First he used his self-built garbage trailer as a makeshift camping trailer. Then he converted it into a proper camping trailer, and then he built an off-road trailer, says Nick Smith.
In the four decades that he worked as a surveying engineer, a huge caravan and the bush were Nick Smith and his family’s home for many years. And even though the family lived in a caravan full-time, they also spent their annual holidays camping. Nick might be retired but camping is still a part of his family’s existence. He and his wife Nerina live in Potchefstroom and camp with their smart Tora II camping trailer that he built himself. Tora II and its forerunner, Tora I, came about from Nick and his friends’ erstwhile camping experiences in Namibia and from his self-built garbage trailer. The Tora II compares favourably with some of the best camping trailers on the market and cost a third of the price you’d pay for a factory-made trailer, says Nick. at Torra Bay. We have to take everything with us, because there is nothing. A big 300 ℓ freezer has to go with for all the fish we intend catching. And of course we have to take a generator to get the fridge going. We take three dome tents for six guys, plus more camp stuff. We need a lot of storage space and my garbage trailer is just the ticket. I build a roof frame for it, hang a piece of PVC sail across, give it shade cloth sides, and voilà: we have a trailer. The garbage trailer is the start of my camping trailer, the Tora, but it is still a long way off.
Humble beginnings In 2006, I start building a garbage trailer of 2,4 m, knowing it would be the start of a 10-year-long project – one with many challenges. The seed for the trailer is planted the day some friends and I decide to go camp
The garbage camper is the start of my camping trailer, the Tora, but it is still a long way off.
The bug bites again and again
The camping bug bit our group properly, and in 2008 we go camping with another two friends. This time we go to Mile 72, because it costs only R100 per night per stand, meaning that for R800 we can camp a whole eight nights. This time round we have to take four dome tents. I change the trailer completely and give it a pantry and scullery on the one side. It’s comfortable and relatively easy to set up. We camped nicely with the trailer quite a few times and when we weren’t using it to camp, it did its job as my garbage trailer. But the bug keeps gnawing and I decide to change the trailer again. Until now it only has the PVC cover that we attach the dome tents to. I decide it has to close completely. I also give it a kitchen –the trailer is now closer to a camping trailer.
Oh, the wind!
With all the changes, my wife Nerina and I now use only the trailer to camp. I install my roof tent that I haven’t used in ages on the trailer, close the sides, and build a fold-up kitchen table that the stove also stands on. This table is easy to put in and take out because I still use the trailer for garbage removal during the year. The improved trailer is spacious, but to set it up is hard work, and there are loads of poles and pegs. I also completely underestimated Hartenbos’s wind, and it takes extra pegs to ensure everything remains standing. But if the wind blows at night you can’t sleep because the tent jerks and flutters all over the show. We camp like this only once. I know the wind is going to bother me again, so I decide: I’m going to change the trailer into a proper camping trailer.
Camping trailer no. 1
And so I change the trailer for the third and last time. My new trailer has to be spacious enough and be able to withstand the wind. With this change into a camping trailer, which I call Tora I, it can’t function as a garbage trailer anymore. I design and have new tents made and it gets a kitchen at the back and a bathroom on the left. I built it so that you are immediately sheltered when you climb out. (By the way, the shade cloth over the camping trailer cools the trailer down by more than 8 ºC.) You also set it up quick-quick. You simply lift the roof and then the roof tents folds out. Within five minutes you can unhook, set up, and sleep. The Tora I also has four rolled-up side tents that you can open according to your needs.
Camping trailer no. 2
After many camps with Tora I, I want to change a few things again, but with the trailer’s existing structure it’s going to be difficult. I decide to do the logical thing and build a new trailer. At first I get a lot of push-back from Nerina, because she’s very satisfied with Tora I. Luckily she realises this is something I really want to do, and time isn’t a factor. She is often assistant and adviser, especially when the new trailer, Tora II, gets its kitchen. But the building work is in my hands. The design of Tora II is actually easy, because in Tora I I have a prototype I can refine. The first thing I do is draw up detailed plans with a CAD program on the computer as well as plan the construction process. The planning and design of the camping trailer tent is the most difficult, and it becomes clear that I can’t just hand this >
over to a tent maker. I make sure I have a clear and complete plan for the tent maker – and in the process I learn how a tent is made. The planning, drawing, and research take a lot of time, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. Good kitchen layout, proper and practical storage space, as well as good ventilation are some of the most important things to which you need to pay attention when you’re building a trailer like this. Almost everyone knows a camping trailer is very hot if it stands in the sun, and you need to make plans to prevent this. The set-up time and convenience of the trailer are also important. I limit the pegs to three to set up the Tora II. Weight is another important factor. Us old-timers don’t have the strength to move a heavy trailer, and as far as I know my Tora II is the lightest soft-roof trailer you can find (tare 480 kg, GVM 750 kg).
Hard work pays off
I make 100% sure I get the right materials for the trailer construction, and determine beforehand every little thing’s weight, and make adjustments to stay within my target
of 450 kg. With the weighing for registration purposes, the tare weight is only 30 km more than the target. The chassis and A-frame I build from 75 x 50 mm RQ, and for the ribs and framework steel of 38 x 19mm. The rest is all aluminium. The panels are of a light material made of two layers aluminium with a layer polyethylene in between. All nuts and bolts are stainless steel. I have all the steelwork powder-coated and fasten the panels with Sikaflex 552 AT. It’s time-consuming and Sikaflex is not the easiest thing to work with. First I have to stick the corner aluminium in every frame, wait a day for it to dry, and stick in the panel. All the panels are painted with Hammerite. The tent is made of tear-resistant sail (400 g ripstop) and all the window mesh is of PVC (and not shade cloth like in other camping trailers or tents). All the mesh can also unzip and all the tent panels can unzip. According to your own taste Campers have different needs and likes and dislikes, and most people buy a caravan or trailer as close to their taste as possible. Tora II is built exactly according to our personal taste, preferences and needs and has a few characteristics other trailers don’t. Built-in water tanks get dirty and are difficult to clean. The drinking water in Tora II are kept in two 20 ℓ containers that you cut open to clean or fill up. The dish and bathroom water is in a built-in 50 ℓ tank and I also have a built-in 40 ℓ water tank in my bakkie. The kitchen with all its space and goodies is furnished according to Nerina’s taste. It’s a unit and you can keep the food cupboard locked while you cook, because in Augrabies the monkeys raid your pantry as soon as you turn your back. The gas stove, microwave and induction plate can be removed when you want to use it when camping with your tent and gazebo. The trailer has a 12 V/220 V power system with eight sockets inside and three outside. The 12 V system also has a loose portable system and can be used separately, which comes in very handy. You get few camping trailers or caravans (if any) with so much interior space. A big, heavy man of 1.9 m and 140 kg can walk upright into the Tora II. You also have a big covered entertainment area that zips closed – something that is a huge plus >
point. The covered section is a lot bigger than the norm: 6.4 x 2.7 m. On the other side of the trailer we attach a shade cloth canopy (6.4 x 2.8 m) for our towing vehicle. A single person can set up or take down the trailer in 10 minutes. All the covers are securely spun with poles that attach to the trailer. As soon as the trailer is set up, you also immediately have space to hang things like wet towels. Underneath, the trailer closes right around to keep things dry and warm – and for this you don’t have to hit in a single tent pen. The front of the nose cone closes completely and is a nice storage space for loose items like bikes, braai gear and wood. Depending on where we stand and what the weather is like, we have different tent combinations. We set up what we need. If the weather is bad you can pitch the kitchen tent, otherwise we camp with the front door open, because it’s cooler. We only had to pitch the kitchen tent once. We only use the front sail if we’re camping for two days or longer. It’s about 10 minutes’ work to install. The front sail is made of tear-resistant sail with silver woven in, meaning it will never flake. It also has a stitched-in storm straps across the length through the middle and therefore doesn’t have an unsightly storm strap across the tent. The bathroom is only set up when absolutely necessary. It consists of two PVC shower curtains in the rear that zips completely closed. The trailer has four corner steadies that also serve as fasteners for the sails. The fold-up washing table fits over the fridge in its pull-out drawer. The pegs and rope
bag is part of the stair. The stairs’ four foot pieces are adjustable so it can also stand on uneven ground. In the nosecone we put all the loose things that aren’t always clean, like my 5 kg gas bottles, potjie and braai pan, and the trailer also has a dustproof cupboard for all the electrical gear like an extension cord, lights, and charger. On top of the lid is space for the ground cover and big things like the bikes. And in case you were wondering: The nose weight still falls well withing the permitted 100 kg. In the trailer is a clothing cupboard, both with four shelves, for myself and Nerina. The trailer also has a wardrobe with a mirror and space for about 20 items of clothing. The trailer has a linen cupboard, loads of storage space underneath the bed, as well as a small built-in safe. In the trailer is a large walking surface of 1.5 x 1.3 m. The sleeping tent section is 400 mm from the side of the bed, meaning you don’t touch the sides when you sleep. In this space you can store an extra blanket and a book. Tora I is still part of the family. My sons, Nico and Henrich, both love camping and this trailer is now theirs.
GARBAGE TRAILER (top right). The seed for Nick’s Tora trailer was planted when he went camping with some friends (at Torra Bay).
CAMPING TRAILER (top left). Nick and Nerine’s Tora II was built to suit their needs.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS (top). Nick (standing) and his friends used to camp with the garbage trailer at Torra Bay. They put a PVC cover over the roof and pitched their dome tents all around the trailer. During the day they put up a canopy for shade.
NEW BEGINNING (above). Nick eventually transformed the garbage trailer into his first off-road trailer, and then he started building his Tora II camping trailer.
STEEL FRAME (above). The chassis and frame are built bit by bit with steel.
THE GLUE THAT KEEPS IT TOGETHER (left). Nick fastened the panels with Sikaflex 552 AT.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE (below). The kitchen is built exactly to Nerina’s specifications.
BACK DOOR (bottom left). A tall man can stand upright in the door when the trailer is set up. PACK IT UP (bottom right). The nose cone is as wide as the trailer and has a cupboard with space for the gas bottles and other loose items.
SLIDING CONVENIENCE (above left). The fridge and stove pull out on a sliding frame.
THE BIG SLEEP (top). The bed is nice and big and underneath is a lot of storage space.
ALL IN ONE (above right). The kitchen is a unit with a big work surface and loads of storage space. The gas stove, microwave, and induction plate can be removed if you go camping with your tent.