Craft Culture: Fresh views on camping at Vistabule Teardrop Trailers

Each Vistabule camper is composed of six main parts—the frame, axle, wheels, guts, sides, and skin // Photo by Tj Turner

Five trailers sit in varied states of construction in the front, 600-square-foot room. One waits in its barest form, a naked black frame without wheels. A few others have wheels and what Taylor calls “guts,” the wood skeleton framed underneath the trailers’ kitchen and cabinetry.

Each Vistabule camper is composed of six main parts—the frame, axle, wheels, guts, sides, and skin—all designed and prototyped by Taylor. Before the meticulous assembly, several local companies buttress Vistabule’s craftsmanship by fabricating the disparate parts. Discount Steel in Minneapolis fabricates the frames; Timmerman Finishing powder coats them. The axles come from Pioneer Rim & Wheel. The wood of the side panels comes primarily from Youngblood Lumber and Industrial Lumber & Plywood. Once those are cut, they get run through a CNC at Great River Woodworking in Scandia.

The first step in assembly is attaching the tires to the axles, then the axle to the frame, and while that’s happening, the guts get installed. The guts get threaded with electrical wiring and prepped for plumbing. “Then we bolt them down and bring them over to the next room and we glue and screw them together,” Taylor says. “This process can take a few days, and it has to be very precise.” Once they’re ready, the interior and back end—including the stove, fridge, and sliding doors—get installed.

Vistabule trailers run between $18,000 and $25,000. // Photo by Tj Turner

From there, Taylor and Co. move to the finishing stages. They plant the side panels, put the skins over the top, and install the fan and the lighting on the sides. Then the whole thing moves to the quality-checking area by the showroom where they await pick-up. Ninety percent of Vistabule buyers come to them. “They make a trip out of it,” Taylor says. “And we get to show them around.”

“In the past, everyone’s either over there,” Taylor says, pointing to the first room. “Or they’re over here.” He shrugs. “I don’t know where we’ll work on the millennial trailer.”

A trunk door of a trailer opens to reveal a kitchen with sleek sliding drawers, a refrigerator, a two-burner propane stove, and a sink. // Photo by Tj Turner

The millennial trailer, a simpler, shorter trailer marketed to the adventurer—cross-country skier and hikers—will be the first design to deviate from the original, which Taylor built in his garage in South Minneapolis six years ago. He had become infatuated with vintage trailers (think Airstreams) and went on a pilgrimage to California hunting for campers and came back with a twenty-footer. His infatuation continued. “But I was spending all my nest egg,” he says. “So I needed something to occupy my time. Then a friend said, ‘Hey, check out teardrops.’ I went home and did some research and thought, ‘I could build that!’”

For a while, Taylor was torn between recreating a classic tear drop trailer or improving upon the design by implementing some of the fantasy images that he conjured up at first sight. Maybe give it some of his woodworker’s flair? “Then my son said, ‘Oh, Dad, just build your own!’ And I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll build my own.’”

“The first year I sold one,” Taylor says. “Then 10, then 20, then 30. And last year we sold 55. This year we hope to sell close to 100.” When asked about his closest competitor, Taylor shrugs. “Well, there’s Little Guy.” The Ohio-based company makes about 300 trailers a month in a more traditional style. They cost anywhere between $8,000 to $15,000, whereas Vistabule’s run between $18,000 and $25,000. Taylor cites Camp-Inn, a Wisconsin-based company, as an inspiration. “They’re the Cadillac of teardrops.” Camp-Inn trailers have a similar, if more mid-century, design aesthetic, but don’t feature Taylor’s beautiful back window, nor the woodworker’s detailed touches on the interior.

“What I like about this product is that it’s one product and it just keep getting better and better,” Taylor says. “It didn’t spring fully blown like the Egyptian civilization out of nowhere.”

Not that Bert Taylor’s campers—“I prefer the term ‘camper’ over ‘trailer’”—are perfect, but one would be hard pressed, after sitting in one for the first time, to think they were anything but.

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