Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Tracks of My Teardrop

“Trailer for Two” by Hi Sibley
Mechanix Illustrated, Sept. 1947 • eBay.com
You can’t live much tinier than a teardrop trailer.

A product of the Great Depression, these curvy, streamlined campers provide all you need for cozy living. They’re small enough to store in a garage, can be pulled by most cars and keep your camping gear ready to go at a moment’s notice.

We’ve established that I like tiny things. I also love retro things. The first time I saw a teardrop, I swooned. I was at a yard sale with friends, and it was all I could do to resist the urge to hitch it to the back of their van and drive into the sunset.

When my husband and I started to simplify our lives and increase our time outdoors, the image of that first teardrop came rolling back. We’ve always loved camping, but sleeping in tents has lost some of its charm over the years. We both covet small campers like a VW Eurovan or a Roadtrek, but that doesn’t fit our lifestyle quite yet, for several reasons.
• They don’t come cheap.
• We are too busy with work 
   to use one enough to justify the cost.
• They have engines, and that means complications.
• We need a seven-seat van with decent gas mileage to 
   drive our daughter’s carpool two hours round trip twice a week.

So a teardrop is the perfect get-away option for us right now. Our trips are short, usually no more than a weekend. We aren’t traveling through big cities where parking is an issue and the back roads of Florida are trailer-friendly. In fact, you stand out if you’re not towing something.

Early Tears
For you builders out there, making your own teardrop is a great option. In fact, the early models were homemade. The first-known specs appeared in the 1936 issue of Outdoor Life magazine, according to the New York Times. As out-of-work Americans migrated in search of jobs during the Depression, a free bed on the road was better than sliced bread. Built of plywood and maybe a discarded car frame, teardrops made a tough life more bearable.
1946 Kit Kamper teardrop
photo courtesy RV/MH Hall of Fame

In 1945, Kit Kamper, based in California, produced early factory-made teardrops. But post-war prosperity brought bigger cars, which bred bigger trailers. The humble teardrop dropped out of sight. 

In recent years, these tiny trailers have made a big comeback. They have their own on-line forums, websites, books and a new magazine, Cool Tears. You can find dozens of plans on e-Bay, new models from builders all over the country and used tears on-line. Some original Kit Kampers are even still around.

Lizzie • before the Fantastic Fan install
Choosing a Teardrop 
When we set out to find our teardrop, we considered age, materials and size. We found a perfect mix at Trekker Trailers in Eustis, Florida, less than two hours from our house. Built by Andrew Bennett, who has both an art and engineering background, our teardrop is a classic. Half moon wheels and vintage chrome handles accent a white aluminum skin and birch plywood interior. It is also a demo model, with lots of extras, so Andrew gave us a great deal. It arrived in perfect condition, and a monsoon at Anastasia State Park the next week proved it to be snug and watertight. At five feet wide, it holds a queen mattress, but it’s short enough to fit in our tiny garage, even with the added Fantastic Fan roof vent.

We’ve named her Lizzie, in a tribute to the Model T Ford “Tin Lizzie” that brought the first wave of Florida tourism, the “Tin Can Tourists.” We’ll be heading out soon to the Tear Jerkers’ Kick Off the Year Gathering near Palatka, Florida. All our camping and cooking gear is stored in the teardrop, so all we have to do is hitch up Lizzie and go. Toot your horn if you see us bouncing down the road.
Anastasia State Park • dry after the deluge

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vocations on Vacation: Working on the Road

Twenty years ago, we tried to live in two places each year - one in the south, one in the north - and it didn’t go so well. Every summer we’d pile a huge computer, equally huge dog and howling cat into our tiny Nissan sedan and head from steamy Florida to cool New Hampshire. The economy had kept us from selling our northern house when we moved south, so it was rented to college students who left every summer.

It seemed ideal. We had no kids and our consulting and publishing jobs could be done from most anywhere, or so we thought. But this was pre-Internet days, and communication was by landline, fax and snail mail. We also worked about 50-60 hours a week, even up north. The energy and expense involved in pulling off the temporary relocation cancelled out the respite from the heat. In the end, logistics did us in.

Fast forward 20 years and it’s a whole new ball game. Smart phones, laptops, tablets. Email, social media, texting. On-line research, commerce, banking. And apps, apps, apps. Working on the road or from two places has become not only possible, but productive. And just in time. The trend of working in retirement doesn’t mean you can’t travel or migrate with the mallards.

Tasksumers, discussed in the last post, sometimes vacation in a certain part of the country because they’ve found tiny jobs there on an app like Gigwalk. Other semi-retired folks are self-employed and today’s technology lets them work from wherever they choose. Still others have seasonal jobs, like my neighbor who worked part-time as a National Park Service ranger, half the year in Florida and half the year in New York. Another friend works six months in Florida and six months in Maine as a PRN (as-needed) nurse. My favorite is Small Jobs Only, which my friend Tony will jump into when he retires from the post office later this year. His carpentry skills will be put to work in his new career in Florida and in the old church he is rehabbing in upstate New York as seasonal co-housing with a group of friends.

Looking for Work in All the Right Places
Then there is workamping, which means different things to different people. Workampers are “people who drive RVs around the country, from temporary job to temporary job, docking in trailer camps,” according to Mother Jones magazine. The classic image is an older couple living rent-free in a campground in exchange for serving as campground hosts. At the other end are temporary staffers working tough jobs for low wages as their sole income, such as warehouse “pickers” who fulfill Internet orders and live in their RVs in company lots.
Nissan’s Mobile Office Concept van never made it to production 
but we sure could have used it 20 years ago • www.nissanpedia.org

In between are part-time jobs that pay $8-12 an hour for tasks as varied as a gas company technician who checks for leaks to couples who travel around to demo food products at Costco. Many workamp jobs are found - surprise - at campgrounds. Some experienced workers advise looking for situations that pay by the hour rather than trading work for a campsite. If you trade, it might be hard to put a cap on your hours. But check out this workamper site and decide for yourself.

Whether you want to work on the road all year in retirement or prefer to settle in one or two places, tiny jobs exist everywhere. Or, you can create your own opportunities thanks to the Internet.

The key is to find something you enjoy. After almost 40 years, I still remember a quote from an interview I did with the sports information director at the University of Delaware, who would become my boss. He loved sports, and was thrilled that he got paid to write about them. He’s retired now, and at 70 gives tours of his beloved Fenway Park in Boston. What he said in 1976 still rings true for him, and for me, “I’m lucky, because my vocation is also my avocation.”