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Buttered Toast and the Oregon Trail-er

How cool is this?

For most of us, being a gearhead and having a family means dealing with a delicate balance of job, family, and cars. Sometimes (especially when you get lucky and land the right spouse) you get put them together. Such is the case with my latest project, a 1971 Red Dale travel trailer, dubbed “The Oregon Trail-er” for the classic 1980s learning computer game The Oregon Trail (it came to Oklahoma from Oregon). And the wife is super-excited about it, that makes it all the more cool.

Red Dale Trailers were all the rage back in the 60s and 70s. Where many people tend to look for the more well-known brands such as Shasta and the illustrious Airstream, Red Dale trailers were almost always custom-built to spec for each customer, they were ordered, not sold off a lot like all the others. This makes them special, much harder to find. Not that we set out to find a Red Dale, we just happened to see this one sitting in a driveway with a for sale sign in the window. $300 later and it was ours. Vintage trailers are ridiculously cheap and easy to find. While a crusty Airstream will set you back 10k or more, a clean 60s or early 70s unit can be had for next nothing, and sometimes actually nothing.

There are some things you have to look out for though. Water damage is the big caveat for any trailer. Unless you want to spend a couple grand replacing all of the wood and tin, you need to find a nice sealed trailer. Pull the cabinets open, look under the carpet (if any), and under the chassis for obvious damage. Tell-tale signs of previous water issues include extra caulking around the seams, bubbled wallpaper, mildew/mold on wood paneling, and a musty smell inside. Keep in mind, travel trailers are mostly wood wrapped with thin aluminum siding; there really is not much to them.

Inside the tenement-on-wheels is a mix of the awesome and less than awesome. The original lavatory has been gutted and is now a closet with a potty chair, the couch has been turned into a full-time bed, and all of the water tanks and pumps are gone. While those items need to be fixed, the rest is pure 70s gold, err green. The 3-burner avocado-green oven works great, the original refrigerator is clean and functional, even the spacious eating booth folds down into a bed, with a bunk bed up top.

The plan is to restore the wagon to its former glory, green stove and all. We have been hitting all of the thrift stores and antique shops searching the most obnoxious, kitschy vintage bedding, kitchenware and knick-knacks for the interior. We are even considering re-skinning our trailer, because it is actually just as easy to re-skin one as it is to paint, and the results are far better. The trailer tows beautifully, and at a svelte 1860 lbs, it will traverse the countryside with ease behind the twin-turbo ’63 Buick wagon. You read right, this rig is going to cross the country behind the Buick wagon you have read about here so many times; Buttered Toast and the Oregon Trail-er, not much more retro-cool than that.

Ever since cars were invented, people have been bringing a little bit of home with them. In fact, Henry Ford was a camping pioneer, his first RV is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI (as a side note, Charles Lindbergh borrowed the rig from Ford and spent many months traveling the country in it). Whether you follow my lead and snatch up a sweet vintage travel trailer, or just hit the road with only your family in tow, the point is get out there and do it. Happy trails.

Discussion

2 Responses to “Buttered Toast and the Oregon Trail-er”

  1. Very cool! I am restoring a 1980 Red Dale camper trailer and 1988 wagoneer for the same purpose. To show off the love of quality craftsmanship and the great outdoors.

    See ya on the road,
    Andy

    Posted by Andrew Stewart | May 30, 2013, 2:54 pm

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