In April 2013, we (Nathan and Lucy) recently married and full of optimism and creativity, decided that we would find ourselves a vintage caravan and turn it into a cafe. Not exactly a new idea, but with years of experience in the coffee and hospitality industries, as well as respective backgrounds in the arts and business, we figured we were the perfect couple to revolutionize the mobile coffee industry... little did we know what we were in for!
Eager and incredibly naive, we collected our eBay purchased 1964 Franklin caravan (complete with simply divine lace curtains...!) from a farm in Drouin. The sellers were keen to be rid of the mouldy heap, (as well as the homeless man who had been living within!) If only we had read what this hilariously accurate blogger had to say regarding caravan restoration, for in fact - we were to encounter every nightmarish issue listed.
Exactly how not to start things
Keen to get started we began removing the unwanted internals of our new purchase. As work progressed, we began to realise that the putrid mouldy smell did not, in fact, originate from the offensive mattress, curtains or timberwork (though I can assure you they contributed!). Concerned but optimistic we proceeded to remove the kitchenette. And that is where we learnt lesson 1 in caravan construction.
Lesson 1: APPARENTLY INTERNAL STRUCTURES ARE IMPORTANT TO THE STABILITY OF THE CARAVAN FRAME
Yes. That happened. The aluminium shell of the caravan turned out to be attached to the chassis by nothing more than some mouldy wallpaper, plywood, and the burnt out wiring and pipes that ran through the kitchen unit. This unit itself actually rested on the air as the floor beneath was completely rotten away, hence removing the kitchen (apparently a rookie error - or so we've since been told by seasoned caravan restorers) results in the above. Needless to say at this point all enthusiasm for this project had dissipated, so naturally, we called our good friend Michael Bell (builder, adviser, expert and and finisher of all unfinished over-ambitious Nathan and Lucy projects) for help. His response to our description of events went something like this:
"Yoooooooooou absolute iiiiiidiots. There is absolutely no way I am getting involved in this crazy scheme"
But he did.
The following day, we somehow managed to muster a little determination, and propped decrepit Franklin back into some sort of shape. There he stayed for many weeks, unable to be moved, held together with props, car jacks and bricks.
Michael, still maintaining his distance, (but becoming increasingly more interested) suggested a brilliant method to save Franklin. Together, Nathan and Michael re-constructed the caravan, and it was a huge milestone to be able to lay down a new floor, and remove the car jacks.
Don't think we're going to get this done in 8 weeks...
Following the joyous repair of the caravan frame, we found ourselves back at where we had planned to be about 3 weeks earlier. Inspired by a ripper caravan renovation we had seen using ply wood we decided to go for the natural wood grain look. This required cutting sheets of ply wood exactly to size to fit the walls and ceiling. Simple enough? Not exactly, since nothing in the caravan was square, and each side was completely different from the others.
And so ensued 4 weeks of jigsawing, wedging, gluing and screwing sheets of ply to the inside of our caravan.
Apologies to our neighbours for the noise...
Is it going to get fun soon?
FINALLY! the first thing that goes back into the caravan that isn't a sheet of ply! Fed up with wall work one night Nathan decided that the bench seat was going in. So it did - and it was magnificent! We also had got the wiring finished, with invaluable help from Dad!
At this point Michael's interest was reaching bubbling point, and he deigned to help us with the rest of the cabinetry. Naturally, this would not be an easy job either - with all of the timber requiring cutting to shape outside the caravan, and assembling inside as nothing wider than a grown man's shoulders could fit through the tiny door and windows.
Franklin's superb cabinetry is a testament to Michael's attention to detail, patience and craftsmanship!
It was at this point that we realised that our earlier attempts to repair leaky spots in the caravan roof had failed, which brings us to lesson 2 and 3 in caravan renovations.
Lesson 2: CARAVANS AND WATER ARE NOT FRIENDS.
As a result of this, we are qualified to say that Sicaflex is probably the best product on the planet. And that it's also really hard to get out of hair, skin and clothing.
Something that looked a bit like a scene from a Worksafe ad
Lesson 3: WHEELY BINS ARE NOT ADEQUATE OR SAFE SUBSTITUTES FOR LADDERS
That is all.
It actually does start to get a little bit fun
After 12 gruelling weeks we finally made it to the painting stage. It took three weekends of sanding, painting, sanding and painting, but finally Franklin was starting to look less derelict and more like a caravan that people might fall in love with. We were even noticing that as time went on we hated Franklin less, and were starting to feel somewhat fond of the little nugget.
A marriage building experience, or so we called it.
With a food safety inspection looming, the deadline for our first event already extended and money running out we had to finish Franklin. In a frenzied manner lino was installed, plumbing and hot water service fitted, curtains sewn, cafe stock sourced, caravan registration completed, insurances paid, forests worth of paperwork completed and finally we were installing our beloved coffee machine.