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Happy campers

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins
Kenny Kemp
The Crazy Daisy is set up for photographs in Amiee Figgatt's yard. This is the way the camper is displayed at events and for outings of Sisters on the Fly.
Chip Ellis Brian Farkas poses outside his family's vintage 1955 Cadillac motor home. The hood is up to show off the painstakingly restored original engine.
Kenny Kemp Figgatt and her pup, Rosie, pose inside her refurbished Shasta, decorated in Figgatt's signature "junktique" style. The bed turns into a table and there is a bunk bed above. Everything has a purpose, sometimes two, in the small space.
Chip Ellis Adrienne Worthy (from left), Will Farkas-Worthy and Brian Farkas sit at the dining table inside the RV. Worthy took great care to pick fabric representative of the 1950s, when the vehicle was manufactured.
Kenny Kemp The stove and much of the cabinetry in the Shasta kitchenette are original.
Kenny Kemp Figgatt and her husband painted the camper with automotive sprayers, and Figgatt did the detailing by hand.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The campgrounds at every state park sport a plethora of new fifth-wheels, shiny pull-behinds and an assortment of pop-ups, but interspersed among these shiny modern trailers, you will find some gems of yesteryear.

Like the tiny pink and white trailer Amiee Figgatt, of Charleston, has restored.

In the 1940s and '50s, the then-modern recreational vehicles began to dot the landscape, and movies like "The Long, Long Trailer" starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz revolved around the luxuries offered in the new trailers.

Space efficiency and modern conveniences like tiny stoves and stow-away dining areas were novel and new. The quirky modernities of those vintage campers appeal to many RV owners.

"I started playing in campers when I was 3. I've always loved to camp. We camp as a family, and I love to camp with my girlfriends," said Figgatt, a supervisor at the Capitol Conservation District.

About five years ago, she was at a Country Living Fair in Columbus, Ohio, where Sisters on the Fly were gathered.

"I saw all the cute vintage campers and I thought, 'I can do that!'"

Sisters on the Fly is a national women's camping club that focuses mainly on vintage campers. Women from all over meet at different campsites around the country, pulling their custom trailers behind them.

The only rule of the club is: "No men and no kids," Figgatt said.

Once she discovered Sisters on the Fly, she began the search for a vintage camper of her own. She found on Craigslist her Shasta brand trailer in Ohio. Although the camper was a little worse for wear, it didn't have any leaks, which is the key to a successful remodel, she said.

The interior size of the camper is 60 square feet. In actuality, with a dining table that converts into a bed, there's only about 10 square feet of floor space. When she travels, Figgatt increases her living area by setting up a patio area outdoor, complete with wrought-iron dinette and tin canopy.

If you want vintage, Figgatt warned, you have to be willing to accept a few imperfections. She says vintage campers are like women: "You can't be afraid of dents, dings and dimples. She's old! Be proud. Wear that cellulite. It's OK to be old!"

Figgatt and her husband, Chris, painted the vintage 1966 Shasta compact a vivid pink-and-white combo. She also redid the interior in what she calls a "junktique" style. It is ultra girly, all frills and lace. She christened her trailer "The Crazy Daisy."

The Crazy Daisy has been featured at the arts and crafts show at the Charleston Civic Center and earlier this month at the Country Living Fair in Atlanta.

Her next "victim" is a Shasta "canned ham with ground-pounder fenders" already parked in her yard awaiting its makeover. She said she and her husband will restore this one more traditionally, matching the original teal color scheme as closely as possible, so her husband and son "will be seen in it."

Women interested in "glamping" (glamour + camping), can find the local glampers on Facebook at Appalachian Glamper Chicks Camping Club.

Figgatt isn't the only Kanawha County resident with vintage-camper fever. Brian Farkas, executive director of the West Virginia Conservation Agency, and his wife, Adrienne Worthy, executive director of Legal Aid of West Virginia, have also been bitten by the bug.

Originally from northeastern Ohio, the couple now live in Frame, but they regularly travel to Ohio to visit family.

"We saw it for months, maybe years, sitting beside the road at a used-car lot in Perry, Ohio," said Worthy, speaking of the couple's Cadillac motor home. "We'd stop and look -- we wanted it. Every time we were up there, we'd stop and visit.

"So finally I decided, without telling Brian, to buy it. My family up there was in on the plan. They picked it up and parked it at my parents' house.

"We were headed up for Thanksgiving -- the kids were all in on it. We drove by the car lot, Brian looked and said, 'It is gone!'"

When they arrived at their relatives', Farkas was surprised to find his dream camper parked in the driveway. That was more than a decade ago.

Farkas picked up the story from there:

"We bought it and it broke down on the way home and sat in our driveway for about 10 years," he said. "And we decided we were either going to fix it or get rid of it."

They decided now is the time to fix it, and recently engaged Dave Hudson, of Hudson's Auto Service in Marmet, to rebuild the engine.

The Farkas-Worthys are not campers; in fact, they haven't been camping yet. Farkas said they decided to buy a camper when their three boys were younger, but he had always wanted a vintage Cadillac like his grandfather had.

"When this came available, we thought, 'Wow, it is a camper and a Cadillac -- it fits both needs.'" But after the breakdown and subsequent parking of the motor home, the family's dream of getting back to nature was waylaid.

At this point, they aren't even sure they'll like camping. "Who knows? Maybe we'll fix this up and trade it on a vintage sports car," Farkas joked.

Their Cadillac motor home is a rare 1955 model. The origin of these limited-edition motor homes is hotly debated. Farkas and Worthy's research led them to believe that Superior Auto in Ohio built the motor home on a Cadillac chassis, but even experts at the Motor Home/RV Hall of Fame in Indiana cannot agree where or for how long the vehicles were built.

Hudson helped the couple decided to restore, rather than replace, the motor home's original engine. He showed off a plate on the side of the engine block marking this camper as number 449 of 600. So even if where it was built or by whom is debatable, what is not in dispute is that there were few to begin with and even fewer still around.

The couple have chosen to restore their camper as closely as possible to the original production, picking 1950s-style fabric and keeping the original fixtures. They were lucky to find much of camper's interior -- including the cabinets and countertops -- in serviceable condition.

Figgatt, Farkas and Worthy all agree that for people interested in vintage campers and restoration, there is something for everyone, no matter their budget or tastes. For the do-it-yourselfers, the possibilities are endless.

Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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