Mr. Green Car: Teardrops: Tiny campers

Katie Whitman, finance manager at Sunny Island RV Sales, poses with a Little Guy--Teardrop Camping Trailer. Photo by Allen Penticoff

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

I drive up and down Alpine Road in Rockford what seems to be endlessly. There are something like 35 stoplights on this road from one end to the other, maybe more. I only half-jokingly say I should invest in a stoplight company—they are never taken down, but there always seem to be new ones going up.

At one of these, the corner of Alpine and Sandy Hollow Road, I gazed across at something eye-catching. There, outside the fence of Sunny Island RV Sales, was a silver smart-for-two with a matching silver camping trailer hooked up behind it. I didn’t stop then, but I definitely would need to come back and check this out.

The interior of a teardrop camping trailer. Photo by Allen Penticoff

A couple days later, I did return to check it out. On the way in, I noticed several other sleekly aerodynamic “teardrop” trailers in the lot as well. They vary in size from one to the next, and vary in accommodations. One version had a large rack on the front that could accommodate an all-terrain vehicle or other recreational equipment. These campers are made by Little Guy—Teardrop Camping Trailers. The smallest, the “Rascal,” is 490 pounds, and can be pulled behind a large motorcycle. Most of the trailers can be towed by a vehicle with a four-cylinder engine. While the largest, at 1,520 pounds, may need a V-6-powered tow vehicle.

The trailer I’d spotted behind the smart car was a gussied-up “Silver Shadow” version that lists for about $7,250 (the whole line runs from $5,400 to $10,000). I found it to be roomy, sleeping for two, and the back has a large hatch that opens up to provide substantial additional storage and a galley, all done in a nice birch paneling. The interior had a split foam mattress for sleeping, two-screened doors and a translucent skylight/vent for natural light and ventilation.

The additional storage and galley area of a teardrop camping trailer. Photo by Allen Penticoff

The Rascal and four-wide series has a mattress that is about twin-sized while the five-wide series is queen-sized and the six-wide series has nearly a California King 70 inches by 78 inches. They all fill the entire floor of the interior. Headroom is limited to sitting up. The light color liner and large glass doors would keep them from being claustrophobic. Small storage cabinets span the width above the bed area.

The service manager, who moved it around so I could take photos, says the smart car pulls the trailer just fine, even on the highway, though he declined to let me take it for a drive as the lighting was not rigged up. They all can be set up to have racks on the roofs to carry bicycles, canoes and kayaks. If “roughing it” is not really your thing, air conditioning/heating is an available option as are flat-screen televisions and the usual camping equipment of a stove and grill.

A silver smart-for-two with a matching silver camping trailer hooked up behind it--a gussied-up teardrop "Silver Shadow" version that lists for about $7,250 (the whole line runs from $5,400 to $10,000). Photo by Allen Penticoff

Teardrop trailers originated in 1930s as homemade trailers. After WWII, some were built of war-scrap materials from bombers and Jeeps salvaged from sunken ships. They provide efficient-to-tow campers for those who are concerned about fuel economy, or simply do not want to deal with large RVs. According to Sunny Island’s finance manager, Katie Whitman, they have noticed a distinct trend with customers coming in for downsizing of camping vehicles. Groups of these teardrop campers sometimes hold rallies called “gatherings” to get together and share camping stories. Many are used to attend car shows and other events, as well as hunting and fishing in remote spots where a regular RV cannot go. Camouflage is one of the color options.

You say: “That looks pretty tiny. I could just take a tent.” Yes, you could. But everyone who has ever camped in a tent knows that tent camping will break any drought. You will get wet, and the tent will get wet just before it’s time to take it down—so you have to set it up again at home to dry it out. Tents tend to get wet on the floor as well, either directly through rain, or by condensation—and all your stuff and sleeping bags get wet, too. Then, there is dealing with zippers in the dark while you try to go to the bathroom. But something many of us don’t consider is that some of the national parks are now restricting tent camping because of hazards of bears and other wild animals.

David Clemente of Janesville, Wis., built a teardrop trailer from the information in a 1939/1947 Mechanix Illustrated magazine. It is nicely finished and used regularly for camping. Photo by Allen Penticoff

I’m always for less is more. A smaller RV, towed behind a smaller vehicle, is bound to be more efficient—saving fuel costs, imported oil and reducing air pollution. I’d say if you’re ready to move up from a tent, or down from a bigger RV, I’d give the Little Guy teardrop trailers a hard look. Web site: www.GoLittleGuy.Com.

From the April 21-27, 2010 issue

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