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Camping or cargo, Road Toad has it covered

New construction technology makes these teardrops lightweight, tough, affordable

- by Bob Phillips -

Road Toad teardrop trailers, which went into production the first of this year, utilize a unique uni-body construction method that makes them lightweight for smaller tow vehicles, yet durable and low cost. The trailers are built by Petenwell Industries LLC in Necedah, Wisconsin, the company that also produces Camp-Inn camping trailers.

Road Toads are far different from Camp-Inns, so Petenwell owners Cary Winch and Craig Edevold thought it best to have a stand-alone company for a stand-alone product, marketed to a niche clientele.

“Camp-Inn is very well known for it’s high quality, special marine grade build materials, long list of options and accessories and, most importantly, very high level of customer service,” Cary said. “In contrast, the Road Toad is a super simple, low frill, low cost, low maintenance product that needs little care. Having a separate company makes it easier to keep customer service easily handled with fewer resources than the much more complex Camp-Inn product line.”

Craig and Cary came up with the idea for the Toads in 2014 and built a prototype. It was road tested for over four years. The prototype was towed over 50 miles every day for one full year and on several trips of 1,000 miles and more. It was used in temperatures from 104 degrees to minus-30 degrees in sun, wind, rain and snow.  The prototype was loaded to 120% of its axle load rating and towed over rough roads. A 1,000-pound axle failed under the heavier test load so the trailers now come with 2,000-pound axles.

Construction methods and materials are very different between Road Toad and Camp-Inn. The Camp-Inn is a wooden camper that makes use of marine grade woods, glues, wood finishes and hardware throughout. The Road Toad has no wood in it. It has no structural skeleton like most trailers, instead using a construction technique in which the body is integrated into a single unit with the frame rather than a separate body on a frame. This uni-body design is engineered to provide a very high strength-to-weight ratio. Specially designed composite panels of corrugated plastic and aluminum are used to form the body, all held together by system of aluminum extrusions at the joints. Even the frame rails are aluminum extrusions that also provide a mounting structure for the axle and tongue. The goal is a simple low-cost camper that has very little need for care and maintenance. 

“The construction method is something Craig and I dreamed up many years ago and sketched up the concept,” Cary said. “The whole idea started with, could we build a camper that is all held together primarily with a system of aluminum extrusions? In 2014 we built a prototype and did extensive testing of the concept. Once we knew how well it really worked we tooled up all the special extrusions and started a plan to build Road Toads. We use a unique composite panel material, for the walls and floor, which is a corrugated plastic core with thin layers of pre-coated aluminum bonded to both sides. The roof and the galley hatch are a similar material that is thinner and has a solid plastic core. Both are super lightweight, and super strong. While the material is more expensive than plywood or other more conventional building materials, due to the strengths of the material, less material is needed and the weight savings alone justifies the choice.”

Both brands are built in Petenwell’s 20,000 square-foot plant in Necedah. The Camp-Inn product typically requires 240 to 270 hours of labor to produce a typical model. They are built in an assembly line process that flows from one end of the building to the other. The Road Toad is brilliantly simple in design, only requiring about 30 hours of labor for each camper, and is built in a work cell away from the Camp-Inn line. 

There are two things that set the Road Toad apart, the first being quality materials.” Cary said. “Many people make nice low-cost teardrop campers. They are built with lower cost materials and building methods. This sometimes means lower quality and generally always means a shorter life span. We designed the Road Toad to hit the low-cost targets while building using higher quality materials that will outlast all the other construction methods and materials traditionally used in teardrop campers. A Road Toad can be expected to have a much greater life span.

“The main thing that sets the Road Toad apart is the weight. Many potential tow vehicles only have 1,000 pound tow capacities. All teardrop manufacturers, Camp-Inn included, have had to pass over that market. Conventional construction materials and methods just cannot get light enough. Even light teardrops will have empty weights of 700 to 800 pounds. To reach this target, teardrops are built narrower, at 4 feet, or the trailer is shortened and the galley is omitted. While they may reach the under 1,000 pound capacity target, they do not allow for the 300 to 400 pounds of gear often loaded into a basic teardrop. The loaded weight, of a typical teardrop, is too heavy for these smaller tow vehicles.”

The Road Toad is incredibly light, 400-460 pounds. This leaves plenty of capacity for gear in the camper and still keeps under the 1,000 pound range. The Road Toad is truly the only full-size teardrop camper on the market that can be properly used with tow vehicles that have 1,000 pound tow capacity.

Road Toad offers two models – the Abode and the Totes. The difference is that the Abode comes with a galley area and storage cabinets and the Totes has a wide-open interior that makes it work great for hauling cargo in addition to being a camper. They are identical in construction techniques with the same features and both will accommodate a queen-sized mattress. Both feature a large locking access hatch supported by gas struts, have 41 inches of ceiling height, 24X36 doors on each side with slide-open screened windows and a roof vent. The Abode adds a 59X24 countertop with 9.7 cubic feet of storage area, and 6 cubic feet of under-counter storage. The Abode’s ceilings are carpeted for insulation and sound reduction and there are 8 cubic feet of storage shelves in the cabin.

They are equipped with aluminum Jeep-like fenders, LED side marker lights, tail lights and license plate light. They have four-prong trailer wiring, optional 1-7/8” or 2” ball hitch and folding tongue jack. Optional are 12-, 13-, 14- or 15-inch wheels, depending on the clearance desired.

The Totes is Craig’s brainchild, a cargo trailer/teardrop camper hybrid. When Craig threw out the idea, Cary said he had observed that some people were cutting doors into cargo trailers and adding amenities inside for camping, and the Totes would fit nicely into that trend.

“This all came about when Craig suggested we make an empty model to keep it even simpler and to serve a dual purpose as a cargo trailer. The Road Toad is a perfect platform for doing this as a production unit. Throw an air mattress in it and camp one weekend and use it to haul remodeling supplies the next weekend. We believe we are the only ones with a production version of a cargo trailer/teardrop camper hybrid, although there are plenty of them out there that are created by their owners.”

Road Toads are currently being sold from the online store on the Road Toad website They are built to stock and can be shipped rather quickly when ordered. The Camp-Inn trailers are built to order and often have a long lead time. They hope to offer the Road Toad product through dealerships in the future and will be looking for dealers who are interested in carrying the brand.


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