Ever since we bought our vintage travel trailer (also known as a camper), people have been asking us where we found it. I thought I would share the daily ritual of frenzied web searches that led up to it's purchase, in case you were thinking about jumping on the camper craze yourself.
We started thinking about buying a vintage camper in the spring of 2011. After doing a few weeks of research, I learned that we were limited in what we could buy, due to our tow vehicle. We have a Town & Country minivan, which has a tow limit of 1,800 pounds. (We don’t have the factory-installed tow package - big mistake on our part. It would have included all of the necessary towing equipment and bumped up the limit to 3,600 pounds for a cost of $600). The weight limit also includes the cargo & passengers in the minivan, so we knew that we should look for a travel trailer that was around 1,200 pounds. (If you are doing the math, you’ve figured out that I weigh 600 pounds. Bravo to you.)
The brand of camper didn’t matter to me. I just knew that I wanted one around 1,200 pounds that was pre-1970s (although, I found a few cute early-seventies campers, so I included those in some searches). Those two pieces of information helped me narrow down how and where I would search for a camper. Oh - and it had to be super-cute. But you don’t get a lot of meaningful results when you Google “super-cute vintage campers for sale”.
I should also mention that we don’t have any local RV dealers who sell vintage campers, which explains why we were going to the web route. A local dealership is probably the best place to start if you are in the market for a vintage camper. And, it is always best to see a camper in person before you buy it. But we totally ignored that advice, so feel free to ignore it, too.
Here are the sites that I used nearly every day for six months:
1. Tin Can Tourists
This is a website devoted to vintage motor home and trailer enthusiasts. It has a Classifieds section that I included in my camper-searching ritual. Here is the link that I used: Tin Can Tourists Search. There isn’t anything special about my search - it is just goes straight to the page where the For Sale ads are sorted by most recent listings. Because I was checking the site often, I could see the new ads right away.
Tin Can Tourists only allows up to three photos on the site, so many of the sellers link to outside websites like Photobucket or Shutterfly to share more photos. Some sellers don’t include any photos, so you’ll have to email them for more info.
There is a wide range of campers on Tin Can Tourists, from just-found-in-a-cornfield camper to fully restored beauties. I would say that most of them are closer to the restored end, which made it a good place for us to look for campers, since we are lazy and didn't want a fixer-upper.
2. Craigslist & Related Sites
In order to perform an efficient search on Craigslist, you have to know how to use the pipe symbol, which looks like the vertical line: |. This is a link to a search that I commonly used on my local Craigslist. Here’s the text of the search:
((vintage camper)|(vintage trailer)|shasta|scotty|airstream|argosy)
You can see that I separated all of the keywords with the pipe symbol. It’s the same thing as putting an “OR” between each phrase or word. If there is more than one word (like “vintage camper”), then you have to put it in parentheses. And then you put everything in parentheses.
My Craigslist search was in the Philadelphia area for listings in the For Sale: Recreational Vehicles (RVs) section. If there are results in nearby areas, they show up at the bottom of the page. But you can’t control the nearby areas that show up, so you have to do multiple searches in different cities and states in order to get broader results.
Instead of performing a zillion Craigslist searches, you can use a website called SearchTempest.com, which lets you enter the distance from your location. For example, your results can include all Craigslist listings within 500 miles, if that’s how far you are willing to go for a vintage camper. Also, on my iPad, I have an app called CraigsPro, which makes it a little easier to perform Craigslist searches across many different cities and states. This is also great for yard-sale searching, so it was worth the 99 cents. There are similar apps for Android and iPhones.
Alas, through all of my Craigslist searching, I found that most of the campers on Craigslist needed some level of restoration. Many had water damage, which is the most prevalent problem with these old travel trailers. We wanted a camper that was already restored, so I had trouble finding contenders on Craigslist. But I still looked at Craigslist every day...just in case.
Here is the super-duper eBay search that I performed every morning: Vintage Trailer eBay Search. Feel free to steal it and give it a few tweaks. It isn’t just a search for “vintage camper” or “vintage trailer”. In fact, I didn’t use any key words in the search. I honed the results to only include:
- Campers listed on eBay Motors > RVs & Campers category
- Campers made before 1976
- Campers under 25ft in length (although 16 ft would have been sufficient)
- Results sorted by “Time: Newly Listed”
In the beginning, I also included a location filter: I only wanted to see campers within 200 miles of my zip code. But the results were too limited, so I removed that filter.
When you use the Model Year in your search criteria, keep in mind that some sellers don’t know what year their camper was made. So, they don’t enter any year in their listing. If your search is limited to specific years, then you might miss some campers. Every once in a while, I would remove all of the year filters from my search, just to see if I missed any vintage campers.
I originally had it set up to email me everyday, but those notifications just don’t seem to work for me - I was getting irrelevant or duplicate results in the emails. So I would just run the search at least once a day.
eBay ended up being the winner for us - that’s where we found our 1956 Scotsman. Funnily enough, I had never even seen another Scotsman in all of my months of searching. So it wasn’t a keyword that I would have typed into any of these websites.
The seller had a very high feedback score, a detailed listing, provided many photos and answered all of the questions that we had. We could tell from his listing that he took pride in his work. In the end, it worked out for us, but you have to consider the risks of buying something without seeing it first. Most seasoned travel trailer owners would say that it is a bad idea. But I am not a seasoned travel trailer owner, so I can play dumb if I want.
4. Other RV Sites
Here are a few other websites that I would visit every once in a while. Some of them aren’t very active, but you never know if you don’t look!
RV Trader Online
There aren’t a lot of vintage trailers on this site, but it was worth the occasional look. Here’s the search that I used: RV Trader Search.
These bare-bones campers are for hard code restorers only.
Sisters on the Fly
The famous club of like-minded outdoorsy women has a page dedicated to campers for sale on their website.
Vintage Shasta Trailer Forum
If you are specifically looking for a vintage Shasta travel trailer, this message board is a great place to start.
Vintage Trailer Supply
This company only sells supplies, parts & hardware for vintage campers, but their website has an extensive list of forums and groups for specific trailers brands. So, if you are looking for a certain brand, you can join their Yahoo group and check if any trailers are for sale. While I was deciding whether or not to by the Scotsman on eBay, I joined the Scotsman Yahoo Group in order to see if there were any issues or problems that I should be aware of. You don’t need to own a trailer in order to join the groups.
Do you have a vintage camper? Where did you buy it? I would love to keep adding to this post with your ideas.
And, I am thinking about creating a series of posts about vintage campers. Do you have any questions about my travel trailer? Nothing is too personal for me, so ask away! Or, do you have general questions about buying/selling/using/fixing up old trailers? I might not know the answers to everything, but I can give it a try or do some research for you. Leave your questions in the comments below.