In the summer of 2018, Tim and Ruth Ellen Elinski loaded up their kayaks, bikes, and two young daughters for a 2,800-mile camping trip. From their home in Cottonwood, they drove to Libby, Montana, and the Yaak Valley. They didn’t want to drag their heavy camper all that way, so Tim decided to build a lightweight trailer. He had five days to do it.
“I told my wife I’ll just build a teardrop camper,” Tim recalls. “Then I locked myself in here and built it.” He’s referring to a building in Miami that he and Ruth Ellen bought in 2014. They recently completed renovations, creating a factory floor where they plan to produce a line of teardrop-shaped trailers.
Modern Spin on an Old Design
Inspired by the teardrop trailers of the 1940s, Tim crafted a lightweight teardrop-shaped trailer out of raw materials and equipped it with all the essentials of modern-day recreation. The solar-powered, super-insulated (R-13 equivalent) camper kept his family comfortable in overnight temperatures ranging from summer highs in the 90s to winter nights in the low 20s.
He wasn’t expecting to like it so much. He thought it would be too cramped.
“With the bed inside and kitchen and storage out back, there was plenty of room,” he says. “I changed my own mind.”
His trailer design also attracted a lot of interest from others, which seeded the idea to build the trailers commercially. Tim, a licensed general contractor for 20 years, had been looking for something new. By the end of the family trip, it was decided. The old building that stored Tim’s construction equipment would become a factory for Pin Drop Travel Trailers LLC.
New Life for an Old Building
The best guess is that the building at 168 N. Miami Avenue was originally a brothel-like boarding house, with 20 rooms and two hallways upstairs and a saloon of sorts downstairs.
“It must have been a swinging place,” Tim concedes.
In the early 1920s, the building was converted to a Plymouth garage; a wall torn out, high ceilings put in. Then it became a body shop with a grease pit. Later, a mine used it to store ore samples. For many years, the building sat empty, with all the resultant deterioration. When the Elinskis bought the building in 2014, plaster was falling from the ceiling. The rotted wooden door out front wouldn’t open. The condition was “really awful,” according to Tim, but the price was right.
“I couldn’t afford commercial space in Cottonwood,” he says. “And I love these funky old buildings. I like ’em a lot.”
The renovation began in August 2019. Local high school kids helped pull the ceiling down. Dust rained down. Greg from Globe Gym showed up to help with the upstairs demolition, where he encountered pigeon carcasses and a colony of bats.
“It was respirator nasty,” Tim comments.
Tim painted the walls, built a new door out front, and put it on a track. It’s now made of iron for the ages, while retaining the original architectural charm. For the alley entrance, Tim crafted a new door from an old furnace. A “window” was discovered just below street level.
“I mucked some of the dirt around and shined my flashlight, and there was this big old cellar down there,” Tim says. “And it wasn’t a window, it was a door.”
The cellar was filled with silt, of course. The alley floods. Tim has sealed it up for now, knowing there’s space for something else in the future. For now, he’s focused on getting the ground floor set for production of Pin Drop Travel Trailers’ first product – the Fina Roma.
“I’m going to thoroughly enjoy this. It’s a culmination of all my passions combined into one little unit,” says Tim. “I’ve always loved tinkering on cars, I love mechanical trades, love to build stuff, build cabinets. I love to camp.”
Ruth Ellen is a business analyst with the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center. According to Tim, she was initially skeptical of the old building but now sees its potential and is “all in” with the new business plan.
“It would not happen without her support,” he says.
Ruth Ellen does all the marketing for Pin Drop Travel Trailers, primarily through social media and targeted events. They were vendors at the Fire of the Rim Mountain Bike rally in Pine last fall, and will be at the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) Outdoor Expo next month (March 28 and 29) at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility in Phoenix.
The Start of Something New
“It’s a little crazy to walk away from construction,” Tim says. “It’s a contractors’ market right now.”
However, Tim also sees a growing market for lightweight trailers. People are growing tired of the expense and upkeep of huge RVs. Van life, he says, has seen a resurgence, but it’s not for everyone. Tim says he and Ruth Ellen “had a blast” honeymooning through Ireland in a Volkwagen camper van, but concludes that the living quarters are too small.
“I don’t want to cook and sleep in the same space,” he says.
That’s why Tim prefers the teardrop style and thinks others will, too. The most positive reactions and solid interest come from active boomers and single women.
“They really love camping, but don’t want to be in a tent,” Tim says. “They want something super simple, easy to pull. They want to bring a dog with them.”
At only 1,800 lbs. (including a 200-lb. tongue), the Fina Roma can be pulled with a standard SUV; Tim recommends a six-cylinder engine, around here. In Kansas, he says, you’d be fine with something smaller.
As he shows off the prototype, Tim says, “I think we’ve taken that basic design and really packed a lot of amenities in it.”
Cabin details include double-door access, screened windows, Baltic birch cabinets, dimmable LED lighting, a radio with Bluetooth capability, 120-volt receptacles, a 12-volt charging dock, a three-speed reversible fan, and a luxury foam queen mattress.
The kitchen, which extends out in back, boasts a two-burner stove and a stainless steel sink with hand pump faucet. There’s a nine-gallon freshwater holding tank and dry storage cabinets and racks. Standard equipment includes LED lighting, task lighting, a vanity mirror, and exterior speakers.
Systems include a 150-watt solar array mounted to the roof, a one-gallon propane tank, 3,500-lb. Dexter axles, stabilizer jacks, a full-size mount spare tire, a tongue box for storage, and more.
Kicking the frame of his prototype, Tim notes that it’s probably overbuilt for the size of the trailer, but adds, “We like traveling on some rough roads.”
Tim is certified as a manufacturer through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He expects to handle the manufacturing himself for the first couple of years, building one trailer a month on pre-order.
He also plans to hold the base model price for the Fina Roma at just over $16,000 for the first year. The souped-up version – with roof rack, bike rack, TV/DVD, refrigerator, awning, and electric brakes – is offered at around $23,000.
There are three big manufacturers making lightweight campers, but according to Tim, they’re “kind of junky,” made of plastic, and they rattle a lot on the road. In addition to the high-quality materials and workmanship, Tim says a key selling point for Pin Drop Travel Trailers is that you don’t have to plug in. Rooftop solar power comes as standard equipment.
Tim says, “You’re not tethered to a campground, if that’s not where you want to be.”
The Pin Drop Travel Trailers website (www.pindroptraveltrailers.com) lists all amenities, optional upgrades, and details of the standard purchase agreement.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.