- Bob Phillips
A ROLLING BOX OF MEMORIES
Justin Sedekum’s home-built teardrop is a rolling box of family memories. In the build, he used household items left from his paternal grandparents when they passed; made use of his mother’s old keepsake cedar chest; and incorporated bits and pieces from his parents’ old house. Even the trailer frame is from a heavy steel utility trailer that his grandfather built in the late 80s when Justin was in high school. It was that trailer that finally inspired him to build this tribute camper.
“I was very close to my dad’s parents, who were simple and down to earth people,” he said. “My grandpa had built a nice drop axle utility trailer with steel sides. He gave it to me in the late 90s and I used it many times over the years. I lost grandpa in 2006 and then grandma in 2015. It was after she was gone and I was looking at grandpa’s rusty trailer sitting in my drive that I decided to do something with it.”
“I didn’t have much of theirs; they just didn’t have much. And what I did have wasn’t useful to anyone and only meant something to me. I decided to build a teardrop out of his trailer and incorporate as much as I could from what I had of theirs, along with some things from other family members. I decided to turn it into a tribute teardrop for my daughters to inherit someday.”
Before he started, Justin scoured the internet to see what others had built. He had a general idea of what he wanted, including plenty of storage, both 12v and 120v circuits, an air conditioner and a sink, and he wanted it to look rustic. He settled on a profile called a Wyoming Woody and even found the profile online that he scaled to fit his needs.
Justin took his time on the project, working in spare time here and there. He didn’t go in with a master plan but sort of designed it as he built it. He started the project in the spring of 2016 and only recently finished the camper. Getting the old trailer restored and repurposed for a teardrop proved to be time consuming. Getting it lengthened on the back end, de-scaled, primed and painted took a considerable amount of time.
“The trailer had a wood floor and steel sides,” Justin explained. “It was built very heavy.”
“Grandpa was a welder for a company that built radio towers so he knew how to lay a heavy weld. I needed to deconstruct his old trailer down to the frame and axle. This just took more time than anything. I realized I needed to move the axle rearward after I started building the teardrop. I had my dad’s help in fabricating some heavy leaf spring brackets that I could bolt on and slide the axle back until I got the proper tongue weight and then welded the brackets to the frame. I decided to wait until it was mostly completed before doing that. I built the galley first and had to add weight to the front to keep the tongue down. Then I built the tongue box and installed the air conditioning unit on it. That kept the tongue down but was still too light to tow.”
“After the frame was ready I started with building a storage compartment in the floor. I had seen others build this into their design and thought it was a good idea. The floor is insulated with two layers of heavy black plastic with foam board sandwiched in between. The walls are larger than a 4 x 8 sheet so I used a biscuit joiner and TB3 to extend it to accommodate my profile.”
Justin found four camper windows from an RV junkyard near dad’s home in Indiana, two each of different sizes. He said they appeared to be new. He installed two in the doors and decided not to use the other two in the side walls, opting instead for a 16-inch-diameter round window that he ran across.
“The doors were difficult,” he said. “I bought a circle jig for my router to help. I had issues with warping so I kept my doors in the house after I remade them a second time. Once they were sealed from moisture they seemed more stable.”
“Inside walls are covered in red cedar closet liner except for the front cedar wall. Cabinet frames are made from western cedar and parts from an old dresser. The floor under the galley is made of galvanized steel used for making ductwork. I formed it up 2” on the sides and back then sealed it with RTV to create a waterproof tray in case something leaked. The bowl for the sink was also grandpa’s. It was used to clean car parts back to at least the 60s. The tongue and groove walls of the kitchen are recycled from my dad’s old house in Indiana. The handle on the sink faucet is from the original water main from my house.”
“The tongue box on the front is made from a single 4 x 10 sheet of rusty sheet steel I found half buried in my backyard when I moved into my house years ago. I had also built a small solar generator before I decided to build the teardrop and wanted to incorporate it into the build so the dimensions of the tongue box were built not just for the AC but also to accommodate the generator. The front removable panels on the tongue box are made from old street signs.”
Another challenge, he said, was finding ways to incorporate some of the memorable items left by his grandparents and materials that had value to him alone. For example, the red and green cabinet doors and drawer fronts are from his grandfather’s old dresser and the front wall came from his mother’s cedar hope chest that had sustained water damage.
“This dresser only had three drawers and was originally green but had been repainted decades ago a dark red on all but one side. All of it was built with square nails and none of the wood was the same thickness and was thin by today’s standards. The two green doors on the upper cabinet in the sleeping area are from that one side that never got repainted. To make the doors and drawer fronts, I took pieces from the drawer boxes and ran them through a thickness planer to make them all dimensionally the same, then laminated them to the backside of the drawer fronts. I used Titebond 3 and a lot of wood clamps being careful not to damage the old oil-based paint. I left all the imperfections including the knob holes. All the galley cabinets were built around the maximum size I could cut the doors to. The upper galley cabinet frames were built from the internal wood of the dresser. When you open the doors you can still see where the drawers wore the wood away.”
Justin used a technique called ‘Poor Man’s Fiberglass’ to do the roof. Cool Tears will have an article on ‘Poor Man’s Fiberglass’ in the March/April 2021 issue. The sides, tongue box and hatch are covered in old redwood siding that was planed down. The tail lights are from a 64 Chevrolet Impala. Cedar accents were used for the fender steps as well as a sunburst design on the tongue box lid.
Justin recently took his camper to his dad’s in Indiana for its maiden voyage, a 3 hour drive each way, with no issues. The first real trip, he said, will probably be to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana or Starved Rock in his home state of Illinois. Eventually, he hopes to take it to the West Coast.