Early this year on a winter's stroll, I was stopped mid-stride by goings-on in my neighbor Jim Fuller's garage.
He seemed to be working on a "thing." An inverted wooden igloo, perhaps? This clearly called for a closer look.
No, Jim explained, the massive salad bowl-like "thing" was in fact the upside-down top of a compact, "tear-drop" travel trailer. He was assembling panels from a kit that arrived in crates from back east.
Referring to an inch-thick manual, Jim meticulously stitched together pre-cut and beveled panels with wire, using a process called "stitch and glue."While I know other hands-on worthies who calmly embrace such projects, I cower at the thought. Hence my admiration for Jim, a soft-spoken guy whose quiet hands-on confidence comes from experience.
For one thing, he has built two kayaks from kits. But more to the point, his trade before retiring was building eye-catching exhibition displays, the kind seen at conventions and conferences.
Last month, I returned to Jim's garage to view the completed trailer. It is sleek, with four coats of glossy paint and aerodynamic contours. It is a mere 12 feet long from hitch to tail and just over five feet wide — wide enough for its queen-size bed. It weighs 350 pounds — about half of what manufactured "tear-drops" weigh. Its structural integrity derives from the precise fit of its panels and its rigid shell of Fiberglass-shielded plywood.
A snug trunk lid opens to reveal a compact outside galley. Climb inside the trailer through its side doors and you find yourself in sedentary comfort. The roof is way too low to allow standing, but who cares when you are camping and there's an attached canopy just outside? At night, you are cozy because the shell is insulated. Jim has installed reading lights. The bed will accommodate a 6-foot-5-inch camper, whose legs tuck easily into the space under the galley.
The kit itself costs $3,500 with accessories. Tallying up add-ons — like a 12-volt electrical system for vents and lights, a chrome utility box and the required base trailer frame with tires and wheels plus a spare — Jim figures he's into the trailer for about $5,000.
Add to that 200-plus hours of labor — solely his. He started last Labor Day and finished in February. After a successful spring road test to Eastern Oregon's Malheur Bird Refuge, Jim and his wife, Gail Vines, were set for summer.
What next? Jim had left-over paint begging to be used on — why not? — a take-along, kit-based rowing skiff.
When I visited, the paint was drying on the nearly completed skiff — color-coordinated, of course, with its garage mate, the trailer.