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Vintage - Retro

Nostalgia and a New 'Vintage' Canned Ham Trailer

Jeff Johnston: Nostalgia plays a big part in the ongoing appeal of the vintage trailer arena. Vintage trailers are hot these days, and there’s a lot of good reason for that. I know for me, one of the things that really brings it home to me when I step into one of these old trailers is this little guy up here. It’s an authentic propane mantle lamp. And my parents’ trailer, when I was a kid, had one of those lamps. This is from the mid-60s or so, when we would go traveling. And when I step into a trailer that has that lamp burning, there’s something about the smell of the propane that just immediately transports me back to Bonneville Hot Springs, the Oregon coast, going back to Chicago, any of the places that we visited as kids in that trailer. So this one, naturally, since this trailer has one of those, I can smell that, and kind of one of those little nostalgia hits that I really enjoy. Now, this particular trailer, obviously it’s a beautiful vintage style trailer. And I say vintage style because, believe it or not, this is not a rebuilt trailer. This is a brand new trailer, new from the ground up, built by a fellow named Thom Underwood. Thom has an interesting approach for building his vintage trailers, so we’ll meet him out here in a minute and take a look at what he does. It’s pretty darn impressive.

The Thom Thumb vintage trailer is unlike any new RV you’ve ever seen. Thom Underwood: Thom Thumb Trailers is an idea I had to recreate the old-style trailers, only for someone to be able to have the old trailer, but have a brand new trailer at the same time. I got the idea many years ago. I’ve probably built 100 trailers in my mind, going over procedures and materials and so forth, and doing research. I moved up to Oregon, got a shop here, and my wife’s been very supportive, and I started building Thom Thumb Trailers. 

They’re a reproduction of a 1950 rod and reel trailer. And I tried to keep as true to form as possible. My first love was classic cars. Love, love classic cars, I love to see them restored. And a little bit of the customs too, but my father, I got that love from my father and my brother. They’re both car enthusiasts. I still have my very first car I ever had. It was a 1963 Nova, Chevrolet. My brother still has his first car he ever had, a 1941 Chevrolet Business Coupe. So, in the family, we’ve always been involved with cars. And it kind of–it kind of went hand in hand with the trailers in that there are–so many things are alike in the car– as a car enthusiast than as a trailer enthusiast. So, I was able to take some of those things I learned from the cars, then things I learned, abilities from my father. And he was able to– I was able to use those in building the trailers. I’m the only one working on the trailers. It’s any mistakes you find, they’re mine, can’t blame anyone else. As of right now, I put– I’m planning on putting out about 2 trailers every 6 months. The trailers that I’m building, they really do look like the original trailer. When you walk into the trailer, it’s like– it’s like going back in time. I was at a trailer rally with other trailer enthusiasts, and I had one gentleman who examined the trailer very carefully, looked it up and down, and asked me what the trailer was. And I told him it was a reproduction trailer based on a 1950 rod and reel. And he just went– he was shaking his head like, “No, that can’t be. I’m just not going to believe it.” And but it is, and it’s that true to form. And it’s very, very genuine looking. Other things, it’s all birch paneling inside, made– finished with shellac, just like the originals were.

Jeff:  Let’s continue our look at Thom Thumb Trailers, a vintage style RV built all-new from the ground up. Thom: I make the frame myself. It’s all undercoated, and then, with a frame pane on it, so it’s a little bit of a rust preventative underneath there. In the original trailer, how they make– how they made the curves in it, everybody asks me, “How do you make the curves?” Well, they used– they cut strips of plywood, and they laminated them or just lapped them over and made their curve. Well, I didn’t use that. I used–I used solid wood instead of the plywood. In the original, if they ever got a leak in there, once that water got into that plywood, it just expands like a sponge, and the whole trailer’s ruined. This can never happen.

These, I laminated it with solid wood in strips, and made my–with clamps and glue and screws. And it’s very solid, very solid part of the framework. It’s all the original 6-inch crease seams on it, just like the original trailer. And over here is one of our original windows that we’ve restored, and we use this as a pattern for our new trailer. So, they’re identical in every form. The only difference is the material used for the rubber is now a silicon instead of the old vinyl, so you won’t have the shrinking like you have in– you’ll see in the other trailers, where there will be a big gap in your silicon or your vinyl. So, here we are at the reproduction trailer, and this is one of the reproduction windows. They’re made to be identical to the original windows in function and looks. You could take a piece off of this window and interchange it with the original window, and it would work just fine there. They’re that close in specifications, and work exactly the same as that, as the old awning-style window. When you go into the trailer, you’ll see that right down to the welting around where the wood meets, it will–it’s like–it looks like the original. The hardware I used, I couldn’t find identical hardware, but I found period looking hardware, nickel-plated it all is. That looks and has the feel of the vintage trailer. 

A lot of times, they were– let’s face it, they were manufacturing, they were putting out as many as they could as cheaply as possible. They didn’t intend for these to last 50 years. You know, they just– they just weren’t built that way. I’m building these so that they will last, they really will if you take care of them. The dinette is I used a reconstituted leather seating. The original was a vinyl, but this is a leather. The draperies are all 100% cotton with a vintage print on them, so they have the feel of it.

The light fixtures are almost identical. They’re still making a light fixture just very close to the original light fixture that was in there in 1950. It uses a full-size light bulb in there, just like in your home, only they are 12-volt light bulbs, so they’re about a 50-watt bulb. And we’ve got three different light fixtures in there, so there’s lots of light. And going along with the light, it also has an original type propane light in there too for the old over the table, and that puts out about a 50-watt, 60-watt type light too. So, you get that feel with it like that you had it in the original trailers with the propane lighting. Well, I didn’t put an oven in it, but it does have a stove. It has a three-burner stove in it, all propane. My icebox, I made it same design, only I made it out of a heavier duty steel, and a coated steel on the inside so there’s–so it won’t rust. It also has an inch and a half of insulation all around it, side, top, bottom. And made the front a birch, a piece of birch wood on the front so it matches the cabinets, so it doesn’t stand out, and it fits right in. 

This trailer is not a trailer for everybody. It’s not–it’s not a trailer for a family of five. It’s not going to fit in it. You know, it’s 12 feet long. It’s very true to the original scale of the trailers. It has a surprisingly large amount of storage for a small trailer, it really does. But it is–it is really for those people who want that retro feel, but don’t have maybe the time or the skills to redo an old trailer because they’re pretty hard to find when they’re just ready to go. So, this allows the people to have that old trailer feel. They can participate in most rallies. They are welcomed with these trailers. And those trailer rallies are a fun time, they are really, really a blast. You get to meet a lot of nice people and go to a lot of nice places, and it’s just a real good, wholesome family time. 

If anybody’s in the Salem, Oregon area, I’d love to show you around, love to show you firsthand trailers. You just give me a call. I’ve got a website, you can go to, and you can contact me in that, or you can call me on the phone, and we can get you to come on over and take a look, and I’ll show you around, give you the nickel tour.

Jeff: Well, that’s a pretty interesting look at these Thom Thumb Trailers, definitely built unlike anything else on the market. And if you’d like to learn more about it, log onto our website at And thank you for watching