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Teardrop-dead gorgeous: Dixon man fashions cool campers

DIXON – Dixon native Glenn Wallin Sr. always has had a knack for building things.

As the 68-year-old ComEd retiree sits in his study, he points out the examples of his craftsmanship.

“I built that roll-top desk and that file cabinet over there,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been a woodworker for 50 years. I’ve built just about anything you can name, from pool tables to baby cribs.”

So it wasn’t too surprising when Glenn spied a homemade Teardrop camper trailer on the Internet about 8 years ago and immediately began figuring out how he could make one himself.

“I said to myself, ‘I can build that,’” and he went to work. Several months later, his creation was ready to hit the road. He and his wife, Opal, took it all the way to California on a camping trip.

“That first trailer was 5 feet by 8 feet,” he said. “It had a queen-sized bed, flat screen TV and overhead cabinets,” not to mention a galley-style kitchen in the back, all the product of his handiwork.

After the trip to California, Wallin discovered something else about his newly discovered skill: There was a market for his work.

He sold that first Teardrop camper in short order, but even before it was out the door of his workshop, he already was planning his second.

“This is the second one I built,” he said, pointing to a photograph on the wall of his workshop. “We took it to Missouri,” on a camping trip. “I put it up for sale and put a crazy price on it, and a couple who were teachers from St. Louis said, ‘We’ll take it.’”

The pattern was set. Wallin has been building Teardrop camper trailers ever since. So far, he’s constructed 14. Each is unique, based on a theme Wallin develops. 

When he begins designing a new trailer, he makes a scale model, 1 inch to 1 foot, including interior features. He uses the model as a guide as he constructs the actual trailer.

The name Teardrop derives from the trailers’ distinctive shape, which slopes back from a high point near the front and gives the campers a streamlined, aerodynamic quality. The campers, which have been around since the 1930s, are generally compact and lightweight, and can be towed easily with a standard vehicle.

Photographs of Wallin’s trailers adorn a wall of his workshop and serve as a testament to his ingenuity.

“This was the fourth one I made, and it’s called a Woody,” he said, pointing to one of the photographs. The name refers to the trailer’s wood panel exterior, inspired by the wood-paneled vehicles from decades ago.

“This one here is a favorite of mine,” he said, pointing to another photo. “It’s a replica Bowlus Trailer. They were prior to the Airstream [trailer], with the door in the front. They were very light, built like an airplane.”

Wallin has built a camper trailer with a 1950s theme, and one based on a Pullman sleeping car from the 1880s.

Building the campers has added yet another avocation to fill Wallin’s retirement years. In addition to building campers and woodworking, Wallin is also an avid tennis player, having played at a competitive level since his childhood.

He and Opal also have two children: 42-year-old daughter Dana, who lives in Green Bay, and son Glenn Jr., 48, who lives in Byron and operates a manufacturing facility in Rockford.

After Wallin completes each trailer, he and Opal take it on a camping trip to make sure everything works properly, and then Wallin puts it up for sale.

“I’ve never had one come back with a leak or whatever,” he said. “If it leaves this shop with my name on it, I want it to be right.”

Building the trailers also has opened up new social possibilities for the Wallins.

They have become regular members of the Illinois Tearjerkers, a group of Teardrop enthusiasts who travel to various campgrounds throughout the Midwest to camp, socialize, and revel in the outdoors. Many members, Wallin said, have built their own Teardrop campers.

“We have a lot of fun,” Wallin said. The gatherings also give him an opportunity to toss around ideas with other trailer-builders.

The Wallins are planning to head for Thomson Sept. 8-11 for a Tearjerker gathering.

When they go, they will have Wallin’s current project, “The Spirit of 66,” in tow. The camper, which Wallin started building in April, pays tribute to a number that has assumed a special place in his life: 1966 was the year he graduated from Dixon High School. 66 was the number of the Navy SEALs unit with which he served during a tour of duty in Vietnam; and Route 66, the historic highway that stretches from Chicago to the West Coast, always has been one of his favorite travel routes.

Like all of his trailers, “The Spirit of 66” has a finished interior, replete with a queen-sized bed, cabinets, flat-screen TV, air conditioning, storage benches, and other basic amenities.

Opal did much of the interior décor.

“She does all the cushions and curtains,” he said. The bed is covered with a quilt that Opal stitched together from 48 Crown Royal bags. “She’s pretty talented,” Wallin said.

All the appliances run on batteries, and the trailer can be hooked-up to electrical services once in a campground.

Like the majority of his campers, “Spirit of 66,” boasts an aluminum exterior.

All that remains to be done is the kitchen galley, which will open up from the back of the camper. When that’s completed, Wallin’s newest creation will be ready to hit the road.

“We’ll keep this one until I get the next one finished,” he said. “I always stay one ahead.”


Glenn Wallin Sr. blogs about his Teardrop creations online at Good 'Ol RVs,

He also has a Facebook page where you can see some of his photos, and where he will post the next camper up for sale.

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