An Interview With Justin and Anna From Flippin' RVs
We had a Q-and-A session with Justin and Anna Scribner, experts at vintage trailer restoration. Find out how they got started, what advice they have for fixing up an old camper and which sought-after trailer they would most like to own.
How did you get started in vintage trailer restoration?
Anna: It started out as a hobby, we were into it about 10 to 12 years before it became a business. Justin was passionate about it before me. When we first got married, Justin brought me to see a 1958 Shasta and I was immediately hooked by the cool art-deco design, the attention to detail and of course, I loved the wings. We bought it and fixed it up, and bought a few more trailers and fixed those up too. Then in 2008 I quit my job to take care of our child. Justin was working as a contractor, but because of the recession, business was slow. To help make ends meet, we sold the Shasta, an Airstream and some old cars and motorcycles. But I was feeling down about selling the Shasta, so Justin search high-and-low, and found a beat-up 1963 Silver Streak. Because his work was slow, he had time to refurbish it and pretty soon the trailer was a show piece. We sold that trailer and then got another and sold that, and another etc. All the while the construction business was still slow-going and we were racking our brains about what other type of work Justin could do. Then one day the ah-ha moment came, and we realized he was already doing it.
What’s your ultimate trailer?
Justin: Hard to say – we have museum pieces literally sitting in our shop right now. Anna and I gravitate towards the rarest of the rare. We like any of the 1930s trailers. The one thing I’ve never owned and would love to own is a 1920s house car. That’s when camping originated, people were turning vehicles into the earliest form of motor homes.
Anna: Any prototype for the Holiday House or the Aero Flite. It’s so neat to see the original engineering and the craftsmanship was so good at that time. Today, we think we’ve got the tiny house stuff mastered, but it started back then, they were so ingenious the way they fit the craziest stuff into the smallest spaces.
What’s the oldest trailer you’ve ever worked on?
Justin and Anna: The oldest one we’ve ever done is a 1934 Covered Wagon, it was the first dual-axel production trailer ever made. We’ve done a handful of 1936s and have another one we’re getting ready to work on soon. We just completed a 1936 Boles for a client.
What’s the farthest you have ever traveled to hunt down a particular trailer?
Justin and Anna: We’ve been as far as Michigan and Indiana to get a trailer (about 2,100 miles). (The RV Hall of Fame is located in Elkhart, Indiana.)
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever added to or installed in a trailer?
Anna: A full–sized bathtub, hidden TVs and high-tech AV systems.
Justin: We’re starting to add solar panels to a lot of our trailers. People are trying to be as efficient as possible and stay off the grid for as long as possible. They don’t have to just take their camper to a paved black-top campground, they can use them off the main drag like they did back in the 30s and 40s. But today people want the modern efficiencies too, so we’re adding all the systems, while trying to make it as green as possible.
Is renovating a camper like renovating a house where you need different subcontractors like an auto-mechanic, an electrician, a plumber, a welder etc., or does your team handle it all?
Justin: We have people on staff that are experts all in the fields. We have a full metal shop that can do just about any metal fabrication. We have professionally trained auto-body painters, licensed electricians, and certified pros working on the propane systems. We try to keep those people in their field as much as possible for efficiency. But our staff can also crossover, they’re all knowledgeable in the whole restoration process. System by system, we try to keep all the work in house to make sure we produce the best quality.
What’s the average turnaround time for a restoration?
Justin: Generally, we have three trailers in the shop at a time. Normal turnaround time is about 8 to 10 weeks, closer to 10. We try to keep it under three months. We could probably knock them out quicker, but we don’t want to sacrifice any quality.
Do you always incorporate the modern-day amenities or you use the old ways? Do you ever feel that you’re betraying the designer’s original vision by incorporating new gadgets?
Anna and Justin: It all depends. If we’re doing the project on our own, we try to keep as much original as possible. Even if it’s just the shell of the refrigerator door. But, if we’re doing a restoration for a client and they want new appliances, then we’ll install them. If we don’t use an original part in the restoration – like a fridge, stove or cabinets – and they’re in really good shape, we’ll save those to use in another project.
Vintage appliances were built to last and they’re solid, so they can often be saved. It’s amazing, those some of those old appliances have been running for 50 years and they’re still going and still have a lot of style. Sometimes if it’s a real rare trailer, we’ll do the restoration before we sell it so we can make sure it’s done correctly; we can’t bear to see it not restored to original because that piece of history will be erased forever. But most people come to us for our design aesthetic. We try to design with a timeless feel and use materials – like fabric, wood and metals – from the era when that trailer was built.
How has the way we live changed the way trailers have been designed over the years?
Anna: Twin-and-a-half beds! Back then, the beds that were built for two people were smaller than a double, so almost everyone wants us to install at least a double but most often a queen-size bed.
What should people look for or avoid when buying a vintage camper?
Justin: Fist thing, make a wish list and know your needs and what suits your family. After that, look for length, a dual axel and aircraft construction versus wood-framing and canned-ham styling. Pinpoint the best preserved trailer for your buck and that means getting it from a dry climate. You don’t want something that has had years and years of water on it or in it. Make sure the frame underneath and running gears are all structurally sound, you need to start with a good foundation, good bones first and foremost.
Anna: I agree with Justin. Where you pick up the trailer is huge. We’ve had trailers that looked okay and then once we start taking them apart we realized the framing was rotted out from water damage. When dealing with a canned-ham type trailer, if there is water damage on the inside it’s likely all over. The last place the water is going to get to is the inside, so if there’s water damage inside, you know it’s permeated through several layers of framing to get there. This is especially true for the canned hams – 9 out of 10 times – if there is water damage on the inside, the entire framing is shot.
Justin and Anna: Also, go to a qualified RV specialist when it comes to replacing the electrical and propane systems. Live or loose wires can be very dangerous. The kiln-dried, old wood in a vintage trailer can be a tinder box. When we do electrical work, we touch all of the electrical to make sure it is up to code and is the safest it could be.
Are you starting to make new trailers that look vintage?
Anna: Yes, we’re are building a new line of trailers that have the look and craftsmanship of a vintage trailer and it’s all handmade. Each one is made with riveted-aluminum cladding on the exterior, all-wood construction on the inside, modern amenities like AC, self-containment systems, battery-pack for solar capabilities and AV systems. But it’s all well-hidden, so stylistically it’s a vintage trailer, but functionality-wise, it’s more like a new coach.
What was the worst designed trailer you’ve ever seen?
Justin: The worst built trailer in my opinion is the Holiday House. They were built for around two years from about late 1959 to 1961. But that being said, If Anna and I had to pick one trailer to have, that has never been found, it would be the prototype for the Holiday House Geographic. It’s the most unbelievable trailer, there is only one known to exist. It was sold on eBay for a ridiculous amount of money then shipped overseas. After the prototypes were made, they realized that they couldn’t make money on it, too overpriced for the market. So they started to manufacture a simpler version. It was midcentury mod to the highest degree. Very Jetsons looking. We have two Holiday Houses at our shop right now awaiting restoration. The problem was, when they started simplifying them from the original design, they built them horribly and they didn’t last five years without water permeated throughout. They were made by a company that never built travel trailers before, they built mail-order fruit baskets and decided to switch to travel trailers in the off-season. Two years into it, the factory burned down and all the molds and plans were burned with it. So that was the end of them. Holiday House trailers are a very iconic, very sought-after, but they have to be rebuilt from top to bottom and reengineered in order to be safe. So on one hand, the Geographic prototype was the best design idea and on the other hand it was worst built trailer due to bad manufacturing. Ironically, it was the best and then the worst.
What’s your favorite place to camp?
Anna and Justin: It depends on the time of year, we have a lot of great places in Oregon to go to – Paradise, Crescent Lake, plus the Northern California and Southern Oregon Redwoods. We’re trying to hit all the national parks in the next year or two. We go to the Modernism Event every year in Palm Springs, California. The event includes a vintage trailer rally. We take our 1955 Spartan Manor down there. If we’re going out camping in High Lake Oregon we’ll take our 1948 Palace. It’s very cozy with a campy vibe to it, more family oriented. We also have a 1936 Masterbuilt and a 1934 Covered Wagon. We take them out when we want an old-school, simple experience. Each one of the vintage trailers captures a different experience.