It has been four years since I built my Tiny House, and I have been yearning for a new project. I also really, really want to hit the road again this summer. So, through a series of events, this is how I ended up restoring a vintage trailer.
Why a Vintage Trailer?
I’m eager to do another road trip, so my first thought was to build another (smaller) Tiny House on wheels. I spent several months looking at designs and debating which model to build. 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 thought about converting a van into a camper. I even wrote a blog post about the pros and cons of vanlife. But, after recognizing that I’m a terrible mechanic, I decided I was more of a “trailer-gal” than a “van-gal.” One day, I came across an adorable vintage trailer and I became obsessed with the idea of renovating one of my own. Finally, a decision was made, but which vintage trailer was right for me?
How I Chose My Vintage Trailer
I began scouring the internet to learn all there was to know about vintage trailers and restorations. I researched forums and blogs and made a list of makes and models. What I found out is that vintage trailer have a large following, and some brands are highly sought after. So, I needed to narrow down my choices.
My Trailer Wish List:
- Vintage 1950s-1970s. Why? Well, why do people like vintage cars? I wanted a unique project with a “wow” factor.
- 10-13 ft in length. I needed a small trailer that would fit in my tiny driveway. Also, the smaller the trailer, the easier it is to maneuver.
- Lightweight. I have a small truck (or my boyfriend does), and I wanted 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.
- $5,000 purchase price. My total budget is around $7k – $8k. That leaves a few thousand dollars for the renovation.
Using my wish list, I recognized that an Airstream would be too expensive for my budget, so I immediately crossed that brand off my list. Scamps, Trilliums, and Bolers are all fiberglass models, which means they are very lightweight. I liked that. These models also have the “cuteness” factor I was looking for, but they also only have about 6’2″ of headroom inside (darn it)! Finding a vintage trailer that had more than 6 feet of headroom proved to be a very difficult task. 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 Compact Jr. available for purchase only a few hours away. I showed my boyfriend the trailer, and within a few hours, we were setting up a time & date 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 pop-top system, and he 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 price for the Hunter Compact Jr. was a little over our budget (and also priced too high in my opinion), but the trailer seemed to be in great condition and the owners weren’t willing to come down. In the end, we paid their 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 driveway.
Our Trailer Specs (Upon Purchase)
- Purchase Price: $5,500*
- 10′ x 6′ interior (60 sq feet)
- 800 lbs empty
- Original color – Yellow
- 6’3″ of interior height with pop-top
- Small solar system for lights and stereo only
- On board fresh water and grey water tanks
- Ability to hook up to shore power and city water (though plumbing for city water needs replacing)
- Electric fridge, 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
- Propane heater – Mr. Buddy
- Decent speaker system
- Windows and door all working & intact
- Two indoor table options and one exterior table
- Bench seating turns into bed – 6′ x 6′
- New axle and new tires
- Stabilizing jacks & sway bar included
*Plates and registration cost us another few hundred dollars. Insurance costs about $170 a year.
Renovations Are Underway
We spent one night in our vintage trailer before starting renovations to get an idea of what might need to be done. Now we’re full steam ahead! 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)
- 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