For Jon and Sawyer Christianson, teardrop trailers are a way of life.
As children, their parents would frequently take them camping and they all climbed into a cozy vintage teardrop trailer. After the kids were all out of the house, they upgraded to a newer model teardrop and toured the Western U.S.
After Jon and Sawyer graduated from college, they found busy careers in the technology and building industries, but still found themselves camping at every opportunity. After a few years of tent camping, they both decided they missed the teardrop lifestyle, so they set forth on building a pair of their own personal teardrops from scratch.
“We both got inundated with attention,” Jon Christianson told RV Daily Report. “Everywhere we stopped, people would ask us where we bought our trailers and how they could get one of their own.”
As a result, the Christianson brothers decided they would use their spare time to design and build what they consider the ultimate teardrop trailer. They have perfectly complimentary skills for trailer fabrication. Jon is an expert in the areas of design, welding, and wiring, while Sawyer is a professional cabinetmaker, and both are lifelong tinkerers.
“We put a major focus on craftsmanship and quality control — two very important things that many product designers and manufacturers have lost sight of in order to maximize production and revenue,” Sawyer Christianson said.
“We spent a couple years coming up with a design and fiddled with it until we got it the way we really liked it,” Jon explained. “Then we made it available to potential buyers.”
Their prototype model was so well received be everyone that saw it that Jon and Sawyer decided to take it to the next level. They converted Sawyer’s cabinetry shop into a teardrop fabrication shop and decided on a name, Oregon Trail’R. Besides being born and raised in Oregon’s beautiful Siskiyou National Forest, they chose the name in respect of the adventuresome spirit of those that established the Oregon Trail 200 years ago.
Oregon Trail’R has been in operation now for about 18 months, and the company currently offers two full trailer models and DIY kits for those who want to take a more active role in the construction of their teardrop, but lack the tools or skills to build from scratch.
“Right now we do small numbers. About three units at a time is all we can handle,” said Jon. “Although we are currently working on a deal to move into a bigger shop, we want to keep it at six to eight builds at a time. This way we can still maintain our high level of craftsmanship and un-matched quality control.”
Oregon Trail’R uses only high-quality materials to build the units, he noted. “We don’t use any OSB, MDF, particle board, or any of the other cheap materials that have become standards in RV construction,” said Jon. “We even build our own high-quality chassis in-house specifically for our trailers.”
The trailer bodies are made the same way high-end cabinetry is built. Every part is dadoed, glued, and mechanically fastened. The units are made weatherproof with high quality sealants applied along all the joints and underneath the skins.
Since dry-rot is a major factor in the eventual demise of most camp trailers, Oregon Trail’R takes extra efforts in weatherproofing, Sawyer explained.
“All plywood end-grain is sealed with penetrating epoxy, and there are multiple layers of high quality sealants at every joint and underneath all skins and trim,” he said. “We even put a dab of sealant in every screw hole before the screw gets driven to seal it up tight and prevent the fasteners from backing themselves out from years of road vibration.”
The trailer’s body is 8 feet long by 5 feet wide and 4 feet high. The company offers an industry-first extendable, removable tongue option in three lengths, allowing owners to customize their towing experiences. There is a queen bed inside the unit and galley in back for cooking outdoors.
The units can even be customized. “We had one man who wanted a trailer to go camping with his three kids, so we developed a way to install a roof-top tent,” said Jon.
Currently, the company only ships directly to consumers. But, as it grows, Oregon Trail’R said it will likely look to develop a dealer network.
Build it yourself
For adventurous do-it-yourselfers, Oregon Trail’R offers kits that include all the components needed to build their own teardrop trailers, along with easy-to-follow instructions. The kits include the chassis, doors, side-walls (cut into shape by a computer-controlled router), interior panels, and cabinetry all precut to size and ready for assembly.
“A big part of the teardrop culture is to build your own trailer,” said Jon. “For people skilled in building, it’s really not that big of a project. Most people can build one in their garage.”
People really like the idea of building their own teardrops, he added. “There is something about using their own sweat equity to build their own trailer that gives teardrop owners a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Jon explained.
The Christianson brothers estimate that about half of teardrop trailers on the road today are home-built units. In fact, they discovered that many owners find it exhilarating to discover a discarded trailer from the 1940s and rebuild it. Others like to create their units from scratch.
“I have seen some home-built teardrops that have looked absolutely amazing, and others that look quite amateurish,” said Jon. “But, that’s the beauty of teardrop camping. They can be as simple or as elaborate as the owners want them to be.”
However, some people just don’t have the tools, knowledge, or patience to assemble their own units. That’s okay because Oregon Trail’R will build one for them.
“A really simple trailer will take three months to build, and a complicated unit may take up to eight months to make,” said Sawyer. “The speed of construction is limited to the size of our shop.”
Currently, Jon works part-time at the business while the venture has become Sawyer’s full-time job. They can envision a time very soon where both of them will be required to work full-time to keep up with demand.
“Our name is getting out there, and people seem to be very impressed with our trailers,” Jon says. “We are getting daily inquiries and quote requests, and have had to turn down a few possible sales just because we couldn’t meet their deadline. This is why we are looking to double our shop space ASAP!”
Teardrop trailers make great RVs for people who love to camp, but still want to spend the majority of their time in the great outdoors. These comfortable units have all the amenities of a larger RV, with the exception of a bathroom.
To address that situation, which is often a make-or-break option for certain customers, Oregon Trail’R is currently designing a moderately larger camp trailer which will still be small and lightweight by RV standards. Measuring 12 feet long and weighing under 2,000 pounds, the trailer will offer room for a small bathroom, interior kitchen, dining area and more sleeping options.
For off-road enthusiasts, Oregon Trail’R offers a model they call the “TerraDrop,” which offers very rugged chassis options, a taller ride height, and can be towed just about anywhere a 4×4 vehicle can go.
The market for teardrop trailers was hot in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s coming back today, due in large part to high gas prices, because consumers want something they can tow with a car — not a pickup truck or SUV.
“Because they weigh between 1,000 and 1,250 pounds, you could even pull one of our trailers with a Prius,” said Sawyer. “We find that on average, tow vehicle fuel economy only drops 2 to 4 mpg even with a sedan style car towing one of our trailers.”
One of the best things about the teardrop lifestyle is the surprisingly large teardrop enthusiast community. Teardrop owners are by and large extremely friendly and helpful people who love to gather and show off their trailers.
“We especially enjoy going to the teardrop rallies. They are basically eating events for which people tow trailers to participate,” Jon explained. “There’s a lot of Dutch oven cooking and festive parties.”
“When we go camping in our teardrops, it feels like home to us because we’ve done it since we were kids,” he added.