Featured Teardrop: Leah and Amelia's Alligator

Leah Houghtaling is a Jill of All Trades. When she's not running her cocktail bar, Felicia's Atomic Lounge, with her partner Amelia in Ithaca, NY, Leah is creating woodworking projects with her Groove Woodworking business. Her woodworking skills took her into the world of teardrop trailers when she decided to build a trailer to enjoy the outdoors in more comfort. Leah and Amelia have documented their "Alligator" build and their various trips on their blog. Leah was also kind enough to give me some more information on their handmade trailer (with a galley measured by a Grey Goose bottle) and their next building project.

 Tell me a little about yourself.

I'm a woodworker, a banjo player and a cocktail lounge owner (Felicia's Atomic Lounge). I like to create things, whether it's a cocktail or a piece of furniture.

Why did you decide to build your own teardrop trailer? What did you know about the trailers before you started?

l love the outdoors and camping, but the older I get, the less appealing it is to sleep on the ground. I didn't know anything about trailers or teardrops. I looked at a few and decided why buy one when I could build one (that seems to be one of my life mantras). I'm the person who thinks, I want ______, then I figure out how to build it. If you can think it, you can make it. Do it.

 What did you like most and least about the building process?

There's nothing I didn't like about building the Teardrop. I think many people are scared of failing when trying new things. For me, making mistakes is part of the process of learning. There is no success without perceived failure. I messed up some things here and there and learned how to fix it. Every time I turned around, there was something else to figure out: How can I keep this from falling apart when I'm barreling down the highway at 65 mph? How do I wire 12 volt electricity? How do I install a solar panel? How do I bend this aluminum angle iron to match the curve of the teardrop? (Hint: A blow torch was involved.) The Internet was my best friend.

What details and functionality did you want in your teardrop?

I wanted to be true to the original tiny teardrops: How small could I make it and still be comfortable? My wife insisted it hold a full-size bed so we wouldn't have to compromise comfort for a custom mattress, so it's five feet wide. This was a great decision. It is light enough for our 4-cylinder truck to pull and there's a door on each side so we don't have to crawl over each other. I insulated the entire thing so we are warm even if it's 25 degrees outsides, and installed a fan in the ceiling to keep it cool on hot nights. I also hooked up a solar panel so we can be entirely off the grid.

The design of the galley was inspired by my love of eating and drinking. If we're going to be camping, then darn it, we're going to eat well!

When designing the galley cupboards, the first thing I did was find the tallest bottle of liquor I could find (Grey Goose) and used it to determine the height of the cupboards. I vertically mounted draw slides for the cupboard doors so they opened up, not out, therefore not interfering with counter space when they were open. I'm a woodworker, so I used a lot of different species of hardwood in the galley which adds to its character. The counter is a butternut slab.

What do you like best about teardrop camping? What do you like the least?

The freedom! We've got a vacation home on wheels with no mortgage payments, stocked with everything we need, and we can go anywhere we want. We're essentially tent camping in a hard shell, so we are protected from the elements, and from bears (small bears).

What I like least is campers with no awareness and respect for their surroundings or the campers around them. Things like playing a guitar through an amp in their campsite, bringing a barking dog, playing bongo drums into the wee hours. And cold rain, cold rain sucks. I've done...some....ahem, "things"...to remedy these situations.  I can't tell you what, but it felt good!!

Where do you like to go camping? What's on your bucket list?

Maine and the Adirondacks are my favorites. We spend January in Florida; this year we'll go as far as the Keys. We'd love to get out to the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, and Texas.

What are some of your favorite camping items or products?

Ball jars. Camp Chef stove. French press. Manual coffee grinder. Coleman camp oven (bread!). Ball jars. LL Bean nylon tarp. Old school folding lawn chairs. Ball jars. Mimosas with fresh squeezed orange juice (in ball jars). Bicycles. Head lamp. Solar lights. Rechargeable batteries.  Did I mention Ball jars? A good bottle of Cognac. A side of Ball jar.

Tell me a little about your latest trailer project.

My next teardrop design is inspired by our camping misadventures this past January in Central and Northern Florida. (Can you say "Polar Vortex?") We had multiple days and nights below 30 degrees with 30-40 mile an hour winds. While we were cozy laying in bed at night, there was nowhere warm to sit during the day so we sought shelter from the cold in various Barnes & Noble bookstores.

I'm staying with the teardrop shape though. I don't want to get too Rain Drop or Canned Ham, it'll be more of a Slouchy. The next teardrop will be six feet wide, twelve feet long, and five feet high, with a section of dropped floor next to the bed so we can stand up to change our clothes. There will be a separate small seating area inside. I'll still have an outdoor galley; I always love cooking outdoors. It'll be bigger, but it will still be a teardrop. I plan to start building it late spring or early summer.

You can follow the build progress on my blog.

Photos courtesy of Alligator Teardrop


  1. Cool post, good to know, since I visit Ithaca now and then.

    P.S. You got a little typo in the town's name :).

    1. Thanks for the catch Aneta! I thought it looked odd. ;-)