Sarah hand washing the vintage camper exterior

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It’s time for another update in the Ruby’s Revival series! Our vintage trailer got its first wash since 1987 (we think), and the results stunned us both. It may seem pretty tame at first, but you won’t want to miss this before and after!

ruby's first wash

Last month, K and I headed back down to his childhood home to officially kick off our first attempts to transform Ruby. Our first goals were pretty simple:

  1. give the camper a good wash (whether it made a dent or not — likely not), and
  2. see if we could get the wheels off.

The wheels were a priority mainly because we knew we were going to have to move the camper from this spot soon. K’s childhood home is for sale, so our days of keeping it on the property are limited (see the before tour here). To our surprise, K’s parents got an offer while we were on this same trip down and told us they were likely to take it, so we had some extra motivation!

I’ll have another post about the wheels separately because it’s more K’s territory; he’s going to be my guru for all things mechanical. Spoiler, though: we succeeded on both our goals!

The fact is, we don’t really know precisely when the vintage camper got its last good wash. I originally thought 1983 (the date on the license plate), but stickers on the license plate update that to 1987. So, we’re going to say it’s been at least 30 years, if not more. After all, it was never an actual living space; both his father and grandfather used it as a workshop.

vintage travel trailer other side

We headed down with some tools and a few car wash supplies, pretty much expecting that the dirt would be so caked on that we’d need a pressure washer or something to even see any real effect. I don’t have a power washer yet, so I was cautiously optimistic and figured any attempt at cleaning things up would at least get the birds nests and bigger clumps of dirt off. Towing this thing down the highway in this state was going to be embarrassing enough. Boy, were we in for a surprise! Or, rather… a few of them.

Surprise #1:

No hose or running water! The water supply next to the camper is separate from the supply to the house, and we had no hoses that would reach. So, we had to get creative. K filled an old (and not at all intact) planter with a few garbage bags to help make it more watertight.

planter with garbage bag used as a water bucket for car wash soap

It looks a little ridiculous, but it worked in a pinch! We did the same with an old wheelbarrow to give us one “bucket” for the dirty soap water (in the planter) and one for clean rinsing water (the wheelbarrow). If I had known we would be without a hose, I would have brought down one of my manual pump sprayers. We made do with a giant popcorn bowl. So, basically, even if we had brought a pressure washer with us, it would have been a total waste on this trip with no hose or water supply to hook up!

me scrubbing down the front of the vintage travel trailer

Surprise #2

The jacks we brought weren’t tall enough to jack up the camper enough to get at the wheels. We’ll get to that in the wheels post.

Surprise #3

K’s dad has attempted many times to get the wheels off to no avail, so we came prepared with candles, a torch, and even some lubricating oil we’ve used for home repairs just in case we needed it (car guy bag o’ tricks, basically). We expected we might have to make supply runs or load it on a trailer. But, we got the wheels off! And it has brakes! And it’s still well-greased! According to K, this is a HUGE DEAL and the best possible outcome.

Surprise #4

elbow grease and scrubbing vintage camper by hand

The simple wash with car soap WORKED. Really, really well. Shock. of. all. shocks. Just a little soap, a sponge, a scrub brush, and some elbow grease. We found a ladder but nixed it because we were worried about denting the roof. So, we just scrubbed as high as we could manage comfortably.

How we Cleaned the Vintage Camper Trailer Exterior: Materials Used

before, during and progress on the vintage travel trailer's first wash

Now, I totally support those of you who prefer written tutorials over videos. I DO have pictures for you, as you can see more below. But in this case, I’m going to STRONGLY encourage you to watch the video, too. It’s just so satisfying to see that dirt come off!

help me reach 25k!

  • In the first half, K was working to get the tires off, so I did some cleanup solo. We really got cooking as soon as he finished; we were able to tackle the rest together (him with the brush, me with the sponge).
  • You’ll notice me use K’s name (I suppose if both of us are going to be working on it, we should both be on camera, right? I’ll have a proper introduction for him in the next episode!).
  • I noticed that it worked really well to wet down a section with soapy water and let it sit for a second before going in a second time with the scrub brush. Then a third swipe with the sponge. Then rinse.
  • We took everything in sections because with no running water, we couldn’t rinse as fast as things were drying. Thank goodness the weather was surprisingly warm though!
  • There’s a clip in there of me accidentally tipping the rinsing bowl right down the front of my shirt instead of the camper. Brrrr!
before and after of rear and side of travel trailer

I’ve gotten a few comments so far regarding the color; while it may look white in these photos, it’s still a dull gray. It’s just unpolished aluminum (we intend on changing that in the future though!).

before and after of rear of vintage camper after first wash
before and after of the first section of cleaning vintage camper

Just like the history and handwriting that we found on the inside, we found little handwritten notes, measurements, and other things K’s family had once scrubbed on the outside, too!

closeups of handwritten measurements on exterior of vintage camper trailer

I also took some time to make mental notes on dents, repairs to look up, etc.

closeups of damage and repairs needed on vintage camper trailer

And there you have it! This is one of those situations where I think the pictures speak for themselves, but let me know if you have any questions thus far. We’ve been working since then to get new tires, arrange transportation, and try to secure a new lot for Ruby. We’ve found one, but it’s not ideal; I’ll get into that on the next update in the wheels post.

K and I before we started Ruby's first wash and before the big reveal

This series of events might also mean a little time before the next update since we need to figure out a system for where/how to work on it vs. storage. But I genuinely hope our results are a sign of good things to come, and not just “the calm before the storm.” Wish us luck, and if you have a second, take the time to pin this (the share buttons should do it). I would love for more people to discover this project because it’s going to be SUCH a huge transformation if we can make it happen!

P.S. Want to see all the Ruby posts from the very beginning? You can do that right here.

More Ruby’s Revival

We’re restoring a 1946 vintage camper called a Spartan Manor. It belonged to K’s grandfather and has been sitting in the woods untouched for more than 30 years. Can we bring her back to life? Check out the video series and see for yourself!

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  1. Wow! Wow! Wow!
    what a beast. Good luck with that.
    Love to see the end product. I suspect it will take a while but I would love to have the space for a project like that.
    Thanks for the pictures.

    Tony Dereham, England.

    1. Thanks Tony! I’ll keep regularly posting video episodes on YouTube and photos on the blog, so I hope you’ll subscribe and follow along (pick your poison, so to speak!). It’s definitely going to be a long learning process for us since we’ve never done this before and have little prior knowledge, but I have BIG plans!

  2. SO my parents had an Airstream camper they bought from a friend. Dad decided to polish the outside. He did one section and every time the sun hit it we had to move off the attached deck because we were blinded. Just something to think about! Good luck, I’m jealous. Wish I had my parents, it was in mint condition.

    1. It’s not parked on my property (it will be on a rented lot that’s meant to keep RVs and boats) but once we polish it, we’ll likely get covered parking and put a tarp on top. But good looking out and thanks for the advice!

  3. Only thing better than the amazing Ruby reveal is the “K” reveal including a full picture! Now that is one handsome guy!!

    1. Thanks Denise! I’ve been getting more requests to do a proper intro of him, but I’ve always wanted to respect his comfort level and let him ease into this whole blog/brand thing. It’s a LOT behind the scenes for him to come into this after I’ve been building things up for so long, and I never wanted to rush him into being a face on the internet. It’s never bothered him and I think we’re pretty comfortable at this point with making him more visible, so you’ll see more of him soon. And thank you. I totally agree that he’s a looker (and funny, too). ;)

  4. What an amazing transformation so far! Can’t wait to see the final beauty shots of this lady.

  5. This is a very cool project I look forward to following. In addition to taking it on the road, I found a cool article on Pinterest about someone that bought an air stream and turned it into an air bnb. That could be a fun, and money making idea too!

    1. That would be a great way to recoup some of our investment in it! We’d need a bigger plot of land to park it if we were to consider it, but it’s definitely a cool option for the future! We were thinking of staying in one or two as well to get a feel for our “must haves” in ours when we start on the interior.