In part one of my ongoing restoration project (involving our 1964 Aristocrat Lo-Liner camper/trailer), I discovered that simple fixes on 50 year old things are rarely that; and unfortunately what I hoped would be a repair confined to one corner of the camper turned out to reveal damage throughout the entire structure. This had me peeling off the outer aluminum skin piece by piece (held in place by about a million rusty staples), pulling out the entire kitchen area in the front, and removing the bed supports which had pulled away from the outer walls. Once exposed, I discovered wood rot along almost the entire bottom half and undersides, with further damage up each corner to the ceiling.
This pervasive water intrusion caused me to make the difficult decision to abandon any preconceived notions of saving, well, anything, and go forward with gutting the entire vehicle; cabinets, flooring, walls, wiring… everything. So, with oscillating tool in hand, I sliced, diced, whacked, and bludgeoned the interior until it was an empty shell, the flooring stripped bare of its old linoleum and everything else in a pile of rubble in my our driveway. My hands are now full of bandages and I had several bouts of self-doubt, but once the final cabinet was extracted, I breathed a sigh of relief that I could now at least see what I was up against.
Logically, I thought, the first order of business was to assess what, if anything, I could salvage/save. The water rot was mostly confined to the corners, specifically at the top and bottom portions. The flooring plywood was in decent shape, with decay mostly in the aforementioned corners, which I figured I could easily cut out in sections and replaced with new wood. The wall framing was still like new, but 1″x 2″ pine boards are pretty cheap, so I wasn’t too worried about ditching the old ones. Likewise, the copper piping for propane and water showed no signs of wear, and the wiring looked to have been replaced along the way as it looked good upon close inspection. The entire front face (and top inside kitchen cabinet) was in great condition and I could easily reuse it without worry. The roof, though probably not beyond saving, will alas have to be removed as I wish to replace the ceiling panels and would cause harm to the joists when pulling out all the nails. The top aluminum skin, thankfully, is in perfect condition and can easily be cleaned and repainted to look like new.
So, on a perfect, sunny Sunday I started the process of building as opposed to destroying at last. I used my small oscillating tool (dubbed “super tool” by myself and fellow trailer enthusiast Joe Anzai), attached the wood cutting blade, and sliced out a section of the floor near the wheel well and inserted a new piece cut from some scrap wood given to me at Home Depot. I then rebuilt the kitchen cabinet base, using the old one as a template, and it fit right into place without a hitch. I considered this a HUGE win; basically everything forward of the door entry is dependent on this single assembly, and from it I can now re-attach the front (I’m not replacing anything but the back panel) and front/side panels easily. In fact, once the new floor panels are in place, I could even begin installing the kitchen cabinets and appliances. Given all the times I’ve questioned my sanity during this process, it was satisfying to finally see progress.
Stay tuned for part three!