MATTOON -- Greg and Lisa Patterson of Mattoon were at Antique Week in Texas four years ago when vintage camper trailers first caught their attention.
They noticed that vendors were using the campers as mobile shops, clothes changing rooms, and homes away from home. Greg Patterson said his wife wanted one of her own, so he found a vintage Shasta camper back in Illinois and fixed it up for her.
After refurbishing the camper, Patterson said many passersby stopped to inquire if it was for sale during the following weeks. Patterson said he subsequently rebuilt and sold a couple of vintage trailers and got "hooked."
"It's very fulfilling," Patterson said. "You get a lot of satisfaction seeing something that would otherwise be falling apart be rebuilt and put back into service, hopefully for another 50 years."
His interest in this work work has led Patterson and his wife to start a faith-based business, Classy Chassis Vintage Campers. Patterson rebuilds Airstream, Kit Companion, Roadliner, Scotty, and other vintage campers. He also is developing his own line of vintage-style campers.
Patterson said he started using a workshop for his camper projects two years ago and then they purchased this building, 93 DeWitt Ave., a year ago. The building is also home to Lisa Patterson's Junkin4Jewels boutique.
In October, Patterson left his left his job as a union construction superintendent in the Champaign area after 20 years in the construction business so he could focus on Classy Chassis Vintage Campers.
"I decided to do campers full time," Patterson said. "We did a lot of praying about it and decided we were going to try it."
Making this decision has enabled him to work on more campers, Patterson said. He added that this also has given him more time to be active in his church, the Family Worship Center, and in his community, including volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Patterson said he rebuilds campers to sell through Classy Chassis and for customers in need of service work. For example, Patterson said he has been repurposing a customer's 1964 Trotwood camper for use as a vendor trailer.
Classy Chassis can install air conditioning, refrigerators and other modern amenities in vintage campers, but Patterson said he also tries to reuse as much of the original material and components as he can.
"We tear them down and rebuild them back," Patterson said. "I am looking to have them as original as possible. Anything that is salvageable in the camper gets reused."
These vintage trailers have newfound popularity with campers ranging from young couples to senior citizens, Patterson said. In particular, he said several groups of female campers have formed across the country around their shared interest in glamorous camping, "glamping," in their vintage trailers.
In addition, Patterson said male campers have been utilizing the vintage campers for attending car races and other sporting events.
"People are really interested in it. They love the vintage look," Patterson said. He added that the campers are easy to pull and maneuver.
Patterson said he has sold rebuilt vintage campers to customers as far away as New Jersey and Oklahoma, but his biggest customer base is in Texas. He added that country music star Miranda Lambert purchased one of their campers last year after seeing it at Antique Week in Texas.
"That really boosted our business and brought more attention to us," Patterson said.
Due to the popularity of vintage campers, Patterson said finding trailers to rebuild can be challenging. Patterson said this scarcity got him thinking about creating his own vintage-style camper.
Patterson has built a 10-foot prototype camper, "Grace," that has a wood frame with an aluminum cladding. "Grace" has a small kitchen, a bathroom and a dining area with seating that can be converted into a bed.
"Grace" will be available in a variety of exterior color and interior design themes that can be selected and ordered through http://www.classychassiscampers.com/, Patterson said. He also is developing a 16-foot camper called, "Glory."