Posts Tagged ‘vintage travel trailers’

Posted: September 12, 2019 in Buick
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Wrecked.  That about sums up summer here at Cool McCool’s Garage.  Life is like a car crash, you’re rolling along without a care in the world, things are great, and the next thing you know, you’re on the Tilt ‘O Whirl, thinking about throwing up over the side.


Our ’51 Pontiac wagon was destroyed by an idiot (said idiot seen the upper left corner leaning on his weapon, er truck)  in a moment of inattention (he said he wasn’t on a cell phone, but admitted  he wasn’t looking at the road ahead) who slammed into the car while we were waiting for traffic to clear turning left into my mother in law’s drive on M-43 in Delton.  The impact pushed the car head-on into oncoming traffic.

Losing the car, which we’ve had and loved for the past 12 years, was blow that is only slightly softened by the great service from Hagerty Classic Car Insurance.  Ultimately, we’re thankful  no one was killed, it was after all, just a car.

So, what does one do after that?  For me, it’s been difficult to get going on anything.  I suppose there was a bit of depression involved (my mom passed away July 9th, a week after her 89th birthday, and we’re dealing with the aftermath of that and my elderly father), so it’s been rather hard to feel enthused.  I have the T’bird nearly ready for paint, but the need to replace the car that we use to pull our Spartan trailer with seems more urgent than anther fair-weather cruiser, so I’ve pushed myself into action on the ’63 Riviera that’s been gathering dust in the back of the shop.

That seemed like a better plan than spending the insurance money immediately on a car similar to the Pontiac, with retirement looming, and five other old cars taking up space.


The car has a 5.3 LS/4L60 combo, the wiring is done, the suspension is done, the gas tank is in, the interior is started, and the simple custom work I did hiding the ugly headlights and removing the front bumper is roughed in.  It should be a great tow vehicle, although my wife Kim is not certain she’s going to like it in front of the trailer (it’s admittedly a completely different style), it should be a very comfortable and competent tow pig.

Plus, TV Tommy Ivo towed with a ’63 Riviera, it was good enough him it ought to be good enough for us.


A couple of hours had the front clip off, the car reduced to several big piles of parts.  Look at all that wiring!  Yikes.


The engine hadn’t been cleaned before I  put in, mostly because my drive is gravel overgrown with sod, it’s impossible to roll an engine on a dolly or hanging from the hoist out to degrease and clean, so with having it in the chassis, up on wheels, makes that possible.  A couple cans of “Gunk” degreaser and the power washer (which amazingly started right up), had the engine clean enough for a car the  hood will never be open on.


A seemingly simple chore I wanted to do after the front sheet metal was off was to align the sagging passenger door.  These cars have incredibly heavy doors, with removable out skins for access to the window motors and regulators, the right hand one dropped at the rear, hanging up on the striker, and the gap wasn’t even.  I thought it’d be easy, thinking it needed to have the hinges adjusted at the cowl, but it turned out someone had broken three of the six bolts holding the hinges to the door (where all the adjustment is), taken a fourth one out, leaving the remaining two only finger tight.  So, the door moved around on the hinge, putting it out of alignment.

I was able to drill all the broken 5/16th bolds out of the hinge plate with the door in place on the  hinges and re-tap them.  It was a bit of a challenge, and they may not be perfectly aligned as the drill couldn’t quite be square because the hinge was in the way, but it’s now adjusted properly, all six bolts are in and torqued down, the door didn’t have to come off, and we’re moving forward.

I’m going to give the wagon’s visor to my pal Jake Moomey, who’s going to lend a hand with running the brake, fuel and A/C lines, which will be a big help, and boost my enthusiasm.  We’d been talking about selling one or more of the cars as we move into retirement, so the way to look at the wagon is that we’ve sold one.  We wouldn’t have sold THAT one, and it isn’t the way we WANTED to sell one, but, that’s the bottom line.

We’re moving forward.



I thought I’d be writing about having the new flooring installed in the Manor, but, the red tiles (which would be where the white ones are) we ordered turned out to be a weird shade of pinkish magenta, so, another carton of tiles was ordered and we’re waiting on those.  So, hurry up and wait.  Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and I can get it done this week on my days off.

Instead, I’ll talk a little about last weekends Tin Can Tourist Fall Rally in Milford, MI.  Kim and I left Wednesday about 6:30, a day earlier than we’d planned, and got there just about dark.  We had a great weekend of reuniting with old friends, hanging out, and surprisingly little looking at old trailers.  In fact, going through my photos, I took pictures of exactly two.  One, our friends Jake and Tami’s ’48 Spartan Manor, which makes me regret not having ours done, or maybe even regretting selling the ’46, hence, the work being done on ours, and the other a very rare “Holiday House”, the Holy Grail of sticks and staples late ’50’s canned hams.


Jake and Tami’s trailer was a 3 month thrash build from a gutted shell, which included the stripping of the original interior, complete new floors, running gear, custom interior, glass, insulation, wiring etc.  In other words, a total, frame up rebuild, which was completed the night before a cross-country family vacation with their two young daughters.  Jake is a high energy hot rodder, the quality of the build is incredible, and the trailer works flawlessly for them, right out of the box.  That little truck is another of Jake’s builds, his daily driver, built from swap meet parts, a thrashed S-10, and a rusty Sierra pickup that donated its heart to the project.  Nice work, Jake!

The Holiday House belongs to another friend, Dawn, who has several other vintage trailer builds under her belt, and she’s building this herself as well.  It’s an unfinished project as yet, but she’s already replaced the skin, much of the front framing and she’s now working on renovating the interior.  These trailers are unusually wide, in fact, they’re a shade over 8′, which makes them very roomy, and the panoramic windows really open up the trailer to the outdoors.  It’s a great trailer, I can’t wait to see how Dawn finishes up the interior.


We had a wedding on Friday, so missed that days fun, but we made up for it the rest of the weekend.  The highlight may have been impromptu downhill rides on Jake’s (new) blue poly waste tank, which was pressed into duty as Soapbox derby racer.  We quit sometime around midnight on Saturday, figuring that since nobody had been hurt (a miracle) and the cops hadn’t shown up, we should quit while we were ahead.

The weekend, and the camping season, came to a close when we pulled out on Monday, having spent an extra night at Camp Dearborn to watch the lunar eclipse with some of our friends.   We sadly packed up and pulled out, heading home for overdue laundry, lawn-care, bill paying, and the usual household chores we escaped for the weekend,


The trip home was smooth, until the wagon uncharacteristically sputtered and quit about 20 miles from home.  When we left Camp Dearborn, we both remembered filling the car with gas in Milford before Sunday, but we forgot about the trip across the state and back for our nieces wedding, and the car really did not have a full tank.  An embarassing call to Hagarty Insurance’s Road Service line had a tow truck with a can of gas, and we were back on the road.  Maybe figuring out why the gas gauge doesn’t work would be a good winter project?


So, all that’s left of this seasons camping and travel is winterizing the campers, tucking them in for the long winter, and getting the Spartan done for next summer so I don’t feel bad when Jake rolls up with theirs!  Stay tuned for progress on the ’47, the T’bird, the Rivi, and the ’34 (if I can squeeze it into the shop).  It’s gonna be a busy winter!

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!

IMG_5336 IMG_5340 IMG_5339

Wow, its  been awhile since we’ve updated the blog, and LOTS has happened here!  We’ll take a moment to recap the excitement that’s gone on in the month since our last post:

Old Faithful.

Old Faithful.


Get the wagons lined up!

Get the wagons lined

We went on our first camping outing of the year, with the Tin Can Tourists in Milford MI, at the TCT Spring Rally the weekend before Labor Day.  Although the weather was NOT good for the first half of the weekend, we had a great time with all our friends.  The ’51 Pontiac got to flex its muscles a bit and tow the Spartan over, Kim and I both commented on how comfortable it is, compared to the one ton Diamond T truck.  We had an impromptu “Station Wagon Parade” around the grounds of Camp Dearborn, with all our wagon owing pals, and had a ball.

On the project front, the ’59 T’bird has seen no progress at all.  I don’t feel very good about that, but, it’s not like other things haven’t happened.  My friend Ron’s Edsel wagon got an initial spruce up, to take care of the rusty roof, and is now back for repair of all 4 doors, and a little quickie fix of the left rear quarter.  The doors present a challenge, but with a little tack welding, and the use of 3M “Panel-Bond”, we think we have a very acceptable repair for a driver.  The quarter would be better repaired with a patch panel, but Ron is suffering from sticker shock at how much effort (and therefore how much money) the roof and doors are taking, so a correct repair can wait.  It’ll look good, and we’ll take care of the rest when he’s ready.

Lacey door corners.

Lacey door corners.


Tack welding patch panels in.

Tack welding patch panels in.


Welding completed, 3M Panel-Bond over the weak to seal and waterproof.

Welding completed, 3M Panel-Bond over the weak to seal and waterproof.


A good afternoons work.

A good afternoons work.



In a moment of weakness, last week, I brought home a late 80’s Starcraft motor home.  This brute has only 14,00 miles on the clock, and sports a 454/400 Turbo combo that amazingly fired up instantly on the 12-year-old gas in the tank.  After a lesson in the reliability of 25-year-old tires, I was able to pull it out of it’s resting place and drive it home.  I enlisted the senior “Cool McCool”, my dad Rex, to come along, drive the chase truck, a real treat for him on his 90th birthday!

After getting my eyebrows singed  off seating two tires back on the rims using starting fluid and a match, and changing the right front tire which blew after rolling about 50 feet, we got home with no issues.  The coach has an Onan 6.8KW generator, two slimline roof air conditioners, a big two-way fridge, convection oven, holding tanks, water pump, fittings, lines, fixtures, etc. that we can hopefully use in the soon to be started ’47 Spartan Manor project.  Meanwhile, it’s hidden from view (at least from OUR view) in the back of the lot, and I’m trying to figure out what to do with the fiberglass body once I start cutting it up.  The entire roof is rotten, and much of the left sidewall, from a leak in the rubber roof, so it’s not salvageable,  Kind of a shame, but hopefully it’ll be worth all the effort dismantling it for the parts.  Now we have to decide what to do with the chassis, it’s air suspension, hydraulic leveling system, cruise control, air conditioning, and miscellaneous.

COE ramp truck maybe?

The original "Cool McCool"

The original “Cool McCool”


It's home, now what will we do with it?

It’s home, now what will we do with it?


Garage wall art...

Garage wall art…


You can almost smell it from here...

You can almost smell it from here…


So, that’s it for now.  Stay tuned for updates on the motor home project (or come over with your Sawzall and maul and help tear it apart), get ready for updates on the T’bird and the rewiring of the dash and steering column, our latest camping expedition, and all the other activity here at Cool McCool’s Garage!

Anyone who’s built a custom car or hot rod has been asked that (or should have, if they’re doing things right, to my way of thinking) at least once. Not just by the uninformed at a show by a non car guy, but by ones buddies, and most importanly, by oneself.

I’ve only lately come to learn that I need to ask myself that when starting, again and again all the way through a build, when selecting componants, colors, interior trims and so on.

As I think back, the projects I’ve been the most satisfied with, that turned out the best, and suited me most, were the ones I really thought through and planned.   The projects that started with something I wasn’t  really in love with, used componants just because they were there, or were cheap, are the ones I wasn’t happy with, wasn’t  proud of, and didn’t like.

A buddy of mine shook his head at another local builder who asked him what the “theme” was he was using for a car. My friend couldn’t understand a car build having a theme, and honestly, at the time I really didn’t either.  It seemed “cheesy”, to me to have a “theme”, but I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be cheesy, it’s a design plan.

It’s easy to spot cars built without a cohesive design “theme” at shows. They’ve got wide whites with grey tweed interiors, or 22″ rims and rolled and pleated interiors. Every cliched and trendy accessory, pastel colors with tweed interiors, billet parts, all thrown at unlikely body styles, sort of an “If a little’s good, too much isn’t enough” philosophy.

I’ve built cars I shouldn’t have, used engines that didn’t fit well, didn’t suit the intended purpose of the car, and not had a clear vision of the style I was after when I started. These cars I haven’t been happy with, didn’t like, and not surprisingly, had a hard time finding new owners for when the time came. Nobody else “got” what I was trying to say either.

With the ’36, I was inspired by a “Sketchpad” piece in Rod&Custom magazine, by the artist Thom Taylor. I was really attracted to the idea of using a derelict body nobody else wanted (fit my finances), and building a cool car that belied the humble beginnings.

The finished car is more inspired by, than a copy of that, but I had a clear vision when I started, and I think I did a pretty good job sticking to it.

Engine choice, wheels, tires, stance, everything was pretty carefully thought out, and although I did use things scrounged and “found objects”, there was a plan and inspiration for all of them. They all work together cohesively to reflect my interpretation of the original artwork.

I’ve been thinking about this as I work on the Diamond T as well. This is a project that came from a decades old idea that a Diamond T pickup was about the coolest looking thing I’d ever seen. Kind of like the Spartan trailer, I can’t exactly say when or where I saw one, but I did at some point, and have wanted one ever since.   I knew nothing about them, and up untill last fall at a friends place, had NEVER even seen another one besides mine in person.

Happily, Kim is on board with this, and she’s been quick to point out (correctly every time) when I’ve dropped the ball in the planning and execution department. The recent change of engines, from the worn out old 350 to the “new” 6.0 LS1 is all Kim, pointing out I’d settled on the 350 from the van I bought because it was cheap.

I’ve been lucky to find some parts, like the beautiful stainless steel grill, through places like the “HAMB” message board and ebay, which have really helped out. I like to think the changes in the original plan haven’t been changes, but rather “refinements” of the original plan for a truck I’d been imagining for a long, long time.  The changes didn’t sidetrack or slow down the project, each change has actually clarified the vision, sped the project along and will make it so much better than the first choice.  It’s a fluid plan, but it’s a plan.

When it’s done, and hitched up to the Spartan, I think we’ll have a very unique combo which will meet our needs, be unlike anything anybody has seen, and when somebody asks, “Why did you want to build THAT?”, I’ll have a pretty good answer.