Vintage Trailer Conversions allows people to enjoy the feel of their own homes with them on the road.

 

Lahner’s granite countertop and espresso machine enable the horse jumper to “never leave home” while competing on the road.

The world of competitive horse jumping may not seem like obvious territory to enter when looking for a woodworking market, but it is one that Dr. Peggy Lahner and her business partner, Tom Cartor have embraced as their own niche with their company, Vintage Trailer Conversions, Chesterland, OH.

This niche business developed because of Lahner’s equestrian background and her need for a comfortable living space while traveling with her horses. Lahner has been riding since she was five years old. She went to the national finals as a youth and has continued to ride competitively through the years. Lahner first met Cartor, who has extensive woodworking experience, when she needed renovations done on her 150-year-old farmhouse in Ohio’s Western Reserve of Connecticut region, east of Cleveland.

“I needed some help at my house restoring something, and I was just amazed at the precision of his work,” Lahner explains. “We have since discovered that we are equally picky.

“Tom came to my barn and met my horses,” Lahner continues, “and he saw my horse trailer (a 28-foot, three-horse, Four-Star) that I pull around to all these shows around the Midwest and East Coast. I explained to him that I was tired of staying in hotels and was thinking of turning the dressing room of my three-horse trailer into living space so that when I take my horses to the show, I can stay at a nearby campground and enjoy the atmosphere of staying outside and where it is comfortable for me.”

It was not entirely a new idea. Lahner says converted horse trailers with living spaces are common in the quarter-horse and three-day eventing worlds, but not as common in the hunter-jumper world.

Proving that trailer living does not have to be Spartan, Vintage offers luxury accommodations, as seen here with hickory cabinets and a pressed-tin ceiling.

“People who travel to horse shows only have a few options, like staying in hotels, Winnebagoes or buses,” she says. “Buses are out, because you can’t take your horses with you. I’m kind of on the budget plan. So I had gone to fairs and shows on the different circuits and looked at how other people were doing trailers and got the idea from that.”

Lahner and Cartor took the plans to one of the biggest trailer conversion companies in the Midwest and were told that their idea was impossible. There simply was not enough room to fit a shower and toilet. Heartbroken, they were driving home when Cartor became convinced he could solve the problems and convert the trailer to specifications.

Using water tanks, custom-made to size by a tank manufacturer to fit in the floor joists, Cartor was able to solve some of the space issues and convert the trailer successfully. But he did more than that. Using Lahner’s own home as a model, the builder installed custom-built hickory cabinets with crown mouldings, a granite slab countertop, a pressed-tin ceiling and even an espresso maker. Cartor’s idea was that these familiar elements, complete with patio, would form a personal cottage that would simulate the amenities of home while traveling.

With the successful trailer prototype built, a light went on, as Lahner and Cartor realized that other people would be interested in custom trailer conversions.

“Yes, that’s the niche,” says Lahner. “We build custom trailers, available as turn-key, with customer-selected sheets, towels, dishes and cutlery, or non-turn-key, where the customer supplies his own furnishings.”

Vintage’s niche is in the word “custom,” as opposed to the big-name manufacturers that turn out trailers using off-the shelf cabinetry, Cartor says. “We do not build a trailer like a Chevrolet,” adds Lahner.

Customers of Vintage receive the benefit of Cartor’s woodworking abilities and attention to quality. He explains, “It’s funny, but when you look at our demo trailer, it’s all hardwood-edged, center panels. There is no plywood. I build cabinetry like I build it into a house. It is glued and screwed and doweled and biscuited. There are no nails.”

The results speak for themselves, with Cartor often using his favorite wood, the deep, rich-looking mahogany that he says machines well and looks superb. He says the standard joke they hear from customers is, “It’s prettier than my house.” The craftsman says he just cannot help it. “I just can’t build not-fancy,” he says.

The challenges Cartor faces in trailer conversion are many. Trailers come in a myriad of sizes (up to 40-feet long) and styles with various configurations that could involve one-, two-, three- or four-horse stalls. Compounding the problem is the trailer body material itself.

Sleeping quarters like this one help travelers avoid the cost and monotony of motel rooms.

“Quite frankly, you are not working with any wooden studs,” Cartor explains. “Just trying to get everything to stay in place when you’re attaching to aluminum means it’s like you are trying to build a box to build something into.”

The biggest challenge, though, is perhaps the issue of space. “The problem is you have such a limited space,” says Cartor. “I do general contracting and work in a lot of small kitchens, but I’ve never had to make a kitchen and eating room and bedroom in the same spot.”

Cartor relishes the creative challenges, though, and expresses confidence in his ability to satisfy the customer. “As long as I’ve got a ‘Sawzall,’ (reciprocating saw) I can make it fit.”

The market for Vintage’s custom trailers has spread around the country thanks in part to their Web site and has even expanded unexpectedly to customers without horses. Clothing and jewelry vendors, who travel a show circuit in their markets have shown interest in custom trailers that would allow safe storage, while also providing a product showroom. Trailers designed for video production/photography, with built-in computer terminals and laser printers, also are in the works. In the end, it is personal attention to the client’s needs that makes all the difference.

“We try to build to a person’s style and taste and what they are going to use it for,” says Lahner. “For example, I talked to a man who goes out West to the mountains for a month each fall with his quarter horse. To figure out what would work best for him, I asked what he does when he comes back from riding all day. He said, ‘That’s easy, Peggy, open a beer.’ So I said, ‘you need a big refrigerator.’

“We just try to get to know each customer personally and what they do and what they like. I’ve got hickory cabinets with mahogany inlay, but that doesn’t have to be in everybody’s trailer. It doesn’t matter what your style is as long as it’s personal. You want to walk in that trailer and know it’s yours because it’s like your home,” she adds.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.