It has been four years since I built my Tiny House and took it on the road, and I have been yearning for a new project. This is the story of how I began a vintage trailer restoration.
Why a Vintage Trailer?
I’m eager to do another road trip, so my first thought was to build a smaller Tiny House on wheels. I spent several months looking at designs and debating which to choose. Making a design decision is the most difficult part of starting a Tiny House project (read this book to understand why)! At one point, I changed my mind and decided to convert a van into a camper. I even wrote a blog post about the pros and cons of vanlife. But, after admitting my mechanical know-how is that of a squirrel, I decided I am more of a “trailer-gal” than a “van-gal.” Finally, one day, I came across an adorable vintage trailer, and it got my wheels turning (pun intended). Why don’t I restore a vintage trailer?
How I Chose My Vintage Trailer
After my epiphany, I began scouring the internet to learn all there was to know about vintage trailers and restorations. I researched brands and compiled lists. Which trailer was the best for me? I was surprised to learn that there is a HUGE following for vintage trailers and that some of them are highly sought after. I needed to narrow down my list.
My Vintage Trailer Wish List:
- Vintage 1950s- early 1980s. Why? Well, why do people like vintage cars? I wanted a unique project with a “wow” factor.
- 10-13 ft in length. I needed the trailer to be small enough to fit in my driveway, where I’ll be working on it.
- Lightweight. I have small truck (or my boyfriend does) so I’m limited in my tow capacity. Also, to save money on gas.
- At least 6’5″ of headroom. My boyfriend is very tall, and I wanted him to be able to stand inside the trailer without getting neck pain.
- Something that wasn’t total trash. I need good bones to work with, and I will pay for working electrical, plumbing, etc.
- $5,000 purchase price. My total budget is around $7k – $8k.
Using these parameters, I recognized that I’d never be able to afford an Airstream in decent condition, so I crossed it off the list. Scamps, Trilliums, and Bolers are all fiberglass models, which means they are very lightweight. I love that. They also have the “cuteness” factor but, unfortunately, all of these models only have about 6’2″ of headroom inside. In fact, finding a vintage trailer that has more than 6 feet of headroom seemed impossible. I kept searching and every vintage trailer model I found would either decapitate my boyfriend or turn him into a hunchback. I almost gave up, until…
Hunter Compact Jr.
One day, while browsing craigslist, I came across something I didn’t even know existed: a vintage, fiberglass trailer, with a pop-top roof! Could this be the answer? Hunter Structures made two 13 ft trailer models in the 1970s, the “Compact Jr” and the Compact ii.” Nowadays these trailers are pretty rare but, as luck would have it, there was a 1972 Compact Jr. for sale only a few hours away. I showed my boyfriend the trailer, and within a few hours, we scheduled a time to go see it.
Unlike the Compact ii, the Compact Jr. includes a full-length pop-top roof. And, even though the interior height is still only 6’3,” my boyfriend just so happens to be an engineer. He looked at the system and was pretty sure he could swap out the brackets for pistons, making it easier to lift the roof while extending the height another 2-3 inches. This was an exciting revelation!
The asking price for the Compact Jr. was $5,500, which was a little over my budget (and also too high in my opinion), but the trailer seemed to be in great condition and the owners weren’t willing to come down. Also, these trailers are rare and I was too nervous to pass it up. In the end, we paid the asking price and towed our little trailer home. With the help of our new Trailer Valet 5x, we were able to position it perfectly in our tiny driveway.
Our Trailer Specifics Upon Purchase
- Purchase Price: $5,500*
- 10′ x 6′ interior (60 sq feet)
- 800 lbs empty
- Original exterior color – Yellow, in decent condition. Red strips added later.
- 6’3″ of interior height with pop-top
- Small solar system (for lights and stereo only)
- Fesh water and grey water tank
- Ability to hook up to shore power and city water (although the plumbing for city water needs replacing we found out later)
- 1970s electric fridge (working), and original propane stovetop and sink
- Sink has two faucets – one for city water and one with a hand pump for the fresh water tank
- Chemical toilet (practically new)
- Propane heater – Mr. Buddy
- Decent speaker system
- Windows and door all working
- Two indoor table options and one exterior table
- Bench seating that turns into bed – 6′ x 6′
- New axle and new tires
- Stabilizing jacks & sway bar included
*Title, license plates, registration, and tax cost another $570 (ouch) for the city of Seattle. Insurance is about $170 a year.
Renovations Are Underway
We spent one night in our vintage trailer before starting renovations to get an idea of what needed to be done. Here are a few of the projects we’re going to attack before summer.
Vintage Trailer Renovation To Do List
- Raise the pop-top roof another 2-3″ with pistons
- Replace fridge with the more energy efficient Dometic CFX-28
- Paint the exterior (change color or apply fresh coat TBD)
- Paint the interior / refinish the cabinets
- Knock out one interior wall to open the space
- Put in new flooring
- Replace plumbing
- Rewire the electricity & install a larger solar system
- Replace lighting with LED
- Restore and/or replace the door
- Add a vintage awning
- Install outdoor shower
I’m really excited to get started on this project, and I’ll be sure to post before-and-after photos and videos as we go along. If you have any ideas for me, please feel free to comment below! I’m also trying to think of a name for the little beast and any inspiration is welcome. This summer, I’m going to tow her on a road trip from Washington to Illinois, and back again. More on that later.
Pistons are expensive like on car hoods and hatchbacks and wear out – I would use high quality exterior 1/2″ plywood that fold up or down on hinges and use clevis pins etc to hold in place
Call it “daffy” for daffodil, or “Sunflower”. It’s bright and happy looking!
the yellow paint and red stripe make it look a lot better than the white ones I have seen
I am restoring a Compact as well and am wondering what size/model the pistons are that used for the pop top?
Hi there! Well, the pistons/roof extension isn’t really working at the moment. So I don’t feel comfortable recommending them. Please check back later and perhaps I’ll have an update on our roof pop-top extension. Good luck restoring your Compact!
Call your tiny yellow house Sunflower or daffodil! Cute, bright, and lively!
Hey – I have one of these – and I’m in Seattle, too! I’d love to get in touch.
Hi – I’m in Seattle and also have a Compact Jr! I’ve had it for a couple years and not even sure how/where to begin. I appreciate your posting this. If you’d be willing to let me have a look at yours in person, I’d sure appreciate it.
I am interested in knowing where I can have a new skirt made for my pop up Hunter?
A new skirt for the roof? I would recommend looking on Etsy. I had my awnings made by a nice lady at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SewCountryAwnings I’m not sure she can do this, but you can ask.
Closed cell foam insulation bonded to thin exterior plywood and/or aluminum (sandwich) ??? or maybe tinted plexiglass ?? windows panels