Growing numbers restoring caravans
Kevin Milne, well-known television presenter and front man for Fair Go for many years, has a secret.
The Milne family lives on a 5.5 hectare (14-acre) lifestyle block just out of Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast. Sitting on that block is one of the oldest fully restored caravans in New Zealand.
In April 2008 a second-hand dealer showed Kevin a 1960s caravan she had just bought. It really appealed to him. From that moment on Kevin determined to find an old caravan for himself. That afternoon he searched Trade Me and, unbelievably, up popped a 1930s caravan. From the photos it looked original, particularly on the inside with its beautiful varnished interior. Even the original exterior paint was intact.
The caravan had belonged to a farmer and had been stored in a shed for 40 years. Kevin and his family drove up to Feilding to see the van, fell in love with it and bought it on the spot for the princely sum of just over $600.
The caravan had been advertised as a 1936 Tanner and the owners, the Williams family, told the Milnes that their grandfather had bought it new in Feilding. Tanners built caravans from the 1930s to the 1970s and, just to confuse the issue, in the early days they also sold plans for people to home-build their own caravans. Even some professional manufactures started their businesses by building off Tanner plans, before developing their own designs.
Kevin tracked down 92-year-old Ian Tanner and took the van to show him. Ian thought the van was a professional copy of the Tanner because it had an individual chassis. However, it was a length that the factory had not produced, suggesting it was made from modified Tanner plans.
Kevin then took the van to Gypsy Caravans in Levin where some remedial work was undertaken. They waterproofed the window flashings, re-polished the timber floor and repainted the exterior. At this point Kevin deviated from the original black and cream and altered the streamline a little. The new colours were mint and cream and done in a low-gloss high-tech paint. The silver canvas roof was retained but painted to original specifications.
Kevin polished the Swedish hardwood to a stunning natural glow. The original green curtains were highlighted with light-green cushions.
The amazing thing about this purchase was that the drawers still had the 1930s crockery and cutlery intact and they were sold with the caravan. There were also old packets of Sunlight soap, various bits of fishing gear and magazines from the 1950s. There was even what must be New Zealand's oldest set of coupling stabiliser bars in perfect condition.
Kevin's iconic 1936 caravan is in beautiful condition throughout and naturally Kevin is very proud of it. He has continued to try to trace where the caravan was manufactured, and by whom, and, of course, to find out whether it is in fact a Tanner, but so far without success.
An edited extract from Retro Caravans: Vantastic Kiwi Collections by Don Jessen (Bateman, $40), available now.
Sunday Star Times