Building the Ultimate Teardrop Camper, Part 1: The Best Ideas are Born Out of Fire
Photo Credit, Courtesy of: Meg Atteberry.
The fire hissed and popped. We sat quietly under the pop-up canopy, listening to the unrelenting pitter patter of rain that had been our sound track for the past few days. We read the weather report but chose to ignore it against our better judgement. It was John’s birthday and we were going camping. A little rain wasn’t going to stop us. So, there we were, deep in the Sawatch, watching the puddles turn to micro-rivers while the fire crackled and steamed.
“What I wouldn’t give to have a teardrop camper right about now.” Chris, John’s brother, mused as he eyeballed his sagging truck tent.
“I think I’ll build one this winter.” Chris proclaimed. Maybe it was the beer talking or perhaps the soggy landscape had gotten to his head.
“Do it.” I barked back, calling his bluff, “I dare you.”
My tone meant business. Chris is a dreamer. He had been going through a particularly rough couple of years and I knew a big project like a camper would open up more adventures and have a positive impact on his life. I have been dating his brother, John, for nearly four years and had assumed the role of older sister. I knew he needed a kick in the proverbial pants to keep the project on his mind.
“It’s going to suck once you get into it, but it’ll be worth it in the end. I know you can handle it.” I reassured him.
“I think I’m going to do it!”
The Acquisition of the Frame
I thought nothing of the conversation for several months until Chris stumbled into my house one day and declared that a friend gave him a trailer. A smashed pop-up camper sat on top of the eight-feet four-inches long by four-feet six-inches wide trailer.
Before we could solidify any plans, the beast needed to be demolished and stripped of her former identity. The process of eliminating ancient upholstery and disintegrating MDF (think sawdust compressed to make cheap boards) caused Chris to come down with a nasty respiratory infection, the first of many battles with the coveted “Bear Pod.”
The camper’s name is born from a childhood nickname. Chris, also referred to as Bear from his family members, decided to name the camper after his spirit animal.
Once the camper had been disassembled, with the good bits set aside for re-use, the real planning began. The trailer itself guided the dimensions, and a few things had to go right away; the tires were far too tiny to handle the demands of off-road travel, and the propane tank needed to be removed to make space for the teardrop.
Keep the Dream Big
Since Chris had a clean slate, he decided to dream big. The basics were a no-brainer. The sleeping space would contain plenty of storage, LED lighting, two windows and two doors. In the back Chris planned to have a kitchen, power bank capable of housing a furnace, coffee pot, and even a microwave. A few fancy touches included a backsplash and fancy countertop.
The exterior spared no expense either. Porch lights would provide ample mood lighting outside and an equipment rack could hold tools, propane, a spare tire, and more.
Overall, the dream was big and the order tall. However, that’s the great thing about a project, you can build almost anything if you have the patience and skill to figure it out. Chris, John and his dad, Neil, do not lack any skills required to get the job done. Chris holds a journeyman’s electrician license, John a journeyman plumber and Neil owned a contracting business. Even I, mostly the colorful commentator on this particular project, spent time framing buildings for a living. It’s the patience that wears on you.
Timing is Everything
We had four months to get the project road-ready. In mid-April we planned to set off on her maiden voyage into the Utah desert. Four months is a long time to spend perfecting a four by eight-foot box on wheels.
A lot of items got tossed aside early on. For example, the design originally called for two full-length drawers to go underneath the camper to house tools. After some back and forth, the commitment to making robust equipment drawers was not worth the effort.
Overall, the cost of purchasing a new teardrop of this caliber is well into the $8,000-$10,000 range. Time could only tell how much the Bear Pod would cost in the end.
With the design needs and wants organized, Chris set out designing the shape. After much back and forth, Chris decided to keep the profile boxy, with a simple curve at the front, for style points. The shape derived itself out of function. Space is of the essence on such a small adventure mobile, so the more headroom the better. Not only did the design need to maximize space, but it also had to be easy to construct, and somewhat aerodynamic. In the end, the shape resembled a boxy design that many teardrop manufacturers use on off-road models.
No plan is complete without a look at the numbers. The Bear Pod, in all of her glory, had to be completed quickly and economically. You can dream all you want, but without the cash nothing happens. Bear happened to be short on both time and money at the onset of the project, so he chose to prioritize. He filed needs and wants into separate categories and gave a rough budget to each. One thing was certain, come April 15th, the teardrop would be road-ready and have a mattress inside for her maiden voyage.
The plan seemed realistic enough. Frame the teardrop camper, run wires, insulate it, skin it, trim it and buy a mattress. But here’s the thing with plans, they never quite work out the way we expect them to. Project Bear Pod was no exception. But that’s a story for next time.