How To Build A Teardrop Trailer/A Brief History of the Homebuilt Teardrop Trailer
A Brief History of the Homebuilt Teardrop Trailer
“America’s homes are rolling . . Seven years ago, trailers in which you could live as you traveled were virtually unknown .1” This statement was published in 1936. It establishes the beginning of the travel trailer craze that is still going on today. As for the start of homebuilt teardrop trailer craze, well, that is a bit hazier.
In the same article as above it is stated, “the typical trailer of today is a one-room affair with the kitchen usually as part of the combination living-dining room. 2” This almost sounds like it could be a teardrop trailer, but maybe not quite. The article goes on to talk about the cost of purchasing a travel trailer and even shows pictures of two teardrops with the following caption: “A ‘teardrop’ trailer designed to accommodate two persons. Below, one of the small units that have cooking facilities at rear. 3” This establishes the existence of teardrop trailers in 1936. It does not establish whether these teardrops were home built or commercially built.
Another article published in 1936 specifically addresses the construction of a teardrop trailer. This may be the first article ever written on how to build a teardrop trailer. It is called “The Ideal Outdoorman’s Trailer 4” and is the first part of a two part series. The trailer developed in this article is identical to many of the renovations seen on the road today.
Moving along to 1937 “The Ideal Outdoorman’s Trailer 5” continues to finishing and equipping the trailer. “With the chassis and sleeping compartment built according to the instructions and drawings given last month, we are now ready to start on the kitchenette of lightweight trailer. The general dimensions of the extremely compact and convenient kitchenette are given. 6” Amazingly, at least to us in the 21st century, the trailer is built out of plywood, calls out for a built-in water tank and ice box yet accommodates for the use of a ready-made ice box. Do you suppose that ready-made was one of the original Colemans? Reading on you get the feeling that this trailer was meant to be made today yet the plans were published so many years ago.
Also in 1937 another article on building a teardrop can be found. Although technically this is about a utility trailer it is still a teardrop. It proves that people were thinking about building teardrop trailers. The unique thing about this trailer is that it is a uni, i.e. a one wheel trailer. “Designed especially for sportsmen and light delivery use this single wheel trailer is well suited for hauling moderate loads simply by clamping it to the rear bumper of the car. 7”
The significance of this article is that it establishes the fact that uni-wheel trailers existed in 1937. This substantiates the claim made by the ebay seller of the below trailer:
Uni-trailer found on ebay
He states, “Here is a really unique and very rare trailer that I bought from a gentleman who is in his eighties. He told me his father built it back during the depression and moved out west here in Oregon in it. It has been awhile since I talked with him about the history of the trailer, but if I remember right he built it from scratch with this very unique and rare design. The trailer has one swivel wheel with very unique and retro rubber covered coiled band springs and two ball hitches that mount to the bumper of the towing vehicle so it becomes part of the vehicle and the whole thing stays straight with the vehicle, the wheel under the trailer turns not the trailer itself, this makes it very easy to back, it can't Jack Knife on you! it sounds like it had quite a history and held everything he needed to camp in while he traveled across the country looking for work, a real Grapes of Wrath story. 8”
Also, Boone states, “Four workmen engaged in constructing a gas line in the Middle West save rent as they move from job to job by ‘hatching’ in their trailer. Instead of paying rent of sixty dollars or more a month, they live in their trailer for less than five dollars. Elsewhere, families beat the high cost of living as they follow seasonal occupations. 9” This corroborates the ebay seller’s story and introduces another use of teardrop trailers that most people may have not have thought of. Of course if the trailer was going to be used to save money it must have been home built.
Around 1939 home built teardrop trailer construction started to heat up, as well as for other travel trailers. Around this time period a designer named Jim Dandy started selling plans for travel trailers. One of these was a teardrop. His goal was to make the construction very simple. He states, “Just an ordinary kit of tools and a little skill in handling them are all you need to build the ‘Cruiser’. 10” Many of these home built trailers were made.
Also in 1939 Hi Sibley was at it again with his “Honeymoon House Trailer” article published in Popular Home Craft. Hi doesn’t take credit for designing the trailer and states, “This trim little trailer, designed by Louis Rogers of Pasadena for his wedding trip, has proved its practicability in long service on the road. 11” With a second article published in a two year period it can be seen that there was much building activity going on. One author was certainly taking advantage of it. This later trailer is very similar to the trailer in the 1937 article. The theme of the story changed but the design didn’t. Obviously the public felt that “you don’t need to fix what ain’t broke.”
More evidence of interest in building teardrop-like trailers at home is shown by the 1940 article in Mechanix Illustrated: “A Model Airplane Trailer.” It exemplifies the theme of a cheap and easy build. “A trailer for the purpose of carrying model airplanes can be built at a considerably lower figure than those commonly used for camping or traveling. Any old automobile frame from a light or medium weight car will make an excellent chassis. 12” Obviously this wasn’t the only thing about the design that the airplane model enthusiasts must have liked. They must have also like the aerodynamic shape and streamlining that they thought about when they built their models.
From 1940 to 1946 there is no history/articles about building teardrop trailers. It can be presumed that World War II had an impact on this period where not many people thought about building a teardrop trailer.
However, “Then in October of 1945, C.W. “Bill” Worman and Andy Anderson formed Kit Manufacturing Co. in an abandoned fruit stand on Telegraph Road in Norwalk, California to produce “Kit Kamper” Tear Drop Trailers. 13” This was the start of commercially produced teardrop trailers. Kit Manufacturing is still in business today but it doesn’t produce a teardrop trailer. We won’t take this string any further as this article is the history of home built trailers.
Other 1946 activity was seen in the March and April issues of Popular Science in a two part article on “Building and Finishing Your Weekend Trailer.” “Part I covered the construction of the chassis, walls, and chimes. The next step is to stud the sides. 14” While this is not a teardrop trailer in that it has a kitchen in the back under a separate hatch formed to match the roofline but it does have a teardrop shape. This trailer has all the amenities inside and provides standing headroom. It shows a trend on how people were starting build their teardrops just a little bit bigger.
Then in 1947 the article that gets credit for starting the teardrop trailer mania was published. It was called the “Trailer for Two” and was published in the September issue of Mechanix Illustrated. If you look at the article you will see that Hi Sibley was at it again, this being his third teardrop trailer construction article. This time he starts, “Getting away from it all doesn’t mean giving up the comforts of home, for with this compact camp trailer you bring them right along with you. As it’s only a fraction of the size and weight of a full-grown trailer, you can take this 10-ft. tourer wherever a car will go. 15” Ok, you make your own judgment here as to if this is truly the article that started it all. I believe that Hi Sibley certainly did his share of starting the fire a few years earlier than this.
Continuing with the trend towards a bigger teardrop that seemed to start around the time of the 1946 Popular Science article, another larger teardrop was introduced in the Popular Home Craft February 1951 issue. The “Wander Pup” article was written by John Gartner. Do you remember this name? Do you see the similarity with the design from 1946? This time Mr. Gartner states, “WANDER PUP licks the one big bug-aboo of trailers – excess weight. 16” You need to go back and compare the two Gartner trailers. I think we found another designer that found a way to capitalize on his design.
With another design very similar to Wander Pup, this March 1951 author, Clinton R. Hull, in Mechanix Illustrated says, “Li’l Guy was made because I could find no factory job light enough, or one that would enter the average garage. 17" In addition to the slightly large size, weight is also emphasized. So now it seems that what people want to build is a larger and lighter trailer. We can see that builders are drifting away from the small teardrop with the kitchen in the back.
Or, perhaps not. Perhaps the larger trailers were just a trend. In the April 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics, Vic Goertzen introduces the “Wild Goose.” Wild Goose is the origins of the Kampmaster, a commercially produced teardrop trailer that opens up via the back, or what would be the kitchen hatch on the smaller teardrops. Vic describes his trailer, “Overnight campers, hunters, fishermen, and vacationers with limited time can appreciate the convenience, comfort and ready roadability of ‘Wild Goose.’ Hung low to the ground, yet with ample road clearance for the back trails, it tows anywhere your car will go. Keep it packed with necessary bedding, also canned and dried foods and you can get away for a week-end trip in only a few minutes’ time. When you arrive at the destination, Wild Goose sets up into a neat outdoor ‘kitchenette’ in less time than it takes to put up a tent. 18”
The last article that can be found about building teardrop trailers was published twice. First in the August 1956 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, next in Volume 4, 1961 issue of Mechanix Illustrated How-To-Do-It Encyclopedia. Called “Camp Trailer” this was a traditional teardrop except it had a squared off back, very similar to the “Tiny Tears” teardrop. “Mr. Art Harvey of Brockway, Pa., . . . takes off . . . pulling a camp trailer – one that he has constructed in his spare time. 19” This trailer was 10’ long and 4’ wide. The article claims that the whole family can camp inside.
After this last article there is an apparent lack of articles or building activity for teardrop trailers. You can be sure there was activity though, especially in California, but it was minimal and in small pockets of areas. There was one periodical publication about teardrop trailers being published. That publication is still being distributed today, to more and more people.
Around 1996 though, the World Wide Web was beginning to become very active. Home builders began to post websites about the trailer they built. It was this time, in 1998, that “Tiny Tears” had its beginnings. It posted its original website and started the first teardrop bulletin board. It was also in this time period that so many others posted their websites and created their bulletin boards. The history of the homebuilt teardrop trailer now swamped the public. TV shows were even made. With all this activity, and information that is easily obtained for free, one doesn’t see articles in national magazines any more. Building information is found in a growing number of plans distributors and on the World Wide Web. And, it is there that a person should go to learn the detailed modern history of the homebuilt teardrop trailer.
1 Boone, Andrew R., 1936, “Modern Gypsies”, Popular Science Monthly, April 1936, page 29 2 Boone, 32 3 Boone, 32 4 Sibley, Hi, 1936, “Ideal Outdoorsman’s Trailer”, Outdoor Life, December 1936, 5 Sibley, Hi, 1937, “Ideal Outdoorsman’s Trailer”, Outdoor Life, January 1937, page 28 6 Sibley, 28 7 1937, “Uni-Wheel Trailer Hauls Sportsmen’s Equipment”, Sportsmen’s Manual, 1937 Edition 8 Wallscapes, 2003, “1930s Antique Teardrop Travel Trailer/RV”, [On-line] June 2003 9 Boone, 31 10 Dandy, Jim, 1939, The Complete Plans and Instructions for Building the Jim Dandy Cabin Cruiser Model ‘C’, Jim Dandy Designs, Wausau, Wisconsin 11 Sibley, Hi, 1939, “Honeymoon House Trailer”, Popular Home Craft, March-April 1939, page 447 12 1940, Mechanix Illustrated, October 1940, page 114 13 Mooney, Mike, 1998, “Teardrop Trailer Heritage”, [On-line] 6 June 2003 14 Gartner, John, 1946, “Finishing Your Week-End Trailer”, Popular Science, April 1946, page 198 15 Sibley, Hi, 1947, “Trailer for Two”, Mechanix Illustrated, September 1947, page 113 16 Gartner, John, 1951, “Build the Two-Place Sportsman’s Trailer, Wander Pup”, Popular Home Craft, February 1951, page 156 17 Hull, Clinton R., 1951, “Build Li’l Guy”, Mechanix Illustrated, March 1951, page 106. 18 Goertzen, Vic, 1953, “Build ‘Wild Goose’”, Popular Mechanics, April 1953, page 187 19 1956, “Camp Trailer”, Mechanix Illustrated, August 1956, page 120
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