The MOTHER EARTH NEWS camper design is a combination camp kitchen and camp storage locker, a pull trailer containing essentials you'll need for a camping trip into the wilderness.
Though part of the fun of camping is shucking the amenities of society, even the most dedicated Natty Bumppos among us would agree that the quicker you set up camp, the sooner you can get on with the business of enjoying yourself. Since this compact camping trailer, designed and built by MOTHER's research staffer Clarence Goosen, is already set up when it rolls into camp with a camp kitchen and camp storage, "roughing it" is made smoother than you'd ever imagine.
The nearly four-foot cube is not a pop-out, sleep-in camper, but rather a combination storage locker and camp kitchen that'll hold everything necessary for a weekend (and maybe even a weeks-long) trek to anywhere you can pull the unique trailer. Five stowage compartments, three utensil and storage drawers, a cool box, a stove holder, and a food preparation counter complete with overhead and sidewall weather protection make it one of the handiest conveyances to hit the trail since the days of the Conestoga wagon.
To keep the project within the capabilities of a person with average workshop skills, Clarence purchased, rather than fabricated, the 40 inch by 48 inch tubular steel trailer frame upon which his plywood camper rests. Believe it or not, the cost of just buying the parts to make a trailer exceeded the $200 price we were quoted for a new, manufactured one at a local hardware store. (Since then, we've discovered a source of even less expensive, partially assembled kits: Northern Hydraulics, Inc., Burnsville, MN, sells an equivalent trailer for $139.95, plus $30 shipping to anywhere in the continental U.S.)
The camper body is a self-contained unit built of 1/2 inch AC plywood on a 3/4 inch plywood base. Internal rib members measuring 3/4 inch by 1-3/4 inch, and beveled to 45 degrees on each side, strengthen the comers and provide bolsters for the horizontal and vertical inner partitions. Furthermore, angle iron clips placed at each of the box's four lower corners bolt to the trailer frame and allow that chassis when the body is removed-to do double duty as a utility trailer! A 3/4 inch plywood platform mounted to the trailer itself serves as a subfloor for either configuration.
Although the camper project demands only patience and a moderate selection of common workshop tools, the use of a table saw is almost mandatory to keep the panel edges straight and the rib bevels true. The only other power tools you'll need are a drill with an assortment of bits and a countersink, a router, and perhaps a palm sander to prepare the wooden surface for a coat of paint.
Start off by collecting one sheet of 3/4 inch AC plywood, four sheets of the same material in 1/2 inch thickness, a section of 1/4 inch plywood measuring 18 inch by 52 inch, and a scrap of 3/4 inch by 18 inch by 40 inch ply. The project requires about 70 linear feet of 1 by 4 fir or pine, one gross of I inch, No.8 flathead wood screws, several feet of 3/4 inch by 3 inch hardwood (along with some larger hardwood scraps), a 40 inch by 42 inch piece of Formica or other plastic laminate, and a 6 inch by 45 inch PVC pipe with two end caps. You'll also need ten 3 inch by 3 inch butt hinges, two 2 inch by 30 inch continuous hinges, two 1-1/2 inch by 3 inch butt hinges, two window sash locks, a panel lock, six 3-3/4 inch draw pull catches, and three pairs of 18 inch heavy-duty drawer slides.
The rest of the material consists of assorted fastener hardware and metal scrap, but in addition you'll have to find some extruded polystyrene board 2 inch thick, 18 inches wide, and long enough to cover the equivalent of 11 feet, a 30 inch by 60 inch section of rubberized canvas or other waterproof material, a tube of silicone sealant, carpenter's glue, and some contact upholstery adhesive.
To make your assembly chores easier, Clarence has illustrated the camper in an exploded view and has also prepared plan views of the rear, top, and sides. Details of the drawer construction, cool box, stove holder, and hinge layout are shown as well.
Begin by cutting out the-floor, front, and sidewall panels. These will provide you with a reference from which to measure the placement of partitions, shelves, and supporting ribs, as called out in the illustrations. Note that not all the ribs are double-beveled; some have a single angle and a square side to meet stationary panels. Note, too, that the rib lengths aren't specified; it's simpler and more accurate to cut these to fit as you go along so they'll match your camper rather than ours.
Use the left side view illustration to guide you in determining the ribs' order of assembly, which is numbered-by group-from 1 through 4. Cut the plywood parts of the rear lift hatch, including the two 12 inch by 12 inch by 18 inch corner gussets, so you can start construction on that component . . . and trim out the top, and the vertical and horizontal partitions, as well. The ribs should be glued and clamped to the sheathing, if possible, then the flathead screws fastened from the plywood side into the ribs at intervals of every eight inches or so.
With the body roughed out, you can concentrate on the detail work as it suits you. The access holes to the side compartments at the front are cut out to a 12-1/2 inch by 24-1/4 inch rough opening to meet the edges of the side and upper ribs. A fourth rib is cut and added to the lower edge of each opening to complete the perimeter. All but the upper edges of both the door and the hole are beveled at 45 degrees to match the ribs; once the doors are framed, add the full-length hinges and sash locks.
The upper and lower doors to the front stowage compartments also extend to their rib perimeters, but have square, rather than beveled, edges. (The frame ribs on the doors are beveled to meet the openings.) The exterior corners are strengthened with 3/4 inch by 3 inch by 3-1/2 inch hardwood blocks, which hold the draw pull catches. Each door is fastened to the body with three butt hinges, and the joint is protected from the weather with a 6 inch by 40 inch strip of rubberized canvas, which is captured at each edge beneath 3/4 inch by 40 inch strips of aluminum counter molding. A pole-storage tube made from a 45 inch length of 6 inch PVC pipe can be secured to the top edge of the upper door with 1/4 inch by 1-1/4 inch carriage bolts backed with I inch by 3 inch aluminum strips in lieu of washers.
Moving to the rear, the lower left compartment is equipped with three drawers, 5-3/4 inches, 7 inches, and 8-3/4 inches deep. All share the same construction, the bottoms being set in 1-1/4 inch dadoes cut into the sides and ends, and the rear panels secured in 1/2 inch grooves made in the sides alone. The drawer fronts are rabbeted on all edges but the top, save for the lower one . . . which uses a dado groove 1-1/4 inches up from its bottom edge to allow that drawer to clear the ribs directly beneath it. Once the drawers are built and trial-fit, fasten the slides and install facer strips (relieved at the three slide locations) on either side.
The cool box is an optional feature which Clarence added when the camper body was nearly completed. It's simply a 1/2 inch plywood case sized to fit in the lower right opening once the 2 inch-thick polystyrene jacket is in-stalled. Remember to trim the outer corners of the foam board to allow for the ribs so the insulative panels will be square. The box opening is faced with beveled ribs, and the door is insulated with a block of foam trimmed at the edges to make a perfect seal. After the hinges and panel lock are installed, the foam board is glued to the door with upholstery adhesive and held for curing with the door lock. (As an alternative to this time-consuming procedure, you might consider making the drawer compartment narrower and using the increased space to accommodate your own portable cooler.)
Directly above both lower compartments, the food preparation counter is covered with an easily cleaned surface that can be extended around the sides as a surround. Formica laminate can be glued to the plywood with contact cement, and the counter's exposed edge given a 1-1/2 inch facer strip to be covered, as well. If you'd rather not clutter the counter with a cooking surface, the details of an external, removable, angle-iron stove holder are shown in the illustrations.
The last major component needed to make your camper complete is the rear lift hatch, which is fastened to the upper rear edge with the four remaining butt hinges and equipped with the fabric hinge seal and two draw pull catches. The door is held up with a 37 inch length of 1-1/2 inch conduit fastened to the corner of the side wall; a short section 3/4 inch pipe screwed into the side of the hatch provides a socket for that pole.
The remaining section of rubberized canvas is cut to form two trianglelike side curtains. Fasten their top edges to the hatch's corner gussets with strips of aluminum counter molding, and use snap fasteners at the bottom to secure the flaps to the body. Finish up by gluing some foam rubber padding to the inner surface of the door where it meets the drawer faces; it'll prevent the bins from sliding back and forth in transit.
Before dressing up your camping trailer with a coat of paint, you might want to care-fully look over the outside surfaces, and especially the edges, for gaps, knotholes, and cracks that would eventually allow water to enter the plywood's inner layers. Auto body putty, such as Bondo, makes an excellent filler for such imperfections because it's easily applied, seals well, and sands to a smooth, paint-ready finish. Once you've painted your camper trailer, you'll be ready to pack up and hit the road . . . but don't forget to check your state's licensing and insurance requirements before you roll; even the road to the wilderness has its rules.