Family Takes on Trailer Recycling Project

By Eric Miller

It was the perfect project. The challenge required imagination and met my testosterone fix. The task: rebuilding a 30-year-old trailer.

We considered new trailers with microwaves and satellite dishes, but they resembled tract homes on wheels. We desired simplicity. We hunted for just the right one and found it: the Caveman.

This trailer had a kitchen, refrigerator, and slept four. Its baby blue ceiling sagged below eye level. I crawled beneath the undercarriage. No rust, just a bunch of spider webs. The brakes and lights worked. It cost $300.

A faded brown stripe covered its dull white exterior. The door creaked and a broken window beckoned for help. Scuff marks wore through the vinyl floor. We hitched the rig on a foggy morning and tied the door with a bungee cord. Critics may laugh, but to us this 14 foot trailer, made by the Caveman Company, only needed a little lovin’.

I got a better look the next day. I climbed on the roof and discovered a crack filled with three inches of tar. I went back inside, tugged on the ceiling and inhaled a mouthful of dust. The Caveman groaned.

My wife checked on me after several hours. “What’re you doing?” she asked.
“Just ripping into this old beast,” I replied. “I found four broken ceiling joists.”
“You better remove the sink and stove. You’re incapable of fixing that stuff. Go ahead, tear into it. If you screw up, consider it our new chicken coop.”

I leveraged, pried, and yanked to remove paneling and wire. I ran a Sawzall, a formidable saw that destroys wood, metal and fiber. The saw rumbled, reducing the Caveman to its exoskeleton. A man and his Sawzall are not easily parted, especially when he’s smiling.
The project was a team effort. I provided cheap unskilled labor. My wife rebuilt the kitchen and sewed seat covers. We hung insulation and installed a new ceiling. The kids painted. The Caveman was nearly born again.

But something was amiss. The Caveman appeared lifeless, as if it hadn’t been anywhere. Ittrailer 4 needed…bumper stickers. My kids collected stickers and I asked about their inventory. “Slap ‘em on,” I directed. “Anything works.” I should’ve paid better attention. They started with ‘Stanford University’ and ‘I Love Whales’ stickers, then snuck on a hot pink ‘Lu Lu’s Fashion Lounge’ label. I was unsure about Lu Lu’s, unconvinced my ego could handle an ad promoting clothes for teenage girls.

“But Dad, you promised, anything,” they argued. Sigh. Passing travelers won’t know us anyway.

The kids plastered the Caveman with 20 bumper stickers. We advertised universities, ski areas, and quirky slogans. The ‘Friends of the River’ sticker countered ‘Farmers Feed America.’ The ‘USS Arizona’ was placed above the ‘Blue Man Group.’ We had stickers of a moose, Smokey Bear, and flags. I forbade political stickers though. I’d rather confuse passing motorists than be run off the road. “Just who are those people?” they’d wonder.
I stared at the rig. We were ready to go. Almost.

My mother-in-law insisted the Caveman needed a toilet. “Take this portable commode for your wife and daughters,” she said. The toilet was two feet high by two feet square. I didn’t want to know why a grandmother had one. It resembled a child booster seat. I envisioned it tipping over. “Are you kidding? We’ll stay at developed campgrounds. They’ll be fine,” I said. “What if they need to go at night?” she persisted. “The Caveman is a mobile studio apartment. I’m a light sleeper. They can use flashlights and hike to a bathroom,” I countered. “What if you’re driving?” she pressed. “Then we’ll visit a rest area,” I grumbled. “Or we’ll do what bears do in the woods.” The portable toilet stayed home, a future garage sale item.

More than $2,000 and three years later, Project Caveman is 90 percent complete. The rig is a road-warrior. We’ve pulled it to Canada and Yellowstone and even brought it back. Eighty bumper stickers now blanket the Caveman. ‘Lu Lu’s’ still hangs on and complements a shiny new Harley Davidson decal.
PS: The portable toilet is still in the garage.

Eric Miller is a free-lance writer based in Chico, California. His articles have appeared in California and Colorado newspapers, and magazines. He can be reached at


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