April, 2005 - Our Shasta Compact
For the past year, I had been on the lookout for a small camping trailer. We wanted something on the smaller size for ease of towing, yet large enough for extended camping trips to our property in Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Since we couldn't afford new, we were either going to build one, or look for an older 10' trailer.
While driving out in the country one day, I spot a small trailer sitting in a field. About a month later, we decide to take a drive and have a second look.
This time we actually stop and ask the owner if we can have a look at the trailer sitting out in his field. Once his disbelief had worn off, he took us on out to take a look. The trailer was painted in a camo effect, right down to the mushrooms and the inside, which was being used as a storage shed, is stacked practically to the ceiling. I knew immediately it was just want I wanted. We ask the owner if he is willing to sell and by the end of the week, we have a trailer.
Turns out it is a 1963 Shasta Compact. Specs: Cabin, 6'6"W by 10'L. 13' includes the tongue/coupler. Hitch weight, 130 pounds. Height is approximately 7'4". Weight according to published spec sheets should be 1115 pounds. Tires are 6:50 x 13".
Note: We have weighed our Compact at the feed store scales and the actual dry weight on ours is 1400 pounds. Only "option", brakes. We believe the 1400 to be factual weight, since it feels every bit that heavy while towing. Other Compact owners have verified a heavier weight so keep this in mind when choosing your tow vehicle.
Perfect for colder weather camping (kitchen inside) and just big enough for long extended campouts. The one unique bonus about this trailer is a closet that can easily be made into a bathroom. Quite uncommon in smaller trailers and this feature really sold me on the trailer. Also, due to the floor plan and height on this trailer, it seems more spacious then one would expect. "Most" trailers of this size have the dinette up front, bed to the back and kitchen in the middle. The Compact floorplan utilizes the space better. People often remark on how much larger it appears once you step inside. This trailer also comes with a canvas bunk so it will accomodate two adults and two small children easily. They made these little Compacts from 1960 through the early 70s If you're looking for a small trailer with all of the above needs, their isn't much out there that can deliver all of this in such a small package.
As I began my research into this trailer, I was surprised to find few websites available concerning this popular trailer. I've set up this website to include as much information as I could find on this model, along with a detailed account of the techiques we used to fix up our trailer.
Earlier models, 1960?-1963 came with a canvas style bunk for two. I believe these early models came strictly with iceboxes.
Though this trailer needed some work, we were quite confident we could handle any repairs. The previous year we had just completed building a teardrop trailer from the ground up.
My Shasta Resource page: Manuals, Model information, Wing and Shasta magazine rack patterns, stove and brake information, Ads, etc., of many Shasta Models: http://www.freewebs.com/kc8jwa/classicshastas.
Ok, back to our Shasta. Our trailer had been used as a hunting trailer, and then sat in the elements for a few years, being more or less used for storage. We spent the first weekend cleaning the trailer with bleach, since nothing but disgusting mice had been camping in it in recent years.
Please note: We are not trying to restore a vintage trailer to it's original glory. We are "rustic" campers and do most of our camping in the deep woods. Our major concerns: 1. A smaller trailer we can fix up affordably. 2. Make it at least presentable to look at. 3. Make sure it's "safe and solid" for taking on the road. 4. Make it water-tight and comfortable. With this trailer, I want to buy most of my materials locally, keep it simple and get out camping! I'm quite sure there are better ways to "restore" a trailer, but being on a tight budget, we did the best we could do with what our budget allowed.
Below you get a look at the classic camo hunting paint. We covered this paint with rustoleum primer and tried our best to repair any damaged aluminum.
This paint job will be replaced by us with our own paint equipment in the future. You will find instruction and sources of our affordable paint job here as you read along. A word of advice when purchasing a vintage trailer. Check out the condition of the exterior aluminum. Short of replacing it or removing it to "smooth" out inperfections, it is very difficult to make damaged aluminum look good, even under paint. Our aluminum looked like it had been kicked, hit and used for target practice. (I think someone was truly angry at this trailer at one time) We hope to one day replace some of it, but all we could do for now was try to improve it what we could.
First order of business, let's check out the chassis:
Pictures: 1 Brake wiring. 2. Back built-in jack/stabilizers. 3. Back "Kick" stand
We get the front in the air with a set of jack stands. First thing of note is it appears we have an old set of electric brakes! Though this compact has a low weight, depending on our tow vehicle and where we are driving, (mountain areas) they could possibly be a nice addition. We hope to get them working. Luckily, Bob knows how to wire, so it shouldn't be too much trouble, depending on the shape of the brakes. We will likely look into a "Prodigy" or "Jordan Ultima" brake controller. At this point, we don't really feel the need for brakes.
To help insure we do not create any negative towing conditions, we have kept the trailer as original as possible and will carry any heavy cargo to the front of the axle. We have towed this trailer with a Chevy Blazer and had no trouble towing or braking. At highway speeds of 55, we had no troublesome towing issues such as sway, etc. (We have no experience at this time with mountain towing, though I think the Blazer would feel some strain)
Next we note that the chassis is in very good shape, due in part to the fact that it seems to have been undercoated at one time. We decide to leave what is left of the undercoating in place and scrape what rust we find and cover everything with a coat of primer and paint. The tongue is scraped of all old paint and covered with a new coat of primer and paint.
The stablizers in the back are built in! How cool! We will remove the rust and paint them bright orange as a reminder if they are up or down. Once cleaned up and greased, they work great and we use them all the time. No need to lug separate trailer jacks!
And last, as we "explored" underneath the trailer, we learned that two of the large crossbeams in the back are actually wooden beams! (and in excellent shape) Low and behold, locked in place against the side of one of the beams we found our little kick stand. From what I'm told these were there to be used in a sort of short-term event... I do know that without the jacks down in the back, Bob and I have went for a few "surprise rides" as the trailer tipped in the back!
Front Jack Stand: Our mean, stubborn Shasta jack on the front tongue had a wheel on the end of it that had probably been stuck in place for the past 20 years! The wheel, even in the most upright position rode WAY to close to the pavement for comfort. I've read this problem is quite common. The original idea was put the wheel on at the campsite and remove it before hitting the road again. Bob finally got it off by cutting two slices in the wheel cover with a saw and finally broke it free with a hammer. We then gave the wheel a proper burial.
I've also read a good way to get these wheels off is to heat them up first with a torch and then you're able to knock them loose with a hammer. We didn't want to place another wheel on it, so we used the top portion of the wheel, bolted it to the jack and it makes a really nice base platform when camped.
In the above pictures you can see what we have done so far to the floor and kitchen area.
We needed to get the kitchen area cleaned up and looking better. We sanded down the cupboards, stained them golden oak and threw a coat of poly over the top, mediums we are familiar with. We just wanted it to look less "washed out" and weren't after a perfect match to original. The color is pretty close, at least close enough for me. But!
If you are looking to use something that will give you a more original look, I've read that both "amber" and "orange" shellac are what was used originally and likely a closer match. Test a small spot first to see if you will be happy with the results. Larry at Retrorestorations has also used the following: Watco Danish oil "honey" oak stain and Watco Danish oil "cherry" stain. Mix 10:1 Great results, the cherry brings out the birch grain and it holds up great.
We also needed to do something with the icebox. It had lost a large amount of the paint on both the inside and outside.. We bought a can of hammered rustoleum in a nice copper/brown color, removed all old paint with a strong razor, primed and re-painted. For the inside we applied a fresh coat of white appliance paint (1 can of white from Home Depot) and a new seal. I was concerned about painting the inside, but my brother who at one time was into appliance repair said it would be fine. It looks great! Since we seldom camp with electric, it was important that this icebox work well. The entire exterior of the icebox (other than the face) appears to have a thick coat of foam insulation. We always freeze two or three 2-liter bottles of water and use them instead of bagged ice. You then don't have the mess of melting ice or possibility of soggy food.
We have had some experience with the icebox and found it works "just ok". 3 2-liter bottles of ice had melted at the end of a 2 day campout in 70 degree weather. The icebox did stay cool enough to keep the food safe.... but we will bring along a cooler with ice to keep cold drinks in.
The original old tile floor was in pretty bad shape near the door, so we next decided to cover any floor space inside with some left over Armstrong vinyl flooring we had. We first made a pattern by tracing the area with large sheets of paper. Since we were working with sheet vinyl, we cut the entire pattern out in one large piece to avoid any problems later with moisture getting through. We were able to tack down the few old original tiles first that were coming up, then placed lines of glue along the edges and middle of the old floor and adhered the sheet vinyl right over the top. We then bought some 1/4 round pine trim, stained it golden oak, and nailed them down both to keep the floor edges in place and to trim it out. Since we were working with "left-over" flooring, we weren't able to match the pattern square correctly... but we're ok with that. Finished floor:
We didn't like the idea of self-sticking tiles, assuming that wet shoes, sand and whatever else one might drag in from camping would make them come up too easily. Since keeping the weight of the trailer low and and as near to the original weight as possible, we also decided against any type of hardwood floor, which we felt would add unnecessary weight. Vinyl sheeting made the job really easy and also makes for easy clean-up and less fuss.
See above pictures. The closet area is very neat. Along the top runs a wooden pole to hang clothes. There is also two wooden built-in shelves in the front corner. This was obviously made to be a clothes closet, but as so many people do, we decided to make it into a bathroom. We removed one of the wooden shelves in the back for clearance and moved the porta-potti in. Since it wasn't wired with a light, we installed one ourselves. Also, I've included a picture for an idea for a shower along with the portapotti if anyone would want to try such a set-up. Not much room, but probably possible. Closet dimensions are 20 1/2" wide by 3' long. One concern, the electrical box is in this closet.
Though not mentioned as an option in Compacts in the early 60s, here is a 1964 unit with what appears to be a very early original toilet. Note the small window up high in the closet and minus the storage shelfs to the back of the toilet.
Speaking of electrical, the electrical works great in this trailer, if we only ever used it! Since we "boondock" much of the time, we bring along a sealed deep-cycle battery to run a light, fan, etc. (We use an inverter to plug in a lamp). My next big planned buy is a converter, most likely from a seller on Ebay. I'm looking at a 45 amp Inteli-power 9200 model PD 9245C. We also are glad that the propane light and stove (even an oven while camping!) all work well when needed.
The trailer came with the original table of yellow formica, but it had a large hole punched right in the middle of it. () We replaced the original formica with some gray formica we had. Measurements! I often see people requesting measurements, myself included. I've tried to add as many measurements as I have, since they aren't always readily available. If you are missing your table, here are some original measurements for you:
Table Leg: The leg is 3 3/4" wide at the top (with a piano hinge cut to the same width and hooked to the table). It is tapered down to a measurement at the floor of 1 3/4" inch. The leg itself is 26 1/4" tall. It is 3/4" thick.
Table is: 24" wide x 1" thick x 39" long (My table is 36" long.. I wanted the table to be a more manageable size, so we shortened it) Here is a picture of the underside of table as a visual: Link
I also needed some curtains. The curtains originally in the trailer completely fell apart in the wash! I decided to tie-dye a white cotton sheet and make my own.
Bob also decided to fix the screen door. It was covered with duct tape around the edges and the doorway didn't have any door "jam" along the sides. Bob used some T-molding in aluminum we had to make a frame that the door fits solidly. Now the door doesn't swing inside too far. Also replaced the screens.
Water Damage: (Windows, vents, trim, etc.) Here is a good article on how to make repairs the correct way: http://www.phrannie.org/moisture.html
To do the job correctly, most recommend you remove old putty tape, replace with new putty tape, or better yet, 1' butyl tape, and caulk any seams with polyurethane sealant. (You can paint over polyurethane... silicone you can't) You should also replace the old screws with new stainless steel ones. (Prevents rust)
OK, next we will work on water damage and resealing vent and windows. Here are pictures of the main water damaged areas in the trailer:
The first picture is down from the vent, 3rd picture is vent area. We believe that water has leaked in at the vent, traveled to this section and settled. Middle picture: Vent re-installed with high-quality silicone. We used 1/4" line of silcone on the outside opening edges, than also ran a thin bead of silcone along outside edge of installed vent, along with a drop on all screw heads. Remove any excess with sharp razor after silcone has set/dried. Since we are going to paint our trailer, it was important to remove all excess so paint would adhere in these areas. Note: Many folks do not recommend using silicone. We happen to like the stuff and chose to take our chances with it. If it turns out not to hold up well, we'll admit to our mistake and go the "traditional" route.
All bad wood was removed and replaced with 1/8" baltic birch, stained golden oak. (The only place we could find 1/8" birch ply in our area was at a speciality lumber yard) The damage underneath was very minimal so we did not have to replace any framework. Replaced the insulation with some styrofoam insulation. We had a MAJOR downpour this morning and the vent is leak free, yah! We left a very small piece of water damaged panel alone since we didn't want to replace anymore panels. The ceiling is water tight and won't fall in on our heads. Another place to check is around your wheelwells. There is often damage there too, ours included.
Above in the first picture is water damage at the front window area. 2nd picture, after new wood is installed. Third picture... the door was nothing but rotton wood, filled with a few bee nests. We replaced the wood and insulated. We also have replaced all the windows screens that needed it.
Now this a sad state of affairs. The insulation in these trailers is about as thick as a kleenex. No wonder they get so HOT sitting in the sun! We do most of our camping in rustic areas, with no electricity for AC, so this is a major concern for us. We are discussing either removing the trim along the roof, peeling it back and installing styrofoam insulation or painting the roof with Koolseal. I don't really like the idea of coating the top, so we will likely one day re-seal the outer edge trim, and place new insulation in the roof at that time.
(Review) Our trailer did not come with the optional heater and Bob really needed one while hunting in the winter. It would also extend our normal camping season to keep the chill out in early morning/evening. We bought a Mr. Heater at Tractor Supply for about $70.00, along with the hose adapter. For winter heating, Bob hooks it up to the large propane tank. For just taking the chill out of the trailer, the small propane tanks last long enough. A small propane tank, with heater set on low is suppose to last 6 hours, according to directions. With a window cracked and the roof vent open, and heater on low, it heats the trailer well in very cold conditions. As most people know, it's VERY important to have fresh air circulating while using any heater with both a vent and window open. Be careful of carbon monoxide. We also like the idea of how compact it is and can leave it at home if not needed. Good purchase.
Thanks to James and Sandra for the following Shasta Compact Hotdog Stand pics in South Carolina:
One item our trailer was completely missing were tail lights. For a close match to original, we knew we needed them to be round, about 7 inches in diameter and with a shallow backing plate. My main concern was not that they look original, but be close to the same size for safety purposes.
While at the junkyard, we pulled two tail lights from an old school bus. Correct size... will work well.. We brought them home, cleaned them up and applied some fresh black paint to the plate. Price: $10.00 for the pair. (see pic below)
If you are looking to replace your tail lights with a reproduction of the original Bargman no.99, they sell the lenses at http://www.vintagetrailersupply.com They say a gallon paint can lid works great for the backing plate if you need one!
Before and after pics of new cushions, curtains, etc..... Looking much more comfortable. The wood was so dry in the trailer, we decided to go for it and re-stain (golden oak) and poly the entire inside.
Our trailer was also missing it's cushions, and I wanted to replace them affordably, and do them myself. My main goal was to make them comfortable. I needed two bench cushions 24" x 74" x 4". The back cushions, to rest your back on were 10" x 74" x 4". I looked all over for some good custom foam and found my best prices on Ebay. I paid under $50 for the high quality foam for the two bottom cushions. I already had some foam cushions that worked for the wall cushions. I next bought plastic drop cloths at the dollar store and covered each foam cushion with the soft plastic to protect the foam.
Now, what to cover them with? I talked it over with my friend who sews and went with sheets. Sheets come in a multitude of patterns and colors and since we're only using this trailer occasionally, should hold up just fine. I purchased 3 twin size sheets (1 sheet each for the large cushions) and sewed them like giant pillow cases, open at one end and "tucked" any excess. This makes them very easy to remove and throw in the wash. Price: $10.00.
We are somewhat rough on our trailers. Hunters coming into the trailer with wet clothes, sand dragged in from our dogs jumping up onto the cushions, spilled drinks or food, smoke from a campfire, etc...... Expensive upholstery just wouldn't work well for our type of camping lifestyle.
If you are looking for a somewhat affordable alternative (and no sewing required!), you may want to also consider: http://www.knoxfoam.com We have purchased their foam and covers before when building our teardrop. They have some nice options for colors and materials, including waterproof covers.
The first picture below shows the original fabric material from a 1964 Shasta Compact. (Thanks to Christi) The 2nd picture is an original ad from the very early 60s showing the same material:
I recently made a change in the decor color inside the trailer. I purchased two sets of twin size sheets in red tie dye. I used the two fitted sheets to cover the bottom cushions and used the two flat sheets to make "pillow cases" for the back cushions and curtains. The bright red brightens up the somewhat dark interior of the trailer and is in line with a "funky", 60's decor I'm shooting for:
Making benches into large bed:
This is another topic I found difficult to find information/pictures about. The first thing Bob did was repair any damage underneath the benches to make this work correctly. Screws were loose, things falling apart.
A thin piece of plywood that lays on top of the bench top slides towards the walls to make up for the gap when the benches are pulled out.
There are knotches underneath the bench top, on the bench foundation that the tops sit on. (if you look closely, you can see them in the above picture) Underneath each bench cover are long blocks of wood that are attached to the bench top itself and run the length of them from front to back. These "ride" in the knotches below them as you pull the benches out. Over time ours had warped a bit, though with some work we've managed to get them to slide out fairly easily.
The true hardware that supports the benches and the weight are these small wooden "feet" that we found in the trailer. We found two. I have since heard from someone who has also found two in his Compact. This leads us to believe that these are original to the trailer.
Quote from early compact ad: "Each pulls forward in one second to make comfortable beds at night". I believe these beds were never meant to actually pull together. The picture on the above far right shows the original idea. We only pull ours out partially, leaving enough room to leave the table in place.
If you are looking for an idea on creating one large bed, Dan B. has come up with the following plan. This plan requires little "building" and is an easy, simple and affordable fix. These plans also fit the following criteria:
1. The benches on the current dinette do not need to be moved
or altered in any way
2. Construction needs to be simple so those not having a lot
of tools and expertise can construct the
3. All construction materials must be easily obtained at most
4. The support system needs to be able to be stowed out of
sight and simple to install (no he-man
5. The existing Shasta dinette must not be modified, thus
maintaining resale value http://www.freewebs.com/vintageshasta2/dinette2.pdf
Between the sleeping arrangement, clear view for everyone to watch tv, spacious "feel" due to open floor plan and the small bathroom closet... this trailer actually has the best layout of any small trailer I've seen. The trailer also rides high enough to safely get us into "rough land" areas. I've seen slightly smaller trailers, but none of them have all of the above combined positives in one package. Since long term camping in a very rustic setting is in our future plans, this trailer fits our needs more than any other. Though finding the smallest trailer was a high priority for ease/cost of long distance travel, none smaller were worth giving up the added comforts afforded with the Compact.
Canvas Bunk Bed:
Above the back window, inside a small shelf, is stored the original canvas bunk. We were quite amazed first of all that it was still there (many of these are missing) and also that it's condition was so good. Here are some pictures as a visual. The perfect bunk for our granddaughter!
For those of you missing your Shasta Compact bunk, I have taken some measurements. These should give you a close estimate on size should you decide to try making your own.
3 one inch wide metal pipes, "about" 74 1/2" long. (This is VERY strong/heavy pipe)
Canvas is "about" 52" L (from back of trailer to front) and about 70 1/2" wide. (you will have to add in enough for the extra material needed to sew/loop in the pocket areas for the pipes)
Pipe holders are almost 1 1/2" wide. There are six of these, three on each side. They are set 25 1/2" inches apart, from the middle of one to the middle of next. Your pipes in the canvas would have to match.
The total width across from back of one bracket to the bracket across on the other wall is about 75 1/2".
Today we are pulling windows. We thought after 40 years, it was time they were taken out and sealed again. Making the trailer water-tight was one of our major goals. We had some evidence of water damage inside at both back and front window, though after pulling them, the wood appeared pretty good. The back window is a notorious area for water damage in these trailers. The inside wood in this area had a couple of spots that could have stood replacing. We may replace the wood at sometime in the future, but for now, just decided to make it look it's best with some new stain/poly and get the window watertight again.
We decided to use what we had in the way of materials here at home. We resealed them with silicone. If we have any future problems, we know we can pull the windows easily enough. Just make sure after silicone is good and dry to cut/peel away any excess or it will get in the way during painting. One item of note is since we didn't replace the window tape, the windows seat inside the trailer just a little more than before. Not a real problem...but something I noted none the less.
To do the job properly, the windows should be removed; the old putty tape removed; new 1" butyl tape applied, reinstall windows and caulk any seams with polyurethane sealant. You should also replace the old screws with new stainless steel ones.
Next we painted the window framing white since that is what we will paint that portion of the trailer. We discussed (for about a nano-second) the idea of cleaning up all the aluminum trim...... nah, forget it.........let's get this thing done so we can do some camping!! I also decided I wanted a Shasta Decal to dress up the trailer above the front window. http://www.vintageshastas.com Under Resources, Shasta decals you will find Mike's decals. High quality, very easy to apply and they look great!:
I also decided that though Compacts did not come with the Shasta Magazine rack, I wanted one for my reading materials. I had also seen a few requests for a magazine rack pattern by others. So... once again I enlisted Andrew's help. After pouring over pictures, Andrew was able to create a pattern and we went right to work building one. The best place we found to install ours was on the closet wall. If you have plans to use the bunk, fully extended, make sure you install it low enough for the bunk pipe to clear the shelf. You can find the pattern on my files page. http://www.freewebs.com/kc8jwa/restorationresources.htm
Shasta Compacts for paint and style comparisons:
Let's try a little Shasta Compact history. (to the best of my knowledge) All research so far points to the Compact being first introduced in 1960, in a two-tone finish. It was called "A brand new 12 1/2 ft. model. It sleeps 6 and is "featherweight" at 1115 lbs. By 1963, models were painted solid white, along with the bare aluminum Z stripe. There may have been some two-tones in 1963, but I have yet to see such material to say for sure. I "believe" all Shasta Compacts came with wings from the earliest model, ending with the last models in 1972-74. As far as I know, all compacts, from the earliest to the last, came with wings. As with all models, the wings begin to become smaller throughout production.
In 1964, the more "boxey" Compact was introduced, along with the "slash" instead of the Z stripe, with perhaps a few of the more canned shape still produced. These shape styles and paint schemes tend to overlap one another as the newer models were introduced. By 1965, the birch interior was replaced with more modern "polyclad vinyl surfaced plywood paneling". The Slash was replaced in the late 60's with the straight wide paint strip.
Another interesting fact is the weight specs on the early 60-63 models were a little lighter at 1115 lbs, 130 tongue weight. 64/74 models offered refridgerators and extra wardrobe space. Weight jumped to 1125 lbs, 174 tongue weight. (I have seen these weights differ a bit from one spec sheet to the next.. but they are all close)
Don't forget to check out my files page to find additional information you may require: http://www.freewebs.com/kc8jwa/classicshastas.htm
1962 Ad: Original two-tone paint? The golden color, very "60s" and would be a good match to the likely brown appliances inside. Note that the color extends out the entire length of the tongue.
Early 1960s Shasta Compact. Here's what no paint and a ton of polish work can do! And a 1963 Shasta Compact in original condition (minus the wings) These early more "curved" Compacts ran from about 1960-1964. I have seen 1964s in both the more curved shape and boxier shape.
1966 Shasta Compact: (I have seen 64s, 65s and 67s with the same paint scheme and shape)
1968 Compact: This is the last style offered, through 74?
Links to other Shasta Compact Sites:
Shannon's Compact Blog: http://shannonshasta.blogspot.com
1970 Shasta Compact: http://www.swvca.com/Shasta_compact.htm
There are several vintage makes of trailers out there that closely resemble the early Compacts and layout. These are also some neat little trailers.
I found the following article interesting since I drive a VW New Beetle. Certainly not a good idea, but a fun read. 2nd picture, a 1961 Compact being towed by a Vette.
We're happy to have found/built the two trailers that are perfect for the uses we need. The teardrop for quick warm trips, and the Compact for extended travels or colder weather camping:
Hope you've found some information you can use here, and best wishes with bringing your vintage trailer back to enjoy many more years.