Rookie Mistake: I didn’t purchase my first vintage trailer in a downpour.
For those of us who live with near constant liquid sunshine of the Pacific Northwest - it’s an absolute must. How else are you supposed to call the seller’s bluff of for those famous last words, “no leaks.”
Hours after we purchased this yet-to-be-named 1968 Aladdin Trailer the deluge of the season hit. Of course, that was BEFORE we had a chance to buy a waterproof cover. The next morning we saw the damage had been done. Water… trickling in from both large, long windows, soaking the wood paneling and upholstery.
Starting with the back window, the source of the leak became quite evident with a tap on the “glass.” Rookie mistake number two: the sellers replaced a broken window with plexiglass and I didn’t catch it because I was too starstruck by the original turquoise store and matching ice box. The plastic pane wasn’t even sealed with any caulk. No wonder it leaks! Too bad I didn’t catch that BEFORE I took out the entire window to replace the outer seal. Rookie mistake number three.
Hopefully you can learn from those mistakes and the ones yet to come for your own camper-to-glamper project, so here goes with my how-to for sealing vintage trailer windows:
1. Order your supplies BEFORE starting this project. Home improvement stores do not have everything you’ll need. Amazon and Vintage Trailer Supply do.
2. Wait for a sunny day. I spent half my time sealing the trailer back up between rain showers, and as you’ll see at the end, I’ve yet to finish caulking because you have to do that on a dry, warmer day.
3. When was the last time you had a Tetanus shot? I’m not kidding when I ask that. You’re about to deal with a lot of rusty screws that will inadvertently try to stab you. I spent a night Dr. Googling Tetanus symptoms, certain I was going to get it from a tiny scrape. Luckly, I remembered I had the Tdap booster during pregnancy last spring.
4. From my husband: wear gloves.
Here we go…
Start by unscrewing all the screws that hold in the window. Keep a few on the top and call for, “HELP!” You’ll briefly need an extra set of hands to help hold and remove the window. Underneath the frame was what appeared to be deteriorating putty/rubber sealer/something. Get it off. All of it.
I used Motsenbocker’s Lift-off Foam Sealant Remover. Leave it on for a few minutes and the sticky stuff easily scrapes off. But here’s where rookie mistakes four and five come in: BELIEVE THE LABEL, especially if it tells you to spot check a section first. I didn’t, and the remover also removed a thin layer of the paint where it dripped down. (You can see it in the picture.)
Also, even if “someone” tells you they have the tools you need, always double check. You really need a plastic scraper for this job or you risk scratching the metal. Because I didn’t buy one and “someone” couldn’t find the one they promised they had… I had to improvise with a plastic lid.
Once all of that sticky stuff is gone, clean the area around the window well. You want no residue left behind.
The sealant I used is called Butyl, or putty tape. Luckily I live near an awesome trailer salvage store called West Coast RV Recycling and Sales, which happened to have some. I bought two because that’s what I do. I over buy.
Following the instructions from this video, I simply rolled the putty tape out along the edge of the window leaving the cover on the outer layer. You want to really press it on hard, getting the putty in every groove. I started at the bottom so as to have one solid, seam-free layer around the top.
Once you have it on, remove the the crepe paper. Rookie mistake six: I wish I had added an extra layer at least along the top, especially around the corners.
While the window is out - it’s a great time to grab some super fine 0000 steel wool and get buffing. Check out the before and after of the aluminum frame. The rust disappears and the metal shines right up with a little effort (by “someone” who kindly offered to scrub).
Here’s where you’ll need your assistant once again. Have them hold the window in place while you screw in the top few screws. I didn’t bother to reuse the rusty old screws for two reasons: I wanted stainless steel screws in order to avoid the unsightly rust rings. Also, you may need screws that are ever-so-slightly larger than the old ones in order to get a good grip and really seal any stripped holes.
Once the window is all sealed back up and those screws cranked down an extra time or two, peel away the excess putty that pushed out. Using a plastic scraper “someone” went to go get to silence the complaining, I scored the edge and rolled off the excessive putty.
Here’s the point where you would then caulk the entire outside of the window, but it started pouring. So that will be “To be continued” until next weekend when the sun is promising to shine. It’s ok because it gave me time to research caulk and learn that the stuff from the home improvement store just isn’t the same. (Rookie mistake number seven.) Over and over again the interwebs recommends Proflex RV Sealant. It’s on the way.
As for rookie mistake number eight: I wish I had waited to do this. Now that I need to replace the plexiglass pane the entire window has to come out again. I envision starting this project over from scratch... and needing even larger screws to adequately seal the window. Le Sigh. I'm learning!
As for my next trip to the home improvement store - I'm going solo. With my husband along the employees seemed to ignore me! They all talked to him, not me. As if a girl can't do the work. It's my project! To quote a friend, I may be a woman, but I've got my own tools and my own money... and my own trailer.