Turtle Up Trailers: From a doggie sidecar to manufacturing teardrops
- by Bob Phillips -
As a boy growing up in Eastern Illinois, Andrew Kaufmann liked to tinker and build stuff out of metal at his grandfather’s welding shop. When he became acquainted with teardop campers, he knew that he had to build one. Now that has evovled into his own business, Turtle UP Trailers, based in Buckley, Ill., on I-57 about 100 miles south of Chicago.
Editor's Note: Over the next few months we will feature our advertisers; giving our readers an overview of the companies beyond information about their products found in normal advertising. We continue the series this month with Turtle Up Trailers new product line of U-Build Wall Kits.
Kaufman started building his own teardrop camper in 2014 and finished about a year later. While camping, he came up with several changes and modifications, which started him thinking about a trailer manufacturing business. He sold that camper in 2016 and Turtle UP was officially launched in 2017 as a full-service shop of steel-or aluminum- framed treardops, trailer parts and accessories, and repairs.
“I have always been building or designing,” Andrew said. “I started working at my grandpa’s welding shop during the summers when I was 8 years old. He would have me making small parts, which mostly included a lot of the grunt work like cutting material to length on the bandsaw, or drilling a bunch of holes. As I grew I just kept on designing and building things. I love it.
“I had a beagle named Brandy that loved to ride in the car. Knowing how much she liked to ride, I designed a bicycle that had a sidecar and presented the idea to my father, who was not thrilled about the idea, but I slowly convinced him to help build it. Long story short, that bike was a hit. Not only did the dog like it, but everywhere I rode it attracted attention.
“I started a full-time summer job when I was 14 at the local trailer sales shop, working on utility and enclosed trailers. That matured into a six-year stint where I learned a lot about trailers and ultimately led me to think about it as a business opportunity. I started working at a CNC machine shop as maintenance manager fixing machines and learning how quality manufacturing works. Currently I am a Project Manager at a facility that manufactures large evaporative coils for refrigeration, along with running Turtle UP Trailers.”
Turtle UP Trailers currently has a whale of an offer open – a 30 percent discount on five custom builds of its Beacon model. One couple has already taken advantage of that and saved nearly $6,000 on their camper. The offer now stands on the next four teardop sales. “I want to build to order so that most all of our teardrops will be completely unique and fully reflect the owner’s style,” Andrew said.
The company buys components like the axle, wheels and tires, but everything else is done in-house. It took much longer than expected to build the first Beacon, Andrew said, because of changes made along the way. Among the changes was the entire tongue structure
“I had the teardrop in rolling-chassis form and had started on the interior. I needed to transport the teardrop from my weld shop to my trailer shop, a 100-yard rock driveway separating the two, and I decided to have my wife pull the camper as I rode inside. I could feel some flex in the tongue that was unacceptable, so I redesigned the tongue structure, had to buy more material and cut off and remade the tongue. There where a couple other great learning experiences on the first Beacon that made me want to pull my hair out at the time, but ultimately propeled our trailers to the top of the class in quality.
“Since they were first built, most all teardrop shells are made of plywood. We build ours out of steel or aluminum. Our trailers come in around the same weight class as similar sized wooden tears and offer a much stronger structure, longer lifespan, less maintenance, and more insulation. When we designed our frame structure I wanted the base frame and shell to be one piece. I don’t like the idea of fasteners between the steel frame and a wood shell coming loose over time. I also was concerned about weight, so that is why I designed the three piece arc structure that is very strong, repeatable, and locates all of the wall studs. Our walls are also 2 inches thick and fully insulated.
“Along with the metal frames we wanted to eliminate wood everywhere we could so customers wouldn’t have to worry about water damage or rot or any refinishing of any sort. We skin the interior wall with a composite sheet that is a ¼” thick and all of our cabinets are made of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) which is what high-end outdoor kitchens are made of.”
The 6x10-foot Beacon model weighs around 1700 pounds complete and the 4x8-foot Squirt model is around 800 pounds dry weight. Both have a 40- to 75-pound tongue weight.
Turtle Up now offers wall kits for DIY enthusiasts that are exactly the same frames that are used on Turtle UP campers. The kit includes the three arc sections, studs cut to length and instructions sent right to the buyer’s door. Shipping costs should be $40 to $80 depending on the distance. Other companies offer teardrop kits, but Andrew said he knows of no other offering metal 2” thick stud walls that can be insulated.
“I didn’t come up with the idea, prospective customers did,” he said. “People who would see our teardrop at shows kept asking me if they could just buy the walls, or if we offered a kit. I thought on it a bit and the answer was simple. There was no extra investment from me to be able to offer this and I didn’t have to design anything.
“The wall kit box includes all of the components to build two teardrop-shaped stud walls. The walls can then be welded or bolted to a frame of the buyer’s choice. The insulation, and interior and exterior skin are not included. I am working on the best way to supply a hatch kit and hope to be able to supply a full-build kit in the future, but for now this is a great start and can still get builders everything they need for a full teardrop build; they just can’t get everything with one click yet.”
He’s also toying with the idea of designing a wall kit that fastens together in a way other than welding but hasn’t found a fastener he’s satisfied with yet. One possibility he’s looking at is aircraft rivets.
“A Turtle UP logo sticker will come with every wall kit and we encourage buyers to apply it to their build. I am offering these kits in hopes to be a one-stop shop for everything teardrops. If builders have questions, or want to talk about the best way to do an idea they are working on for their build, I want to help them out any way I can, as well as selling them parts to complete their build or pointing them in the right direction for everything they need.”
Check out Turtle UP at https://www.turtleuptrailers.com/.