Nimrod Seventy Restoration Project
By Philip Dodd
I always remember going camping with my family. We went on many trips around Texas and other states. My father took a lot of hunting trips through the years as I grew up. I learned to make due with what we had and enjoy every minute of it. I remember not having a camper with us a few times and sleeping out in the open on cots and other "make-do" beds. The thing that I remember the most is just spending time with my family. My father purchased a 1969 Nimrod Seventy. It was the largest popup camper he had ever seen. It is still the largest that I have seen.
This camper was in good condition when my father purchased it. He purchased it in 1975 from the original owner, Charlie who had a wife and six daughters. My father used the camper to go hunting, family trips to state parks and just to go camping in general. Our family used it for several years until my father purchased a Shasta Camper. I loved staying in the Nimrod better than the Shasta, you could hear the animals at night. My father then took the Nimrod to San Antonio where it was placed on a hunting lease. We used the Nimrod for a few years until we started using a camp house in the same area. It was then pulled from the campsite and parked out in the open on the same land . For the next 16 years it sat untouched. My father removed the wheels and set it off the ground on blocks with the tires stored inside the camper.
In 1999 we built a box cabin and hauled it on a flat bed trailer to the deer lease. At that time we had the equipment available to load and bring the Nimrod back to Houston. I thought it would be great time to try to restore it and go camping again! I found the title at my parent’s house and transferred it over to my name in 2002. My father let me use his garage to do the work in. At that time I had very little money to work on it, so I knew I had to do a lot of the work myself. I found a lot of help with local suppliers and camping trailer dealer’s shops.
The camper was in ok shape. Since it sat outside I was expecting rot or unrepairable work. I was hoping for the best when my father and I opened it up for the first time in the driveway. To our surprise there were a few small leaks in the plastic roof but little to no damage inside. The canvas was somewhat dry rotted and I would soon have to replace it. I then decided to take it on its first run as is. Of course, I first had to replace the tire, rims and grease the axle. I also removed the gas tanks in fear of damage to me or the trailer. I washed the outside with regular dish soap to get most of the grime and mold that had built up on it. Then I took it to Huntsville State Park. We found a spot and set it up. It worked great! It did smell a little and needed to breath the fresh air! (HAHA) At that time I noticed some rust and part of the floor was rotting. I also found a lot of old memorabilia, that was a lot of fun! Old lanterns, dominoes, games and other camping equipment were found a long with some of my old toys. I can remember staying up at night watching my parents play games with their friends.
A few months went by after we got back from camping and I started to tear it apart inch by inch. I did not want to change the trailer to bring it up to today’s style at all. I wanted to keep it as original as I could. A lot of the items needed to be replaced or reworked. I had to have an A/C unit for sure to beat the hot Texas summers. The side paint was in ok shape. The paint did have rust spots around the rivets, dents and scratches. I knew then I was going to have to paint it. I also knew that this would not happen overnight and that it might take a year or so. Little did I know it would take longer than I thought.
I started on the outside of the Nimrod. I proceeded to sand the paint in the bad areas and bang out most of the dents. I left a few that I knew would look worse if I tried to take them out. I did not want to use putty or lead to fill in the metal dents. I welded on safety chains to the front. I washed underneath the entire trailer to get it ready for paint. I know it may sound bad, but I used a roller to paint the sides of the trailer. I bought a smooth thin foam roller and the finish came out just fine. I did not have the money or the knowledge to spray it. In the end you could not tell that I used a foam roller at all. I first started underneath wearing a shower cap and painted everything with Rustoleum Heavy Primer Brown. I am sure glad I wore the shower cap, I had paint from head to toe! I then rolled the sides and made sure to cover all the areas that I sanded. I finished the underneath and frame rails with Rustoleum Gloss Black. I replaced the front jack with a new one. I found a jack that I was able to use with the original attachment that was welded already to the trailer. The old jack was stripped the day we went camping in Huntsville while leveling the trailer. I then patched the roof up with the fiber glass. One of my friends worked in an auto body shop and I asked him to spray the final tan color for me. He did it for free. We decided not to try to match the old yellow/tan color but would go with a Ford Tan color that was just as close. It looked a little better for my wife; she thought the original color was too 70’s. I personally liked the yellow/tan myself. (HAHA)
Again, I took everything out of it on the inside. Leaving it empty, I was able to get a good look as to what I had to do. I used a wire brush to scrape the top plastic, which made it look a lot nicer. I then found a few more cracks in the plastic roof. I talked to a few different people on how to repair it and received a lot of good ideas. The easiest and best idea I found was to use a fiber glass repair kit from a local hardware store. The rear plastic panel was in bad shape and need to be replaced or fixed. No one had parts any more for them so it had to be fixed with what plastic I had left. I sanded the inside and used duck tape to patch the holes until the fiberglass gel and patches set. I then flipped it over and filled in the cracks with just the gel. I left the rear panel off so I could work on the sides. The front plastic panel was thin and cracked up as well. Instead of trying to fix it, I bought a fiberglass bathroom shower sheet from the hardware store. I cut and fit it to the front, but I left it off until I painted the sides. All the fixtures were removed and the decals and metal plates were logged and pictures were taken. I took a close look at the floor where it was rotted and decided to let it be. It wasn’t but a small area and I knew it would not hurt the structure of the camper or the rest of the floor. I would have lost the original laminate on the floor if I did have to replace it.
I then knew I had to turn to the professionals to replace the canvas. At that time I was also thinking about how I could add an A/C unit. I did not want to cut into the front of the trailer and damage the structure or change the appearance. I have seen many other old popups this way and I knew it would work just fine. It was just not what I wanted to do. I then figured since I was going to replace the canvas that I would just set the A/C on the side rail of the camper and build a frame to set in place as needed. That way I could take it out during the winter and only use it for the summer. I bought the smallest unit that would push the most air. After summer was over, I found one at a local hardware shop that was on sale.
I did want to keep the canvas look for the Nimrod style. I searched the World Wide Web for a canvas repair shop. I found many to do the work but chose Canvas Replacements in Loyal, Wisconsin to do the repair. I took a lot of pictures and drew up some plans for the canvas to have zippers and room for the A/C unit. I removed the canvas and shipped it out to them with the pictures and drawings. It took several weeks to get it back. The fit was good and it did need a little change to get it better. It worked out just fine. Canvas Replacements was a great company to work with and handled the job perfectly. I also took out the old carpet that my father had put in and replaced it with a lighter color. The mattresses and bench needed to be worked on next.
The mattress covers were shot. I bought some new foam from The Foam Store Retail Center here in Houston. I then bought painter's drop canvas cloth at a hardware store and took them over to Coleman Upholstery also here in Houston. They covered them in a day. It looked like it was when it was new. I did save the old flower fabric from the covers. I used the old fabric with flowers to make pillow covers that I had my mother-in-law sew for me. I bought some marine canvas material from a fabric store and recovered the bench seats. The table was in good shape as well as the counter top. The stove I left disconnected. I was scared to use it since it was gas and did not want to worry about it leaking. That is the only thing that was changed on the inside. I still had a little more work that needed to be done on the outside.
I work at a sign shop and I am able to recreate most of the sign labels and logos. I went to work on designing the logo to match the original on the sides. I took pictures of the door that had the logo on it and recreated it for the white logos that went on the side. I also used the pictures that were taken to replace the water fill label as well as the VIN# label on the side. The “Seventy” was so faded it was hard to recreate. So I used my own idea of what I thought it looked like. I also added logos to the wheel center caps to give them a nice touch and I restriped the wheels to hide the blue pin stripe that was originally on the new wheels. It is just those little touches that made it better than when it was made. I put the front and rear panels back on. It was almost all the way done with what I wished to accomplish. I was getting anxious to take it out again.
Three to four years of working on it had passed. I needed to take it out for sure. So I rewired the lights and bought new side running lights. The rear plastic lens covers were faded and looked old. I knew I had a plastic polishing cream at work that might do the trick. I polished them by hand and they came out looking like new again. Then we used it a couple of times to go camping in Somerville. We had a blast! It was just like old times again. We stayed up playing games and telling stories. After the last time we went camping that summer, we brought it home and backed it up into our garage. I did not notice the mower behind it and went too far and cracked the back panel again. I knew I needed to paint the panel and this was the perfect time for it. I took the panel back off and put fiberglass in the new crack and sprayed it. I used a new Krylon spay paint that was made to adhere to plastic with a better bond. I put a few light coats on it and then finished with a heavy coat to give it a semi gloss finish that came out great! I put it back on and noticed that the top had to be painted. I have not painted the top yet, but I do plan to in a few months. I did find out that even though we have an a/c unit it was still kind of hot. We found we needed to camp in shaded spots. I was reading Popup Times and found Popupgizmos, a company that sells reflective covers to go over the top of your canvas. I called and sent over my measurements to the guys and they sent the solar cover to me very quickly. I was surprised how easy they were to put on. We went another time and found this stuff really works well! I had to turn down the a/c; it was keeping the camper very cool in the heat of the summer. I think it saved us 20 degrees during the day, and even more at night.
I keep thinking that I should do more to the inside by ripping out the seating and counter top. This way I can redesign it so the table is at the front of the camper and the counter top is turned against the wall. This was a similar layout on later models by Nimrod. I am glad that I have not done the changes. I know it would not be hard, it would just take away more of the appeal of the style Nimrod used to make the trailer. I think not changing the overall appearance keeps it uniqueness when we go camping. Everyone will stare at it when they walk by, some will ask to take a look inside. I have had a few take some pictures of it. I am glad to see so many people interested in the camper.
I do hope that my son and daughter have as much enjoyment growing up and camping with me as I did with my father. The camper will be used by my wife, kids and I for many years to come. Hopefully one of them will keep using the camper well after my wife and I are too old to get around. We do plan on taking trips to Colorado, Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone in the next few years. If you are out camping, keep an eye out, you might see a Nimrod. Please check out the two major companies that I had used that specialize in popup campers:
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