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Hanover Park teens builds own throwback trailer
By Arlene Miles | Daily Herald Correspondent

This teardrop trailer is but the latest building accomplishment by Greg Block of Hanover Park, who attends Lake Park High School. He also has built skateboard ramps for himself and neighbors, along with a headboard for his bed.

 

Arlene Miles

Though just 15, Greg Block of Hanover Park built this teardrop trailer from scratch, using lumber he bought and parts he got any way he could and expertise he got through e-mail correspondence with a businessman in Michigan.

 

Arlene Miles

This throwback to the '40s and '50s, when teardrop trailers were a common sight on the nation's highways, was built this year by 15-year-old Greg Block and will have its first official tryout this summer when his family goes camping to in Michigan.

 

Arlene Miles

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Published: 6/15/2008 12:02 AM

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In the middle part of the 20th century, teardrop trailers were a common sight on the two- and four-lane highways of the United States because they were easy enough for cars to pull. When larger recreational vehicles became popular in the mid-'60s, they disappeared from sight.

Thanks in part to their compact and lightweight design, these camping vehicles have experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years with baby boomers looking to recapture a piece of their youth comprising the bulk of the market for the trailers.

Thus it's somewhat out of the ordinary that 15-year-old Greg Block of Hanover Park showed an interest in this harbinger of the past. What is even more extraordinary is that Block built one, all by himself, over the span of about a month.

Greg, who just finished his freshman year at Lake Park High School, merely shrugs his shoulders when asked why he wanted to build the camper.

"It just looked really cool," he said.

His parents, Cathy and Randy, however, said that the youngest of their five sons has always been intent on finishing projects he starts.

"He builds skateboard ramps and has done them for all of the neighbors," Cathy said.

In the past, Greg also built the headboard for his bed. But this time, he wanted something more challenging. Besides that, he also had a nifty little tractor that he was just itching to pull something behind.

Thus the teardrop trailer project was born. Greg got the seed money for the project in the form of a $300 Home Depot gift card, which he received for Christmas from his parents. He began planning for the trailer before the holiday, but didn't physically begin working on it until his winter break from school. Greg obtained the base from an ad on Craig's List.

Teardrop trailers get their name from the shape of the vehicle, which actually looks like a big teardrop. It's also small, ranging in height from 4-5 feet, with the width generally under 6 feet, and length 8-10 feet. Wheels and tires are outside the body.

Greg knew he wanted to build one, but he still needed to know how to go about it, so he started searching the Internet and came upon www.bigwoodycampers.com, based in Chippewa Falls, Wis. This small, family-owned business builds and sells teardrop trailers and assorted camping gear. He e-mailed, asking for information and got a reply almost immediately. Little did either party know that an amazing partnership was about to be born.

The person on the other side of the e-mail was Dave Draheim, who owns BigWoodyCampers along with his wife, Jennifer Robinson. Draheim often helps do-it-yourselfers who want to build their own vehicle and was impressed with the questions Greg asked. It wasn't until several exchanges later that Draheim learned of Greg's age.

"I told him I needed his parents' permission to continue," Draheim said. "His mom e-mailed me, said things were good there and that Greg was a great student, played basketball on a church team, and was a big help around the house."

The correspondence blossomed once Greg got deeply into the project.

"It got to the point where they were writing seven-page e-mails," Cathy said. "He (Draheim) was a stranger and to help like this - I was totally amazed."

Greg would work on the trailer for several hours each day, take photos of what he had done.

"He'd send new pictures, update me on the progress and then ask what next, so we'd proceed with the next step," Draheim said. "So it was an assignment, and he'd do it. I'd look at the pictures and then dish of another assignment."

Seldom was Greg stumped by what Draheim told him, but occasionally Draheim would have to clarify some technical terms. Unwittingly, they were both helping each other. Greg, who is dyslexic, made significant improvement in his language skills.

"The coolest thing is that he started to write these letters (e-mails)," Cathy said. "I saw his language skills improving."

For Draheim's part, he suddenly had the information he needed to write a how-to manual on building teardrop trailers just by reviewing his e-mails to Greg.

"It was in my plan to one day write the manual, but like everything else, time commitments and priorities got in the way," Draheim said. "Greg really got me going. It was a joy teaching and a huge delight when I knew he was absorbing all that I had to say."

Greg has slept in the trailer a few times along with the family dog while it has been parked in the garage. The official test will come sometime this summer when the Blocks go camping to Muskegon, Mich.

"There's a futon mattress in there, so it's really comfortable," Greg said.

The total cost of the trailer is unknown. Dad Randy thinks it was about $1,000, but Greg indicated it was more like $2,000.

"Greg was good at scrounging around for parts, getting sheet metal from a man who lives across the street from us," Cathy said. "I look at it this way, you spend that kind of money to send your kid to something like Space Camp. This is the same thing, and besides, he gets to keep all of the tools."