Month: May 2017

The Paint Job Part 2: Painting Our Vintage Travel Trailer on a Budget

After we decided on the paint job design (see part 1), it came time to start painting! We had read of people who had spent $1000+ on automotive-quality paint jobs, we wanted to find an option that would be less expensive, durable, and still look good.

Nick all geared up and ready to paint!

Up to this point, we had already:

  • Cleaned and repaired the aluminum skin (siding) – including replacing a piece on the front of the trailer that was in bad shape. Also replaced a lot of the underlying framing.
  • Removed all of the windows, doors, and other parts of the trailer we didn’t want to paint.
  • Cleaned, cleaned, and cleaned some more! The prep work took more time than the actual painting did. TSP, water, and sponges. Over and over.

After looking at various paint options (most of which cost a lot of money), we decided to use Valspar Tractor and Implement paint. It was relatively inexpensive, gets a lot of good reviews for its durability, and we could order it on Amazon – yes!

To begin, we put down two coats of primer and let it dry over several days.

Primer coats complete

Primer coats complete

The next step was to paint the entire trailer white. We chose to add an enamel hardener to make the paint job even more durable as well as adding mineral spirits to thin the paint for use in our paint sprayer. We probably only needed two coats, but decided to go with three coats of white.

White coats complete

White coats complete

Next, we needed to tape off the scallop shapes. I created a cardboard arc that I used as a stencil to draw each of the arcs on the side with a pencil. We then used very thin painter’s tape to mask the shape. Since the tape was only 1/8″ wide, it was able to curve more than typical painter’s tape. We filled in the space between the lines with wider tape. To avoid the blue color bleeding under the tape, we brushed on a thin layer of white on top of paint edges.

All taped up and ready for the blue!

All taped up and ready for the blue!

Now it was time for the blue paint! Because we wanted our own custom color, we mixed one gallon of the white paint and one gallon of the “Ford Blue.” We tried several ratios, and the 1:1 was not only a lighter blue color we liked, but it would also make it easier to remix if we needed more paint in the future. We did three coats of the blue as well.

Blue coats going on

Blue paint going on!

Paint job complete! (We later also decided to paint the trailer tongue and bumper with black tractor paint as well)

It was tons of work, but well worth it! If doing it again, I would probably use a different paint sprayer – ours left a bit of the dreaded orange peel texture on the trailer – but it’s only noticeable if you get up close.

In total, we spent $365 on all of the cleaning and paint supplies (not including the tongue and bumper). We’re hopeful that it will hold up in the years to come!

Paint job complete!

Paint job complete!

Here’s some more photos of the trailer once we put everything back together:

The Paint Job Part 1: Choosing a Design

We went through some pretty awful ideas when brainstorming how to paint the exterior of our trailer. Designs like these:

Awful paint job ideas
Ugh, right?! We felt constrained by the long horizontal lines, and we wanted to do something a bit more out of the box. Here what we were starting with:

After hours creating mockups that we hated, we finally did what all great artists do and decided to take inspiration from others (aka steal). So off we went to Pinterest and saw several trailers using the scallop design. YES! That was it! Now we just had to pick a color:

Color ideas

I wish we could say we settled on the blue color because of some deep meaning – like reminding us of an adventure on the ocean waves, or floating on the clouds in our family sky-mobile. The decision came down to much more practical reason.

We didn’t want the paint job to break the bank, and had read good things about using tractor paint (very durable). Unfortunately, the paint we were looking at didn’t have very many color options and the last thing we wanted was the trailer to look like a farming implement or a hunting lodge. So we mixed a gallon of white paint with a gallon of “Ford Blue” and ended up with this:

Final Trailer

Given the options we started with, we’re happy with how it turned out! Although those polka dots would’ve been rad 🙂

Next week we’ll share about the painting process and what we used to get the end result without breaking the bank.

We took the trailer for a (disastrous) trial run

Last fall we took the trailer out camping for the first time. We knew we would be telling people about our plans for the coming summer, and before we quit our jobs and sold our house, we figured it would be wise to actually go camping in! The first night ended with us stuffing our faces with uncooked s’mores as seen here:

How did we get to this moment? Last summer we put in hundreds of hours and worked like crazy to finish the trailer so we could take it out camping before winter arrived. We (mostly ) finished in September and then made plans to camp up in Wisconsin the first weekend in October.

From the beginning, things started going wrong:

The trailer was too heavy – A couple days before our camping trip, we took the trailer to a weigh station to see how much weight we would be pulling. We had spent a bunch of time and money outfitting our van with a tow package – adding a hitch, transmission and power steering cooler, and new wiring for a brake controller. Only when we finally weighed the trailer, it turned out to be much heavier than we expected! The van could handle it for a weekend trip, but wouldn’t be able to safely tow it once it was fully loaded. So for this weekend we just moved the batteries out of the tongue box to reduce the tongue weight and waited to fill up the water tank at the camp.

No trailer lights – We had everything hooked up in our driveway, kids in their car seats, and we were ready to go! The only problem was that none of the running lights seemed to be working on the trailer. We finally discovered it was just a loose connection between the trailer and the tow vehicle. Okay, that’s an easy enough fix! We were off!

Quintin is distracted. Eliza is skeptical.

Something doesn’t feel right – As we drove along, we began noticing a bounce in our van as we towed the trailer. We pulled over and realized that the trailer was not level. Our hitch was too high. So we made a stop at Harbor Freight to buy a different sized ball mount. At this point it began raining. I came back out only to realize I didn’t have the right wrench. Back into Harbor Freight. Then the ball was stuck so I needed a second wrench. Back into Harbor Freight. That didn’t work, so I finally decided to just buy a second ball (what Kimberlee suggested in the first place). Back into Harbor Freight. The guy knew me pretty well at this point. Eventually, soaking wet and with darkness upon us, we finally got the trailer leveled and we continued our drive. (You’re welcome for the free ad, HF)

The rain and lights – We finally arrived at the camp – only by then it was a total downpour. The kids were crying from the thunder, so we pulled into our campsite and made a mad dash into the trailer. We flicked the light switch. Darkness. Oh right – we took the batteries out! I ran back out into the rain – the kids now screaming  afraid of the thunder AND darkness – and lugged the heavy batteries to the trailer tongue to attempt to connect them to the trailer. After several failed attempts with the battery connections coming undone, Kimberlee finally came out managed to get them connected (you’ll notice an ongoing theme in our stories of Kimberlee always fixing my mistakes). After her battery magic, we had lights! We huddled together in the trailer and ate our chocolate and marshmallows (nobody seemed to want the graham crackers), and eventually all settled in to sleep.

Eliza wasn’t too sure at first, but eventually had fun!

BEEP BEEP BEEP – In the morning, Kimberlee got up first to make everyone breakfast. After 10-15 minutes of cooking, we were startled with a VERY loud beeping sound! It was the propane detector. Oh great, now we’re all going to explode. We quickly got the kids out and turned off the propane tanks. After letting the trailer air out (and hoping we hadn’t woken any of the other campers in the park), we realized that we had accidentally turned on the valve for the oven in addition to the stove top. So propane was just filling up the oven and slowly leaking out. We were able to turn off that valve and continue cooking without issue. At least we learned the propane detector does its job!

Eventually we all sat down for breakfast – gas free!

Fortunately, none of these problems were unmanageable and made for a memorable first camping trip. The rest of the weekend turned out great. The rain held off, we went on some lovely hikes, and enjoyed an second much more delightful evening around the campfire.