeping wouldn’t be nearly as much fun in the rain…

We answered a ton a questions about it, and I’ve compiled the top ten answers to those questions here, so you don’t have to ask:

10.  About 2500 lbs., empty.  We think.

9.  Yes, it rides very nice with the camper in the  back.

8.  No, it doesn’t seem tippy at all.

7.  We don’t know, but it’s older than 1967 according to the “Expo ’67” sticker in the rear window of the camper.

6.  Elkhart Indiana.

5.  Yes, that is 21,000 original miles on the truck.

4.  We’ve had the truck since 1982.

3.  Yes, it’s comfortable, and yes, the fridge works.

2.  7.9 mpg.

1.  7.9 mpg.

We had a great time, and happily, gas is cheap right now, although it’s only 110 miles from our house to Milford.  The Del-Ray attracts a lot of attention, and the whole rig is,  I must admit, eye catching in a really funky, kitchey sort of way.  We had lots of people relate stories of traveling with their grandparents or aunts and uncles as kids, riding in the bunk looking out the panoramic windows.  It’s rewarding to be complimented, and kind of fun to be reminded you don’t have to break the bank to have fun with vintage campers and funky old trucks.

Camp on!


I’ve spent the past two days on the Del-Ray and GMC pickup. New tires on the truck, fender wells and exposed frame sandblasted and painted. Camper cleaned, birch paneling oiled and polished, counters and backsplash scrubbed, stove cleaned, floor scrubbed. We need to make the curtains and wash the windows, but it’s close to getting a big “DONE” stamp!