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Life In A Mini-Camper
Friday, June 7, 2013
While you're reading this morning's edition of The Outdoor Wire, I'm getting ready to take my Jeep and tiny camper and go...camping. That's right, as if traveling with them for MyTime2Stand wasn't enough, I'm taking the wife and heading to the mountains before temperatures become too-hot to make camping comfortable.

Many of you have been asking about the diminutive trailer I'm pulling across the country behind my Jeep. With the Jeep and trailer both wrapped, it's not easy to tell much about the trailer. That's why I've already heard "it's a cute little thing- what is it" dozens of times in my weeks on the road.

"It" is a teardrop trailer. More specifically, a Silver Shadow model from Little Guy Teardrop Camper/Trailer company of Masillon, Ohio. They've been building these little retro-trailers since 2002 and now offer them in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Europe. The trailers are handbuilt by Amish craftsmen in Sugarcreek, Ohio. It's obvious they take their work very seriously. I've yet to see anything not straight nor plumb anywhere.

Surprisingly, my Silver Shadow is one of the largest trailers in the Little Guy line. They range in size from their Rascal ("big enough to sleep in, small enough to tow with your motorcycle) to their Silver Shadow and 6-wide series.

The Little Guy before wrapping. A bit more subdued looking, but still very identifiable. After the wrap (Below), it's difficult not to notice it driving - or parked. Jim Shepherd/MyTime2Stand.com photos.

You can go from minimalist to units equipped with running water, 12v-110 power, air conditioning and heat. If you absolutely must watch video when you're camping, there's even a small TV/DVD combo. Mine is well equipped with the 12v-110 Power, A/C, a small sink, two-burner camp stove and vents, fans and LED lighting. It also has enough storage to enable you to hit the road with enough gear to quickly setup a campsite.

So why a tiny teardrop?

Because I wanted to pair something distinctly American with the most iconic of American outdoor vehicles, the Jeep. Plus, these teardrops can trace their lineage right back to the "General Purpose (GP)" vehicles of World War II.

When soldiers, sailors and airmen returned from World War II, their eyes had been opened to the world and many of them decided to get out and explore the United States.

To do that, they needed vehicles to allow them to travel and sleep in relative comfort. In those days, there weren't hotels/motels and fast food joints on every corner, so they had to be prepared to have some nights of total self-sufficiency.

They purchased military surplus materials and built their own travel trailers, using plans that were first seen in Mechanix Illustrated in the 1930s. Those older trailers had been designed around using standard 4 by 8 plywood sheets with hardwood spars.

The 1940s trailers, used the plentiful, two-wheel surplus Jeep trailers for the platform, and they covered the durable little trailers using aluminum from the skins of military aircraft being scrapped. Then, they took the trailer with it's classic pintle-style military hitch (still available on the Little Guy's Rough Rider off-road trailers) and hit the road.

They remained popular until the mid-1960s, then virtually disappeared. The internet's actually credited with bringing back the little teardrops after plans started appearing there in the 1990s.

Today's modern teardrops are still reminiscent of aircraft wings, but our grandparents would be impressed by the amenities packed into them.

Buying a complete trailer isn't your only option. If you're a skilled do-it-yourself type, plans available on the internet show you exactly how to build one that's distinctly your own. You can buy kits at www.theteardroppers.com or plans from companies like Kuffel Creek (www.kuffelcreek.com/teardrops.htm). Not being particularly "handy" and facing a tight timeline, I found Little Guys online and contacted them to find out where I could get one -and a delivery date.

As it turned out, I got lucky. Little Guy's managers were just about to wrap up their 2013 catalog shoot and the Silver Shadow they used would be available just in the nick of time. It was delivered to Birmingham for wrapping, and finished just in time for me to hit the road.

In fact, when I hooked up for the first time and hit the road, I had just opened a door and tossed in a sleeping bag and some toiletries. It has absolutely been a learn-as-I-go process. Yesterday, while prepping the trailer to go camping, I realized there were actually stabilizer jacks on each corner. And I had to learn how to de-winterize the water system before I could fill the onboard water tank. My unit didn't even come with an owner's manual. Fortunately, they're online and I have printed one out. I'm planning on going through it this weekend to see what else I don't know- but should.

And I'm looking forward to taking the wrap off one day so everyone can see the Little Guy tagline on the back of the trailer: "I'm a Little Guy, I go where I'm towed to". Ouch.

The T@B Trailers are the big brothers of the teardrops. Photo from Little Guy/T@B Trailer website.
If you're interested in these little trailers, you can see the Little Guys at www.golittleguy.com. A Google search can turn up dozens of other options, including Little Guy's bigger company T@b (Tab) Trailers. They're a larger (and pricier) option if you need more space and the ability to stand up inside.

There are plenty of options you can add, from simple awnings to tents that expand living space outside the trailer proper.

So far, my only option has been the addition of a swing arm and beach-style umbrella to give the kitchenette area more shade. But I'm eyeing the side mount screen room pretty lustfully - 100 square feet of private standing/sitting room would really appeal to the wife. I have a nice 10x10 Coleman Easy-Up shelter, but the privacy would be really nice.

But I'm enjoying the journey- and that's the point, right?

Get out there and enjoy the weekend. We're here, and as always, we'll keep you posted.

--Jim Shepherd

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