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Copper-clad teardrop: a thing of beauty

by: Bob Phillips

You’ve seen many, many pictures of beautiful campers in these pages, but the copper-clad teardrop built by Ronald Sponselee is one of the most eye-catching beautiful teardrop that have appeared here. Ronald and his family, wife Nancy and daughter Amber, are residents of the Netherlands. They loved camping with their old Bedford camper named Betty, often spending weekends at a campground called The Lievelinge, which Ronald described as “a big campsite for modern hippies.”

The owners have built “magical and strange buildings” there, he said, as well as people who own their own sites.

On one of those weekends at Lievelinge, two girls set up camp next to them with a modern wooden teardrop that had been built by the father of one of the girls. Their camper intrigued Ronald and started him thinking about building his own.

“I loved it right away,” he said. “I started dreaming of building my own teardrop. I promised my daughter that I would build a teardrop so we could go to festivals.”

He purchased the frame of a fold-out camper and started with simple drawings. He wanted a real tear-shaped teardrop, one without straight lines.

“I asked Frenk, my building partner, to draw a perfect line together. It took us some hours but we succeeded,” he said. “On the internet I found a picture of a wooden steam-punk teardrop with a dragon back. I knew that’s what I wanted.

“I’m more of a practical kind of guy, so rather than making a lot of drawings I just started to build. Step by step. The two sides were very easy. I used plank wood for the kitchen and the bed also. The dragon back was shaped and things started coming alive.”

When they started building the kitchen drawers, he decided he wanted the drawer fronts to have the same curved lines as the teardrop. So, all the door fronts are shaped like teardrops.

“I wanted to build a steam-punk teardrop, so the sides must be real copper. I like to use real materials, not something that looks real. I could have painted the sides with a copper color, but I wanted real copper. I ordered 0.5 mm thick plates of copper and I glued them onto the wooden side panels.

“The next problem was the fenders. I wanted them also in the shape like a curve, so I ordered a couple of fenders for a Volkswagen Beetle. I turned them and ground them, trying to get them right, but in the end just threw them away. I wanted them to be part of the teardrop design and not something just put on because you need them. I wanted them to be part of the wooden ornamental frame.”

Picking out a color for the wooden frame was difficult, he said. He went to a painting shop that mixed a very special new color, adding extra drops of red to the normal colors.

“The dragon back was also very difficult, because I wanted the look of an iron fence on top of the Lexan roof. Finally I found a solution -- rubber doormats. When sprayed with the right colors, they really look like ironwork.”

His wife Nancy collected all the decorative pieces for the kitchen, like golden cutlery, copper pans and kettle.

It took 18 months to complete the camper, working in spare time. Ronald, 41, has owned his own business for the last 20 years, the first 10 years building scenery for theatrical productions and the last 10 building exhibition booths.

“After one and a half years of building, the copper teardrop was ready for a trip,” he said. “In Holland there is a festival called Where the Sheep Sleep, an official Burning Man festival, and my daughter and I took the teardrop. It attracted plenty of attention. A lot of people came to see this extraordinary trailer. They all loved it. And we had the first rain.”

Ronald, who has an eye for art, said one of the best things about the copper is it changing color. It started getting dark brown and green.

“Last week we polished the teardrop again, so now it has the real copper color again,” he noted. “In a few weeks the copper teardrop will be part of Design Week in the southern city of Eindhoven, so we had to shine it one more time. After Design Week I’m not going to polish it anymore. I want to see all these amazing colors on it!”


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