What’s not to love about Camper ReParadise’s retro travel trailers?
In 2001, Baltimore resident Brandon Zinninger was temporarily sidelined on cross-country road trip when his car broke down in Salt Lake City. While his rig waited a parts delivery at the mechanic’s shop, Zinninger stayed at a hostel in the Avenues. Over the course of three days, he fell in love with the city and its incomparable mountain access. He decided then that he’d make a move west as soon as he could.
At the time, he worked for his father’s company—a national commercial-industrial painting business. The Zinninger family also worked on home remodel and vintage-car restoration projects, so Brandon grew up learning skills in construction and how to generally get stuff done: engine work, fabrication, electrical and design. “We had our hands on a bit of everything,” Zinninger says with a grin. “It all comes in handy now.”
Looking back, Zinninger appreciates the skills he learned from those many family projects and businesses. They built a solid tool kit of experience that he pulls from daily while running Camper ReParadise, now employing 10 people and operating out of a filled-to-the-rafters 12,000-square-foot workshop off Redwood Road.
It’s a family affair
I’m touring the Camper ReParadise shop early one morning before the work crews come in, led by owner Brandon, his parents Melanie and Steve Zinninger, and Brandon’s aunt, Kathy Miller. They walk me through some ongoing projects, a shop cat named Rivet our constant shadow.
In addition to the expected projects, like the 29-foot 1973 Airstream Sovereign being converted into a rolling display booth and all around off-road party pod for a local outdoor retailer, there’s a shipping container with huge window cut-outs being wired to create a studio space, a horse trailer with full sleeping deck getting a posh re-do, and a massive Sprinter van on deck for a complete interior remodel with custom hand-cut shelving units.
Brandon got the idea for the business in 2011, when his parents came to visit Utah and brought with them a vintage Airstream trailer in dire need of some TLC. Brandon offered to take over the hitch-to-taillight renovation and got hooked on vintage trailer restoration in the process.
“Just like tattoo artists start by practicing on pieces of pig skin,” Brandon explains, “that was my practice project to figure it all out.” They named the trailer The Tattooed Pig in homage to Brandon’s trial run.
And Brandon Zinninger quickly realized that their family’s very high-end custom trailer renovation project was part of a larger national obsession with vintage trailer re-dos, exemplified by an experience Melanie Zinninger shares from the Tattooed Pig’s inaugural year.
“We were in Yellowstone,” she says, “and we came out of the restaurant to see this crowd of people in the parking lot. We thought maybe they’d spotted a bear or some other animal, but they were all looking at our trailer,” in all its shiny glory.
Ahead of the Vintage Wave
Brandon knew he wanted to focus on the highest end of custom restoration. But in the first few years, Camper ReParadise barely had a website running, and they had dabbled a bit in social media, but Brandon says the company started and stayed small by necessity. “We just didn’t have the space to tackle big projects” at their initial location in a zoned mixed-use building formerly housing a 7-Up bottling company.
By 2015, Brandon’s small shop was filled to bursting with his parents’ latest acquisition—a 1953 Boles-Aero Ensenada—alongside a growing number of major trailer renovations and food-truck reconfigurations brought to him through word of mouth.
“Moving here was a huge gamble,” Brandon says of the current location on Redwood Road, “but we can now do major engine work.” That also means they can now also tackle large-scale metal fabrication needed for building new trailers from the axles up, and a slew of other modification projects. “We’ve learned how to design or adapt almost anything,” he says.
In the past couple of years, Camper ReParadise has sent 16 trailers to overseas buyers who’ve requested vintage re-dos or “retro look” new trailers with everything done but the electrical and minor cosmetic work.
Camper ReParadise’s results are pretty stunning, as their growing list of happy clients can attest.
“What we do best,” Brandon says, “is figure out with our clients how to creatively design and adapt their vision,” within the challenges of a very specific mobile environment. “We call it innovation in small spaces,” Miller chimes in.
As the shop fills with its first early morning employees, who are gulping from steaming mugs of coffee and itching to fire up the compressors and get to riveting, I ask if this is a typical day’s workload.
“Sure,” Brandon replies with a big smile, his arms spread wide to encompass the controlled chaos of a dozen on-going projects. “It’s just another day in ReParadise.”
Photos for the story are provided by Joseph D. Roberts