Airplane designer friend Angel Irlanda in Florida had boxes of them. Chicken feathers did not work for high-tech aircraft design.
Irlanda is an artist and sculptor. He worked as a painter on film sets in New Mexico.
He was also tent camping with his wife, Laura Esteves De Irlanda, and children. The wind was incessant. No more tent camping. It’s time for a trailer, he reasoned.
Only problem? He had just bought a Fiat 500, not exactly a car designed to pull trailers. He couldn’t find anything on the market that was light enough, with even teardrop-shaped trailers weighing around 1,500 pounds.
“It’s outside,” Irlanda said of her Fiat, parked near their 5,000 square foot manufacturing space on Richards Lane where they moved in early August for their business, Earth Traveler Teardrop Trailers.
He would design and build his own lightweight trailer, weighing just 250 pounds (minus hitch and axle) for the carbon fiber-Kevlar-Corecell T250 edition or 300 pounds for the T300 version with the use of feathers from chicken reinforced with resin, fiberglass, wood and smaller amounts of Kevlar and carbon fiber.
The difference is a base price of $ 10,000 for the T300 chicken feather model and $ 30,000 for the carbon fiber T250. Almost all of the 20 trailers sold so far have been the Chicken Feather Edition.
“We are democratizing the experience of the tear,” said Esteves De Irlanda. “The challenge was how light can you be. “
“I designed it for myself,” Irlanda said of solving her camping challenges. “Friends have told me that other people have the same problem. Most customers are people who want to operate from a tent and upgrade or downgrade from a motorhome.
Joshua Elwell, who lives in Kentucky, bought one of Earth Traveler Teardrop Trailers’ first products because he was looking for the most energy efficient way to tow a trailer.
“I wanted a small trailer because I have a Tesla,” Elwell said. “I don’t want to tow a lot. [The trailer] is quite aerodynamic. I have used it to stop at rest areas and even at a campsite. It worked very well.
Irlanda and Esteves De Irlanda created Earth Traveler Teardrop Trailers in 2017 at their 1,500 square foot domestic garage, where Irlanda began building the first of 20 Teardrop trailers ordered in 2019.
Even with so few trailers sold and Irlanda doing most of the work with the help of three part-time employees, Earth Traveler has already been written in Forbes and Men’s health magazines. Investors have sniffed and RV dealers around the world want to include Earth Traveler trailers in their lineup, Esteves De Irlanda said.
“I have requests from the UK, Australia and Germany,” said Esteves De Irlanda. “We’re still trying to build the business.
The New Mexico Department of Economic Development purchases Earth Traveler, awarding the company $ 25,840 from its job training incentive program to hire six interns at an average hourly wage of $ 17.25.
“We are going to use two people who are laminating the fiberglass to make parts,” Irlanda said. “Then we’re going to bring in two people for the assembly line and two for welding and 3D printing.”
Currently Irlanda uses traditional manual laying on fiberglass molds, but in the near future they want to add an epoxy infusion vacuum system as well as a 3D printer to make the shell of the trailer.
Chicken feather and carbon fiber trailers have the same dimensions. In travel mode, they are 11 feet long, rise up to 5 feet at the top, and are 5 feet wide. They sleep two people inside the 8 foot long sleeping area.
In most models, the side walls open horizontally to create two more 7-foot sleeping areas that can be wrapped in tent fabric. The front and rear roof sections pivot upward from a center pivot, also with tent material, to enclose the vehicle. Fully deployed, the trailer is 11 feet long, 11 feet wide and 7 feet high at the highest points in the front and rear.
Irlanda collaborated with materials science and dynamic extremes scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to determine the variance in chicken feather strength. This was done through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program and the New Mexico Manufacturing Expansion Partnership.
“I like to design stuff,” he said. “I’m a design junkie. I went to college to study architecture. I like industrial design.
Irlanda built to order. So far, an order takes 16-18 months to fill. He has completed six of 20 orders, five at home and one since arriving at Richards Lane. He plans to build two or three trailers per month once the new employees are trained and the new equipment arrives.
Just as Earth Traveler peaked in early 2020, the pandemic has stifled global trade.
“It was dead silence for a month,” Irlanda recalls.
But it didn’t take long for the public to realize that the safest place was outside.
“People started to understand that camping was the only solution,” said Esteves De Irlanda.
Michael and Ellen Chandler, residents of Eldorado, are Earth Traveler’s first customers in New Mexico. A year ago, they were looking for a used traditional teardrop trailer and Earth Traveler appeared on Google.
The Chandlers took delivery of their teardrop chicken feathers last week and headed to a Santa Barbara River campground. A month ago, they borrowed an Earth Traveler and took it to the field.
“It was raining and we were totally dry in the trailer,” said Ellen Chandler. “It was comfortable. We wanted something that we could pull off really easily. We didn’t want a kitchen or a bathroom.