Out with the new, in with the old: Sierra Trailer Restoration is Pete Snyder’s labor of love
November 17, 2014
Pete Snyder has always loved vintage cars and trailers. While camping in Tahoe one summer with his wife, Vicki, a man came up and asked Pete who had restored their beautifully polished 1960 Airstream.
"I was dumb enough to tell him it was me," said Pete, with a laugh.
Soon after, Pete found himself restoring an Airstream for the man he met in Tahoe, and it just seemed to take off from there.
"After that I decided to make a website, http://www.sierratrailerrestoration.com — I've gotten all of my customers that way ever since," he said.
Since 1994, Pete has continuously restored and customized vintage trailers from his shop in Nevada City. While he specializes in aluminum skinned riveted constructed trailers, restorations routinely involve much more, such as custom woodwork, rewiring, flooring, plumbing, reframing, upholstering and rebuilding windows and fixtures.
"I can't buy parts for these old trailers, so I have to make new ones," he said. "I especially enjoy the metal work, like the trim pieces. People seem to seek me out for my custom work."
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It's no secret that Pete's talents are well known among Airstream fans, as he has filled orders from as far away as Japan, where he shipped a vintage trailer he restored and converted into a Tokyo Starbucks.
Other trailers have been converted into pool side guest houses, catering rigs, and even one "smoking chamber" for a client who sold high-end cigars.
Pete's talents have also been discovered by avid Burning Man fans, who return year after year to the annual week-long art festival in the Nevada desert, and are looking for creatively designed vintage retreats from the harsh elements.
"I've done some really wild interiors — those are fun," said Pete. "Really loud colors. I recently finished one with a Hawaiian theme for a gal in San Francisco."
Pete developed his skills for restoration while working in the trucking business for more than 20 years. An independent contractor in Southern California, he built his trucks from the ground up. But the traffic and long hours wore thin, and he convinced his wife to check out a scenic foothills town called Nevada City.
"I was ready to leave Southern California but my wife wasn't so eager – she said she'd try Nevada City for a week," said Pete. "We came up in trailer, a small 1960s Airstream. She liked the area. She said yes and our house down south sold in a week."
In 1985 the Snyders moved to Nevada City, and when there wasn't enough work, Pete became a self-taught stone mason. He became accomplished enough to land high end jobs, such as the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Calif. But all along he continued his hobby of restoring cars and trailers until it finally became his "real job" in 1994.
Today, four to five Airstreams sit in various stages of restoration on the Snyder's multi-acre property. When it rains, Snyder and his small staff move their projects into a large shop, complete with a lift. While most trailers currently on site are products of the 1950s and 60s, there is one glistening silver bullet-shaped jewel sitting in the driveway: Pete's own 1948 Silver Streak Airstream.
Nearly a decade ago he found it decaying out in a field near the small town of Patterson, Calif.
"It was in rough shape," said Pete. "For years it had been part of the Duck Club in Paso Robles. But I decided to tow it home."
While the restoration of his beloved Silver Streak is nearing completion, it's clear Pete has a passion for all of the vintage trailers that come his way.
"Many of these are very special to families — they're treasures that have been passed down from grandparents — they've stayed in the family," he said. "What I do is a labor of love."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.