|MICHAEL CADY is 6 foot 8, but he
learned long ago to tolerate small spaces. After he and his wife,
Madeline, were married 22 years ago, they lived in a 525-square-foot
efficiency apartment. Now they vacation in 32 square feet - the living
space in their teardrop trailer. And, he says, he loves it.
Teardrops, tiny, round-backed and light enough to be
towed by the family car or even a motorcycle, liberated Americans in the
1930's and 40's, making the summer vacation egalitarian. They were
succeeded by ever-larger campers, recreational vehicles and, finally,
giant motor homes - the sort of conveyance that would seem more likely to
attract someone like Mr. Cady. But the Cadys are among a band of
21st-century connoisseurs who are bringing the teardrop back.
"I love the simplicity and style," said Mr.
Cady, 50, an engineer from Middletown, Conn. And, practicalities aside,
it's easy to understand his enthusiasm. Teardrops are functional and
cheap, a triumph of miniaturization. Perhaps most important, they are
In essence, teardrops are shiny, hard-shelled tents with
Art Deco style. The prototypical teardrop has an aluminum skin covering a
plywood frame, weighs 750 pounds and is 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. (The
Cadys' is a little longer, 10 feet, but even at that, Mr. Cady had to cut
into the back of the kitchen cabinets for more leg room.) The usual
features are a mattress for two inside and a chuck-wagon kitchen under a
lid out back, usually with a propane stove, stainless-steel sink, water
tank and icebox. "The kitchen has unlimited space," Mr. Cady
said with a laugh, "because it's all outdoors." Bathrooms,
however, are beyond the teardrop's scope.
From 1945 to 1961, there were about 35 teardrop
manufacturers, according to George Wilkerson, 54, of the Teardrop
Fix-It-Shop in Glendale, Calif. The trailers were sold as complete units
or in kits, and the do-it-yourselfer could buy plans to make one from
scratch. Production peaked in the 1950's, and teardrops virtually
disappeared in the 60's. Now there is a revival, and owners restore
vintage teardrops or buy new ones. The lowest price for a new teardrop is
about $5,000, and a number of manufacturers are listed on the
At the high end is a replica of the 1946 Kenskill model,
which Mr. Wilkerson will build by hand for $10,500 ( and he has a waiting
list). The replica is faithful to the original, he said, although "we
improved the frame for modern highway speeds."
||A teardrop lover can buy a
low-end kit for $2,500 and build a teardrop in 120 hours, according to
Philip Ennis of www.desertteardrops.com in Glendale, Ariz., who sells
plans for $60.
The mattress fills the floor in a teardrop, and you
sleep with your head toward the front and your feet toward the kitchen.
The Cadys use a seven-foot futon; Len and Donna Daddona of Ridley, Pa.,
have a four-inch-thick foam mattress. One obvious teardrop advantage, Mr.
Daddona said, is that "you can never fall out of bed."
Mr. Daddona, 51, a recreational vehicle technician,
explains his teardrop addiction not by his interest in R.V.'s, but by
describing himself as "an old hippie trying to get to my midlife
crisis." The Daddonas have camped continuously in their teardrop for
as long as six days, but usually they stay for two or three days on the
road in national parks, then one night in a motel. It's not for everyone,
they cautioned. "Remember," Mr. Daddona said, "this is
The Daddonas are teardropper purists, using the
cast-iron skillet and stove made by Griswold Manufacturing of Erie, Pa.,
from the 1930's to the 1950's that are considered the most authentic. Also
packed away in their kitchen are a Boy Scout mess kit, silverware,
kerosene lanterns, canned food and materials for erecting a tentlike
shelter over the kitchen when it rains.
Their trailer is cozy and dry on a rainy night. The
trailer is watertight, Mr. Daddona said, and the sound of the rain beating
on the roof is "the ultimate white noise."
Teardroppers like to get together. A camp-out in March
at Sweetwater Summit Park in Bonita, Calif., drew 109 teardrops, according
to Brad Romaine, who runs the Southern California Touring Tears club. And
sometimes they drive in caravans, which never fail to slow traffic in the
opposite lane. The attention is not unwelcome.
"We spend more time in our teardrop than in our
36-foot Country Club motor home," Mr. Romaine said. "Pull into a
campground with a $200,000 motor home, and nobody talks to you. With a
teardrop, you'd better like people, because they gather around five