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Teardrop trailer construction


   

A few years ago, I started looking around for a small camping trailer, small enough to pull behind our VW New Beetle.  This was going to prove difficult since it couldn't tow much. 

The closest, lightest trailer I could find on the market to what I wanted was a Alite 400, a small hard-sided pop-up.  (Anything remotely resembling canvas was out) 

Though I loved the trailer, the cost was too high for us to purchase one.  (bummer)  I still think they are REALLY neat.  It looked like the only way was to build something as small and lightweight as we could find...and still be large enough to accomodate two people. 

After some research, we decided that building a teardrop trailer was just what we needed.  Well, decided it was just what we needed. "Bob..we could build one of these, couldn't we"?  hmmm...no response from Bob. 

Well, anyway, we started our project in November of 2003 and completed the trailer in March of 2004. 

We decided on the Kuffel Creek 4' x 8' Cubby plans and found them to be excellent.  We pretty much liked everything about the Cubby.  Neat door shape, I loved it, though square probably is easier.  (no response from Bob... again)  We did choose to go with a far less elaborate galley...both to keep the weight down and because by the time we got that far..we were sick of building the darn thing.   

We began our project with the bolt-together trailer from Harbor Freight.  One nice feature is this trailer comes with "papers", making it very easy to register it at the license bureau. 

Since cost was an issue with us, we saved money by pulling windows from an old truck camper at the junkyard.  What we could buy locally to save money, we did.  However, we did purchase our door handles/locks, hatch hinge and T-molding from Grant Whipp.  I liked his traditional looking hardware and the T-molding was to die for, compared to any aluminum we purchased locally.  For our mattress, we went with Knox foam online, which has free shipping.  The mattress is a 4" B grade, 45" wide...good quality and comfortable. 

Our teardrop is fully insulated and lined with 1/8" birch plywood, polyurethaned.  It is trimmed out in aluminum and completely wired for 12v operation.  We rustic camp alot and wanted 12v lights and power for running a small tv,etc.  A local air-brush artist, a friend of our neighbor, painted the murals on the trailer.    

 


 

It is skinned with a non-traditional pvc roofing material.

A friend of ours was able to provide the pvc at a minimal cost, so we decided to save money there and go with it..  PVC has the following qualities:  Water Proof, Corrosion Resistant, Fire Retardant, High Thermal Insulation, Lightweight, Durable, Flexible, Energy Saving, Resist's acidic Vapours and Fumes (you never know when you might run into some "acidic vapours) , UV Stabilized and Virtually Maintenance Free.  And best of all, it washes up nicely with some dish soap and water! 

Our pvc is about the thickness and texture of a soft linoleum floor.  The backside is a gray color and includes a webbing of sorts to give it strength.  It is quite resilient, but if damaged, can easily be patched.

From experience, it is difficult to obtain a smooth, flat surface on a teardrop with pvc.   Screws that are not perfectly flush, will show through.  In a few areas, there are "bubbles". In most areas it is perfectly flat. It appears to be a matter of the type of glue used, outside working temps, etc. It will however serve it's purpose as a water-tight, heat resistant skin.  Though we were experienced with applying roofing materials, we still couldn't get it as good as we would have liked.  One of the purposes of the murals is to take the eye away from the pvc flaws.  We started off with one mural...and did three more.  (Hey, so we had a "few" flaws)

I really can't recommend the use of pvc.  It works well for a weather-proof skin....but be prepared for a less than perfect finish.  If looking for an easy, economical protective skin, paint would probably be the easiest way to go without the imperfections of pvc.  

Total Weight - 820 lbs, fully loaded except for water.....with a 95 lb tongue weight.  This includes large deep-cycle battery, stove, chairs, pop-up tents, etc.  Though we had hoped to keep the weight down even lower, it's still not too bad.   

Heres where most of the weight comes in:   (Approximate weights)
HF trailer weighs in 240 lbs. (1800 lb capacity)
Floor - (1) 4'x8' sheet of 1/2" ply.  (51 lbs)
Sides - (2) 4'x8' sheet of 3/8" ply. (76 lbs)
Galley wall/cupboards - (1?) 3/4" sheet ply.  (81 lbs)
Roof skinning and inside sheeting - (6) 5'x5' 1/8" sheet birch ply.  (52 lbs)
Assorted sized wood for framing/Spars  (?)
Deep-Cycle Battery is really heavy. (50 lbs?)
I would guess the pvc outer skin weighs in at approx... (30-40lbs?)
(We have both front and back inside cupboard space)  

Total:  580 lbs.    An additional 240 pounds apparently can be found in weight from insulating framework and spars, Coleman Stove, Foam Mattress, Cooler, Two Small Pop-up tents, etc., etc.

Tongue length from front tip of coupler to front of trailer is 4 feet exactly.

We took our first campout trip to Wamplers Lake, Michigan on July 9th.  The teardrop towed great.  No bouncing trailer, easy to see around and we hardly knew it was there.  The insulation worked perfectly.  The trailer stayed cool despite hot temperatures and the sound barrier was nice while watching tv and kept outside noises to a minimum.

Due to warm nights and no air-conditioning, I'm glad we put the roof vent in.  Bob, having used camping trailers quite a bit insisted we would appreciate one. 

Points we noted our first trip out: 

Sleeping in a 45" wide space is pretty cramped quarters for two.  Unless you're stick people, it is not going to give you the feeling of "space" or much room to roll over.  Toss in a small dog... well forget the dog.  Hank (the dog) is just going to have to stay at home. 

   I REALLY wanted a small teardrop...so it's ok, but it's something to consider.  5' wide would make for a much more comfortable nights sleep.  If sleeping two, I would HIGHLY recommend going 5' wide.  At times I really regret not having made ours wider.  On the other hand, I wouldn't want to tow anything larger with my Bug or a small car, so in our case it works best in that respect.  It may not be as roomy as I would like, but at least we can get it out of the driveway!

In a 4' wide trailer, two doors make a huge difference.  I can't imagine having only one. 

Put good latches on inside cupboards or things WILL fall out.

Overhead cupboards take some getting use to.  We took several turns at bumping our noggins in the beginning... Man, that hurt! 

The footwell was a little extra work that I'm not so sure was really worth it.  We keep wheel chalks, duct-tape, extension cords, etc inside.  It's sort of a bother to reach the items in the footwell, we store items we seldom use there.

Invest in an EZ-UP of some sort for shade and a place to sit if it's raining.  Another item we bring along is a Ameristep deer blind.  They are perfect for a dressing room area, just "popup" and are very lightweight. 

My favorite investment is our Coleman Grill Stove.  Since we also bought the optional griddle (no skillet required now!), I only bring along one medium and one small pan to cook with. 

Did I fail to mention, in Cosby, where our Tennessee property is, they have made "Arensbak Trolls" locally for years.  We have a couple of them lurking inside on the cupboards...

   http://www.trolls.com/  

Storage while traveling is also an issue.  11/5/04 bought a Contico Diamond Brite aluminum tool box, Model ATB240 to use as a storage box on the tongue.  Needed something small and light.  Dimensions:  Length 24", Width 9.75", Height 9".  Manufacterer recommends cleaning the aluminum with WD-40.  (Padlock 1/4" - 3/16")  We attached the toolbox with U-bolts and lock tite nuts to avoid drilling through the tongue. 

 

Our next project is installing air-conditioning.  Hampton Bay air-conditioner:  Dimensions:  17 5/16'W x 11 1/8"H x 12 13/16" D.  5050BTU, will cool approx. 150 square ft... 15 amps, draws 4.8 amps.  Weight=40lbs.  Though our trailer is fully insulated and warm nights aren't too bad most of the time here in Michigan, we would like air on very hot days/nights and also in Tennessee.  The plan is to transport the air-conditioner in the tow vehicle, since we won't always bring it along.  Also, since we tow with the bug, I would rather not bring the extra weight along unless we really need it.

Finally, we have finished up on the air-conditioning:

  

We first attached a piece of duct pipe that we already had laying around.  The opening was quite a good fit for the cold air output.  We put foam weatherstripping between to make sure it was air tight.  We then took the inside part of a roof vent, the same size as the one on our teardrop, made a plate and chimney, attached it and popped it right on top of the main roof vent.  The final step was adding a length of  4" insulated flexible ducting attached between the two.  Seems to work pretty good.  (We'll leave the windows open to allow the air to circulate)  Not a pretty sight, but it'll do.

Teardroppers are known for their sharing spirit.  If you would like to build or buy one of these wonderful trailers, please check out Mike's T&TTT forum at:  http://www.mikenchell.com/forums/ 

If we have a "future build", it will be larger.  See:  http://www.freewebs.com/kc8jwa/futurebuild.htm

Contact me at:  willowcb@gmail.com

Teardrop Construction

 


   
   
    
     
    
      
    
    

Problems and fixes

We had a few problems along the way. 
1.  Galley hinge:  These hinges should be left long to allow for water to divert over the edge of the trailer.  We cut the first one too short.  Duh and double darn-it!  We have since replaced it and left the hinge it's full 4' length.  Before and after pictures:

 


 

2.  Galley counter:  Make sure you make it deep enough for your gear to fit with the hatch closed.  Once the hatch was in place, we realized the stove wouldn't fit.  It has to ride in an upright position to our destination.

3.  Table:  We had originally decided to go with a footwell (which is in the Kuffel Creek plans) and use the lid for a table to sit inside during rainy/cold weather.  What we didn't realize until too late was that the footwell didn't line up with the doors.  With both front and back cupboards, by placing it back too far from the doors, we didn't have any headroom to sit due to the cupboards.  Dang it! 

Bob instead made me a slide-out table underneath the back cupboards.  We just sit on the mattress.  It comes in handy for a number of things and give us room to put a cup of coffee on or play a game of cards inside.  It's not so bad for short periods of time. 


HARBOR FREIGHT TRAILER COUPLER:

Our 4th largest problem was with the Harbor Freight trailer coupler.  It has what we believe is called a "hand wheel" type coupler.  We had never seen such a coupler before and it is very difficult to work with.  Once you get it tightened down, it takes a gorilla to get it loose.    Since I decided against weight training, this just wasn't going to work for me. 

We ground the original coupler down just enough to fit a regular coupler over the top of it.  We then drilled through the old coupler and attached the new lock-down coupler to the old one..  ("sits" on top of the old one)  The new coupler sticks out 5 1/2 inches longer...no need to weld anything since we attached it to the original welded one.

Before and After:

 

 

 

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