Christa and Kurt Johnson of Conifer, Colorado, work in high-class, high-tech industries: She does marketing for resort real estate like the Four Seasons; he’s a software developer. But when they’re on vacation, they don’t call down for room service or complain about the Wi-Fi. They hit the road hauling a 44-year-old Serro Scotty trailer, in search of mountain lakes where cell phones can’t find a signal and starlight serves as the entertainment.
A couple of years ago at a fly-fishing show, Christa saw a display of vintage trailers. Taken with the idea of a wilderness vacation that wouldn’t involve a tent, Christa fell for the iconic Serro Scotty trailer—a brand once common on Western highways. “Kurt thought I was a nutcase,” says Christa, who spent a lot of time online, searching for a not-too-expensive model (used Scottys can range from $500 to $2,500) that wouldn’t require too much work. “The morning I saw the ad for ours, I knew we had to go see it—even though it was two hours away.”
Although that 1968 HiLander needed some serious rehab on the inside, the mechanicals were in good working order. Using the Serro Scotty Camper Enthusiasts website as a resource, Christa started updating their new “vacation home.”
The shell was in relatively good shape; its exterior had even been repainted in the authentic colors. The roof did leak a bit, says Christa, who sealed it with roofing tape. The interior, though, was another story. There, the original (lead) paint was worn away in some places and water damaged in others. Wearing a mask and goggles, Christa sanded down the walls before applying three coats of blue paint to match the original interior color. She also cleaned, scrubbed, and polished the rusted hardware and light fixtures. The window screens were in tatters, so Christa taught herself how to stretch and wrap screens by watching YouTube videos. Then she found a Scotty expert to redo the dinette cushions. She made the curtains herself, using fabric heavy enough to block early-morning sun.
After eight weeks of work, the trailer was ready for their first trip, 10 low-tech days in the Grand Tetons that proved their purchase was right for them. “We can really unplug and focus on us,” says Kurt. Christa agrees: “Being out there clears your mind, clears the clutter. When my out-of-office message says I’ll have no access to phone or email, it’s true.”
Behind this mirrored door, in what was originally a closet, lies the trailer’s little bathroom. It consists of a camp toilet, a tiny vanity cabinet tucked inside the door, a towel bar, and, of course, a magazine rack. The trailer has no shower, so on long trips Christa and Kurt stop at campgrounds to use theirs.
Extra weight means worse gas mileage and handling on hills. The Johnsons use plastic cups and plates as well as metal bowls instead of heavier glass or china, and they pack very few appliances. But the coffeemaker (for when they’re hooked up to the grid) and French press (for when they’re not) are non-negotiable.
The “bedroom” end of the trailer originally contained a sofa that converted into a lower bunk and, above it, an upper bunk. After deciding to keep the lower bunk permanently unfolded as a bed, Christa and Kurt replaced its flimsy mattress with a real one (though only three-quarter full size). They added bins to the upper bunk so they could use it for storage.
Although the bedside lamp is electric, the couple brings LED lanterns for when they’re not staying at a “domesticated” campsite. Their MP3 docking station is also battery powered, and the reading material kept next to their bed is entirely paper based.
In the storage space under the dining benches, Christa stashes toilet paper, paper towels, collapsible water jugs, and extra blankets for cold nights. And if they need a place for a third person to sleep, the table and benches can be turned into a twin bed.
Designed by John Serro of Irwin, Pennsylvania, the first Serro Scotty camper-trailers date back to 1957. The fleet grew to include the popular 10-foot teardrop, the 13-foot Sportsman Sr., and the 15-foot HiLander. The business closed in 1997, but it was resurrected in 2006 as Serro Scotty Worldwide (scottytrailers.com). For used trailers, check serroscottycamperenthusiasts.com, a network of helpful fanatics who collect, rebuild, and refurbish them.