Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Tacoma woman answered ad, brought travel trailers from the 1960s to life

Answering a ad from Michigan led a woman to create a new business in South Prairie: Relic Custom Trailers. And they can even match the color of car you want to pull it with.
Answering a ad from Michigan led a woman to create a new business in South Prairie: Relic Custom Trailers. And they can even match the color of car you want to pull it with. Courtesy

The first thing Jayne Barocela wants people to know is, she’s not crazy.

Before March, Barocela had lived a normal life. A Federal Aviation Administration contractor, she lived in Tacoma’s North End with her husband, Shawn Tidd, and sons Jack, 3, and Layne, 18.

They loved snooping through old antique shops in their free time, and they never missed weekend vintage travel trailer shows.

Then, she saw the ad.

“I found it on Craigslist. Someone had purchased a warehouse in Ironwood, Michigan, and on the second floor was a time-capsule trailer manufacturing business,” Barocela said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had to make it happen.

“I took a flier on it with no idea what I was getting. I saw the ad one evening, and the next day was in Michigan.”

What she found changed her life.

“There was one nearly completed trailer on a frame and two finished shells,” Barocela said. “And all the equipment to make them. Everything was covered in dust.”

With good reason.

From 1960 to 1963, a Michigan plumbing instructor had created three unique travel trailers, then stopped and stored everything in the warehouse. There it all sat, untouched, until 2014.

Once Barocela saw it all, she did the only thing she could: She bought it.

“I had it brought home in a 45-foot semi and a 25-foot flatbed,” Barocela said.

Her husband, a Boeing worker, took his wife’s decision in stride.

“Well, I guess trailers are our life now,” Tidd said.

Barocela had no idea if the equipment she’d purchased worked, but on the haul homeward, she hired a fiberglass specialist.

“It turned out it was all in pristine shape,” Barocela said.

She named her new enterprise Relic Custom Trailers and set up an office in South Prairie, across the street from her fiberglass specialist.

The first challenge was finding South Prairie.

“I hadn’t been there before,” Barocela said of the town 21 miles southeast of Tacoma. “It’s pretty small, maybe one block long.”

Then came the process of establishing a legal business.

“We’re in our infancy right now. We’re still in the paperwork process with the state,” Barocela said. “We’re setting up a website, and we’ve taken the finished trailer to a vintage show. People loved it.”

No trailers will be built or sold until the licensing is complete, but there’s already a waiting list of sorts — would-be customers who have contacted Barocela via email or telephone.

Once the business is cleared to operate, she will begin selling and creating made-to-order vintage trailers.

“We’re not going to be an assembly line. The trailers are made one at a time,” Barocela said. “We can produce a trailer — start to finish — in four to eight weeks, depending upon how complicated the options are.”

Ah, the options. A buyer can select the flooring, the wall covering, the layout.

“We have three seating arrangements that turn into beds,” Barocela said. “And three different options for the front, either a kitchen or bathroom. We can match the paint color to the color of the tow car.

“Every trailer is made by hand, and we will try to make everything heirloom-quality from 50 to 60 years ago. Our goal is to produce travel trailers the way that plumber in Michigan did in 1960.”

All Barocela knows about the man who created the trailer forms is that his name was Roy, and he’s no longer with us. She also thinks she shares his love of what he made by hand so long ago.

“I want to make him proud,” Barocela said.

“I have put everything — my heart and soul — into the business. It’s a passion. I live and breathe these little pieces of artwork, and everything I have has gone into it. To me, it’s already successful — everyone who has seen the trailer loves it.”

One recent week, she answered more than 300 emails from Europe, Canada and across the United States. People want more information.

For now, Relic Custom Trailers has a Facebook page. Once it begins taking orders, the price will begin at $16,000, with deliveries expected to start in the spring of 2016.

“What will you get?” asked Barocela. “You’ll get an old trailer that’s brand new.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638