Vintage travel: Tiny trailers seek to recreate family camping of the 1950s

March, 2017 Posted in Community
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Thom Underwood sitting in the kitchen of a Thom Thumb Trailer. Jerry STevens

By Mary Owen

Thom Underwood has always been a hands-on type of guy.

“I would rather do it myself than hire it out,” the Sublimity man said of his projects. “I like trying new things, especially if I can create something out of whatever medium I am using.”

Underwood and his wife moved from northern California to Oregon about two and a half years ago, and he said, they “love it!”

“We love Oregon, the people and the small towns of Stayton, Aumsville and Sublimity,” he added. “We even like the rain!”

A classic car enthusiast for many years, Underwood also loves building unique travel trailers which he appropriately named Thom Thumb Trailers.

“Building the trailers allows me to use a lot of my skills – welding, woodworking, electrical, plumbing – and at the same time create something that will outlast me,” Underwood said.

While growing up, he and his family frequently camped out, many times using trailers very much like the ones he now builds.

“So this is a nostalgic thing for me, bringing to life the old style of camping that I so enjoyed from my youth,” Underwood said. “My brother restored a 1937 tear- drop trailer and for years I had thought about restoring an old trailer for my own use. I was given a 1950 Rod and Reel trailer by the original owner. My plan was to restore it to its original condition.”

But after bringing the trailer home, Underwood found that the framing was too rotted to rebuild. He ended up dismantling the entire trailer, he said.

“So I thought why not build a twin of the trailer as I build up the original,” he added. “That’s how I started Thom Thumb Trailers.”

Underwood’s first two trailers took about a year and a half to build.

“Finding materials, making patterns, and developing techniques,” he said. “I now plan to produce four to eight units a year.”

Underwood said his trailers are very true to the original, and people may have trouble distinguishing the new from the old. The trailers come with all-leather dinette seating, modern propane dinette lighting, all-cotton vintage-style window coverings, and a full-size bed (dinette converts to a twin-size). They are constructed with polished aluminum siding, birchwood interiors, man-made awning style windows, and stainless steel 1950s-style wheel covers.

“It is very important to me, especially the interior, to use safe, natural materials that will not off-gas chemicals or contain formaldehyde,” he said. “The flooring is not vinyl but true, old-fashioned linoleum, and all of the wood is finished with authentic all-natural shellac.”

The most difficult step – and the most satisfying – is recreating windows to look vintage, working and operating exactly as the originals, he said.

A 12-foot long Thom Thumb Trailer sleeps two adults and two children, and comes with a gas stove, ice box, electric and gas lighting, an eating area, and lots of storage. A full list of amenities can be found on the Thom Thumb Trailers website.

“The trailer is for those who want to leave behind the electronics and get back to the outdoors, but not have to sleep in a tent,” Underwood said. “They are not for everybody, but for people who wish the vintage experience, but don’t have the time or skills to restore a trailer. Or time to deal with the problems that will occur with a 50-year-old trailer.

“I have made these trailers to last and, when maintained properly, will become heirlooms passed down to your children and your children’s children,” he said. Underwood loves taking his personal trailer to trailer rallies, where the spirit of the vintage trailer is alive and welcomed.

“So far, the trailers have been well received,” he said. “I look forward to building many more Thom Thumb Trailers.”

For information, contact Underwood at bltunder@sbcglobal.net, or visit www.ThomThumbTrailers.com.

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