Trailer Gets Sleek and Sustainable Design

SCI-Arc student Dovid Feld has been helping us work out a new design for our 1951 Spartan Trailer.   The banquette area that wraps around the front windows will be the centerpiece for our indoor events:

Dovid's design envisions a modular banquette area for rehearsals and performances.

The area will be used for rehearsals, discussions, poetry and play readings, as well as art sessions with young people like our buddies the NOMADS. We took our inspiration from 1950′s-style diners. But we had to make sure that the seats would be light-weight so we could transform the space into a “stage” for concerts, puppet shows, etc.:

Vinly upholstery made with low VOCs and recycled content

Check out the upholstery material we are considering!   We are committed to building in a sustainable manner and take pride in doing considerable research before choosing materials.  This material is made from sturdy vinyl but it contains low VOC’s and uses 30% recycled content (20% post-consumer recycled polyester and 10% pre-consumer recycled vinyl).  We got the idea for using this particular brand from some of the students at SCI-Arc who working on a design for the Solar Decathlon, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The front windows have always been a key feature of Spartan trailers; the designs are intended to be reminiscent of an airplane cockpit.  However, the windows are fixed.  To open them up requires cutting into the skin and frame – not an easy feat.  The Spartan’s aluminum frame (a monocoque design) accounts for 70% of the trailer’s strength.  Cutting into it involves risk and opens up the possibility of leaks.

The bay window area of our 1951 Spartan is a great design. But the windows are fixed; we want to open them out. The job represents a considerable engineering challenge.

We’ve found the right guy for the job – Eddie Paul from EP Industries.  Opening up the windows, will allow us to make art (puppet shows, shadow plays, dances) available to outdoor audiences.  A small portable stage over the trailer tongue will add further possibilities:

The windows will open and a portable stage will go over the trailer tongue.

How is this all going to work?  We’ll figure that out as we go along, with the help of playwright and puppeteer Leila Ghaznavi and friends.  Her “Silken Veils” will be used as a template for other shows:  the audience will be seated outside;  marionettes and shadow puppets will be stage inside with actors and musicians on the outside stage.

Leila Ghaznavi’s “Silken Veils” will be used as a model for other performances we can stage in and around the trailer.

We’ve got a ways to go before we finish the restoration.  But we have a great new design to keep us motivated.  (Thanks, Dovid!)

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

Sam’s post #5: Nomads Animate Home

MVI_4675 MVI_4678

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

Nomads: From Empty Spaces Emerge Dreams – And Possibilities

Click to view slideshow.Gallery Photos by Karina YanezTo control slideshow speed,  place your cursor over  the slide and  press the  pause/start button.

As part of the Trailer Trash Project,  Sam will be working with the Nomad Lab Art Project, a program for at-risk children aged 6-14.  and their parents from the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood in Santa Clarita, CA.  The program currently offers art classes or labs) in writing, photography, guitar and public art.  Computer and cooking classes are available for parents.   It is run under the voluntary direction of Evelyn Serrano who also teaches a class on art and activism at CalArts.

The classes focus on the meaning of home – a theme Serrano has previously explored in her work as an artist and curator.  Coincidentally, it is also the theme that Sam is focusing on in his Trailer Trash project. On November 6th, Sam brought the Spartan to the Nomads, asking for their help figuring out what makes a house (or a tin can) a home.

The following article describes how the NOMAD LAB Art Project got started.  Over time, Sam’s Spartan Revival will keep you posted on the design ideas the Nomads come up with for the trailer.

They gather in empty spaces to turn dreams into art.  And as they draw and write,  they are planting the seeds of a peaceful community.

Meet The Nomads, children aged 6-14, who gather Wednesday and Saturday mornings at The Village Apartment Complex in Santa Clarita’s Valle del Oro (VDO) Neighborhood.  Here they have time to slow down, to get to know and trust each other.

The NOMAD LAB Art Project offers labs (or classes) in photography, public art, story telling and guitar. At the same time, their parents can participate in cooking and computer labs.   But art is just a starting point. It provides opportunities for neighbors in Santa Clarita’s troubled Valle del Oro Neighborhood to come together to explore what they like and what they want to change in their community.

“If we are successful, the kids and their parents will get to know each other,” says artist and NOMAD LAB organizer, Evelyn Serrano. “They will learn to be tolerant and respectful of each other.”

The program started off modestly enough last year with 30 children and Serrano as their  teacher.  Since then attendance has doubled to 60 kids and their parents, with five teachers, some from Serrano’s class at California Institute for the Arts.  Classes are free and everyone works on a volunteer basis.

“It’s a great program,” said Cynthia Llerenas, Community Services Supervisor for the City of Santa Clarita.  “I would like to see it modeled in different locations.”

Llernas, who also head’s the City of Santa Clarita’s Anti-Gang Task Force,  was an important force in helping Serrano get the program up and running.  Two years ago she was attending meetings with the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Committee to address problems of crime and racial tensions in their community.  Neighbors were feeling unsafe and they were their fingers at the young people.

Serrano, who was living in the Valle del Oro Neighborhood at the time, was aware that youngsters were joining gangs in the 5th and 6th grade.   As an artist and teacher committed to community art,  she agreed to run a program for at-risk youth in the neighborhood.

“Having worked with kids, I knew we shouldn’t place all the blame on them.” she explained. “The truth was more complex. There were no after-school or weekend programs in that area of town.  We needed to provide positive alternatives to gangs. And the voices of young people needed to be part of the solution.”

She went in search of a venue for classes, approaching the local elementary school and a youth organization. All requests were denied until she got a green light the management company at The Village – an apartment complex where much of the trouble was taking place.  Classes could meet in a vacant apartment until it was rented out and they would have to move into another one that was vacant.   The changing venues inspired the name, The Nomads.

“It’s like we are a gang,” explained Serrano. “But what we offer is another way of being together.  A lot of our kids see violence in their homes.  Art is the starting point for them to learn how to be together respectfully, to learn to collaborate successfully when we work.”

Nomads who participate in the writing, photography and music labs sit on the floor or in folding chairs. The minimalist, temporary nature of the venue creates a setting that seems conducive to creative output.

The public arts lab, taught by Serrano, takes place outside in the apartment courtyard. They are encouraged to closely observe their community and think about what they like about it and what they would like to change.

(See photo gallery of the public art lab: The Art of Observation.)

“I want the labs to be a special opportunity for the kids to re-engage with their neighborhood.  I want them to re-consider what it takes to make their home and community safe, healthy and sustainable,” Serrano explained.

Cynthia LLerenas is pleased with how all the pieces of this program are falling into place, and she wishes similar opportunities were open to other young people.   “If we had recreational opportunities for kids in every apartment complex it would eliminate 95% of our problems,” she says.

Her experience working 17 years as a prevention specialist has taught her a thing or two. “Kids don’t want to be involved with gangs, but they get sucked in, partly because there aren’t other viable alternatives, partly because the parents have lost control at home.  But there are no easy fixes.  A program like the NOMAD LAB requires on-going commitment from organizers, teachers and parents:  “You have to be passionate and you have to have a vision.”

“These kids are finding their niche,” she says.  ”Some of them come from a background where they have no self-esteem.  Now they are raising their hands in class and trying out for sports.  It’s all about building confidence.”

A big part of her job is to help parents and youth to learn how to access resources that will help them keep their neighborhoods safe.   In meetings that take place after the labs, parents learn how to access social and legal services as well as employment opportunities.   For communities to be sustainable, so it is important the talents and resources of people who live in the neighborhood must also be utilized.

Serrano says the mothers are in the cooking lab are “incredibly bright and resourceful.” Their energy and organizing talents help make the whole project run smoothly. It’s not just the moms.  When Nomad dad Jose Chunga  proposed labs for parents, he volunteered  himself to teach a computer class which has become a success.

Serrano says the NOMAD LAB Art Project is all about breaking down walls of fear and insecurity between neighbors.   “It’s hard for people to invest in their community when they are afraid of each other.  We are trying to create a safe context for people to interact and see each other as people who are very rich in resources.”

As for the kids, Serrano hopes that the observation skills she is teaching them as artists will carry over to change the things they don’t like about their community.   “I want them to learn to be critical observers in a positive way.  I would like them to ask themselves: ‘What is my say? Even though I am young, I have a lot of power.’”

“If we do anything right at least we can give them models and other alternatives about what a home can be.  We can encourage them to become dreamers.  And their dreams can influence their lives and the lives of other people.”


The NOMAD LAB Art Project is a collaborative effort between the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Association, the City of Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles County Human Rights Commission and The Village Apartments.

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.

Sub Floor: Wicked Choices

Preparing a sub floor (from an unrelated restoration)

Preparing a subfloor (photo from an unrelated restoration)

We have three weeks to get the sub floor in before the Spartan gets towed to Newhall to meet with the Nomads  on November 6th. (see Sam’s post 3)  So much to do!  Sam is scraping off all the old rust off the chassis.  Then he’ll use POR15, a product that forms a protective coating by bonding with rusty metal.  There is nothing green about this product.  The other option was to remove the trailer skin and transport it to Van Nuys for sand-blasting and powder coating.

Meanwhile, we have to search for suppliers for the sub floor lumber, floor insulation, belly pan and grey water tanks.

Lumber Many, if not most, vintage trailers have rotting floors from water damage due to leaks from windows, metal seams, ceiling vents and

Bathroom floor was rotted from leaks

plumbing. Then there’s the vapor that forms under the floor and walls.  After 60 years, the Spartan had all of the above.  The sub floor was rotted and had to go.  But replacing a trailer’s sub floor (all or part) can be a challenge.  Seems like there are as many ways to go about it as there are people willing to tackle the job.

Marine grade plywood is worth the extra expense.

Sam has already cleared out the trailer and has a clean slate.  He’ll use 3/4″ marine grade plywood.  We’d like to use sustainable lumber.  But that brings up all sorts of questions (It looks like this is going to require a steep learning curve.  See Treehugger links below.)                                                                  FSC lumber is available about an hour away.  But even that may not meet the standards of all environmentalists. It’s also a speciality item, stored in a separate lumber yard, required special delivery. For now we have to compromise.  We are looking plywood that is pretty green, not treated with formaldehyde and try to do better with the rest of the lumber.

Belly Pan We want a more sturdy belly pan that the conventional MDF or plywood variety that always seem to get damaged from scrapes or rot aways.  Aluminum will also keep out pests.   The thickness: 0.40 or 5053.  Another expense!

Flooring Sam is supposed to refer to the link below for sub-floor installation.

Fiberglass insulation was used under the floor of this restoration- may not the greenest choice but it is relatively cheap. .

There are other options. TRA Certification (Airstreams gets certified by them) suggested Eco Batt by Knauf which has some recycled content and it not supposed to off-gas.  Company site don’t seem to mention where the product is manufactured nor do they mention certifiable fair labor practices

Another solution is a 1.5″ layer of foam spray. A soy or castor oil based variety comes in a do-it-yourself kit. It has a high R value, seals everything in place and keeps bugs out.But it would require all the plumbing and electrical under the floor to be in place before the foam goes in.  How to do that before November 6th?  Sam is in class full-time and is rehearsing for two plays after-hours.

Another looks interesting:  Airstream is using a sheet of plastic on the belly pan then Refletix, which is also recommended by this Airstream forum.  Here is how one of the forum members used a similar product.

I have used Prodex, much the same as Reflectix throughout the whole 26′ restored Argosy. However, I have glued 1″x2″ urethane strips onto the sub floor underside. Cutting the Prodex by 3″ oversize I have overlapped it onto the frame members attaching it with 3M 5200 Fast Cure to the urethane strips and frame. Prodex has advertised “R” value of 14.7. Added air space between bubble foil and sub floor adds about two points in “R” value. I did the same thing in the walls using 1/2″x2″ urethane foam strips in order to create air space on booth sides. I have brought the Prodex along the ribs toward the inner skin trimming the excess 1/8″ high past the rib. This way the inner wall skins sealed the cut edges of Prodex. My 15000 BTU Carrier freezes me out at the lowest setting in 95+ degree direct sun. Thanks, “Boatdoc

Next up: the grey and black water tanks to go under the belly pan.

by the Spartan web lackey


Sustainable Lumber Standards:  Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) vs. Sustainable Forestry Initiative (Treehugger)

Credible Forest Certification

Airstream restoration, including the subfloor:

Partial subfloor replacement:       

This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from as part of our CSPA Supports Program.