AKA: Undressing Petunia, Part 1

Every morning I look out the window at Petunia and I wonder: What have I done? My friends think I’ve gone off the deep end. Perhaps I have. I’m thinking of renaming Petunia to “Desperate Measures” or “The Bi-Polar-Express.”

Beauty and fear co-exist beneath the surface. You typically don’t have to scratch too far to find it, if you’re willing to look. It’s the peeling back of the layers that is so ungainly. It’s just easier not to.

Petunia with her pants off. The roof is still attached at this point.

Petunia and I seem to be taking a parallel journey right now through the mysterious corridors of reinvention. Let me just say that middle-aged unemployment during a global pandemic with over million people out of work in the U.S. isn’t for sissies.

What surprises me daily is the gamut of beauty, fear, overwhelm, curiosity and satisfaction that I experience on this journey. I’m learning as I go—studying books, participating in online forums and Facebook groups, watching YouTube videos, and spending waaaaay too much time on Pinterest.

All that aside for now, here’s the first thing that I had to accept as a vital element of any restoration (Petunia’s or my own):

The Only Way Out is Through

I feel like I’m driving 90 miles an hour in the dark. My headlights only illuminate the short space in front of me. So that’s where I go. “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning,” as Peter Pan would say. Or until the next curve, bump or detour is revealed.

Speaking of detours…

I really, really, REALLY didn’t want to have to take off Petunia’s outer shell. I honestly thought I’d be sewing curtains and cushion covers, painting some cabinets, laying new floor tiles and calling it a day.

“Wood rot” told me otherwise.

I’ve read blogs by people who ignore the “The Only Way Out is Through” rule. They simply paint the walls, covering the water damage and putting the wood rot out of sight…and therefore out of mind.

Which works great until the rain comes. Or the cold or the heat or the wind comes. Or until you haul your sticks-and-tin contraption down the road:

Here’s what happens when you don’t repair wood rot.
Photo courtesy of VK Lee at Vintage Trailer Talk (amazing folks/super helpful).
https://vintagetrailertalk.freeforums.net

I won’t let this happen to Petunia. Painting over the water damage would be like putting lipstick on a pig. So I’m taking her down to the bones.

In undressing Petunia, I’m removing the aluminum skin bolt by bolt, staple by staple, panel by panel. It’s grueling, dirty, gritty work. I’ve made some intriguing discoveries along the way, however. Something called “Butyl Tape” comes to mind, but more on that another day.

I forge ahead. There is no other choice. (Except perhaps to crawl under the covers and cry for a month of Sundays. But I already tried that. Believe me it doesn’t help.)

So, I collect up my grit and my tool box and get to it.

Petunia undressed. Note structural wood rot. This is why we peel beneath the surface—to repair what is broken.

So, 700+ hex head screws, a collection of rusty staples, brads and spiral-shanked nails, gads of abandoned wasp nests, six vents of varying sizes cemented onto the roof, one broken window, a roof that rolled up like a burrito, three weeks of hard labor, daily ice baths for my hands, and a little help with the big stuff…

…and Petunia is naked.

Oh, the things I found under the surface! Most delightful among these is this awesomely-awesome cool-cat, on-demand, hot water heater. Dig those knobs! I’m in love with this water heater. (Assuming it works, that is.)

On-demand hot water heater. I hope it works…

Imagine my [insert an adjective here that is the exact opposite of “delight”], however, when I pulled off a vent and found an abandoned collection of wasp nests. Ew. Did I mention there were six vents on the roof and a handful more on the sides. Each and every cavity held a universe of wasp relics. Including corpses. Ew. Ew.

Wasps build their nests in the shape of the available space. In this case, the interior of a roof vent. I like their adaptability, but, “ew”.)

I considered myself wildly fortunate that all the nests were long since abandoned and moved on. Ew.

Side Note: I’ll never look at this blog again, I get so creeped out by that picture. But, like I said earlier, the only way out is through.

Moving on to the second vital element in restoring a vintage trailer (and a life):

Leverage.

As my old friend, Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and astronomer, Archimedes (c. 287–212 bc) said: “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.”

Stay tuned!