Tear the Roof Off

With some help from our family, we had just gotten the roof off of the Shasta, and it was time to dig in to that rotten ceiling. Since we live about three hours away from the barn where we worked on the trailer, we had to go home to our real jobs and visit our cats during the week, while we stewed over the next work we had to do. It was usually a blessing to be out of sight of the Shasta (it was never out of mind, no matter how hard we tried), and we had a break between when the roof came off and when we breached the water damaged ceiling.

The soggy ceiling was the main problem we had set out to fix, and the one problem we’d know about for sure when we bought the trailer, but by the time we got to it, we already had a dishearteningly long list of repairs and just a few more weekends before Labor Day. The goal had been having it out in the field to camp in for the holiday. The work so far had taught us to expect worse than the worst, and we tried to figure out how they were going to throw more rusty staples at us.

Looking at the trailer from above, we cut away and pulled back the thin fiberglass insulation and saw the water damaged ceiling boards from the top. It was a relief to see that they looked like plain old Lauan, and not some exotic material. The ceiling was made of three of these boards, and only the one towards the front of the vehicle showed water damage. We checked the thick pine supports that ran horizontally across the roof, and were also very relieved to see that they weren’t rotted at all– just the one piece of Lauan towards the front of the vehicle needed replaced. If the pine boards had been bad, we might have called the whole thing off. They’re shaped to fit the curved roof and carving out a new one to fit precisely would have been a project on its own.

Damaged Roof from Above

That’s a lot of rot.

From the inside of the vehicle, the peeling vinyl wallpaper was all that held the soggy Lauan in place. When we’d bought the trailer we’d used white duct tape as a short term fix to hold the ceiling paper up and seal the damp areas. We just hadn’t wanted to deal! But it was finally time to see what we had been putting off. After tearing off the duct tape (and some of the wallpaper with it) we pushed through the remaining wallpaper and up through the damp Lauan with our bare hands. To our surprise, some truly horrid water and debris dropped down onto us. The trailer hadn’t been out in the elements in a year and it still had water accumulated in the ceiling!

Taking out the ceiling

Tear the roof off the sucker

We put on gloves and face masks and started pulling handfuls of squishy rotten ceiling out, throwing them in a large trash can. It was kind of unbelievable how damp and awful the plywood was, and we felt better with every handful we removed. Daylight shone in, and the ceiling gave way to the expanding hole. This was pretty fun, actually. We enjoyed tearing the ceiling out.

Shasta roof partially remove3d

Hey, did it just get brighter in here?

It became more difficult to remove the board as we reached undamaged areas and got closer to the edges. It was especially difficult over the cabinets and over the wall that separated the closet from the main living area, since the Lauan was pinched against the pine crossbeams.

Pulling out the bad ceiling.

The ceiling gives up the funk.

We used pliers, prayer, and brute force. The Lauan was wedged in a little plastic lip that ran along the edge of the roof to support it and hold it in place. At least it wasn’t stapled. Eventually we had the entire board removed, and enjoyed the new view.

All bad roof boards removed

That last curbside corner over the cabinets took major effort.

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Raising the Roof

For those of you keeping score at home, in our last update from the barn we talked about removing the streetside skin, so at this point we “just” had to remove the roof to see the last of the water damage. As we had come to expect, the edge of the roof was nailed and stapled every few inches, and as we may have mentioned previously, removing the nails and staples was incredibly frustrating and time consuming.  We’re serious.  Lots of time was consumed.  (A fair amount of beer too, but only once we were done working!)

We planned to lift the roof with four people, one at each corner, and carry it forward off of the vehicle. Sounds simple, right? We had enough space in front for the roof to sit flat, with large cardboard boxes underneath to prop it up. We’d need some room underneath it to work on repairs, and the boxes would help keep the aluminum from bending out of shape.

When we had assembled the team of four, we started to lift the corners, but the center didn’t lift at all. The aluminum skin was too thin to support itself with only four people, and it was going to take a little more assistance to safely remove the roof.

One of the many benefits of our workspace was having our family nearby, and in a few minutes we had recruited a crew of eight, including some strong teenage boys. With half of us standing on the lower scaffolding and half on the ground, we lifted the roof and handed it forward, the people at the end running up to the front to pick it up once again. Moving it like a caterpillar, we walked it forward and rested it on the boxes. That was actually one of the smoothest parts of the project, thanks to some much needed help! (Seriously, THANK YOU ALL!)

Roof removal experts

You can’t beat this crew!

But now, the time had come to see the ceiling damage from above…

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I Wish I Had a Bigger Bathtub

We wanted to do a brief post about how we cleaned the various parts of the Shasta, because this was one dirty trailer. We used a few different cleaning products, and we would recommend Mother’s Aluminum Polish and Diamond Brite Truck Box Polish for the aluminum. Both of these worked equally well – I don’t know that we had a favorite. We used LOTS of microfiber cloths – the aluminum, especially on the street side, needed a LOT of polishing. However, before we did the polishing, we had to get the butyl tape off. I spent hours of my life scraping butyl tape off of aluminum this summer – I sort of feel like an expert in it now. So let me tell you what I learned: you’ll need Goo Gone, dish detergent, a tooth brush, and a few plastic paint scrapers. I also used disposable grease remover wipes – I can’t remember the exact brand – that had a slightly rough texture for the finishing details. So first off – any part of the trailer that fit in the bathtub went in the bathtub.

Aluminum trailer trim in the bathtub

Bath time is less fun with dirty aluminum pieces.

The front and back windows, two long side windows, and long pieces of trim I cleaned with a hose and brush outdoors, but the rest went into the tub. After removing what dried butyl tape would come off easily (I got pretty good at pitching baseball sized globs of sticky tape into the garbage can), the windows, badges, small pieces of trim, grills and vents all soaked in the tub with hot water and a healthy squirt of dish detergent.

Ball of butyl tape

That butyl tape really adds up. This is what my brain looked like after doing this for a few hours!

Take the screens out of the windows before you soak them. A nice soak in hot water softened the accumulated grime and remaining butyl tape and made it easier to scrape off with paint scrapers while I sat on the edge of the tub. I used a couple of paint scrapers at a time so I wouldn’t have to pause and clean off the scraper when it was covered in sticky butyl and no longer had a clean edge. I’d just pick up a fresh scraper, and then clean them all at once at the end of the day. (We were sure to use mainly plastic scrapers because metal ones easily scratched the soft aluminum.) A tooth brush worked pretty well at getting in small crevices and scrubbing out 42 years of road dirt. After a good bath I rinsed the pieces and let them rest outdoors to dry in the sun, cleaning the glass with Windex and a soft cloth.

Cleaned trailer trim dries in the sun

The gleaming trim is drying in the sun.

After the pieces dried I used Goo Gone, paper towels, a Dobie pad and elbow grease to get the remaining butyl off of everything – using disposable wipes for the final touches. Once everything was smooth and clean, and had all of the adhesive removed, then I actually polished everything using Mother’s or Diamond Brite and microfiber cloths. The difference between before and after, especially with the trim pieces, was amazing and was one of the most satisfying things about the whole trailer renovation!

Cleaned trailer accessories arranged neatly on a tray!

Look at all those clean accessories!

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The Not So Sunny Side of the Street

Three sides off and not too much damage. We moved on to the street side, which had the additional steps of removing the water and electric hookups. They had just about cemented themselves in place with rust, and it took some extra elbow grease to get them off, especially the water hookup.


The AC outlet wasn't too difficult to remove.

The AC outlet put up a fight.

We expected the worst of the damage to the frame to be on the street side, since that’s where the tree came down on the roof and it’s the side that got the worst of the weather, and we were more right than we had wanted to be.


These long boards were in rough shape.

These long boards were in rough shape.

The rear corner was almost completely rotted away. This included the two angled boards on the very back, the vertical support board, the roof board that runs the entire length of the vehicle, and some of the additional supporting boards. When we removed the skin, the rear corner shifted out since it was no longer held in place. The interior veneer started to pull apart, and we could see daylight thought the wall.


The upper turn signal wire ran through two of the rotted boards.

The upper turn signal wire ran through two of the rotted boards.

Around the large window, the side board was crumbling and the top and bottom had some damage. The plywood around the wheel well was worse than the curb side, and would need to be replaced.


These stapled plywood corners will need to be replaced.

These stapled plywood corners will need to be replaced.

The front was mostly in good shape, although the angled board on the very front would need to be at least partially replaced.


Here's where the roof meets the rear vertical board. Yikes.

Here’s where the roof meets the rear vertical board. Yikes.

If we could take comfort in one thing, it was the fact that at least some of the boards would not need to be replaced. The back corner would be quite a challenge, since all of the support was gone.


There was some visible damage to the roof beams, but we didn't yet know how much.

There was some visible damage to the roof beams, but we didn’t yet know how much.

There would be more rotted wood in the roof to uncover, and we already had enough unexpected water damage to dampen our spirits. Why did we decide do this again?

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Backside Skin

We worked on this trailer nearly every weekend of the summer – which meant putting in 10 – 12 hour days at points, racing to finish whatever we were doing before we lost light or starved.  We were tired and dirty and covered with tiny cuts by the time Sunday evening rolled around.  We’d pack up, go back to work for the week, and before we knew it, it was Friday again, and the Shasta was waiting.  We’d done the front and curb side, so the next weekend we had we started on the back side.  As I said in the previous post, there was nothing to do but keep going.  Or give up and sell it on eBay.  But we weren’t at that point – yet!


Rear Skin

That thin layer of fiberglass is all the insulation you get.

The front and curb side had been in good condition, but we knew that the rear of the vehicle had some water damage because of what we could see on the inside of the trailer along the back wall, especially the back right interior side behind the table. As we removed the aluminum from the rear, we saw a lot of damage to the main board across the top of the window, the right side window frame, and the board below the access door. The small side board shouldn’t be too hard to replace – we’d already realized we’d need to replace the same board on the front of the trailer – but the board across the top of the window spanned the width of the vehicle and needed to be sturdy for overall support.  On the front of the trailer we thought it wasn’t bad enough to be removed entirely and could just use a little extra support, but the rear beam would need to be removed and replaced.


Damage to bottom rear board

The board at the bottom of the rear access panel needs to go.

Many small rotted plywood squares fell out as we removed the skin.  We couldn’t figure out what we were looking at.  They were about five inches across, with circles cut out of the centers, and we eventually realized they were what the running lights had been screwed into. They had been made out of plywood that had separated into thin individual layers due to moisture seeping into the frame.  We hadn’t noticed them in the front because they had remained in place when we took the skin off.   We would need to replace these before we reassembled the trailer – OK, we added them to our list of boards and pieces that would need to be cut.


Rotted board across the top of the rear.

That board across the top of the window is rotted on the curb side, and the right side of the window frame is even worse.

The trailer is made of several layers, and we dealt with all of them when trying to repair the water damage with minimal disturbance to the interior veneer.  This interior veneer is what you see on the inside walls of the trailer – in older trailers it’s actual wood, but by ’72 they were using a cheap faux wood paneling, about 1/8 inch thick.  This veneer was backed by thin plywood, which, in addition to the beams that make up the frame, took the brunt of the water damage.  This meant that there were places where all that remained undamaged was the veneer, and the plywood backing had flaked away.  There was significant damage to the plywood interior wall on the curbside rear corner, but the veneer was still mostly intact, thankfully. We knocked out what rotted plywood pieces we could – it literally looked like damp sawdust, and crumbled to the touch.


We were disappointed that there was damage to the large board across the back window, but it would all be replaceable. There was nothing we could really do about the damaged plywood, but since the veneer was still intact it wouldn’t present a cosmetic problem in the long run.  The plywood was so thin to begin with that it wouldn’t present a problem structurally, either.  We were confident that once we replaced the frame boards, the rear would be back to 1972 condition.  The street side of the trailer was next on the list, and we expected it to have the most water damage – however, since we got to put that off to another weekend, we’ll put that off to another post as well.

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Taking Off the Curbside Skin

We decided to remove the skin from the curb side of the vehicle after removing the front. We’d already taken the door out when we’d removed the windows, so there wasn’t anything in our way.  The screws on this side had been in better condition than the street side screws, so we expected the wood underneath to be in good condition, too. It was obvious that the trailer had been outside in the elements for years, and the street side had definitely gotten the worst of the weather.  The aluminum skin sections were smaller on this side too, since the door is right in the middle of them, which would make them easier to move.


Nice small pieces on the side!

Nice small pieces on the side!

We started at the top again and worked our way down. The staples and nails between the layers of skin that had been a nuisance on the front became a major hindrance on the side. They were spaced about every six inches, which meant a dozen or so of each from each section of the skin. Many were hidden and needed popped out with a pry bar from behind the skin. The trim along the bottom of the trailer was especially difficult to remove, since most of the staples and nails had rusted to the point that they cemented themselves to the skin.  We cannot stress enough that a positive attitude was essential to this part of the process.  We just kept telling ourselves, and each other, that eventually we’d get them all out, that every one we removed was one less we’d have to remove, etc.  It was difficult at times – this was extremely frustrating.  Seriously.  Why were we doing this again?


The staples and nails along the bottom of this section were really tough to remove!

The staples and nails along the bottom of this section were really tough to remove!

Once the skin was removed from the side, we could see that the wood was in great condition! After fighting with all of those blasted staples, it was encouraging to see that some parts of the job wouldn’t be an ordeal. We knew the worst damage was still ahead, but for the time being, the situation was looking good.  It was great to have such a positive outcome as a reward for our positive attitudes.


No rot! The dark area is around the vent opening.

No rot! The dark area is around the vent opening.

After removing the curbside skin entirely and stacking it gently on top of the front of the trailer already sitting off to the side, we stepped back and looked at the Shasta in its birthday suit.  It was immediately clear to us that the rule at the Shasta factory had been that if a staple would do the job, it was good enough, even if it just barely bridged the gap between the pieces of wood.  Pieces of wood that looked barely stable enough to build a school project with, let alone something that was supposed to travel across long distances, at high speeds, and do so for nearly 50 years.  We had been expecting some sort of technological marvel, but instead we saw evidence of human work done by human hands.  There were even different stapling styles on different parts of the trailer, really driving home the point that this was a thing that had been built by guys – guys who, judging by the quality of the stapling and nailing and screwing that they were doing, were varying levels of hungry, distracted, obsessive, and deranged.  Somehow this reassured us – if they’d built it, surely we could continue to take it apart.  And at this point, we were pretty sure we were going to put it back together better than they had.


Makes a great stencil, but we moved this before it had a chance to burn itself into the grass.

Makes a great stencil, but we moved this before it had a chance to burn itself into the grass.

Somehow, the more work we did, the more the entire project seemed simultaneously more possible, and more impossible.  There was nothing to do but keep going.

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The Front

Once all the badges, vents, and trim were off, and the windows were removed, and the roof vents and antenna were taken off as well, we were finally ready to start removing the skin of the trailer.  We’d removed all of the screws on the trailer at this point – a process that literally took us days.  It was at this point that we started realizing that this was going to take longer than we had thought.  No problem.  How hard could it be to remove the skin?  It’ll peel right off like an orange, certainly.

We started removing the skin from the front of the trailer first, from top to bottom. The skin was made of several overlapping sheets of aluminum, held together at the seams with small nails and staples. Removing these added quite a bit of extra time to the operation; in some places, they were hidden behind the next layer of aluminum and were extremely difficult to access. In addition to being hidden (we think some of them were actually invisible) they were also rusty and brittle and frustrating as heck.

Tiny rusted staples, usually hidden behind the frame.  We hate these.

Tiny rusted staples, usually hidden behind the frame. We hate these.

We were careful to avoid denting the aluminum and placing too much pressure on the wood underneath– we couldn’t tell what was solid and what was rotted, and we didn’t want to crack any fragile boards.  The other thing that made getting the front off tough was the fact that the propane pipe had actually worn a hole in the aluminum, and we needed to give it a good solid whack with a mallet to get it to turn enough so we could tug the skin out from underneath it.

Hole in the skin from the pipe rubbing against it.  Getting the pipe to turn was just another Shastastic frustration.

Hole in the skin from the pipe rubbing against it. Getting the pipe to turn was just another Shastastic frustration.

After removing the skin, we laid it out in the grass like a giant puzzle. We eventually moved all the skin inside and stacked it as we took it off, trying our best to remember what was what, what went next to what, what side was what side… you get the point.  After removing the front, we saw that there was a thin layer of fiberglass insulation along the center of the trailer, but no insulation on the sides. What possible insulation this could realistically offer anyone, we couldn’t tell you.  It was like cotton candy.  42 year old cotton candy.  The pine frame boards were butted up against the plywood interior walls, so we would need to carefully remove the damaged pieces to keep the interior intact.  (We repeat – most folks gut these from the inside.  We were determined to retain as much of the 1972 interior glory as we could, which is why we approached the frame damage from the exterior.)

Wisps of insulation cling to the front of the trailer.  Damage to the left window frame can be seen here.

Wisps of insulation cling to the front of the trailer. Damage to the left window frame can be seen here.

We found significant damage to the left window frame board where water must have seeped in underneath the window, but also damage to the top window board that we hadn’t expected.  Overall, the damage to the front of the vehicle wasn’t as bad as we’d been afraid of, but it was clear that the board to the left of the front window would need to be replaced and the top board would need some reinforcement. After spending nearly a year being apprehensive about what might be waiting inside the frame, were very glad to see that it wasn’t moldy and didn’t hold any other nasty surprises – on the front at least!

The worst of the damage to the front.

The worst of the damage to the front.

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Up with Scaffolding!

When we’d left off talking about our trailer restoration, we’d just gotten the windows out of the sides.  Once the windows were out, we took home the ones that would fit in the car, removed the screens, and gave them a bath in our tub!  This, plus a paint scraper, some Goo Gone, and Mother’s Aluminum Polish left them looking as good as they were going to get.  We carefully marked which windows had come out of which sides of the Shasta, and set them aside until the end of the project when we’d put them back in.

After getting the windows out and all the various badges and vents, the next external pieces to be removed were on the roof, so it was time to set up some scaffolding. Fortunately, one of our cousins was able to lend us the perfect metal scaffolding setup, and his kids helped us put it together really quickly! In a few minutes we had ledges about six feet off of the ground, running the length of the trailer on both sides. If only every step in repairing a trailer went this smoothly.  If you’re doing a project like this, especially one that involves roof removal and repair, you’ll need to get some scaffolding or a similar system.

That's some mighty fine scaffolding!

That’s some mighty fine scaffolding!

Once the scaffolding was in place, we removed the antenna and the central roof vent. Both the antenna and the roof vent were after-market additions to the trailer by previous owners.  We bought a replacement fan vent from Vintage Trailer Supply, because the one that was in the trailer was a wreck.  We discussed what to do with the antenna – in 2014, there’s not much point to having a giant crank TV antenna on your trailer – but we decided we’d put it back in place when we were near the end simply to avoid having to deal with the hole in the ceiling.  In the future, we’re planning on looking into using it as a cell signal booster.  The antenna also got a bath and polishing and was set aside for the duration of the roof repair.

Judging by the grime, it's been a while since the antenna was raised.

Judging by the grime, it’s been a while since the antenna was raised.

It took a little while to get used to walking around on the scaffolding, but eventually I was just about hanging upside down off of it to get at screws, staples, and nails – we’ll get into all the different methods that Shasta Industries had used to make sure no one would ever get into their trailers in the next post. We’d been anxious about the extent of the damage to the wood in the roof, but the wood around the antenna looked great, and same with the wood around the roof vent. That was a relief, since it meant that there was at least some part of the roof that hadn’t been water damaged.

The antenna footprint, sealed with silicone.

The antenna footprint, sealed with silicone.

Hello down there!

Hello down there!

The scaffolding was absolutely essential to working on the Shasta. At points during the summer we had six people on the scaffolding, and no combination of ladders would have been even close to as useful.

The perfect height for working on a Shasta.

The perfect height for working on a Shasta.

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Paints N’at

Some folks who restore vintage travel trailers decide to modernize the look, but we love the feel of the ’72 and we want to keep it as original as we can. The dark faux wood and harvest gold of the interior are so warm and homey. We also know we’re going to need to repaint the exterior, and even though we don’t want to stray too far from the original white, we’re thinking about adding a subtle opalescence to the new finish to really make the Shasta pop (no pun intended).

We’re looking at a few paint sprayers to do the job right. We’ll probably go for PPG paint because it’s high quality, it’s local, and members of the family have worked there for a couple generations. Automotive paint is a new area for us, and we’re learning a lot.

Speaking of paint, we discovered something unexpected and very interesting while removing some of the badges and trim—the silver aluminum accent stripe that runs along the sides of the trailer, and the aluminum panel that has been repainted white at the bottom of the front of the trailer, were both originally gold!

Hidden gold paint

Buried gold!

The metal that had been protected from the elements was the golden color we’ve seen on other trailers of this era, but the color had been completely faded on the exposed surfaces. Now we have to decide if it’s worth the extra effort to restore it to the original gold hue. Stay tuned!

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Last Windows

With the last of the screws out of the frame, we just needed to get the windows off to gain access to see the water damaged wood. We had to put off the scaffolding construction until the next trip, so we couldn’t completely remove the vent and antenna from the roof to get the aluminum shell off.
Most of the screws on the windows were still in pretty good condition, and a cordless drill pulled them out effortlessly. There were a few rusty ones that required the Vampliers, and they got the job done.

Good wood

The wood along the bottom of the rear window is looking good.

We were happy to find that the majority of the wood around the windows was still in sound condition, although there were small sections of water damaged wood in almost all of the windows. We’ll have to see the full extent of the damage when we remove the shell, but at least it looks like we won’t have to replace most of the wood.

Rotten wood

The side of the rear window, on the other hand, isn’t in such great shape.


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