Overland Trailer Build

Hi and welcome,

I wanted to start this page as a central place to document my overland trailer build. I am only starting this blog as I officially declare the trailer 'usable', as far as being 'complete', that my never happen as I have a lot of smaller plans and features for the future.

The Beginning

Throughout 2014 I had been enjoying my 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited which I had purchased at the end of summer 2013. I had done some minor modifications and now spending my money on gas to get out and actually use it. I had done many cool trips such as Molybdenite Ridge, Meadow Mountain, Lavina Lookout, Whipsaw, French Mines, and attended the NW Overland Rally.  In 2014 alone I racked up 10,000km by the end of summer, and this wasn't my daily driver.

The Jeep didn't really 'need' anything else and I was happy with it, my plans for the next modifications were, and still are, to have it re-geared, then increase tire size, AEV lift, and new wheels (or spacers) due to needing more offset. Instead I was looking for another project that would cost me less than all that, and be independent of the Jeep. I decided that I needed a trailer.

One day while at my parents house I was wandering through the back yard I caught sight of the old blue utility trailer that had last been used around the time we moved as a child. It had field grass growing up as high as the frame an the decking and tires were quite rotten. What striked me most about this trailer was its size, I remembered it being a lot bigger.  Instead it was very similar to the track width if the Jeep, and a deck just over 8 feet long. This would give me the purpose built look behind the Jeep to carry camping supplies, my mountain bike, possibly kayak, and/or roof top tent. This old utility trailer seemed to fit the description of what I was looking for and there was a possibility I could have it cheap or free.

Since my parents were not not home at the time I had to wait until later that evening to ask them about the trailer. To my surprise they were willing and happy to give it to me, after all it wasn't doing them any good just sitting there.  Since it would take time to get it re-registered I wouldn't be able to grab it this trip and would have to return in a few weeks. In the meantime my dad got the registration reprinted as it had long since been lost in the 20 years since it had last been registered.

So I returned a few weeks later, my dad had pulled the trailer out given it a once over, checked the lights/wiring, repacked the wheel bearings which surprisingly he said still seemed fine, grease was good and not a bit of rust. As for the rest of the trailer I was surprised how well it had faired all those years out in the weather, although the paint was very faded it only had superficial rust on a few parts.

The one "project" my dad hadn't tackled was the tires, the tires that were on it looked extremely old, thinking back I really wish I had checked the date. Not wanting to drive back home to Kelowna (over 300km) with them we decided to mount a few old winters that I had laying around, we also dug around until we found a spare rim. All in all we mounted 3 low profile car tires onto the rims, which I know now is probably a no-no.

This was a quick trip, I think I was at their place for maybe 3 hours then back on my way to Kelowna. I made it back home without incident, I did stop once to loosen one wheel bearing as I noticed getting a little warm, I later learned how finicky this axle is for adjustment when their is only 6 positions on the castle nut.

Back in Kelowna I began to strip the old decking and sides off the trailer in anticipation of Phase 1. I regret not taking any pictures of the trailer as it arrived home.

Phase 1

Phase 1 was to just get the trailer to a practical point, something that is usable if needed. The plans were:
  • Replace the decking 
  • Put it on 31-33 inch tires 
  • Repaint
  • Replace the lights 
  • Also ensure it sat level behind the Jeep. 
I began by going through the local classifieds and finding a used set of 33 x 9.5 inch BFG All Terrains with about 30% tread, the kid was asking $20, how could I go wrong. I then got them mounted which was about another $50.

Prior to even picking up the trailer I purchased some submersible LEDs from Princess Auto. The kit included new wiring and provisions for license plate. I saw these on sale so these were half price, about $40. 

To get the tires to clear ended up being a little more work than anticipated, I had to do a spring over axle (SOA), then cut off an relocate the steel fenders. Finally to get the trailer to sit relatively level I had some serious work to do as I just lifted the frame about 6-7 inches. To start I replaced the drop hitch to a minimum drop while still being able to open the gate on the jeep. Next I completely cut off the tongue of the trailer, I then relocated it under the main rectangular frame of the trailer about a foot back. It worked out well as there was a lot of surface area to have a good amount of welds to keep the integrity.  (It is also gusseted at the back, which had not been added at the time of the picture.)

Now the tongue was closer, but still too high, and now far too short. I would have to make a trip to the metal shop, this took me to Monashee metals a business I had dealt with before and the first business I would have to acknowledge for their outstanding service for this build. I picked up a very slightly bent piece of receiver tube at a discounted price. For those that do not know receiver tube (to my knowledge) has a heavy gauge, a specific inside diameter of 2", and no ridge on the seam inside. I used this to extend the tongue. I knew that I was losing some triangulation but I felt there was still way more than enough strength.

Next up was the decking. It was this time I learned about the strange size of the trailer, you see my dad built this trailer in 83 (was welded inside the trailer frame) and built it to be able to haul a 4x8 sheet of plywood completely flat with the sides of the trailer on, this meant that the dimensions were slightly lager than 4 x 8. Since I was just doing Phase 1 as temporary measures until I could decide on what I wanted the trailer to be I just bought  the cheapest 10' 2x4s and slapped them on, then cut off the excess. 

I ended up using the trailer like this a good few times to help friends move stuff, hauling waste to the dump, and taking my awkward downhill bike to some trails.

Phase 2

I can't remember how exactly Phase 2 started to unravel. I think it probably happened around Christmas 2014 discussing future plans for the trailer or maybe homemade teardrops, which my dad had considered building a few years back.  I also had a 'plan' in my head but honestly hadn't considered it at this time, for this trailer. Somehow I got the 'go ahead' to make that plan a reality with this trailer. I decided it was too cold, and I should make sure I am ready financially before beginning any project. 

Looking back the beginning of Phase 2 must have been a few days before Feb 18 as this is the day I picked up the first load of materials and naively what I thought were the 'most expensive' part of the build.  This included primarily 120 ft of 1" .063 square tubing, other assorted steel, .035 4'x10' white aluminum sheet, and .050 5'x10' plain aluminum sheet.   This metal order I had gone to Spartan Metal Processing after speaking to one of the employees while volunteering at the Big White Winter Rally in December.  This the second company I would like to acknowledge for their outstanding service.  Everyone is extremely friendly and easy to deal with, by my third or 4th trip over several months they already seemed to remember me!   

Since I had taken an afternoon off to pick up the metal I also used the opportunity to pick up a used 30" wide door, and a few windows that I saw a sale for online. 

Before I get too deep into the actual build, here was my requirements, and dream list for the trailer I would build. I also intended this build to be "quick and dirty" as I wasn't expecting the finished result to be as nice as it came out. 
  • Off road capable, no less ground clearance then the jeep, wanted to be able to take it through moderate cross ditches. 
  • Keep it close to the width, and height of the jeep. I wanted to make it seem like it was intentionally made to be behind the jeep. 
  • Borrow design queues from the jeep, same reasoning as above. 
  • Wanted to try keep it light due to the lack of power the Jeep has.
  • Did not want a flip up hatch like a conventional teardrop as I didn't feel it fit in with my design plus I felt it added a huge fabrication challenge, instead I wanted a pull out countertop for camp stove etc. 
  • Wanted it to be as self contained as possible, something you see with a lot of the other overland trailers on the market. Such as swing down stabilizers, pull out countertop for prep and cooking. 
  • Be warmer than a tent, froze my @$$ off a few too many nights. 
Dream List
  • Heater 
  • Awning/ roof racks 
  • Water tank and pump
  • Hot water tank/instant water heater 
  • Comfortable to sit in for a couple people to watch a movie or read in bad weather 
  • Solar 
  • Outdoor shower 
Its been so long now since dreaming the trailer up to this point I can't remember what has changed. 

The goal with the trailer would be a tight deadline of June 25th 2015, to be able to debut it at the Northwest Overland Rally. This was an event I attended last year and ended up having a blast (after the first night, but thats another story).  I however think I was the only person in a conventional tent who arrived in a 4x4, the only others were on motorbikes. Most of the other overlanders had roof top tents (RTTs) or elaborate camperized vehicles like Unimogs and Earth Roamers. I was bound and determined this year to arrive with accommodations that were home built and comparable in price to a higher end RTT.

The first night with the metal I started laying out my design, there were never any real plans instead I had the basic idea in my head, then just did what I thought looked good. I managed to get a lot of material cut and laid out in the first couple days.

Once I got the sides together flat I then cut the pieces out to determine the width, was nice to see a 3 dimensional object that actually resembled something and all within a week or two. At this time I was working on it nearly every evening, but would take the occasional night or weekend day off to spend time with friends.

Next was a few of the more minor details; bracing, door openings, vent opening. I also decided to lower the floor as the frame was extremely high an would have been a waste of space. I decided to lower the floor about 12 inches but not cutting the frame rails.  This would mean a person would still have to step over a considerable sill to get in. I figured this was a minor issue an proceeded anyways.  With this dropped floor the trailer is a lot easier to maneuver in. Unlike most teardrops, that have two doors this one only had a single door but allows one person to be sleeping regardless of the side and another person to get in bed without disturbing them.

I also had to fabricate a 'tray' for the water and battery. I just built this tray as large as I could given the available space, that way I had flexibility down the road. I tucked this tray in right behind the dropped floor, and in front of the axle so that it would keep these heavy items as low as possible and as central to keep the front to rear weight distribution as well.

Next up I had to start working on the flooring, I am not much of a wood worker, I feel much more comfortable working with metal but I didn't end up being as bad as I expected. Notice how I had to use two pieces of ply to get the right width, because of the size I would have a lot of waste/left over material. I also created cutouts for the water and battery access. For the water I decided to just use a removable military Scepter water jug. This was only for washing up anyways.

I also worked on getting the floor pieces cut, I wish I  could say that this area was perfectly square but it wasn't.  Because of this it took a lot of cutting, filing and sanding to get to parts to fit as good as possible. (Spoiler alert, but I think the end results came out very well)

I then went back to metal and started manufacturing the bedframe. This was when I needed to make a second trip for supplies. My original plan was a real elaborate 3 piece bed frame that would have one fixed section at the back of the trailer to box the area I would have a pull out countertop, then a middle piece that could flip up from the back and lock in place to make a backrest.  Finally the front most section would simply lift up to reveal the water and other storage. I instead scrapped this design in favour of just a wooden opening hatch to a storage area. My mentality was this is a glorified hardshell tent and anything else is just a luxury. (Maybe my next trailer will have this.)

Again back to the woodworking, and again two 1/2 sheets of plywood to get the dimensions that I needed for the bed which would measure about 56 x 76. I had randomly also picked up a couple gas struts from Princess Auto for about $5 to use on a project somewhere. I decided that I would use them to hold open the storage area so I quickly did a couple measurements for the geometry. 

Once all the woodwork was roughed in it was time to start priming an painting it. I opted of the Zinsser Bullseye 123 primer which seems to be used a lot on the exterior of teardrops and Beauty Tone Water-base Porch and Floor enamel. 

I also started to paint random smaller metal components with some Primer and Tremclad.

As everything started to come together I assembled and disassembled everything several times, fine tuning the fit and finish. 

It was now time to start thinking and planning the interior. Like all other teardrop builds it seams the interior is built first before the trailer is skinned. 

For the interior walls I debated using cheap 1/8" panels then just paint them.  Rona carried these for about 8 dollars and I think Home depot was about the same.  My colleague is huge fan of Mara lumber and suggested I check the price there as well.  When I went in an explained what I was looking for he mentioned that they actually carried RV paneling and was one of the few if not only places to get them locally. These carried a much steeper $32 or so price per panel but it would save me from having to paint.  They also carried the batten strips which can cover flat seams as well as inside and outside corners. The fact that I was building the trailer longer than 8 feet and had multiple cut sharp corners meant that I needed probably 3 or 4 sheets extra just to have as few seams as possible.   

For foam the good blue or Pink Styrofoam will run roughly double what the white foam costs.  I debated using a mixture of both, but ultimately decided to pay this extra amount for all styrofoam as it is a lot more moisture resistant, more rigid, better insulation, and one person at the hardware store said gasses off less. 

About this time my dad came to visit and help out for a weekend. I like it when he helps me as he is a lot more of a perfectionist than I, and I was afraid that I would just hack the interior together and make a mess of my expensive materials. It was a productive weekend as we got all the interior panels and foam wall insulation cut out.  The panels could actually be cut with a sharp knife so you could get extremely precise cuts quickly.

A few weeks went by and I did a few odd tasks here and there, I added some additional supports for the insulation to help it bear the weight of the snow etc. I also started on the stabilizers which due to the length I decided to have swing down from the second to back cross brace.  The decision was made so if they ever came loose while travelling would not be ripped off. Aside from this It was more or less an arbitrary decision and I thought it just looked better. We will see how they work once completed. Also in this time I fully welded the frame as it had previously just been tacked.

May long weekend was upon us and the forecast was promising to be able to prep and paint the frame. In the days leading up I went over the frame with a wire wheel, and Acetone a couple times. Since I was using POR 15 I really wanted to do everything that I could to have it stick to the new steel. I followed the directions and bought their degreaser and metal prep.

What I noticed with the degreaser was it immediately had the water sheeting on the metal where even twice with acetone the water would still bead up. I went over with a scouring pad and degreaser twice and was satisfied it was as clean as it could be. 

After a day of drying I noticed the beginning of flash rusting which was comforting as this is part of what the POR will bite into. Next up I used the metal prep, I tried my best to keep the metal wet as they say but the weather was too warm and it would dry out quickly. I reapplied the solution several times. When I rinsed off and let it dry you are left with a yellowy galvanized look. After it dried as much as it could outside I laid down a tarp in the garage and wheeled it back it for the night.

The next morning the weather still seemed fine for painting.  Since POR 15 cures with moisture rather than dries you have to ensure the relative humidity isn't too high so that it cures too quickly. I ended up using Dollarama paint rollers which seemed to work well for the most part. A Single quart gave me 2 coats on the whole trailer and 3 in select spots.

Over the next week or so I assembled the foam and interior panelling. I would bevel the foam pieces so I could caulk around them with Alex Plus to prevent moisture. However some of the foam pieces I installed I ended up removing so that I could better clamp the interior parts.  I learned that the best way was to cut the foam tight, then assemble the foam and panel at the same time both using PL Premium glue.

Once the interior panelling was on I started to do final assembly of the interior.

Up until this point I was also racking my brain trying to think what I was going to do for flooring. I wanted something light weight and durable, that could stand up to moisture such as wet shoes. I had seen some hardwood looking vinyl flooring and decided this was my best bet. Plus it was relatively inexpensive compared to other flooring options. I ended up covering each piece individually using the specified adhesive that apparently never dries and left about a one and a half inch border which I used PL on.  (I did test and the vinyl would rip before the PL would come free.)

Once the floor pieces were complete they were also installed.

Next up was the task I dreaded the most.  I now had a trailer that was really taking shape but it was nothing without the exterior. Again I asked my dad for assistance.  He came down with my mom for the weekend and we were able to quite easily get the side sheets cut out and installed using some 3M VHB double sided tape ($125 per roll!) and a rubber polyurethane adhesive/sealant. It was really taking shape however the heavier aluminum (for the front, back and roof) that needed to be bent was almost impossible to work with as it was a lot tougher than I expected.   We wouldn't be able to get the front, back, and roof on this time as I would need to go get the metal bent. We did however get the pieces rough cut down and marked out.

While my dad and I worked on the trailer my mom helped out around the house. She got the garden planted and even did some cleaning! For the trailer I had also asked her (nicely) to make me curtains, cover my mattress and make a duvet cover, borrowing influence from the Jeeps colours.  She is pretty talented when it comes to quilting/sewing so I left the rest of to her. She brought a foam mattress that would work temporarily as I didn't want to shell out who knows how much on a big piece of quality foam right away. 

Like my metal purchases I went back to Spartan to have these sheets bent.  I marked out the point in the sheet that I needed bent, the angle up, as well as drew a little side profile of the finished piece with bends marked. I took a half day off work and took these in. About an hour and a half later they were complete and looked perfect.

All along the way my dad kept asking how I was going to trim the outside.  I didn't really know what he was talking about.  In my mind I thought we could just bend the metal roof down over the sides at about 1" to create the water tight seal that would work for the time being. After seeing how hard it was to bend the .050 sheet I knew he meant we would need to cut the roof to width, then trim would be needed just to make the trailer water tight. He checked out a couple RV places in the Kootenays one of which had white trim, I then also checked out a couple places here and luckily Western RV had exactly what I needed, I ended up buying the only 3 lengths of the Aluminum trim that they had. This is another one of those business I feel should be acknowledged, every time I went in there for parts and supplies they have always been extremely friendly, this is true for all staff. 

Since the weekend prior my parents had to leave so that my mom could work Monday. I had to have my dad make another trip out to help finish the roof.   This trip was a little more relaxed (a relaxed pace anyways) as we knew what we had to get done, and roughly how long it was going to take. We took a few hours off each weekend morning to go for a drive, the first day I took him up and showed him Terrace Mountain, and the second we went up James lake area.  Both of these drives were in my parents, new to them, 2013 JK Unlimited Rubicon.

Another task we tackled at this time was the windows, since I purchased them used and was unaware as to what to look for I didn't realize that these were missing the interior trim rings, a part that is very specific to the individual windows. We had two options, one was I bite the bullet for custom made RV windows.  The other was we found a way to retain the window, with or without it looking finished. We had been mulling this over for several weeks and ended up going with my dads first suggestion of smaller tabs of aluminum placed strategically around the window in a small groove to act as almost a lever to pull the window into the frame, this along with foam tape around the window, and butyl tape on the exterior lip should be more than enough to hold them in (actually pretty sure its much tougher then what it would be normally. Even the look isn't terrible, might end up finding an easy way to hide these behind another trim piece eventually. 

After my dad left, I  immediately started picking away at some of the smaller items that needed to get done such as installing the vent and door. The door itself had previously been cut down by me about 15" from what it was used for in a previous application. The only reason I left it as long as I did was I didn't want the door handle to be right at the bottom, I wanted it near the middle 1/3rd to help have even pressure on the seal all the way around.  I also added aluminum to box the bottom of the door as it was the only thing I could think of to finish that area off and have it look ok.

I also worked on a few remaining interior pieces and getting more of the interior wiring in place. 

By this time the trailer is becoming very close to usable. I decided to triangulate the tongue of the trailer asymmetrically from one side after a discussion with my dad. I think it was strong enough as is before, but this adds that extra strength for piece of mind.  I also think it does look a little more proportional now. I would have done it on both sides but it would have interfered with the front jack.

I then spent a good portion of time caulking, prepping and painting the tongue, frame, fenders, bottom of door, and outside of the floor area. I also took a day to wire back up the exterior lights which included adding several extra clearance lights. Finally I also redid the wheel bearings with all matching SKF, this however cost an insane $180 after a 30% discount due to the bearings being somewhat unusual.

By this time I had two last tasks before I would deem the trailer "useable".  One was I had to trim the aluminum at the bottom of the door to the floor, and the second was to get the rear storage hatch to fit and latch once it was trimmed out. I trimmed the door with some grey anodized aluminum angle I had laying around sandwiching in some grey polyurethane.  I also then framed up the area around the rear storage hatch door and cut the hatch down significantly to fit in place. I also attached a 3 inch piece of heavier aluminum angle for it to latch to. Once I added a couple strips of the foam tape the door latched perfectly, however is not yet weather tight.

This last week I also received the package in the mail from my mom, she had sent me the duvet cover for the trailer It was almost symbolic how it arrived right on time that it can be used the first time I go camping.

Up to this point I can only guess how much time has gone into this build, I would guess probably about 300 - 400 hours of my time and then maybe another 40-50 or so of my dads time plus the time it took for my mom to make the curtains, mattress cover, and quilt.

I didn't end up attending the Overland Rally for several reasons. One was that the trailer wasn't completed with enough time to do a proper shake down, another was that I ran so far over the budget and needed to save money. A final consideration (relatively minor but real none the less) was the fear or taking a brand new trailer across the boarder as I know it would have seemed suspicious to the customs officers.  I still plan on going next year once the trailer is a little more proven and used.

Still to Do 

As of June 21 I declared the trailer usable, 4 days before my deadline. However still have a few remaining tasks I want to accomplish at some point. 
  • Find a spare LT tire roughly the same size. 
  • Trim where the vertical components of the sunken floor go. 
  • Find a stool that can be used to step in and out of the trailer easier
  • Wire up the interior electrical 
  • Finish the stabilizers 
Anything else will come as separate mini projects time permitting, but I think I will try to get out of the garage and switch focus back to friends and exploring... at least for a couple weeks.

First Camp Trip June 10th. 

Went camping for a friends birthday this weekend, just to the Enderby RV Park. It was a good chance to put a few km on the trailer relatively close to home and on good roads. The trailer tows very well and even though the Jeep has the old 3.8L, 175,000+km,  33" tires, 3:21 gears, it still wasn't too bad. I don't think 6th gear was ever used but I was able to maintain the speed limit for the most part. My fuel consumption going there, taking it very easy, was 12.2 L/100km according to the Jeep (which historically has been quite accurate). On the way back I drove average, my milage started off much worse but by the time I made it home it had averaged itself out to 12.7L/100km.

I also pulled into the scales on the way back, the Jeep was 2420kg (5335lbs) including 3/4 tank of gas, a moderate amount of cargo, plus what I figure is about 80 lbs tongue weight of the trailer.  The trailer weighed in at 540 kg (1190lbs)

It was also very comfortable to sleep in, seems to have enough ventilation and luckily the night were not too hot. Can't wait until the next trip!

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