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Doug Clark: Couple’s hobby is creating trailer treasures

The bare bones facts are simple and straightforward.

Doug Johnson and Teresa, his wife of 35 years, have taken up the ambitious hobby of restoring and modernizing vintage travel trailers.

In fact, the Johnsons’ hobby is as much about evoking smiles as anything.

I started grinning like a fool the moment I laid eyes on the couple’s current cutie: a baby-blue and white-striped 1956 Aloha whose curvy shape lives up to the “canned ham” nickname that trailers of this era are known by.

I first laid eyes on it a few weeks ago when I joined the Eastern Washington University band for the home football game against South Dakota State.

Tailgating fixtures at Eastern games, the Johnsons moored their Aloha and set up a large, heated tent beside it in the parking lot near Roos Field.

The day was so cold that politicians actually had their hands in their own pockets.

Even so, I stopped to gawk, ignoring the freeze while the band meandered into the warm confines of the Reese basketball complex.

After the game, I stopped again and introduced myself.

Teresa is a nurse in Spokane. Doug is recently retired, he said, from a longtime job with Central Pre-Mix.

The Johnsons said they’d be glad to chat more about their hobby, so last week I met Doug at the couple’s beautiful yellow farmhouse, set on 10 acres near Diamond Lake.

Sitting inside the Aloha, Johnson, 56, attempted to explain why these outdated canned hams resonate with so many of us.

“Retro is in,” he told me, adding that his love of things vintage extended to cars and all sorts of golden oldies.

I enjoy a lot of old stuff, too. Especially things with real style, like the Aloha.

Johnson said he got the urge to try trailer restoration six years ago while attending a car show. The place was littered with classic autos. Yet it was a restored vintage trailer that drew the most attention.

The Johnsons took a look and declared in unison:

“We have to do this.”

Their first project, he said, was a 1968 Kit trailer that they used before selling.

That’s the plan, said Johnson.

“This is a hobby I can turn into a moneymaker.”

One of the coolest things about the Johnsons’ trailers is the way they update the interiors with modern creature comforts: flat-screen TVs, microwave ovens and maybe an electric fireplace to “set the mood” when you’re out “glamping,” as it’s sometimes called.

Johnson credits his wife as the interior designer. A quilter, she uses her seamstress skills to create custom curtains and seat covers like the wine bottle theme inside the Aloha.

The Johnsons bought the Aloha after they sold the Kit. The exterior was already done, so they concentrated their efforts on revamping the interior.

“Every place we take this, it’s a real attraction,” he said. “Whenever we stop at a rest area, we’ve found that we’re going to be there a while.

This trailer is a magnet for attention.”

Johnson said he met Teresa on a blind date back when they both were attending high school in Republic.

Obviously a great team, the Johnsons are already working on their next project, a ’68 Aloha. The interior is already being transformed into a diner theme with a black-and-white checkerboard floor, bar stools, a jukebox and modern red appliances.

Like the Aloha, Johnson figures this one will be a crowd-pleaser, too.

“We build them, enjoy them and create some memories along the way,” he said. “Then we sell them and move on.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.


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