I've Made a Believer Out of Myself
I don’t remember when I saw my first teardrop style trailer, but I’m pretty sure I thought it was funny looking. Especially in the context, dwarfed by the huge RV monstrosities we are all so accustomed to seeing on the highways these days. Though I’ve had a long love affair with travel trailers, starting I guess in my impressionable youth when my parents, five siblings and myself all lived in a 17’ Fleetwood while my dad built our house. The love affair evolved as an adult into vintage campers which I dragged through the desert and nationwide, never giving more than a passing thought to the tear drop design, and certainly I didn’t care to own one. Why would I, they are tiny and cramped. How does anyone sleep in there? But now I’m manufacturing teardrop trailers with gusto! I’m like a reformed convert, what happened?
Any Car Could Pull ‘em, Anyone Could Build ‘em
Like a lot of great inventions, teardrop campers were borne out of necessity with scrappy intellectuals behind the concept. The first design emerged in the 1930’s, lightweight enough to be pulled by the gutless engines of the day. But the big boom was post war, when Americans had freedom, money, and a pent up desire to travel and revel in our great nation. Many folks that worked in aviation during the war took to building campers, using the same design elements and products (literally scrap aluminum out the back door). Some early post war teardrops even used military jeep tires. Designs were published in Mechanix Illustrated and many people built their own in their garage and hit the highway. These little campers were the answer to tow-ability, accessibility, and ease of use. Any car could pull ‘em, anyone could build ‘em. Some designs were just rolling mattresses, most had a galley kitchen, and more sophisticated designs had running water and chemical toilets. Teardrops fell out of popularity in the 60’s and 70’s as engines were more powerful and the American appetite was for bigger and better campers.
Solving a Problem
I had the idea to build a teardrop to solve a problem for my family and me. We wanted to go from Arizona to Montana, but wanted to drive my wife’s car with a V-6 for better fuel economy. But I didn’t want to sleep in a tent the whole way there and back. You know: pack out the kitchen for every meal, set up the tent every night, break it down every morning, etc. And what about the bears?! So I told Ruth, “I’ll build a teardrop camper.” If she believed me she didn’t let on. And like I said earlier, I’ve never been a big fan of the teardrop style. Until now.
A Well Thought Out, Sensible Design
I gathered all the materials I thought I’d need. I thumb nailed some designs I thought would work. Then I locked myself away in my shop and set to work building a camper that I wasn’t all that excited about living in for the two week road trip that lay ahead, with my wife, two young girls and a dog. I assembled the shell fairly quickly, sides and lid were glued and nailed securely. I cut out the door openings and crawled inside, imagining I was crawling into a casket. Not at all! I sat up, plenty of headroom. The Baltic Birch interior was aromatic just like our other vintage camper, the 1952 Happy Home, when we sanded it all down years ago. I ran my hands back and forth on the curve of the roof. I started to see the appeal, and I had a reminiscent feeling. I felt like I was contributing to a legacy by furthering a design, a well thought out, sensible design that was spearheaded decades before by people far more talented than I. I continued to build out the interior cabinetry to pack as much storage as possible for our family. Then I moved onto the kitchen.
Puzzle-Piecing it Together
I like to cook, and when we camp, I am generally the one who prepares meals. I wanted to build an impossible kitchen. I wanted to build a kitchen that had a sink with running water, plenty of dry storage, a gas range, and lots of countertop space. The problem is the area under the hatch is teeny tiny, too small to squeeze all the necessities into. My solution was to have pull-out drawers accomplish this, so that the stove would be tucked away under the main counter but pulled out for use. Opposite that, another drawer could function as dry storage as well as additional countertop space. A freshwater holding tank could be tucked away underneath the counter and a small sink could be added with a simple hand-pump faucet. I had all the parts, I just needed to puzzle-piece it together. My first design wasn’t award-winning, but what a difference from any other camper cooking experience! Again, I was falling in love. The hatch serves as shade from sun or gentle rain. With the drawers fully extended, the camp chef stands in a U-shaped kitchen that is functional and ergonomic. There is no need to balance bowls on top of plates on top of pots, there is PLENTY of counter top space. Cooking outside is a great experience. I don’t think I can ever go back to cooking in an enclosed trailer.
Damn, That's Pretty Cute
I skinned out our camper with mill-grade aluminum, installed the door and window, added a tongue box for battery storage, and threw a solar panel on the roof to keep all the electrical systems topped off without the need of shore power. We were leaving in, like, 16 hours. I was making the deadline, just barely! I hitched the teardrop up to my 1964 Ford work truck and headed from the shop to home, stopping once at the Roosevelt Bridge to check everything over and snap a picture. I remember seeing the trailer for the first time then, having been so narrowly and feverishly focused on individual tasks for so many days as to not see the “whole”. I thought, “Damn. That’s pretty cute.” That afternoon when I got home my wife came out to kick the tires. She was immediately in love, and my girls were ecstatic, at that time they could both stand up in it, even jump a little. We threw our blankets and clothes in it, stocked up the kitchen, and literally headed out to Montana, wasting no time.
A Turning Point
The next two weeks were great. Even though I had been playing around with design concepts for months if not years, it was nice being able to put the designs to use. I got familiar with what worked well and what could be improved upon. Our camping experience was phenomenal. We all slept well, had home-cooked healthy meals, and had a place to hide away from the rain, wind, or perceived threats from possible bear. The little teardrop I didn’t think I’d like very much was the star of the show. At every campground someone would comment, and poke their head in the door or admire the kitchen. As unrefined as the early prototype was, it sure turned a lot of heads, and got my wife and me thinking…
Now we are manufacturing teardrop style travel trailers for sale or for rent. After prototyping and trying different products, we have emerged with a really great functional camper that is easy to pull and fully self-contained. We have advanced on the timeless design and added many multiple modern upgrades all while keeping with the vintage aesthetic. Our campers are 100% solar-powered. The sun’s energy keeps all electrical systems in good work