Monday, June 22, 2015

A Little Vintage Camper: A Dream Come True

I love a good story.  
This is a good one.

My friend, Susie, is soon to be the National President of Psi Iota Xi, the women's philanthropic organization of which I am a member.  (How you like that fancy grammar?)  Her goal has been to visit every Chapter (120+) during her tenure on the National Council, and since our membership stretches from Midland, Michgan to Lexington, Kentucky, over to St. Joe, Illinois and back to Mount Vernon, Ohio, that's a lot of miles and overnights.  Last spring, when she was staying with us in the middle of her travels, we spent the morning drinking tea and talking and somehow, the conversation fell upon how I have always dreamed of having a little vintage camper.  

"A WHAT?"  Susie asked, with a weird look on her face.
"A little camper.  You know, from the '60's."
"A WHAT?"  Susie asked again with a bit of a smile.
"A camper.  A trailer.  Just a little vintage camper."  I was starting to feel a bit silly, and headed to the magazine basket for a copy of Mary Jane's Farm (and an article on vintage campers) to help explain myself when she said,  

"I have one in my backyard."
It was my turn.

The camper belonged to Susie's husband, Jim's, family; when he was young they had traveled all over the country in their 1965 West Wind Custom.  Later, Susie and Jim's kids had used it for a clubhouse, and in recent years, Jim had  used it for storage.  I think they were ready for it to be extracted from their yard before the trees grew too much more, anchoring it at the back door forever!

I tried not to be too excited when I told Susie that I'd be interested in their camper, if Jim was ready to part with it, and after a few months, Susie said, yes, if we would come and get it, it was ours.  We did, and it is! 

We made one four-hour round trip to east central Indiana to have a look and a chat with Jim, then Clay, Nate and Will made the trip a few weeks later to pick it up.  

The outside needs some repair and spiffing up, but I think it's adorable:

It needs all sorts of things updated, like tires and wheel bearings.  We're currently planning work on all the joints, trying to make it a little more watertight.  New windows and a new door would be nice, too, but not necessary.  

What's necessary?  Color!  This gold is nice, but I think she would be so much cuter in turquoise, don't you?  Wait just a moment -- I'll show you the color I'm thinking of ...  

Another upcoming addition will be a large awning over the door and a smaller matching one over the front window, 

Here's the back:  
A little wire brushing, a little white paint and we're good to go!
I can't do the outside work by myself.  I tried while Clay was in Australia, but kept running into problems.  Turns out that the screws are all rusted in -- plus, the heads of the screws are in a stylized figure-8.  Fancy.  I only have flat and Philips in my toolbox.  Plus, I'm short. 

So, I turned my efforts inside.  Here is a collage of what the camper looked like inside, before and during renovation:

Certainly nothing wrong with the inside, just dated.  In fact, if we had new tires, we could have gone camping right away!  If I did that sort of thing.

The biggest job inside was pulling up the carpet, scraping and sweeping up all the black carpet backing, scrubbing the floor, painting the floor with latex paint (as recommended by the tile manufacturer, Armstrong) and putting down new tile.  The 12" tiles seemed a little big for the space, so Jenny came over to help and we ended up cutting each tile into quarters.  I had bought a new box cutter to cut the tiles, but for the trim work around corners, a pair of scissors did just fine.
I sewed new curtains out of vintage linens (tablecloths, pillow cases and handkerchiefs).  I was afraid the foam in the cushions would have to be replaced, but I took one to an upholstery shop, and they told me the foam was good for several more years.  So I just sewed new covers (after much trial and error!)  No zippers and no cording.

And, here is the big reveal!  I still have some things I'd like to do, but you get the idea!  

I had planned to paint the interior a nice clean white, but after hearing Jim talk about how the beautiful birch veneer reminded him of his family's trips to the forests and parks in the west, I didn't have the heart to paint over it.  A good cleaning with Murphy's Oil Soap, and the inside is shiny, warm and cozy.  I love it.  

See? Cozy!

Cushions in turquoise hounds tooth.  I sewed little elastic loops into the corners and fastened them onto cup hooks to keep the cushions upright.  

I had seriously thought about removing the stove top, refrigerator and sink, but friends have talked me out of it -- I think I'm going to build a little platform to cover the burners.  And the refrigerator will make a perfect cooler.  

Do you like this turquoise?  That's going to be the color of the accent stripe on the outside, replacing the gold.  

I like to call this end of the camper the sleeping alcove.  There are two long cushions under that chenille bedspread, and the platform will pull out to make a full bed.  As it is now, it's a perfect napping/reading spot for one, or a couch for several!  

 Just a little trial decoration.

What am I going to do with this when it's done?  Well, first I'm going to have to decide upon a name.  I'm thinking Susie Lou (after Susie and Jim, of course, Lou being a nod to their last name.  Plus, Sue and Lou are the middle names of my sisters!) or Jodi (my mom's nickname in nursing school) or Pixie, for Psi Iota Xi -- clever, right?  But I am also accepting suggestions ...

Her first big event will be our Hen and Chicks Barn Market in September, where she will probably serve as our ticket booth (or napping spot), and her next scheduled event will be the 2016 Psi Ote National Convention in Indianapolis!

Then?  I would like to outfit her as a mobile knitting studio, but I know Sarah and Maggie and their families might like to actually camp in her!

More updates soon.



  1. So adorable, Georgiann!!! Great job. Terrific use of the vintage linens!

  2. Love. Great job and I love the turquoise and birch. I see a camping trip in our future if I ever get LOUISE finished!

  3. Georgiann, your talents are truly amazing! This camper is too cute for words. Bravo!!!

  4. I love your story, Georgiann. The turquoise and wood are in harmony. Great choices! The town in which I work was hit hard by yesterday's powerful storms, so I have time to catch up on some FB posts. Thanks for the good read:)

  5. What a great little project - resurrecting the shell in which memories were made. It's a great story. I love the turquoise you chose. Lovely!

  6. I bragged on you in the Aldi parking lot today but I'll add more. In the camper, on the bed I love how it looks like you repurposed an old pillow case. I love old pillowcases!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.