Home » This 70-Year-Old Silver Dome Is A Vintage Trailer Without The Headaches Of An Old Camper

This 70-Year-Old Silver Dome Is A Vintage Trailer Without The Headaches Of An Old Camper

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I’ve long said that if you’re looking for a camper with tons of style, get yourself something vintage. A pretty, classic camper can make you fall in love so much that you’ll turn your head and look as you walk away, just as you would a favorite car. What’s not so heartwarming is dealing with outdated appliances, old wiring, and plumbing dated enough to collect retirement checks. That’s why I dig this 1953 Silver Dome 25-foot trailer. It’s 70 years old but has been modernized just enough that it shouldn’t be a total headache.

If you haven’t heard, we’re looking for a motorhome to call the official Autopian mobile command post! We have somewhat strict requirements. The motorhome has to be quirky with enough room to sleep a few of us. We’d prefer something with a manual transmission and some history. For an example of what we’re looking for, we tried to buy an Ultra Van without any luck and for a while, we were also obsessed with a horse-hauling Volvo truck. I’m still searching for the perfect command post, but along the way, I am finding some awesome history, like this 70-year-old Silver Dome trailer.

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Silver Dome Inc.

This trailer was built by Silver Dome Inc. of Kalamazoo, Michigan. According to a Doctoral dissertation by David Leroy Harmon published by The Iowa State University, Silver Dome was founded in 1924 in Detroit, Michigan as Wolfe Bodies, Inc. by Norman Christian Wolfe. In the early years, Wolfe built truck bodies for both Ford and Chevrolet. Eventually, both companies decided to start building their own bodies, leaving Wolfe without business.

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At this same time, the concept of taking a vacation with a travel trailer was taking off alongside car ownership. As the dissertation notes, when car manufacturers started building their own bodies, auto-body firms shifted into the growing trailer market. This was a time when Wally Byam would begin building the first Airstreams and companies like Covered Wagon would gain traction. By 1932, Wolfe joined the fray and started constructing Silver Dome trailers.

Silverdome
Wolfe Bodies via eBay

As the Smithsonian National Museum of American History writes, the Depression also meant that trailers weren’t just vehicles to get away in, but homes for some. Living in a trailer offered a low-cost alternative to home ownership and if work dried up, trailer owners could pick up their stakes and move somewhere else. Trailer dwellers also didn’t have to pay property taxes, either.

By 1935, Silver Dome had grown to be a competitor for trailer companies, Covered Wagon, Palace Corporation, and Schult Corporation. From 1935 until the United States’ entry into World War II, these companies were known as America’s top producers of trailers. Meanwhile, Airstream, Bowlus, and Curtiss trailers were tailored for wealthier customers. Reportedly, Wally Byam wasn’t fond of the idea of people living in a trailer, and marketed Airstreams for travel, not for living in.

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Silver Dome Inc. via RV/MH Hall of Fame

The history of Silver Dome starts getting cold from there. Wolfe started the American Trailer Company after buying up the remains of Ideal Manufacturing Company. Meanwhile, sometime in the 1940s, Silver Dome Inc. would move from Berrien Springs, Michigan to Kalamazoo. The company would build about 25 trailers a month until the business closed in 1961.

The Tin Can Tourists vintage trailer club notes that Silver Dome was known for its effective advertising, which pitched its trailers as mobile hotel rooms that would save you money in the long run. Silver Dome also pitched its trailers as being perfect for business displays.

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This 1953 Silver Dome Trailer

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That leaves us with the 1953 Silver Dome up for grabs today. It’s not in perfect condition and it’s missing a few pieces, but it was partially restored, leaving behind a mix of original and new parts. As you’ll see, the trailer’s about 95 percent of the way to being a pretty weekend camper.

Advertisements from the 1930s indicate that Silver Dome made trailer exterior walls out of a material called Plymetl. As the name might suggest, this is plywood with sheet metal on top.

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The Iron Age via eBay

In theory, it’s a bit stronger than building a camper out of just plywood, but not on the level of an Airstream or Bowlus. This 1950s model also has a metal exterior skin, but it’s unclear if it’s Plymetl, aluminum, or something else. What is clear is that the trailer is gorgeous. The seller, who picked the trailer up in 2016, says the body was repainted in 2016 and it’s in overall good shape, but there are some waves and imperfections in the 70-year-old panels. A few of the panels were replaced before the paint job and apparently, some of the waves were repaired with Bondo.

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Inside, you’ll find a mix of period-correct design with a few new touches. The seller says that the stove and oven are original and work so well that the stove’s clock still ticks. The trailer has all-new wiring, circuit box, new power outlets, new lights, a new shore power cable, new plumbing, and even a new water heater and toilet. In addition to those fresh bits, the seller says the trailer has new bamboo flooring over a plywood subfloor as well as new tanks, regulator, and lines for the propane stove. Also new is a refrigerator and a microwave in the galley.

Sadly, as the seller says, the trailer was caught in heavy rains before the roof was repaired and that resulted in damage to one of the wood interior ceiling panels. Check out this sweet tour video:

A new panel comes in the sale. Part of this trailer’s charm is the fact that all of that wood inside is real and you get more or less a full-size bathroom as well. Sadly, the trailer’s remodel did not include the addition of holding tanks, but there is a sewer drain. So, unless you add holding tanks, you’ll have to park this at sites with sewer hookups.

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The interior is also unfinished. Up front is a sofa that converts into a bed and in back is a bedroom with a sliding door. The seller was going to add a circular bed but did not get around to it. In this case, that bedroom is a blank slate for whatever you want to put back there!

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Trailerbath

The seller says that all of this adds up to 3,800 pounds and the trailer is ready to go. Maintenance includes repacked bearings, new chains, and a new wiring harness alongside new lights. While I love gazing at original vintage campers, I do like these sort of restored units. If the work is done well, you can enjoy vintage looks without the stresses of dealing with 70-year-old equipment. I also love the fact that while doing work on the unit, the owner didn’t turn it into a totally modern home inside. It looks like the big stuff was done, you’re basically just a second bed away from a weekend trip and a few tanks away from not being tied to a sewer.

It’s a shame this trailer isn’t really for us, but maybe it’ll fit one of you. This trailer can be had for $24,600 from the seller in Moab, Utah, which seems reasonable given how much people want for more famous vintage campers.

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(Images: Facebook Seller, unless otherwise noted.)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

That is beautiful.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
9 months ago

Just think of all the Kittys DT could raise in this thing.

Wpmaceri
Wpmaceri
9 months ago

Ever since I was a little kid in the early 60s, I have been fascinated by travel trailers. The whole idea really gets to me. The way they hitch to the tow vehicle, all the exterior styling and running lights, and the way they follow the tow vehicle is spot on. My parents had a 17 foot Aristocrat Land Commander and I new everything about it. I used to sit in the back seat staring out the rear window for hours. Then when we would park in a campground, suddenly there was a little house in the trees, nothing quite like it. And if it happened to rain, I loved the sound it made on the roof. The older trailers were pretty common in the 60s, do I remember seeing them around. They were like instant time machines. I love the dark wood paneled walls and the old light fixtures. For reasons I still don’t understand why but I still love these great works of art. Back in the 60s it seemed trailers and campers were everywhere, campgrounds were always full and then all of the sudden they all disappeared. I finally figured it out it was the 73 oil crisis. Man that ruined everything and we really haven’t fully recovered. I’m in my late 60s now but still in good shape. I have not owned an RV for a number of years, but l’m going to get back into it. After my trailer days with my parents, I went on and bought a 33 ft Southwind class A motorhome. I had to let that go a few years ago but I am anxious to get back into it. But this time I think I’ll go for a good sized Class C. Maybe a used Tioga, I always liked them. Thanks for the post and the great memories it churned up. I enjoyed it.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

RunaWay, my brother and sister in law lived in one of these 70s. Same make same model same problems just 50 years younger. Sales videos at night? Red Flag. That step up has about 90# capacity. No airflow in those tiny windows. Those big closets? If i open up my hand my pinkie and thumb can touch the walls. I noticed no furniture. You have no room once you put furniture which is why beds at both ends. Whatever they sealed these with turned into a combination sand and solder.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
9 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

It isn’t even at night? And yes, furniture does in fact take up space. It can even happen in a house!

SCJeff
SCJeff
9 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

The guy (seller?) in the video seems very upfront about the positives and negatives.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago

I see the the Autopian crew crisscrossing the country in a refurbished GM Futureliner. That’s if you can find one and if it didn’t cost more than the total net worth of Autopian to refurbish. It’s got that funky appeal and unique style to set you apart from all other rolling writers out there.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
9 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Unobtainiom, last sale 4.1 million

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
9 months ago
Reply to  Hoonicus

Let me check the couch cushions.

Ronald Pottol
Ronald Pottol
9 months ago

Build one on a Tatra T815 chassis. Crazy off road monster.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
9 months ago

Idea for Autopian mobile command post; Take your largest bus and have a fabricator mock up exterior like a GM Futurliner
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Futurliner
then outfit the interior any way you want.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
9 months ago

Moab? I’d just park it at a campground and have a home for when I go wheeling up there.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago

Why can’t normal modern trailers ooze style like this? The interior is all warm wood veneer and made from quality, durable materials, and the exterior is actually styled like a piece of industrial design instead of just a box with random swoosh and squiggle decals stuck all over it. It seems you have to step all the way up to an Airstream or Bowlus to get this level of class today, whereas it used to just be expected

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
9 months ago

I think the most difficult thing about a trailer like this would be trying to figure out what car would be cool enough to tow it. Can’t show up with this thing tailing behind a Buick Rendezvous

AKA Rukh
AKA Rukh
9 months ago
Reply to  ChefCJ

I think a 1950s Ford Pickup, F100 or COE for best results.

Black Peter
Black Peter
9 months ago
Reply to  AKA Rukh

nailed it

ChefCJ
ChefCJ
9 months ago
Reply to  Black Peter

Gotta agree with that

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago
Reply to  AKA Rukh

Nah, back in the day people were towing these with the family sedan/coupe. A late 60s Chrysler Imperial convertible like this one would be perfect.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
9 months ago

Well, most cars back then had more in common structurally and mechanically with contemporary pickups than current sedans

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Exactly! Plus the luxury brands usually had the biggest engines, bigger than the 1/2 ton trucks. That Chrysler I linked to has a 440/4 bbl. It’ll pull this trailer without breaking a sweat.

Brett Stutz
Brett Stutz
9 months ago

I wish you’d credited the author of that Iowa State doctoral dissertation

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
9 months ago

That tow car in the original ad has like what, maybe 65 HP?

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
9 months ago

From what I understand the team is looking for the ability to sleep 4 or 5 comfortably, have space that be converted to or be used a office space.

Have you considered an older 5th wheel with a manual pickup? You would have home to plunk down, a vehicle to drive placed, room for sleeping, eating, showering, and not have to deal with a shitcase.

You can outfit it with solar and batteries or run off the rig to keep it ready. The only issue is you can’t use it in road mode as the slides are not strong enough.

Other than that, an older class A or good bus conversion (who has busses just sitting in warehouses 🙂 )

In any event, invest in a inspection. Worth the 2 grand or so in the long run.

This one is ready to make it your own, though I am not a fan of having everyone in the unit watch me shower. No one needs to see that, no one.

https://www.rvtrader.com/listing/1995-Nu+Wa-SNOWBIRD+31RK-5027132190

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

All trailers are a PITA. I’ve owned my share and I will never buy another one. Mercedes, this is what you want for command central. https://www.rvtrader.com/listing/1988-Revcon-34SE-5021427408 Revcons are way cool, rare, and this one has always been in covered storage. It comes with the service history and looks to be in pretty great shape. I have owned a few motorhomes and while I have never owned a Revcon the company did loan one to me to go to desert races in back in the 1970/1980s. This one should have the 454 Chevy engine. The fridge probably needs the cooling unit replaced. Not hard to do.

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
9 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Smith

I agree if I go RV, it will some time of Motorhome and this is in the strange enough and would be awesome painted/wrapped in black with the Autopian logo.

The trailer was ready for a refit and I am sure they get ahold of a tow rig in matching livery.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
9 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

That will be a lot of wrap as this coach is pretty large at 34 feet.

As cool as the old trailer is I would not want to use it much. It’s more of a park model than a road worthy travel trailer. No holding tanks… This was common in those days. They could be added, maybe. And while under there maybe upgrade the axles and for sure add modern brakes.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

You guys are going to regret a manual rv.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
9 months ago

That is an absolute steal for that price, if you’ve seen what vintage Airstreams and Silver Streaks go for. And this is way cooler, in my opinion. Too bad I don’t have $25k… or a big enough parking spot.

Fuzz
Fuzz
9 months ago

I wonder what the drawbacks are for the caster wheeel on handling? Doesn’t seem like the worst idea, thoguh no one does it so it must have a pretty catastrophic flaw. Probably uneven ground and a propensity to pop the hitch off the ball or lift up the rear end of the tow vehicle.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 months ago
Reply to  Fuzz

I was disappointed to see that this trailer doesn’t have one. Maybe Huibert could chime in on why they’re not used? Castor wobble?

And, what design era would this be considered to be? Time-wise it’s kind of between Machine Modern and Atomic Age, but I’m drawing a blank here

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