When most people see a rusty RV parked on cinderblocks in a grassy field, they usually don’t say to themselves, “Now that one’s a winner!” But in Colorado there’s one real estate agent who does and she’s having a ball giving old trailers new life with modern RVers who crave all things vintage.
“I love giving life back to them and digging out their stories,” says April Wantiez, a vintage trailer restoration authority in Fort Collins, CO. “It’s sort of like granting the ‘old horse put out to pasture’ an agile, pretty and worthy existence again.”
April fell in love with vintage trailers six years ago. Lacking the funds to pay a pro to restore her first trailer, she got to work. Today, April’s passion for buying and selling vintage trailers is what she’s dubbed “Aluminitis”–an addiction to fixing up the aluminum trailers of yesterday.
“Some of the wood and craftsmanship in certain trailers is amazing. These trailers were built by good hard working Americans and have a historic charm,” she says. April has owned more than two dozen vintage trailers since she began her part-time passion, but she doesn’t take on every project she sees.
Vintage trailer restoration lessons
As a real estate agent by day, she knows that any diamond in the rough can have costly faults. When she stops to look at a candidate, she does her best to keep calm and look for hidden problems that could cost too much money to fix.
From the roof to the axles, restoring a vintage trailer calls for a sharp eye and powerful self-restraint. “I used to think they all could and need saving,” she explains. “However, now I’ve slowed down purchasing. I have five in my boneyard backyard I’ve not had much time to touch.”
The vintage trailer restoration projects she’s completed have taught her many lessons about what to look for and avoid in a trailer. Although she pays the pros to handle things like repacking wheel bearings and if necessary, glass replacement, she only purchases a trailer if she’s confident she can do most of the repair work herself. Through the years she’s also learned the best way to tame her budget is to keep things simple. For example she:
- Draws the line at serious water damage. “Water damage is the number one flaw,” she says. Visual water damage is deceiving and she’s learned that usually there’s 30 to 40 percent more that isn’t visible to the naked eye. “If it has too much water damage where I know I’ll have to tear out complete walls or the ceiling (which will entail removing the exterior skin), I now walk away. Even from a free one.”
- Avoids fully contained models. “ I have owned them and some families require them. To me, it just means more work so I keep things simple. All I search for these days is a place to put a portable potty and a means to refrigerate some food and beverages.”
- Doesn’t really care about appliance colors. “I’ve had avocado green, brown, bright orange, sea foam green. Some people look for a trailer based on color of appliances. I could care less. I know I can decorate around it,” she says.
Once the mouse feces are cleaned out and the major renovation work is over, April gets into her favorite part of the job: decorating. “If it’s a 1950s or 1960’s with great wood interior and original interiors and appliances, I try and keep it as original as possible. I might ‘funk it up’ with pillows, curtains and décor,” she explains. In other cases, she says that anything goes. “My style and stash of staging décor is usually themed somewhat western, log cabin and cowgirl,” she says. “But I’ve had some that spoke to me differently so I’ve gone for a more retro style.”
If you’re dreaming about your own vintage trailer restoration project, April’s best advice is to ask for help from others, don’t be afraid to learn new skills and always keep the end result in mind.
“When you finally haul down the road and people rubberneck, honk, and holler, you will feel extreme joy and pride. When you wake up at a camp site and people are standing outside your door waiting so they can look inside and ask you questions—you will be proud. When you finally lay down to sleep for the first time in your ‘labor of love’, you will be given a new existence. A true rocky mountain high in my experience,” she says.
All photos by April Wantiez
For more vintage trailer restoration advice from April, see this article from Do It Yourself RVResearch Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.