On The Road: Moving up from tent camping to a classic travel trailer

On The Road: Moving up from tent camping to a classic travel trailer

Last week, I shared thoughts about moving from tent camping to small, newer travel trailers.

I offered that small trailers share special qualities: They’re easy to maneuver into tight campsites, easy to store and can be towed with many four-cylinder and almost all six-cylinder autos/SUVs, yielding good gas mileage. Several additional plusses come with classic travel trailers: They’re cool, and if purchased properly, you won’t lose money should you sell them some years later. Bought wisely and well-maintained, many of these classic trailers from the 1950s through the 1970s actually will appreciate, should you later desire to sell them.

For a twosome, or a family with several kids, classic trailers can be found in the range of 13 to about 20 feet offering plenty of room for up to four or five. Airstream, Shasta, Serro Scotty and other models can be found throughout the west. Search online and you’ll find a variety of classic trailer shows spread throughout the spring and summer, where you can see these classics, check with the owners and determine what you like. Also scan the Tin Can Tourist website, the websites of classic trailer owners groups like Airstream, Shasta or Scotty and join the Facebook groups of the same trailer brands. My suggestion: Watch your newspaper and put up daily searches on both eBay and Craigslist for “classic travel trailer” and see what pops up.

When you find the trailer you like, be prepared for some serious inspection. If you have a friend who knows woodworking and trailers, take him/her along. Also, bring a flashlight to look into all hidden corners and underneath the trailer — you’re looking for any signs of water damage, either at the base of the walls, the floor or around the interior windows and roof seams. Some classic owners are good at putting cosmetic touches to hide water and dry rot damage. Repairs like this can be expensive and time-consuming.

Years ago, I found a cute ’64 Serro Scotty trailer for sale in Oceanside, thinking it needed merely paint and a bit of rear-end patchwork. I finagled the price down to $900 — but shortly discovered extensive dry rot necessitating a full rebuild. After about 700 hours of work, and another $4,500 the trailer is finished — but I wouldn’t want to tackle a project like this again. It would’ve been a lot easier to have searched a bit longer and found a trailer either in better shape or fully rebuilt and paid $6,000.

Here’s a sampling of beautiful classics we’ve seen in recent years, offering quality, collectability and proper “coolness quotient”:

Airstream: These aluminum trailers offer the iconic shape, starting with the tiny Bambi and offering a number of slightly larger trailers that can be towed with mid-size vehicles. They can be buffed to a high sheen and are often the talk of a campground. 

Shasta trailers: These classic “canned hams” were originally made in Southern California, so you’ll find lots of them spread around the West. They sprouted the cute Shasta wings in 1958, continuing through the mid-’80s.

Serro Scotty trailers: Made in the late ’50s to the ’80s with pretty basic construction (making them easiest to rebuild), they also offer the classic canned ham profile. Our ’64 Scotty Sportsman provides plenty of room for two, featuring a double bed in back, small dinette seating for four that converts to another bed, and center cooking area with small sink and two-burner stove.

’57 Corvette: Bob Hughes, of Camino rebuilt this 1957 Corvette trailer. Purchased for $600 and a two years’ labor-of-love, it features an extended frame, rezinced windows and cost about $7,000 into the rebuild, including a beautiful blue and white paint job.

You can find small classic trailers on sites like eBay and Craigslist. Popular out West are those already noted, as well as Boler, Burro, Little Caesar, Hunter Compact, Kenskill, Layton, Mobile Glide and Scamp. They range in size from about 13 to 25 feet in length. A good reconditioned trailer can set you back anywhere from $5,000 to about $25,000 depending upon make and model. Bought wisely and well cared for, one can recoup the investment years later, perhaps seeing some appreciation in value. With any of these classic trailers, you’ll be “snug as a bug,” get good gas mileage getting there and be the toast of the campground.

Then there are new trailers I define as “classics” — classic design, small and cute. They include Shasta, which has just reissued a retro, new Shasta Airflyte (in the upper teens as to price), and T@B trailers that I profiled last week, with the old-fashioned teardrop shape.

For more information: A variety of classic trailer websites offer insights into buying or rebuilding, including Tin Can Tourists, tincantourists.com; Airstream trailers, airstreamclassifieds.com; Serro Scotty trailers, nationalserroscotty.org; Shasta Trailers. Pick a classic and find an owners’ group. To purchase, scan your newspaper as well as Craigslist and eBay.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblog.