The Washington Times-Herald

Breaking News

State News

January 22, 2013

Vintage campers aren’t just a job for Peru native

PERU, Ind. — Dan Piper says he has an incurable disease. He calls it “silver fever.”

The main symptom? According to 54-year-old Piper, it’s the obsessive urge to collect shiny, metallic vintage camping trailers.

He first caught the bug in his late 20s, when he purchased a small, beat-up 1960s Shasta trailer for around $200. He patched up the leaky roof, made some other repairs and started camping in it.

After that, Piper said the silver-fever obsession took its full affect.

“At the time, I thought I was the only old-trailer nut out there,” he said. “I thought there was something wrong with me. I was crazy. But once I started looking on the Internet, I realized there’s a lot of us trailer nuts out there.”

That realization led Piper to found Vintage Campers — a 16-year-old business just south of Peru that buys, sells, restores and repairs old campers for vintage aficionados all across the country, and even all over the world.

Piper said his business deals almost exclusively in 1960s-or-older campers, like the iconic Airstream, and the dealership is really the only one of its kind anywhere in the Midwest. You’d have to travel to New York or California to find something similar, he said. They do full restoration work on old campers, sell a slew of original parts, and have shipped vintage trailers to places as far away as France, Germany and Japan.

“It’s a very niche market, and without the Internet we wouldn’t exist,” he said, noting about 90 percent of his business is done online. “But through it, we can reach the world ... It’s amazing. It’s crazy.”

Vintage Campers is such a rarity that it recently caught the attention of cable station HGTV, which spent a day last year filming his collection for an upcoming show on vintage campers and the subculture.

It’s not the first time the business has attracted media attention. Ten years ago, Piper said, he sold two trailers to a film company to use in the 2003 movie “Big Fish,” starring Danny DeVito and Ewan McGregor. He also rents them out to companies who want to use antique campers in TV commercials.

But you probably wouldn’t guess at Vintage Campers’ national acclaim just by driving by it.

Piper runs his business out of the old Miami County Home, 2574 S. Strawtown Pike, that used to house the county’s poor and destitute. Now the rooms inside the mansion-sized building are packed with old toilets, handles, sinks, doors, windows and piles of small, obscure vintage camper parts.

Outside in a large open field, rows upon rows of metallic trailers glint in the sun. Near the house, an old beat-up Airstream serves as a cozy home for Piper’s dogs. Other trailers are packed with various supplies for the business.

Although Piper said there’s always been a market for antique trailers, he said it’s really picked up in the last few years as retro-themed 1950s stuff has become more mainstream. Just last year, he said he’s noticed vintage trailers in commercials for McDonald’s and Progressive Insurance.

“It’s a growing market, and it’s really growing fast,” he said.

Now, after eight years as a full-time dealership, Piper said they sell about 25 units a year, and ship out around five packages of vintage tailer parts everyday. They’re currently working on fully restoring a 1960s camper a man shipped to them from West Virginia. He said they’ve received so many repair orders that they’re currently about six months behind.

But when it comes to actual customers stopping by in Peru, Piper said during a good week they’ll only see three or four people.

It may be pointless to question why Piper loves vintage trailers so much. After all, who can know the reasons of the heart?

But Piper said he does have his reasons.

“The stuff that they build now, they slap it together pretty quick,” he said. “They’re more concerned about quantity than quality. The stuff I deal in are riveted-constructed trailers. So they’re not just old — they’re the old ones that are built like airplanes. They’re so much more durable.”

Then Piper said there’s the aesthetic appeal.

“They’re just a cool looking rig, whether you’re driving down the highway or pulling into a camp ground,” he said.

Although Piper obviously aims to make a living dealing in vintage campers, he said at his core he’s not a businessman — he’s a collector. In the lot outside the house sit 15 trailers — ranging from a long, slender 1947 Curtis Wright Model 5 to a boxy 1964 Liberty — that make up Piper’s own personal collection. He said these aren’t for sale, just his own personal enjoyment.

“I love to go out and find the trailers,” he said. “That’s the fun part of the business. Restoring and working on them — that feels too much like work to me.”

1
Text Only
State News
  • nws-gb011714 Land Zeppelin 2 (front page pic) Inventor hopes Bike Zeppelin takes off GREENSBURG - A local civil engineer has created a Zeppelin-shaped apparatus that allows bicyclists to ride in the rain without getting wet. Greensburg resident Jim Gorman remembers the day that inspiration struck: Nov. 22, 2011. It rained all day, an

    January 17, 2014 3 Photos

  • Legislator pushes for public disclosure of former meth homes INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Wendy McNamara knew methamphetamine was a scourge on her district in southwestern Indiana, but the damaging effects of the drug really hit her when she met a real estate appraiser who’d suffered lung damage after visiting a

    December 14, 2013

  • Bird statue to be unveiled in Terre Haute Serving double duty as a baseball infielder for the American League's Toronto Blue Jays and basketball guard for Brigham Young University, 20-year-old Danny Ainge found time in March 1979 to drive from Provo, Utah, to Salt Lake City to catch an in-pe

    November 5, 2013

  • news school bill.jpg Pence announces school safety grants

    Flanked by fourth-grade members of the Ambassadors Club and student council at Cedar Elementary School here, Gov. Mike Pence announced more than $9 million in grants for schools statewide to enhance their security.

    November 1, 2013 1 Photo

  • Coats returns home to listen to Hoosiers INDIANAPOLIS -- Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats returned home to Indiana this week, hoping to turn the political conversation away from a failed GOP strategy that partially shut down the federal government and toward what he sees as more critical issu

    October 24, 2013

  • Congressman standing firm on government shutdown

    Todd Rokita of Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District has been an outspoken opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — a k a Obamacare — since it was signed into law in 2010.

    On Tuesday, the first day the federal government partially shut down in 17 years, the Republican congressman wasn’t backing down.

    October 1, 2013

  • Laws that carry automatic loss of driver's license under review INDIANAPOLIS -- The legislative study committee that proposed the massive rewrite of Indiana's felony code will soon take on another tough issue: The automatic penalty that causes thousands of Hoosiers to lose their driving privileges for committing

    September 19, 2013

  • Gingerich_AP PHOTO.jpg Prison sentence of 12-year-old prompts new juvenile sentencing law

    Three years ago, when 12-year-old Paul Henry Gingerich became the youngest person in Indiana ever sent to prison as an adult, his story gained international attention and sparked questions about whether children belong behind bars with grown-up offenders.

    June 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Supt_Ritz 1 .jpg Ritz orders independent analysis of ISTEP results

    Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz has hired an outside expert to determine the validity of ISTEP+ test scores of nearly 80,000 students who were kicked offline while taking the high-stakes standardized test.

    June 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • State won’t use free lunch program as poverty indicator

    Indiana is changing the way it counts low-income students in public schools because Republican legislators suspect fraud in the federal school-lunch program used to measure poverty.

    May 23, 2013