pop up camper rehab

In the mid-70s my oldest sister turned a year old, Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin were making their marks on music history, and my parents bought a Coleman pop up camper.  The purchase proved to be a wise investment, and over the next twenty-five years it would travel across the US–it even snuck into Canada once.  For the majority of its adventures, it parked and popped up outside of Branson, MO, in what was Yogi Bear Campground.  There was a pool, lake, playground, statues of Yogi and the gang, room to ride bikes, space to build fires, and a little bit of childhood perfection.  Camping was the core of our vacations, and we loved it–as evidenced by the grins in the following photos.


While Andrew and I were traveling in New Zealand the month of February, we were trying to think through our next adventure.  We knew we wanted to do some big trips in 2015 while my job is so flexible, before he takes something so permanent, and when we are sans fetus.  We also knew that the bulk of those travels would be Western US.  There’s just so much glory and big spaces and different land formations that make you confused and exhilarated all at once.  It is a truly mystical place in this world.  

But we had already been tent camping for weeks on end, and couldn’t imagine doing that for anymore long stretches this year.  And we are still homesteading our 1954 Airstream, so unless we unloaded the majority of our books, clothes, pots and pans, etc, our home is far too heavy for a long-term road trip.  So Andrew started doing research, we talked it through with my family, and decided to renovate our Smith family beloved pop up Coleman camper.

We picked it up from Memphis just over a month ago, and with my parents graciously financing this family investment, Andrew spent 3.5 weeks doing a head-to-toe makeover.  Here are a few comparison photos for the dramatic exposé.


The dramatic change is aided by the fact that this camper was built in 1974. Only during such a time period was it ever a seemingly good idea to plaster blocks of mustard, black, and brown all over the curtains and cushion fabric. It also helps that Andrew is a renovating baller. Just check out our Airstream home photos. Baller. The rest of the photos share the renovation story.  

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Andrew concocted his own exterior paint color he calls ‘British racing car green.’  I imagine a Mini Cooper swerving around with this color in The Italian Job.  He chose and laid down new vinyl flooring, built new counter tops, pantry doors, configured an entirely new electrical and plumbing system, hooked us up with solar power (boondock!), cleaned and fixed the original Coleman propane stove, installed a brand-new canvas from Bear Creek Canvas, and many more small and significant updates.  I bought new linen and curtains at Target.  Said curtains had to be completely re-configured for camper dimensions, and the original tabs that are secured in a curtain track were salvaged from the original monstrocities and sewn into the new material.  I found a cheap, cozy green-gray fabric to replace the original cushion covers and gave my beloved ‘America’ pillow a new home.  Altogether, the changes have given this pop up a new chapter for adventures to come.  

One of those chapters started on Wednesday as we pulled out of Nashville toward the Southwest.  We are currently exploring Big Bend National Park in west TX, and will venture out to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.  May it continue to give magical memories to all of my family and family-to-come as it has for the past forty years.  



4 thoughts on “pop up camper rehab

  1. Before reading this I was like “sweet! Ben and I could totally do that!” And then after reading I was like, “damn, that was some intense remodel!” And no, we could not do that. Especially in our apartment complex parking area. It looks awesome!

  2. Hi we have a same vintage Coleman Gettysburg trailer that we are starting to remodel, so I really appreciated your before an after photos. Can you tell me how you removed the wall panels without taking off the aluminium top rail cap? Did you loosen the moulding, flex them and remove from the bottom?
    Thanks, your tips might save me a lot of drilling and riveting.
    Once again great article

  3. I am super curious about the “curtain tabs” id like to know if this is something i could remake to replace the ones that are completely missing from my pop up camper….. can you tell me what was actually in the fabric to hang by? Thanks so much!

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