Happy Trailers

Photo by James BunoanIf vintage travel trailers are your meat, then Craig Dorsey of Anaheim-based Vintage Vacations is your butcher.

He's known nationwide for dragging home dented-up carcasses of Silver Streak Rockets, Shastas, Westcrafts, Spartanettes and Hollywood Nomads and—after months of restoration—turning them into freshly varnished, painstakingly polished, overreupholstered filet mignon.

They're too beautiful for you—literally; you can't afford them unless your last name is, maybe, Segerstrom, Bren or Campbell. As in actor Billy Campbell, J.Lo's husband in Enough, whose Silver Streak Rocket trailer Dorsey revived/upgraded to the tune of $180,000. He also did one for the producers of TV's Touched By an Angel.

That doesn't mean you can't dream. Vintage Vacations' sixth annual trailer rally is Thursday-Sunday, May 6-9 at Newport Dunes RV Park. Their public open house hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday—but I suggest getting there early. You don't want to be one of the 40 spectators Dorsey estimates they'll have to turn away.

The first year's rally drew 29 trailers and 150 people, he tells me on the hottest spring day ever, as I spin around his warehouse, disoriented by 120-degree heat and 360 degrees of aluminum trailers and his own two wooden boats. The fifth year—last year—attracted 105 trailers. This year's spaces are completely sold out.

I get it: these things are gorgeous when they're finished—time machines you can truly inhabit. But I can't help but wonder why—who these people are, where their money goes, why they're compelled to revive 50-year-old land yachts with massive infusions of '50s fabric and linoleum, and lug them all the way down to Newport.

“There are two types of people [doing this]: the hot-rod people who are going to restore it themselves,” Dorsey told me. “And the people who want it but they're all thumbs. They want the vintage look—they've seen modern RVs. You walk into one of those things, and . . . you're cold.”

Sweat has glued my wifebeater to my back in this humid, airless cavern, but Dorsey actually shudders as he speaks, conjuring up the modern Winnebago's antiseptic, plastic chill. He empathizes with people who, like he, wore all vintage clothing until they “outgrew” it (spare tire); men and women seduced into letting old things rule their lives, held hostage by their possessions.

A former art director at Lyons Studios in Newport Beach, Dorsey burned out on set design—but at age 45, he'll gladly spend 14-hour days mopping nicotine stains off the inside of a Spartan Manor, repainting Masonite faux-tile in a tiny bathroom, or repairing the birch and Douglas fir paneling in his own 1947 Westcraft.

“I gave up heroin for trailers, if you know what I mean,” he said half-jokingly. “For me, it's not owning them. It's the thrill of the hunt and restoring them. Once they're done, they're done.”

The truth emerges as Dorsey's eyes light up while describing a collapsible hinge he made to help conceal a flat-screen TV in just three-quarters of an inch of space. His is a labor of love.

The cobbler's kids, he tells me, are shoeless: after months, Billy Campbell hasn't picked up his $180,000 trailer. When Dorsey tells me he doesn't charge clients storage fees, I wonder if Campbell's Rocket is paid for.

Some day, this craftsman plans to be doing two, possibly three $150,000 trailers per year—spending $50,000 on time and materials, banking the rest. But he's not there yet; this rally is killing him, he says—physically (he's got a whole trailer to primp the week before) and monetarily (trailer admission fees are going to the park proprietors).

This, he claims, will be the last free rally. He's starting a spin-off website this summer, www.vintage-vacationland.com, to sell vintage trailer accouterments. He wants to make money from it. More money. Regular money.

And his sights are firmly set on “the third type of trailer people, the instant-gratification people. They've got to have it now. I'll have trailers at the rally for sale. I may sell one this weekend.”

The trailer restorer's kids need new shoes, too.

Vintage Vacations' sixth annual vintage trailer rally at Newport Dunes RV Park, 1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 729-3863; www.newportdunes.com; www.vintage-vacations.com. Thurs.-Sun., May 6-9. Public visiting hours, Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Parking, $8.

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