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One man’s junk becomes another man’s treas...camper

- by Bob Phillips -

Here’s proof that a serviceable teardrop camper doesn’t require a big bundle of cash. D. Derek Drury built his cheap but stylish little teardrop with mostly discarded materials. It’s built on a small “folding” trailer with a frame tailored from PVC pipe that he found discarded in a dumpster. Weighing just 605 pounds, it is light enough to remove from the trailer, if it’s needed for hauling.

The idea for a small camper came to Derek a couple of years ago when he no longer needed the trailer to haul a lawn tractor. He thought his idea was unique, unaware at the time that tiny trailers were in vogue and that their popularity is growing.

“I thought my idea to create a micro-camper was original until the Internet informed me that folks have been doing this for years.  They called them “teardrop campers” – and they were cool!

“I hope to someday build a nice teardrop camper like those I see in CoolTears magazine.  But in 2016, if I wanted a camper I had to work within certain constraints. It needed to convert back into a utility trailer (just in case);  it needed to be as close to ‘free’ as possible (I am somewhat renowned for shamelessly re-purposing what my neighbors drag to the curb); and it had to be simple. My work/family commitments left me limited time for a garage side project.

“I began accumulating discarded plywood for a traditional teardrop build. This plan changed the day I noticed that a local church had discarded multiple dry-erase boards. While dumpster-diving for the white-boards, I discovered the church had also thrown away its portable puppet-show stages. I suddenly became the grateful owner of a lot of PVC pipe and fittings.

“After talking with her about the design, she had some issues. She didn’t want a kitchen since all of our cooking stuff was set up for tent camping. Also, she wanted a little floor space for the Porta Potty too. So I threw out the plans for the teardrop and decided on a squaredrop.”

“When I worked in construction as a teenager, we would sometimes bend PVC pipe over propane heaters to use as electrical conduit.  I used this quirky expertise to transform the PVC pipe and fittings into a curving infrastructure to support a shell made of white board.

“After finding a practical use for my PVC/white-board windfall, I must admit that I became obsessed with the no cost challenge.  I fashioned the internal shelves from fabric I salvaged from my kids’ defunct trampoline. Rather than purchasing windows, I created my own Wiley windows using tempered glass panes scrounged from someone’s discarded stereo cabinet.”

Some smaller items had to be purchased, such as new door handles and a roof vent (without the fan).  For lighting he found two battery-powered push-button lights at a local thrift store. He also installed a 12-inch fluorescent bulb to use when the camper can be plugged in, the plug-in salvaged from his workplace.

The entire camper is covered using the “Poor-Man’s Fiberglass” technique. For the canvas he used a painter’s drop cloth, over which he applied many, many coats of primer and paint, all of which came from what he had on hand or what he salvaged from the curbs in his neighborhood.

“The plywood floor is bolted to the steel frame at multiple anchor points,” Derek explained.  “I store the camper on saw horses above the trailer when it is detached.  A square hole in the floor allows me to place the camper onto the frame by myself, if necessary. At some point, I may fashion a ‘pop-down’ foot-well to facilitate comfortable seating. I’ve learned that a DIY camper is never really finished.

“When the weather gets hot, I connect an old window-shaker AC unit through the side of the camper. The snap-shut A/C ports on the camper were salvaged from discarded air mattresses.  I fashioned the conversion manifold out of old corrugated plastic real estate yard signs.  The actual ducts are made from gutter hardware

insulated by my son’s high-school hockey socks. I like that the A/C is external so I only take it when I might need it.”

Now the fun of building the camper, which is mostly complete, has been replaced by the fun of camping. Derek said he’s met a lot of interesting folks through the local chapter of  

“I’ve even been known to use it as my own personal motel on multi-day car trips,” he said. “One lesson I’ve learned is if you plan to sleep with a partner, you’d better make sure your camper is wider than 4 feet.

“Maybe I can use that as an excuse to build a real teardrop camper!  I wonder what the Curb Gods will bestow on me the next time.


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