By the time we cracked the lid on our first gallon of primer, now four weeks into Elsie’s renovation, it was questionable whether either one of us could have passed even the most forgiving psychiatric assessment [see video below for re-enactment]. We’d spent the last several weekends stripping contact paper from every square inch of the trailer, heat gun in one hand, paint scraper in the other [see: Elsie & The Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Contact Paper]. We’d burnt the tips of our fingers, singed the hair on our forearms, melted our own shoes to the floor. We’d cracked our shins on the trailer steps, ground our knees into loose screws and gravel, smashed our heads into the overhead lights with comical (depending on who you ask) regularity. We stopped showering—a wasted effort. The few times we risked it, we found ourselves covered in sweat and sawdust and construction glue all over again within the hour. I admit it: we let ourselves go.
Dear Diary: It’s been days since I’ve felt the sunshine on my face. I fear I’ve begun to lose sight of what it is we came for. Mel refuses to leave her corner. She’s been there for days – or is it weeks? - scraping the same spot. There is no contact paper left, but she scrapes on. What is it she is scraping for now? I do not know how much longer we can hold on…
Despite our plunge into lunacy, we pushed forward. Outside, snow piled up on the Vaughan homestead. We closed the windows in the trailer, cranked my dad’s old space heater as high as it would allow. Like an old radiator, you could hear it ting and pop as it warmed up. My brothers had returned for the holidays, and they were trying their best to feign enthusiasm for our project. Though we’d made a huge amount of headway since we first towed Elsie home, she still wasn’t much to look at. Just a pile of scrap metal on wheels, gutted interior. They’d probably seen three or four similar trailers abandoned in shelterbelts and parked in salvage yards along the highway as they drove to Broken Bow from the airport.
Once the walls had been freed of the tyranny of the faux-wood grain contact paper, we began the priming process. Because the original 1968 FAN design called for contact paper, little priority had been given to the aesthetics of the wood underneath. After we applied the first white coat, it became clear just how porous the paneling really was. The paint threw into relief every tiny pock and soft spot, leaving large swaths of wall-space looking like they’d barely been touched by the roller. So, we added a second coat: to the walls, the cabinets, the bench seats, the doors—all of it. And then again, this time with my oldest brother’s help (thanks Andy, but we found a few spots you missed!), and finally a fourth time until the walls couldn’t soak up any more primer and those pocks and pores (mostly) disappeared. Each coat took three to four hours, much longer than it would have taken us to paint a much larger room of a more standard shape—not that we were oblivious to the plethora of maddening nooks and crannies. Our battle with the contact paper had taught us many things, one of which was Franklin A. Newcomer’s flair for sadistic design. More than once, we found ourselves taping a brush or paint roller to the end of a broom handle to overcome these trouble spots.
With each new coat of primer came a gradual lifting of our spirits. Just yesterday, it seemed, we had opened the door to Elsie for the first time and stared into the abyss. The contact paper. The evergreen curtains hanging like forgotten Christmas greenery over the windows. The seat cushions wrapped in drab olive upholstery. When we first bought Elsie, she resembled something unspeakable, only smaller. But now, the curtains were gone, the upholstery was gone, the sun beamed in through the windows, and the walls - whiter by the hour - seemed to emit a light themselves. Later, we added the finish coat, a shade called “Bistro White.” Damn if I didn’t feel like coffee. Suddenly, we were standing in a new trailer. We could breathe again. What once felt suffocating now felt – if not spacious – exceptionally clean and cool and relaxed. For a second, we could picture a home in it.