With 3 months to go, restoring this ’50s Little Gem camper is all about cabinets

Austin Turnes / Mr. Vintage Restoration

The Little Gem is beginning to look like one. Austin Turnes’ restoration of a dilapidated 1956 Little Gem camper trailer, a story we originally featured in September, has made steady progress in the last month. In fact, it has walls, a roof, and fresh shellac—with more to go—and the cabinets are being fitted.

Turnes, who restores classic campers in his garage in Middleville, Michigan, plans to take the finished product to Arizona for Barrett-Jackson’s annual Scottsdale auction in January 2023. There’s still plenty of work left to do, however.

“Life has been pretty crazy,” Turnes says, “but we’re moving along.”

Turnes’ latest video update shows just how much progress has been made.

He shares a couple of ways to curve wood and emphasizes the importance of block-sanding every inch of the quarter-inch birch paneling, vacuuming the dust, and protecting the floor and wheel wells from shellac overspray, as well as wearing the proper safety equipment. We also get a look at the green and black Marmoleum flooring, which he says, “is basically the modern equivalent of what your grandmother had in her kitchen in the 1940s.”

Beyond the video, Turnes has spent considerable time searching the area for enough of his favorite shellac to add the “five or six coats” required to give the paneling the appropriate sheen. He has also been building cabinets to replace the rotted ones that couldn’t be saved.

“Curved cabinetry is a new one for me,” Turnes says. “The rounded front is not ‘original,’ but it churches it up real nice. Very time-consuming, but hopefully the next one will go faster now that my process is down.” (For those unfamiliar with cabinetry lingo, the central panel on a “cathedral” door features an arched top edge, reminiscent of a church window.)

Turnes sadly admitted that the project also suffered “a little catastrophe” when he dropped the original taillight, but he’s hopeful he’ll find a replacement in a junkyard or on eBay before long.

“All bugaboos aside,” he says, “I’m pretty happy with how the progress is going and feel confident I’ll be done with the trailer by mid-to-late December.”

We’ll keep you posted.

Austin Turnes

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