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!