Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Retro Reads: Single Mom, Classic Trailer--Perfect Fit

Classic trailers and Arizona tiny trailer camping
16-foot 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner

Retro Reads: Written and published a little over a year ago (November 2019), this story checked all the boxes for me--a beautiful, classic trailer with the design that reminded me of my early days of camping with my parents, and an innovative, nurturing parent who has created a rich and dynamic lifestyle for herself and her child. It reminds me that often "luck" is actually the product of fortitude and elbow grease.

What better Christmas gift could a single mom and son who love to camp give themselves but a classic travel trailer? That's just what single mom Jarrett Ransom and Tanner, her son, gave themselves for Christmas in 2018, a 16-foot 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner travel trailer that they call "Little Miss Aster."

Tiny Trailer and Arizona camping
Happy owners of a classic single-axle travel trailer

"Merry Christmas to us!!!" Jarrett posted to Facebook on December 19, 2018. "We have upgraded from tent camping to a 16’ 1971 Aristocrat Lo-Liner trailer. We will do some refurbishing along the way, but she’s in good condition as is and can be used right away. In fact, we are sleeping in her tonight!!!"

Jarrett had always wanted to own a classic trailer because she "loves items with personality and character. I don’t find that too much in the newer models and builds. Sure, an Airstream would be nice, but I didn’t want to pay that $ at this time. I love canned hams and knew that I wanted something to fit the vintage title. Shastas, Scotties, etc."

The trailer was found on Craigslist after Jarrett overcame her longtime intimidation of towing and "learning how to maneuver the backing up of the rig. Thankfully, she's not big, but it's still new territory for me and a skill that I am consistently working to perfect." Jarrett tows her classic trailer with an Audi Q7 SUV, rated to pull 5,500 pounds, "so I barely feel Little Miss Aster behind me."

Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
US Bureau of Land Management camping is a favorite destination

Jarrett grew up camping and is definitely a tent camper first and foremost. Then she moved to back-of-the-car camping when the weather was nasty or she "felt too lazy to set up a tent." Her Q7 has seats that lie completely flat, so it affords space for her and her son to sleep in the back. Living in Arizona, they can camp pretty much year round, especially if they aren’t too sensitive to cooler temperatures, although “cooler temps” can be relative. "Anything below 70 becomes long-sleeve weather for me now. During the summer months it is great to go up north and camp in the cooler temps. During the winter the lower part of the state offers some nice climates for winter desert camping."

Looking at only three trailers--all found on Craigslist--she finally went with one parked less than thirty miles from her home in Arizona. Jarrett enlisted Ben, a carpenter and "skoolie" owner, to go with her to inspect the trailers. Ben and his wife escape New England winters by parking in Jarrett's driveway. "He got on his hands and knees, lay on his back to look at the undercarriage, taught me to bounce around on the flooring inside and to look for weak spots, and for mold and rust."

Originally wanting a trailer with a toilet and shower, Jarrett finally settled on her Aristocrat. "It just spoke to me." She bought the trailer from a middle-aged man who was very focused on selling it "to someone or some family who would treat it right and make great memories in it."

"To this day," Jarrett says, "I have the seller’s phone number and share photos of our camping adventures with him. He loves seeing our excursions and the work I have done to Little Miss Aster. Ironically, he took her camping/hunting in the same area that my son and I frequent--so he knows to keep an eye out for her when he’s up there."

Now the renovation work began, and Jarrett's generosity of allowing Ben and his wife to winter on her driveway paid off.
"I was fortunate to have some amazing help--from a skoolie couple that I befriended off Instagram. Wild Drive Life (Meag and Ben) are a nomadic couple that were living in their skoolie [school bus converted to camper] that I followed for the longest time and are now family to my son and me. I offered them to park in my driveway while they escaped the New England winters this past winter and Ben, a carpenter by trade, was kind enough to help me inspect the trailer, and he did the majority of the work for me. It was kind of in lieu of calling my driveway home for a month and a half and also because he was itching to work on a project.  I cannot thank him and his handy skills enough. This would have been an undertaking that I am not sure I would have had as much done on her by now if it weren’t for him and the time he put into the trailer."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

"Little Miss Aster" was camping and travel ready when Jarrett bought her from the previous owner, who "spent many hunting trips in her and even brought back two whole elk in her after one camping trip." The trailer was in "great working shape, but I did choose to make some cosmetic changes--for now it has been all inside changes. But I am looking to get her painted on the outside next."
"We started with ripping out the carpet--yeah, that’s right . . . it had CARPET. And after knowing the elk was in the trailer, I knew that the carpet had to go. We then removed the wood paneling. We knew there was some water damage (in the front right corner by the booth seating). Some paneling we could save and paint over, but most of it had to come out. I decided to put beadboard on the bottom of the dining booth area and the bottom of the walls around the inside of the trailer. (WARNING--painting beadboard is a nightmare!!!) The other walls were replaced with regular boards and painted white for a clean look on the inside. 
"I used contact paper to accent the back-storage area (where the bunk bed used to be) and will add more of that to the front cabinet area above the dining/eating area. The kitchen counters and the dining table counter are polyurethaned wood. The flooring is black hardwood (also found at Habitat Restore) for the clean black and white motif that I wanted. 
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
"The cushions have been covered thanks to my mom. (I do need to give a shout out to my mom for feeding the outdoor bug inside of me. I have fond memories of her and me camping together for my birthdays, having birthday camping parties at state parks and even camping with her once in high school during my spring break vacation--you rock, Mom!) I sent her the dimensions of the existing cushions, and she custom made an envelope, pocket-like slipcover for all of the cushions. Truth be told she still has the back-bed cushion and all of the curtains still yet to do. (No pressure, Mom, but I am waiting on ya!) 
"Ben also added a vent to the ceiling which I love because I can have the airflow come in or sucked out, and with the windows open, there is so much air circulation. No heating system, though, only body heat. I will add some solar panels to it so I can be off grid as much as possible. And other than the outside painting . . . she’s done."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

Besides renovations, there have been upgrades or modifications. The original trailer slept four with a bunk bed, but the bunk has been converted to additional shelving storage, great for basket storage and containing items that may shift around when driving. The back bed is the traditional couch-like seating that converts to a bed that sleeps two. The front dining area converts to a twin bed, and one person can comfortably sleep there--"unless you're above 5'9"." The trailer has no toilet or shower bathroom, so Jarrett or Tanner will use a solar shower (water bladder) when necessary. Originally, they did plan for a compostable toilet in the trailer, inside the closet area, but the wheel well inside the closet space meant that wasn’t feasible. "I do have a portable camping toilet in the camper, but we rarely use it. We end up using the beautiful fields of the outdoors when nature calls."
"The kitchen is by far one of my favorite areas. It came with an old ice box, but I removed that and replaced it with a college style fridge that I picked up from Habitat Restore. I covered the face of the fridge with stainless steel contact paper to have a cleaner look. There is a 3-burner Magic Chef stove and oven combo--still in its original avocado green. With the two propane tanks I have hooked up at the front of the trailer, I can cook a pizza or bake some pies if I want to.
"The water tanks hold 40 gallons, so I am able to use the kitchen sink quite a bit to wash dishes, make sun tea, or fill up my solar shower/water bladder. I did replace the sink with a new black, hard plastic, full-sized sink with a standard faucet. It allows me to wash dishes easily with the deep basin. The countertop was also replaced. I ended up purchasing some boards and had them cut for the countertop and polyurethaned to bring out the natural beauty. It’s simple and sleek and also matches the new banquet table. Same wood, same finish and same consistency."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

It didn't take much to make the classic trailer their own. "Adding the crisp white paint and new fabric and cushion covers, along with some personal photos, have made our trailer resemble us and our personalities more. The outdoor rug is also a nice added touch and provides some extra outdoor living space to do yoga, take a nap, or play a board game together."

Jarrett is more of a weekend warrior when it comes to camping. Of course, all single parents are warrior-advocates for their children, so we shouldn't be surprised at the "warrior" part of her self-definition. Neither should we be surprised at the fact that a working mom mostly camps on weekends.
"I work full-time as a nonprofit consultant, and my son is in the 4th grade. Therefore, our time is limited. We have taken her out twice--both completely off grid. We prefer primitive camping, and Arizona offers amazing BLM land. We have, however, had many 'staycation' adventures with Little Miss Aster--even in our own backyard. 
"The first night she came home to live with us, my son and I cooked dinner on the old avocado-green Magic Chef stove. It was a classic spaghetti dinner, but it was by far a memory I will always cherish, my favorite camping story so far. During dinner, my then 8-year old son looked up at me and proclaimed, 'Mom, this is my new happy place.' It was then that I knew I had just spent the best $1,500 in my entire life. I knew that this camper would provide us with memories abound, no matter where we parked her."
Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster
On a shared camping trip with parents

Jarret advises that new tiny trailer owners to have fun with it. "Play with colors and decoration. Use it in your backyard, too. Who said you had to take it out somewhere to enjoy it?"

The camping dreams for this mom and her son are "to adventure to more BLM land this summer," and ideally to Joshua Tree National Park and some other California national and state parks. "We may even go into Mexico to enjoy some Puerto Penasco oceanside camping."

Tiny Classic Trailer Camping in Arizona, Little Miss Aster

Jarrett's tiny trailer dreams are just beginning. "The other day I found myself looking on Craigslist for a few more. I Airbnb my house during Spring Training (Arizona has some great baseball), and we will take the trailer out camping while our main house is rented with tourists coming to enjoy Arizona baseball." She also imagines buying another trailer, "maybe an Airstream, to permanently sit in my backyard as another rental opportunity."

"When my son graduates high school, I imagine I will live a more nomadic life and travel several months out of the year if not full-time." Jarrett's dreams are as big as the road is long, and right now--whether in her backyard or on local BLM land--she is living her dream with her son: single mom, classic trailer, perfect fit. Follow their classic trailer adventures on Instagram at little_miss_aster.

For more tiny trailer Owner Profiles, click on the link.

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