First he camped with a tent and a small caravan, but after Jurie van Dyk from Jeffreys Bay saw a teardrop trailer, he knew he had to have one. So he decided to build one himself.
Jurie’s earliest memory of camping was his dad coming home from work on a Friday afternoon and loading a two-man tent, two sleeping bags, two bundles of wood, meat, and a two-litre Coke into a beach buggy and the two of them setting off. Once they reached the ocean they would travel kilometres down the sandy beach looking for a spot to pitch camp. There they would sleep and fish, with no people around for miles. The simplicity of those outings have always stayed with him, says Jurie.
I am an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly-fishing, trail running, triathlons and surfing. I have tried different ways of camping over the years, but the problem was always to what an extent a certain aspect of camping got in the way of my outdoor activities. For many years a tent was my only option, but it’s so time-consuming to pitch the tent and set up the rest of the camp that I didn’t have enough time to enjoy the outdoors.
Another factor that counted heavily against tent camping was how uncomfortably I slept, especially when I was really tired. And then there were the times that I camped in the rain or in strong winds, forcing me to sleep on the back seat of my car more than once. A few years ago I bought a small 1974 model Gypsey 1, hoping that this would solve my problems. It did to a certain extent, but it came with its own challenges. It was still a mission to set up camp on my own, and the difficulty with a caravan is that you need people to help you manoeuvre it. Add to that bad fuel economy and the endless struggle to find suitable campsites that could fulfil all my needs, and soon I went camping twice a year and not twice a month. The solution A tiny, incredible-looking caravan kept popping up in my social media feeds. It was called a teardrop camper and it was a modern revival of the classic 1930–40s DIY caravan. I started doing some research and found that the trend was taking off rapidly in the States. It became clear that this might be the solution to my problems. The only issue was that if I wanted one I would have to build it myself because the ones I was interested in were not sold or built in South Africa. So I decided “Why not?” I have a strong architectural background after all. (I completed my studies in 1999 and have been running my own architectural practice ever since.) Because I had never built anything of this kind before, my idea was to approach it like I would any architectural project: research it, find out exactly which skills and trades were involved, and then plan it down to a T. Fortunately for me we live in an amazing time where you can visit sites like YouTube, for instance, and >
find thousands of examples of people showing you how they built something – in this case a teardrop trailer. I used this resource often during construction, and I would definitely recommend this to anyone thinking of taking on any kind of DIY project. I went about designing my teardrop using a method called “from the skin in”. It’s a design method used in the automotive industry. The main idea is that you start with the shape of the vehicle and work your way back to the structure. My first task was to find a shape that I really liked, and after recreating the shape in 2D CAD software, I went to my 3D program, Sketchup, and started planning the structure. I built the complete trailer virtually with my 3D software to make sure that all issues were ironed out before I started construction. I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough if you want a successful project. If you try to do this by eyeballing it while you build, you will run into problems somewhere down the line and you will see that in the finished product. As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail, and when you add up the material costs, that isn’t an option.
The big build
I have to point out that I am not one of those guys who spends weekends in his garage building things. Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty handy when it comes to DIY projects, but the last time I worked with wood was 23 years ago when I was in matric. I much prefer spending my time outside in nature. For that reason I don’t have a lot of tools. The only tools I own are a circular saw (that I turned into a table saw by tying a cable tie to the switch so that it’s permanently on and then you switch it on and off on a multiplug), a jigsaw that I bought from Checkers 10 years ago, a drill, and a router that my dad had since I was in school. That’s it! But in hindsight that’s all you really need. The build went pretty smoothly, and I chalk that up to good planning. I managed to build the teardrop by myself, and the only thing I really struggled with was bending the lower ends of the plywood. From the beginning my idea was to only use material that I could buy from our local hardware store, but what you really need for this project is bendable plywood. I will definitely order that next time. I designed the trailer base and had it made by a registered professional
trailer builder. I designed the doors and had those made by a specialist. I felt those were the items you shouldn’t compromise on. The roof vent was an off-the-shelf RV vent. I finished the exterior off with a layer of aluminium that I glued on with strong epoxy glue. I used treated plywood for the interior walls and floors. I bought a double foam mattress, but because the trailer is slightly smaller than a double bed, I had to cut about 100 mm off the length of the mattress. At the top of the trailer I built in two cupboards. The one I turned into a kitchen and the other one is for our clothing.
The long and short of it
My teardrop weighs 440 kg. The trailer base weighs 140 kg and the body 300 kg. It has a nose weight of 66 kg, but with the next one I’m going to aim to get it close to 40 kg. I have a little bit of room to move the axle forward, but I’ll have to carefully look at the positioning of the wheels and the doors. But the trailer tows like a dream. I paid about R45 000 for the materials, and in terms of size I intentionally kept it to the dimensions of a standard sheet of wood (2 400 mm x 1 200 mm). The body is therefore 2 400 mm long, the height is 1 200 mm, and the internal width is 1 200 wide – which is about as big as a double bed. I also put 14” tyres on the trailer for easier gravel road towing. I was sitting in a coffee shop one day and realised the biscotti accompanying my coffee had the same shape as my teardrop. And right there I decided to name my trailer Scotti B.
Let’s go camping
I’m happy to report that the teardrop lived up to every imaginable expectation I had for a “hook-up and go” vehicle. >