Meet the Trundlehouse: 1959 GMC Redwood Housecar

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Back in the late sixties, if you didn’t have the money for a camper, you built it yourself.  One man who did that decided to build a housecar type camper with panache-and a pot belly stove.  If you are looking for a camper that is 100% guaranteed to be the talk of the campground, then have a look at this 1959 GMC pickup with an honest to goodness redwood “house” on the back that is for sale on craigslist in Menlo Park, California.  Is this built in 1972 camper project something that would appeal to your wanderlust nature?  While the seller is asking $6,000, what is a realistic price for this crazy conversion?  Thanks to T. J. for this very unique find!

The vehicle you see here was bestowed the name “Trundlecar” after its construction decades ago.  If you look up the definition of the word trundle on the old interwebs, you get the following: (with reference to a wheeled vehicle or its occupants) move or cause to move slowly and heavily, typically in a noisy or uneven way.  One quick look at the camper above demonstrates just how apt the name bestowed upon it was.  The story is that this camper, known in California as a “housecar,” was built in 1971 and registered in 1972.  While the ad doesn’t say, the seller’s affection for the vehicle would lead one to believe it was either their handiwork, or that of someone close to them.  The first picture you see in the article depicts the Trundlehouse way back when.  Believe it or not, the vehicle is still registered in California as a hoousecar.

The ad in craigslist is refreshingly thorough.  Starting with a 1959 GMC pickup with a heavy duty four speed transmission, the camper body was built as a permanent attachment to the slightly modified frame of the GMC.  Powering the truck is a stock 270 cubic inch straight six.  The transmission is a heavy-duty type with a compound low gear built to get a heavily loaded truck started.  The rear end is a school bus type heavy duty unit for additional durability.  The gross weight of the whole rig is advertised as under 6,000 pounds, but no exact number is given.  Unfortunately, the truck has not run for a few years.

The siding is made of old growth redwood.  A major problem is that the framework of the camper was fashioned from more common wood that termites have been enjoying as sort of a bug buffet.  The roof shingles are genuine wood, complete with the mold and moss you see in the pictures.  While they look neat, almost hobbit house like in a way, the seller advises against driving the truck at any speed until they are repaired or replaced.  The aerodynamics, that were obviously not a pressing concern when the vehicle was built, will now work to reduce the overall weight of the camper.  Inside, the cabinet doors are made of redwood and some of the other woodwork is repurposed from a pre-1900s house.

Also, inside are bucket seats from a 1960s vintage Mustang, seat belts sourced from an aircraft, a compass from a Sherman tank and an RPM gauge that reads in roentgens (yes, that is a radiation-based measurement).  There is also a mattress that folds up as a couch and folds down to serve as a bed.  The person who built this also installed two electrical systems for the camper.  One system is a standard household AC circuit for the times that the user is near an electrical outlet.  The other is a 12-volt system to allow for the basics while roughing it.  It also comes equipped with a sink and a small tank for freshwater.  Restroom facilities are found when you walk out the back door.

The most interesting feature is an authentic Sears and Roebuck pot belly stove.  Notice the tile around it and the heat insulation above the tile in an attempt to keep the wood cool enough to not combust.  The little handle, for those of you who have never used such an appliance, is a lid lifter.  The idea was that you could put a cast iron pan or pot with a matching size ring in the hole to use this as a cook stove.  You have to admit that it was a gutsy move to put a woodstove in a predominately redwood camper, and it surely kept those inside warm when fully stoked.  One does have to wonder if the tile was installed after some smoldering occurred.

As previously stated, the inline six-cylinder engine does not run, but would likely require little to bring it back to life.  There is no mention on the location of the fuel tank.  While the tank normally sat behind the driver in the cab, the pass-through area created sits kind of low.  Perhaps it was moved under the vehicle for safety’s sake.  Combining an open fire and gasoline fumes in a mostly enclosed vehicle made of wood doesn’t seem to be such a good idea.

All and all, this is certainly a unique project that someone with a lot of talent and tools could have fun with.  The big question would be just how bad the rot and termite damage is.  It may be cheaper to salvage what you could to keep the historical fabric of the vehicle, then build it anew from the ground up.  It is definitely a groovy ride and would make a great museum piece cleaned up and out of the elements.  The seller has volunteered manual labor to help anyone who purchases the camper in their restoration efforts.  Add that to the statement that the proceeds from the sale will go to a charity.  Hopefully the Trundlehouse will find a talented owner and soon be seen trundling into the back country once again.

Have you ever built and/or owned a homemade camper?  Or have you restored a vintage camper?  Please tell us about your experiences in the comments.

 

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Comments

  1. Todd J. Todd J.Member

    This takes me back to the hippie days and some of the ill-advised things we undertook. My buddies and I converted an old school bus to a camper which, in part, involved cutting out a section of the roof and building a “sleeping loft” out of 2×4’s and plywood laminated on the exterior with fiberglass. The stovepipe for our potbelly vented out a side window and extended just above the top of the loft. Sparks from the stove set the structure on fire one night – nobody was hurt, but that ended the bus’s on-road adventures and relegated it to the status of a “storage vehicle.”
    https://ibb.co/jr8Ym2w

    Like 11
  2. angliagt angliagtMember

    Buy it,& you can be one of “Jerry’s Kids”.

    Like 3
    • Fahrvergnugen FahrvergnugenMember

      Hopefully you mean Jerry as in Garcia, not as in Lewis, whose kids are those with MD…

      Like 8
      • angliagt angliagtMember

        Yeah – Garcia.I always liked the phrase-
        “Jerry’s dead man,get over it”.

        Like 1
      • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

        I thought that was said about Elvis,,,

        Like 1
      • K. R. V.

        Very good point. I was actually thinking Ben&Jerrys

        Like 1
  3. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    The truck? Meh, I’M looking for the gal in the top photo, got to be about my age by now, old hippie chick, what, it could happen,( crickets)
    Homemade anythings are pretty popular here in hippieland, fact is, poorly guarded construction sites are a haven for what’s called, “The builder bandits”.
    This, while pretty cool when that gal was young, I’d have to think has a fair amount of funk smell, and they don’t say much about the truck, apparently, the camper is the cheese. “Takes 3 days to start”, tells me mechanics is not their specialty.
    Plop a grand on the hood, pull the neat stove for the garage, and the camper itself should provide heat for a spell, get a pickup box and start over.

    Like 12
    • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

      No air cleaner= no compression,,might want to make a note of that.

      Like 4
      • Ike Onick

        The “gal” or the truck?

        Like 0
  4. BoatmanMember

    Good one Jeff! gave me a chuckle or two.

    Like 2
  5. Mike

    Cool enough to bring back to life, but you would probably be replacing/redesigning everything to the point of building a brand new camper. Pass….

    Like 5
  6. Yblocker

    Cut the camper up, it would burn nicely in that stove. The truck would be worth saving, too bad it doesn’t have the optional Pontiac V8.

    Like 3
  7. Frank Sumatra

    Obviously a “gateway drug” to a big-a$$ Motor Home blocking Hwy 41 to Yosemite.

    Like 2
  8. whilst01

    Wasn’t there one of these in a ‘car chase’ movie? Or, maybe an Eastwood flick?

    Like 1
    • Bill Flieder

      Foul Play

      Like 0
  9. Roger

    Used to be a homebuilt around Charlottesville, Virginia that I called the Outhouse Delivery Truck. Self explanatory

    Like 1
  10. RudemanMember

    Roll Your Own

    Like 1
  11. TheOldRanger

    Too bad The Beverly Hillbillies still isn’t on the air, they could use this one to go along with their other vehicle.

    Like 2
  12. RexFoxMember

    Campers like this used to be a pretty common around Eugene, Oregon. They all looked extremely heavy and the opposite of aerodynamic, but kind of cool because the builders tend to be artists who add neat features like stained glass or wood carvings. Jeff gets an award for the best line of the day: “The aerodynamics, that were obviously not a pressing concern when the vehicle was built, will now work to reduce the overall weight of the camper.”

    Like 3
  13. James Martin

    First thing. Jerry garcia is not dead! Second. We are a crazy bunch of hippies who would live in this. Cool truck, not sure if the camper is worth saving. And 6 grand a bit steep. But if you could restore it you could sell it this summer at the dead and co shows!

    Like 3
    • angliagt angliagtMember

      When did he un-die?

      Like 0
  14. John R

    Girl was the reason I clicked on it. Hook to it, pull it to the other side of the country and by the time you get there you’ll have a clean slate. Take the stove out first.

    Like 0
  15. Handsome Pristine Patriot

    I have my home-made camper in a 40 foot semi trailer.
    There are about 12 of us that show up on a rotating basis for the last week of November for a week of Huntin’ Camp.
    We hunt deer and grouse, drink a bit of beer, tell some wicked crazy stories, blow stuff up with Tannerite, eat extremely well, and just have a good time about 20 miles out in the wilds of North Maine.

    Like 2
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

      Tannerite? I used to do large commercial fireworks displays and I’m amazed at how many people think Tannerite is pretty harmless. A couple of years ago a guy who owned a private long range shooting & target facility just north of Middletown, Delaware did something VERY foolish; He took about 5 pounds [yes, pounds!] of Tannerite down to the target end of the range, came back up to the shooter’s end, and shot at the package. At that time I was living in Maryland, about a half hour away. The blast was so loud we heard it at home. It blew out windows for miles around.

      Like 1
      • Handsome Pristine Patriot

        Never been THAT foolish.

        Like 0
  16. Alexander

    I have seen a variation of this concept patterned to look like an old wooden railroad caboose. In fact, I’ve seen a couple of them, which suggests someone was offering it as a kit at some point. Indeed, when I saw the first photo, I actually thought, “Someone screwed up the caboose design, or else it’s an older version that has deteriorated in looks over the years!” And the fact that this one sports the “potbellied stove” simply reinforces the stereotype further. And look at the cupola!

    An image search under “caboose camper truck” will reveal a lot of camping trailers configured to look like cabooses (cabeese?), and lots of actual cabooses configured to be camping sites/B&Bs/motel rooms, but only a few camper pickup truck caps. One I remember seeing when I lived in the East was this one:

    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/575616396115401260/

    As I recall this one, registered in Maryland, had actual train whistles/horns over the cab, railroad logos, and even “hy-rail” railroad wheel gear to allow it to run on railroad tracks like railroad maintenance trucks can.

    Like 0
  17. Bob “THE ICEMAN”

    Yo dude! Remember when we were in the back of this rolling refuge. Sharin’ a doobie, popin’ a few reds, while bummin’ a few bucks from people we just met for enough gas to make it to the next town. Meanwhile “Mack-Nuburner” at the wheel with a joint, the size of a Cheshire Sweet, leaving a smoke trail as long as the rear bumper as we sped along at 35 MPH in order to keep the Fuzz off our hazy trail. As we headed north to Canada in order to avoid the draft. All the time singing “We gotta get out of this place, if it is the last thing we ever do”, complete with an encore of “Bye, Bue Miss American Pie”.

    Like 3
  18. FordFixerMember

    Worked in Gunnison, Colo. in the early 70s in a lumberyard. Hippies from Crested Butte would come in, usually in a 50s Chev with 6, 3 on the tree. Load up (y dragging )with chip board and shake shingles. Make this type camper. See them later, (really loaded down) cruising slowly at top speed.
    Good times!!

    Like 1
  19. Malcolm Cain

    Most properly Cool feature I ever saw on BF.
    What a good array of comments & era correct social description & info.
    Here in NZ, many rolling accomodations were also built & operated, usually old buses. Think likely that similar Ganja threads prevailed.
    Fascinated to know if the constructor was the one who built the house in photo,
    Must be an equally remarkable story behind that.
    Finally, curious if the Lovely Lady in shot, is the seller, or a relative ?
    Jeff Bennett, you did yourself proud & all elements of this remarkable take as well MC, 🧑‍🌾🏴‍☠️

    Like 0

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