Free Trailer

Last summer, Liz and I traveled back to the home country to spend time with our extended families.  Among the things we did there was take a weekend trip camping in an offshoot of the Rocky Mountains with my brothers and their popup/tent trailers.  Liz and I thought it might be fun and affordable enough for us to get one, and started looking around for a used one in our price-range.  As luck would have it, not long after we returned home from vacation a friend told us they had one we could take for free.

Free is my favorite price. Unfortunately, free is almost never free.  Besides, I don’t like feeling like I’m taking advantage of someone, so I offered to get an old (1947) tractor of theirs back up and running in exchange.  I re-wired the electrical to switch it from 6v to 12v, added all the other stuff necessary to create a charging system including fabricating an alternator mount, replaced a rusted-through exhaust manifold, and fixed a leaking radiator. Quite a lot of work, but in the end, it was mostly labor (and kinda fun at that), so I still felt like I had come out ahead.

Fast-forward almost a year, and Liz decides we need to go on a couple of shorter trips this summer.  One to the beach for a weekend, and one to somewhere up north about a day’s drive.  Both require either paying for hotel rooms, KOA Kabins, or fixing the trailer and taking it with us.  Being averse to spending lots of money on lodging when I have a partial solution waiting for me to deal with it, I finally got around to working on the trailer.  As a side note, I have a hard deadline about 2 weeks from the time of this writing.  When I committed to finishing the trailer, I expected about a day’s work in total.

I knew there was some water damage in the front cargo compartment, and the short door/step was coming apart.  I figured on a half-day to repair that along with a half day to clean out the dust, dirt, and wasp-nests that had accumulated over the course of the last couple of years would do it.  Because the whole thing smelled of dirt, and to get a better idea for what I was really getting into, I started by attempting to open the canopy and clean the inside.  Problem…  the crank that raises the roof was missing.  The previous owners didn’t know where it was either.  Good thing I have a pile of scrap, a grinder, and a cheap welder.  Two hours and a failed prototype later and I had fabricated a reasonable replica that functioned perfectly.   So much for just a half-day of work.

After opening the canopy, it became clear mice had decided to nest in there over one of the winters it was sitting and chewed several holes in the canopy and window screens.  Opening the canopy further revealed stitching on one of the seams that had dry-rotted and come apart.  My leather sewing kit would come in handy for that, even though hand-stitching several feet of heavy canvas didn’t sound like fun.  Patching and stitching the canopy chewed up a trip to the outdoor megastore and about six hours.  On to the door.

The door proved to be a much more difficult repair than I had figured.  The manufacturer had opted to forgo screws and bolts in favor of aluminum pop-rivets in an effort to cut both weight and cost.  I had to drill out and re-do over 50 of the little buggers just to get the door apart, not to mention the work involved in fixing the latch, straightening out the bent frame, reinforcing a couple areas, and getting it all back together.  What was supposed to take an hour took more like ten.

That done, I moved on to the interior.  A full day (12+hours) of scrubbing, sweeping, wiping, pressure-washing, canvas patching, and other general cleaning did wonders, but also revealed lots of additional things that needed attention.  Every cabinet door and drawer was falling apart, so I pulled out some glue and my trusty brad-nailer.  With their help and about three hours I had fixed the cabinetry.  There was also some critical bracing that was missing in the benches/beds that a trip to the scrap wood pile in the garage and some rough carpentry took care of.  The water pump in the sink was falling out of the hole because the particle board around the screws had disintegrated, but with a deadline looming, and no immediate need for that particular function,  I opted to leave it for another time.

Now that all the “easy” stuff was done, it was time to tackle the water damage in the front cargo area.  Originally, I thought I’d be able to get away with reinforcing the floor with some cheap OSB and replacing two panels on the sides, but after looking closer and pulling up the linoleum, it became clear I would have to completely disassemble, demolish, and re-build everything forward of where the forward bed pulled out.  By the time I was done pulling off the plastic and aluminum body panels and tearing up rotten OSB and particle board, there was nothing left but the frame.  The demolition alone took over three hours, another three hours to go to the hardware store and back, and another eight or so hours to re-build the cargo box and get the body panels back in place.

If you’re keeping track, that adds up to 44 hours so far, and I still have to hand-sew patches over about five or six holes in the screens, make sure the tires are road worthy, stitch up a couple holes in the upholstery, make sure the road-lights all work, and get it licensed.  When it’s all said and done, I’m probably looking at something like another 8-10 hours for a grand-total of about 52 hours.  Considering what I make when I’m being paid for my work, this free trailer is pretty expensive.  Good thing I have more time than unallocated money (and I don’t even have much time).    Assuming I can spend Monday on it, I should have it done in time for the first outing in a couple of weeks.

One bright-spot… the air conditioner works, and everywhere we have planned to stop has power at the campsites.  Yes… I have fallen far from my backwoods days camping with only what you could carry, but this is Texas in July.  I’ll accept the ribbing, and enjoy being able to sleep in something slightly cooler than a hot oven.

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