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Introducing: The Whetzeldorf

Last year we introduced you to Dan Sutton and his teardrop trailer business, Whetzel Trace Travelers. Dan’s business up until now has been building teardrops as well as restoring vintage campers. However, his business has taken a slight change of direction thanks mainly to a camper he purchased in 2011: A 1957 Metzendorf

Metzendorf campers were produced from 1957 until the late 1960’s. They all were a standard 10′ in length. However, Dan’s Metzendorf was just 8′ in length. He believes this particular model is a one-of-a-kind, and most likely an early prototype before the production models became 10′ in length.

Earlier this year, Dan came up with the idea of reproducing the Metzendorf. He made a template using the ’57, although making it 3″ taller, and using a frame from a pop-up camper he bought, created a modern version of the Metzendorf and re-badged it the “Whetzeldorf”, a name which should need no explanation of its origin.

(2012 Whetzeldorf)

(1957 Metzendorf)

The Whetzeldorf sleeps two, weighs about 1200 lbs, sits on a 2,000 lbs pop-up camper axle, and measures 76″ wide, 98″ long, and 76″ tall. Standards include a refrigerator, aluminum exterior, and ample storage.

I had the chance to spend a couple of hours this past weekend at Dan’s shop (actually, his son’s garage) in Greenwood, Indiana where Dan currently has the third prototype Whetzeldorf in production.

Currently the materials going into the Whetzeldorf are a combination of new materials and recycled parts mainly from RV surplus stores. However, Dan is on the verge of getting serious with the Whetzeldorf and the plan is to have more new parts and frames  used on future models. But the stick-built cabinets and counter are something he builds from scratch.

With each prototype he’s built so far, features have been added while some have been taken away. One subtraction is that of the rear window that was on the first prototype. Due to the angle of the body and the placement of the window, it encountered some leaking issues, so it was eliminated with the second prototype. On the third prototype, a counter/cabinet was added to the far wall (pictured above).

As Dan tells me, he’s constantly coming up with new ideas and features. And he more than welcomes suggestions as well. A couple of suggestions I had were to utilize a jack-knife sofa/bed instead of just a permanent bed. Another possible feature may include a cabinet large enough to house a typical sized portable toilet. If those show up in a model one day, you’ll know where the inspiration came from. 😉

One of the big things he’s focusing on right now is the style of aluminum he’ll use for it. The first unit was skinned with bare aluminum, but he’s currently researching a few styles, including an aluminum that resembles a polished look, but will stand up to the elements. He’s previously used this type on a 1970 Yukon he restored and it’s holding up very well. It would get my vote. This same aluminum was also used on a Serro Scotty Silver Pup and the near-chrome look certainly gave that Scotty some pop.

While the first two prototypes of the Whetzeldorf are in the hands of new owners, the third one is currently (as of October 31, 2012) up for grabs. Dan is the lone employee of Whetzel Trace Travelers, so build time on a Whetzeldorf is about 6 weeks. With the materials he’s currently using, the cost of a Whetzeldorf is in the $7,500 range. I’ve seen similar sized trailers over the past few years with a price tag much higher than that. But the Whetzeldorf gives you the rare opportunity to get into an affordable micro trailer with enough room to make it cozy for two. Plus, the light weight of the Whetzeldorf gives you more options to tow it with. With the demise of the Serro Scotty Pup and its cousins the Sierra Campfire and Bak-Pak, the Whetzeldorf fills a void those trailers left behind. So get yours today….or in about 6 weeks.

Visit the Whetzeldorf page on Whetzel Trace Travelers’ website at http://whetzeltracetravelers.webs.com/whetzeldorfcamper.htm

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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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