Monthly Archives: December 2011

A Look at Whetzel Trace Travelers…

It was January 2010 when I first met Dan Sutton. I was a relatively new owner of a T@B and  heard some local teardrop trailer owners were gathering at Mounds State Park in Anderson, Indiana for a weekend camping event affectionately known as “Shiveree”.  For those who aren’t too familiar with the climate of central Indiana in the middle of January, things can get downright cold….ice cold!

My better half would not entertain the notion of cold weather camping, so I made this trip solo. Upon my arrival and set-up, Dan was the first “regular” to make his way over to introduce himself. It was a good “ice breaker” for me, as I had not camped with any of these folks before. My only interaction with them was through an online forum for teardrops & tiny trailers.

It wasn’t long into our conversation that I found out that Dan was not only a teardrop enthusiast, but he was also a builder. Dan’s trailer for the weekend was a relatively new 2009 teardrop that he had built, checking in at 5′ X 9′.

Since I’m the kind of guy that could put all of my skill of building a trailer in a thimble, it wasn’t hard for me to be impressed with Dan’s work. Plus, his Route 66 themed curtains were made of the same material as a shirt I had, so that scored big points with me. That, coupled with a turquoise boomerang Formica counter top in the galley, made this teardrop one worth having.

Dan’s been an outdoorsman practically all of his life, thanks to parents that introduced him to camping at a young age and then progressing through scouts. It was his time in the scouts where Dan got the inspiration for the name of his trailer business: Whetzel Trace Travelers. Jacob Whetzel was a pioneer in Indiana in the early 1800s and cut a trail across south central Indiana, later known as Whetzel’s Trace. Dan’s scout troop was part of the Whetzel Trace district, so as a tribute to his scouting days and to Jacob Whetzel,  he incorporated the name in his business in Greenwood, Indiana.

Ironically, Dan has a floundering economy to thank for becoming a full time teardrop trailer builder and vintage trailer repair specialist. “It was a hobby at first, but as the economy faltered, so did my primary business of home repair. But my campers started selling and it became full time”. It was at an outdoor show when he first saw a teardrop trailer at a display. “I knew I would somehow end up with one. After building my first one, many friends and family members asked for me to build them one as well”, Dan tells us. That was in 2004 and 16 trailers ago.

Dan still has plans to gradually expand his business. “Growth plans are in flux, as I have been getting a lot of calls regarding restored vintage campers, which I do also. But, I currently still work out of a small shop, and as most business’ needs grow, I too am looking for a larger shop and maybe even a store front”.

One of the advantages Dan has as a “mom & pop” trailer business is that he’s able to offer several designs, most to suit customer needs. And to ensure each trailer he builds gets the attention it deserves, he only works on one trailer at a time and doesn’t start another one until his current build is completed.

His designs vary quite a bit from each other. Contrasting his black 2009 (which has since been sold) is probably his signature trailer: The 2007 “Touring Lodge”, built of redwood and cedar…and a few antlers:

But the options don’t stop there. Dan is especially fond of the Kit Manufacturing teardrops, and has restored vintage Kits from the 1940′s…

and has built Kit clones as well:

Dan’s work as a trailer builder hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2010, the Touring Lodge was voted Best Custom Built Teardrop at the East Coast Nationals in Virginia. But as good as his work as a builder is, his abilities in restoration are just as impressive, as evidenced by the before & after photos of this 1970 Yukon:

Here’s a brief TV segment from WTIU in Bloomington, Indiana, featuring Dan starting at the 3:40 mark, discussing the 1947 Kit, as well as another homebuilt model owned by Kurt Schlesselman:

Dan’s skills, as well as his flexibilities in customer needs, make him a rare commodity in the teardrop & small trailer business. Whether you want a modern style teardrop built, a vintage style teardrop built, or have a vintage teardrop or smaller trailer (pre-1975)  that needs restoration, Whetzel Trace Travelers can handle the job. Scout’s honor!

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Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas!

Here’s hoping Santa brought you plenty of new camping gear for 2012, and maybe even a new trailer for those of you who’ve been extra nice!

20111225-115448.jpg Photo courtesy Kerola’s Camper Store

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The Impetus of The Small Trailer Enthusiast

As The Small Trailer Enthusiast approaches the completion of four months of existence, the idea came to mind to write about how this blog came to be, and with that the inspiration for it. It wasn’t until the last three years or so that I’ve become interested in small travel trailers. My wife & I had wanted a teardrop trailer for many years, but it had always been one of the many “maybe some day” dreams we all have. When we did finally pull the trigger and purchase a T@B in 2009, it seemed to instantly fuel an interest in all travel trailers small. I’m not alone in this interest, as many of the small trailer brotherhood I know also will take interest in a diminutive towable they might see at a campground.

So what gave me the idea to start The Small Trailer Enthusiast? You need go no further than a 2400 mile ribbon of asphalt and concrete known as Route 66. My interest in this fabled highway goes back some three decades. 66 has been a big part of my adult life. Before I was married, it wasn’t anything for me to hit the road on a whim and take a 3 or 4 day weekend out west on the Mother Road for either a steak dinner 1,000 miles away in Amarillo, Texas, or 4 hours away for frozen custard in St. Louis, Missouri. It was because of 66 that I met my bride of nine years. We both had an interest in 66 and eventually met through a mutual friend who also had the same love of Route 66. Would it be a surprise to anyone that we had a Route 66 themed wedding or that we took our honeymoon on Route 66? How many of you didn’t see that coming?

 

With this interest in 66, I have always stayed on top of news from my favorite two-lane. Most of my news came from various publications and online message forums, but in 2005 Route 66 News changed the face of how information from 66 got to the general public. Started by Route 66 enthusiast Ron Warnick, Route 66 News has received nearly 3,000,000 visits over the past six years. Not only is it an excellent source of up to the minute news from the road, but is also an equally good database of Route 66 business information ranging from restauarants, motels, events, and yes, even campgrounds along its 2400 mile shoulders.

This leads up to this summer when the idea came to me to come up with a news blog relating to small travel trailers, loosely modeled after Route 66 News. Being a member of a few online forums dedicated to smaller trailers of various makes, I thought putting together a news blog for this niche just might work. So far, I’ve been pleased with the gradual growth since its inception on September 3. Daily hits to the site have gone from 9 per day in September to 77 per day as of December 15. I fully expect that number to increase as content on the site increases.

The things I look for to put on the site will focus on new models as well as news relating to existing models. I also hope to continue with the “spotlight” features, where I discuss a particular company and what they have to offer. As I mentioned in the “About” section, you won’t see anything about pop-up trailers here. Nothing personal against the owners of these trailers, but I’m just not a fan of pop-ups. The closest thing to a pop-up I might ever discuss would be an A-frame, hard-sided pop-up such as an A-Liner or a Chalet. I figured I’d need a cut-off size-wise. I picked 20′ simply because it was a nice round number, but that’s not to say I might not mention something  a little larger if it fits what I’m writing about.

Hopefully as time rolls on, I’ll develop some relationships with manufacturers so I can bring some content to you on a more frequent basis. I’m making some progress in that area with some smaller, up & coming manufacturers who’ve given me a lot of good info that have generated a lot of hits on the site. And if you’re a manufacturer or representative of a manufacturer who’d like me to talk about your company or trailer, feel free to contact me at roadmaven@yahoo.com. As always, thanks for reading…

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A Couple of Updates….

I spoke with Hi-Lo and Serro Scotty president Bill Kerola this week to see what the latest production news was for his two companies.

He’s still working on finalizing a manufacturer for Hi-Lo. Offers have been made and it’s at the point where a decision is close to being made. Depending on who the manufacturer is will depend on whether Hi-Lo will be sold factory direct or through a dealer network. As well as setting up a manufacturer, Kerola’s also been busy with the Hi-Lo’s mechanism that raises & lowers the trailer. He’s had a few different designs for that and is currently whittling his choices down. Still with these decisions to be made, the first Hi-Lo prototype is planned on being rolled out by April 2012.

On the Serro Scotty side of his business, things have been busy there. As we discussed in September, the Scotty Sportsman was to be redesigned. The new design will look a bit different than the previous Scotty Sportsman…

and also the discontinued Scotty Silver Sportsman.

Bill told me that it’ll be about the same size, but have more of a rounded shape, but gave no further details. So in the spirit of fun speculation, it could look a little more like the Sportsman that was first produced in 2007….

or maybe it’ll take on the shape something similar to an oversized Scotty Pup, which means it could look something like the now extinct Campfire 15.

What is known about the future of the Serro Scotty Sportsman is that it will have its own manufacturer. They’ll be made by a small outfit in Pennsylvania. If all goes according to plan, the first prototype will be ready sometime by early February 2012.  So if you’re keeping score at home, all three models of the Serro Scotty family will all have their own manufacturer. The HiLander is still being produced in Goshen, Indiana by Cozy Travler

(photo courtesy Les Borde)

and the Scotty Lite will still continue to be built in Central Florida by Trekker Trailers.

(photo courtesy Bill Kerola)

Bill says he’s working on creating a better inventory of both the HiLander and the Lite at his Transfer, Pennsylvania dealership. As of December 12, 2011, he currently has 2 of each on his ebay store, as well as three new discontinued Scotty Pups.

With winter upon us and sales typically slowing down, this should be a good time for Kerola’s to start filling their lot with that Scotty inventory. As always, we’ll update you when details develop.

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A Day at the RVIA Show — Part 3

Now that I’ve reviewed a few of the smallish trailers I encountered at the RVIA show, one company stood out to me above the rest. Livin Lite’s Camp Lite series was the star of the show in my book. After spotlighting them in October, I was interested in seeing one up close & personal. The You Tube video introducing the world to the Camp Lite series makes it look like a nice, solid unit with a super light build.

Upon inspection of all the units Livin Lite brought to Louisville, I have to say that the Camp Lite exceeded my expectations, which were already rather high. I can’t say enough good things about the build quality of their trailers. Everything was just first class from fit & finish to the quality of materials used. As a “car guy” in a previous life, I’ve done my share of car judging. If the Camp Lites were in a judged trailer show, it would’ve been difficult to find any flaws to mark down on my score card.

This was also the debut of the optional “orbit” nose that will be offered. This is a nice little upgrade for someone wanting a rounded front, compared to having the nose with the standard angles.

Another new option is a wood grain look to the interior. This tends to tone down Camp Lite’s traditional utilitarian look of its interior.

Livin Lite isn’t the biggest trailer manufacturer out there, but they’re far from the smallest. All the “big boys” had a small trailer of some sort at the show in Louisville, and I looked at them all. I can honestly say that Camp Lite was better than most of them, yet not one of them was better than the Camp Lite. And that includes anything Airstream or Forest River had to offer. Camp Lite isn’t the least expensive trailer you’re bound to find, but given the fact that it’s made of aluminum and composites and is 98% recyclable, it could literally last forever. So you may pay a little more up front, but it could easily be the only trailer you’d ever have to buy.

So that brings to a close my thoughts on the field of small trailers at the 49th National RV Trade Show. A big thank you to Courtney Robey, Public Relations Manager of the RVIA, for extending the offer to me to attend so I could pass on my thoughts & opinions for the readers of The Small Trailer Enthusiast.  Reports show attendance for this year’s show was down 6%, but based on the millions of dollars of trailers, 5th wheels, and motor homes on display, the RV industry in this country is alive and well.

 

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A Day at the RVIA Show — Part 2

Picking up where we left off, V-Cross brought out the new Vibe, with two floor plans. It’s so new that it’s not even on the V-Cross web site as of yet. However, they’re starting to show up on dealer lots with the MSRP in the upper teens.

(photo courtesy Couch’s RV Nation)

The 6500 series Vibe checks in at 20’6″, with the 6502 floor plan having a front bathroom in the distinctive V shaped nose of the trailer. Both floor plans offer a slide out and weighs in at 2700 lbs. Good exterior styling on the Vibe.

Truck camper specialist Travel Lite introduced their first foray into the travel trailer market with the Idea.

The Idea will start out with three floor plans ranging from 15-17 feet and will check in around 2550 lbs. Like many manufacturers have started, the Idea will feature a molded fiberglass front nose cap designed to decrease wind resistance and increase fuel mileage. Each Idea that is sold, Travel Lite will make a donation to Habitat for Humanity.

Next up is the born-again T@B, this time built by Little Guy Worldwide instead of the original Dutchmen version that was around from model years 2004-2010. Having owned one of the last T@Bs to roll off the Dutchmen assembly line in the summer of 2009, I was looking forward to comparing the two. As we discussed in October, Little Guy has definitely improved some key areas of the T@B. Mainly, they’ve put on a 3500 lbs axle, which gives it nearly 2000 lbs of cargo capacity. The Dutchmen T@B only allowed for about 300 lbs. But overall, the new T@Bs look really good, and with some new colors that Dutchmen didn’t offer. Also the new diamond plate on the front is a nice addition as well. Unless some unforeseen issues arise with the production quality, the Little Guy T@B will likely exceed over the coming years the production numbers Dutchmen achieved.

A unit worth keeping an eye on is the Born Free Trail-R Lodge travel trailer. Not much known about this other than it’s a prototype, it’s a molded fiberglass shell, and it looked really nice on the road when I saw it on I-65 northbound in Indianapolis after the RVIA show had ended. Other than that, not much is known about it, but we’ll keep an eye open as to whether it goes into production.

And now for the disappointment. I’ve been keeping tabs on the Riverside RV Retro model since coming across their web site last year.

I’ve been a fan of the now defunct Sierra Campfire and Bak-Pak, and the Retro is very similar in styling and size. Having first hand knowledge of the quality of product Sierra has put out, I was able to use their workmanship as a gauge. For the record, the small trailer I own is a Serro Scotty HiLander, which was built by Sierra when they were still building trailers. I was rather disappointed in several aspects of the Retro. First, from an eye appeal standpoint, the Retro needs some work. Combined with the gray and red exterior, the white plastic of various vents and caps makes this sidewall terribly “busy”.

I’m still not sure why the vent for the bathroom (white square on the top-center of the side wall) is on the sidewall and not on the roof. That alone would’ve helped the white plastic traffic on that wall. Having painted the pieces silver, or painting the trailer white would’ve helped immensely. And probably a rounded wheel well would’ve worked better with the shape of the trailer. Another issue I had was with this tank valve sticking out the sidewall like a wart:

I’ve never seen this on a trailer before and I’m not sure the reasoning for doing this. Typically, they’re placed under the frame, and typically in black where they can somewhat be concealed. Construction-wise, there was some noticeable flaws. The silicone caulk along the edges was very sloppy, as well as the shape of the sidewalls: uneven in some areas. After talking to one of the Riverside salesmen, he told me they have somewhere around 30 dealers for their products. Unless some of these issues are addressed, those dealers will have a lot of Retros sitting on their lot for quite some time.

Coming up in Part 3: My own best of show and the final wrap-up.

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A Day at the RVIA Show — Part 1

Tuesday morning saw an early departure from home for the 130 mile drive south on I-65 to the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, KY for the 49th Annual RV Trade Show. Despite a 30 minute delay north of the Ohio River due to the I-64 bridge west of Louisville being closed for the past 3 months, I managed to arrive just before 10am.

Since it was my first time at the event, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After several attempts to register, I finally found the press room where us “media types” had to check in. After signing in, I was told that I had some info to get in my mailbox. “My what?” Apparently all the media types had their own mail slot filled with press releases, company info, and even a 1GB flash drive from the fine folks at Go RVing.

I grabbed my mail and off I went. I soon found an area where I could look at the map they provided so I could coordinate a plan of attack for the day. After looking at the map, I wondered if 7 hours there would be long enough. My first part of the plan would be to just walk the entire show to get a feel for where everyone was. Just when I thought I had seen everything on my first walk through, a new wing popped up with either a whole big section of RVs or a wing of suppliers hawking their goods.

After awhile, the stack of stuff from my mailbox was starting to become a hassle to carry along with my trusty Nikon D-40.  My mission soon turned from figuring out the layout of the show to finding a booth that was giving away free bags. I stopped by the booth of Denso Heavy Duty and they were kind enough to let me have not only one, but two of their bags for my growing stack of stuff. Now it was time to get serious!

Since I knew this would be my only day at the show and because I was there to find material for the blog, I focused on, obviously, small travel trailers. What I found from all the manufacturers in attendance is that there are a wide array of options across just about all income levels, whether it was the Airstream Sport 16′, which retails for nearly $40,000

to the lower end Jayco Swift SLX, which can be had for just over $9,000.

The majority of the trailers I went through had some nice, usable floor plans, along with various interior features that caught my eye. Then there were some trailers that I just liked because of their eye appeal. Here are some observations on trailers I liked for one reason or another:

–As mentioned a few weeks ago, the Gulf Stream Visa 17RWD didn’t disappoint when I saw it first hand. Good floor plan and that sleek exterior design:

The new Springdale Fireside: Not the most attractive trailer out there…

but the interior had this very nice looking rustic/log cabin look on the walls and cabinetry.

It was good to see Forest River has finally got a decent exterior package for the r-pod. What used to look like a circus trailer…

has now been upgraded to a nice cream base and a much more toned-down exterior scheme:

And since this post will likely be a little longer than usual and since it’s nearing 1:30am, I’m going to cut this post into two and continue over the weekend. I’ll return with some more that I liked, one that disappointed, and even my own personal “best of show”. Stay tuned!

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