Is everyone out there buying up used travel trailers right now? Luckily, I have found a good one.

Here she is–my travel trailer!  I have found that campers of this age and condition go for around $2,000 up to $2,500.  I got a deal, however.  🙂  I will share the details with you all.  This is a 1977 Wilderness travel trailer.  She is 19 feet long, which is pretty tiny.  The layout is as follows:

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You walk in the door–there is a stand-up closet and tiny bathroom with a tiny shower stall directly on the left (with a tiny swing door).  The guy was using this camper to travel 35 miles regularly for skeet shooting, his hobbly and incidentally, he is a big man and this tiny bathroom suited him fine, he said.  He has owned the trailer for several years and maintained it extremely well, sealing the roof yearly.  Very important to get the history of the camper and confirm that the owner did regular maintenance, especially on one so old.

As you turn to walk inside, there is a dinette that folds into a bed on the right, a spacious kitchenette on the left with decent sized refrigerator, stove top and oven, double sink and generous countertop.  I found that modern campers of this size usually do not have an oven, nor do they have much kitchen counter space or a double sink.

towards the nose of the trailer is a full sized bed down and a tiny bunk bed up that doubles as storage.  The walls are wood-looking vinyl and the kitchen cabinets are basically partical board from the 1970s, but in excellent shape.  The built-ins are plywood. The floor is linoleum and the ceiling is vinyl.

I plan to remove the dinette, to give more floor space and I am also going to re-do the bedding, kitchenette, and bathroom–replacing everything with real wood–furniture grade plywood for a smooth finish.  I am going to replace the kitchenette cabinets with solid wooden cabinets or perhaps a repurposed buffet or dresser of solid wood from a thrift store. Now, I am also replacing the tires immediately, as they are dry-rotted–this is pretty commonplace on most pre-owned campers.  And, I am looking at beefing up the suspension in order to accomodate the extra weight that I am adding.  Fortunately, she has dual axels which is great.  Many new campers this size have only single axel, as they are being built as feather-light.

I am installing lightweight wooden flooring over the vinyl–but not before I do a thorough inspection of the floor, ceiling, and walls to erradicate any trapped moisture. There is a slight sag in the ceiling above the bed. Once I have fixed the sag, I am installing a second framing of 2 x 2s along the walls, floor, and ceiling, which will be filled with foam insulation sheets that I am getting from Lowe’s. Once the framing and insulation is in, I will install a new ceiling, a new floor, and new (smooth) plywood walls.  Then, I can paint, tile, add shelving/cabinets, and do anything else that I want to do to brighten and modernize the interior.  Once the floors and walls are finished, I will re-install new built-ins and re-connect any fixtures or appliances that were temporarily removed.  This remodel/insulating process will insure that the trailer can weather winter.  Good insulation also cuts down on heat in summer. Now, I will lose about 5 inches of head height; but I am not concerned, as the ceilings are 7 feet and I am only 5′ 6″.

A thing I have noticed about most modern campers (1970s and up) is that there is much use of partical board with vinyl over, alot of linoleum, and OSB throughout the built-ins, rather than plywood.  Not good. These materials are great for keeping the campers light weight. However these materials just do not hold up over time, especially if you want to reside in a camper full time, as do I.

Here’s an example of how unreliable the use of particle board or OSB panels really are over time.  I looked at a 1977 Dodge Motor home and when I tried to open the exterior storage doors for inspection, the OSB had literally turned to saw dust and was falling out onto the ground.  The same was true of the OSB that I found inside the motor home.  Of course, over time, the materials that go into thes campers get cooked by the sun–thanks to the aluminum exterior which concentrates the heat inside.  And also because the seams of a travel trailer are riveted together and cauked with plyable rubber, these contract and expand over time when exposed to heat, cold, and humidity–allowing for small crevaces to form and allowing moisture inside the camper which is why they have to be re-sealed each season.

I aim to construct a more impervious interior within my travel trailer that will be more appropriate for full time living.  I have also lined up a company that makes oversized tarps (various colors), with aluminum pole spines–so that I can have a protective rounded, “caboose” style awning that will sit above my camper and serve three purposes: 1) keep the roof dry, 2) keep down the sound of rain, snow, and hail that hits the roof, and 3) mitigate the effects of cold and heat generally–a buffer zone for the roof–to keep the inside warm in winter and cool in summer (to provide a shade over the roof).

Let me just give a shout out to anyone else out there who is trying to transition to tiny by purchasing a cool old camper:

If you find a nice one at a good price, jump on it immediately. It is a buyer’s jungle. Every camper that I found (before I bought this green one)… I literally could not get to the location fast enough before someone else snatched it up.  This camper that I bought–he had another buyer who beat me to it and who was going to return two days later with new tires to install.  So, I simply showed up with money in hand and offered the seller an extra $300 to beat out the other buyer. Even so, I still got the camper at about 35% less than it’s actual value.

Here is my advice: Show up with cash in hand on a weekday so you can get to the title bureau or BMV immediately.

Before I found the travel trailer that I just purchsed, I had been spending up to two hours every day combing through the internet, Craigslist, RV Trader, and every RV dealer within a 200-mile radius of where I live. The big-name RV dealers seem to have the worst quality used campers and the small-time family-owned operations seem to have the nicest ones. Of course private owners seem to be less expensive than dealers. I also made several trips to RV dealers as far as 90 miles away and toured the inside of a couple dozen RVs to ascertain which companies make the best ones and simply to gain a better understanding of the floor plans that are available.  It seems that most RV dealers keep the doors unlocked on there inventory–so that if you want to just go and get an idea of what you want, you can drive to an RV dealer, park your vehicle, and just peruse at will, as I did.  Going from camper to camper on the RV lot, opening the door, and doing a walk through–a good way to know first hand what might suit you.

I searched Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan. So I cannot speak for the rest of the states; but this trend of people buying up campers/travel trailers like crazy right now does seem to be pervasive here in the Midwest. Then again, it is summer or is there a larger trend afoot?

I think maybe the tiny house movement has become a huge wake-up call and people are buying up campers like crazy right now in order to get out from under their mortgages???

Again, just a heads up for anyone out there who is trying to transition to tiny by moving into a travel trailer first.

Happy camper hunting everyone!  🙂

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