PDF iconIt’s Still Camping

Teardrop Northwest uses Alphacam to maximize space and creative designs for its custom camping trailers

If there’s proof that form and function can exist in equal parts and be equally easy on the eyes, the teardrop trailer is it.

Logistically wrapped in a tiny package, the teardrop charmingly jibes with the traditional camping aesthetic. If you happen to think that logistical planning and camping don’t go hand-in-hand, well, you’ve probably never been camping.

When it comes to teardrop trailers, part of the attraction is that vital functionality is ironed-out in the design phase, which allows teardrop owners to simply enjoy using trailers of remarkable form.  

Forging that match between beauty and functionality is all in a day’s work for Bill and Linda Coberly, owners of Teardrops Northwest, a custom teardrop trailer manufacturer based in Salem, Oregon.

“When teardrop owners pull into a campground, everyone wants to see their trailers, and they make new friends,” Bill Coberly says, explaining the organic means by which new fans are often drawn to teardrop camping.

Coberly is quick to stress, however, that teardrops aren’t just a product: They’re a culture.

It stands to reason, after all, that those who prefer to enjoy nature in style — using teardrops custom-made with their own design choices — also like to see what kinds of cool designs have been dreamed up by other teardrop owners.

“If you like a particular drawer stack, but don’t like something about it, you can change it — and that empowers people,” Coberly says. “When they’re out camping and enjoying the benefits of a great design, they are enjoying something that they helped to build.”

For 30 years, Coberly owned a distributorship dedicated to distributing, installing, and training customers on the use of CNC routers and CAD/CAM software. After selling his business, he planned to pursue his passion for photography, an interest he partly developed as a Vietnam-era combat photographer in the Marine Corps.

“Having Alphacam and knowing what it’s strengths are is at the heart of our business.”

Bill Coberly, owner

“As a combat photographer, I wasn’t always dashing through the jungle,” says Coberly, who saw combat as a helicopter door-gunner. “I was required to cover all aspects of military activities, from from grip-and-grin promotion shots and quotidian military life to, occasionally, more extreme military activities.”

After hitching a teardrop trailer to his car and hitting the road for his first photography outing, however, his plans changed. On the road, he learned that teardrop trailers are a draw to people from all walks of life, and of all ages. He opted to switch gears upon discovering that he loved showing off his new teardrop almost as much as the people he met wanted to see it.

And, just like that, a new business was born.

The Coberlys began manufacturing teardrops in 2012, utilizing the Alphacam computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) solution, by Vero Software, along with a CNC router, to create the custom designs.

Typically, each teardrop houses a small bedroom area with custom storage space. A back hatch opens upon a galley, complete with custom storage options. For those in need of additional storage, there is a spot for a lockbox in front of and outside of the teardrop that gets the job done.

While most teardrops are built with a perfect arc on the back hatch, the Coberlys’ teardrops have been designed to accommodate more space with a parabola-like shape in lieu of an arc.

“The goal was to gain that space back with something like a parabola,” Coberly says. “With Alphacam, I was able to labor over that line for a couple of days to maximize the space. We were able to gain that space back because, otherwize, an 18-inch countertop would dissect the line of the arc-shaped hatch.”

The Coberlys’ design is an improvement upon classic teardrop design, which offer six fewer inches of room in the galley portion of the teardrop.

“By gaining that six inches back, we are able to move the footboard back and gain more room,” he says. “Six inches is a lot of room when you’re looking at a small space; it can really go a long way.”

Likewize, the mattresses in the Coberlys’ teardrops are beveled to fit the design of the trailer, which results in the gain of an additional eight inches.

Their trailers are also designed with double-closing hatches to ensure that the damp climate so common to the Pacific Northwest doesn’t creep into the interiors of their creations.

“The double-closing hatch has an inner wall offset by three inches,” he says. “The teardrop industry is faced with the same challenges as the RV industry, and leakage is a major problem for teardrops. Will it leak when you’re driving it down the I-5 corridor at 65-miles per hour behind 18-wheelers? Ours will absolutely not.”

Unlike its bulkier relative, the RV, however, a teardrop bonus is that the diminutive unit is easier to care for, and can remain relatively packed and ready to go.

“It’s not RV-ing,” Coberly adds. “It’s still camping.”

When it gets to the nuts and bolts of designing a custom-camping experience, Coberly credits Alphacam with its ability to quickly and accurately generate toolpath.

“The speed with which you can create toolpath can’t be beat,” he says. “I can lay out a custom drawer size in 3 or 4 minutes — and having the geometry carry the attributes to the toolpath was a geometric epiphany.”

Coberly also utilizes Alphacam’s 3D engraving capabilities to add personal design features to the teardrops of customers who desire truly unique products. Artwork and text can be easily created and machined with Alphacam, which allows users to contour geometries with a form tool. When a sharp corner is met by the tool, Alphacam automatically retracts the tool to produce a sharp corner, a function commonly called “embossing.”

“With Alpahcam, I can use corner sharpening on the 3D engraving feature, where I enter the tool shape and allow the shape to rize and fall, on multiple tool lines. Being able to load designs into Alphacam and machine them is a great feature; some people like having those designs over their beds in their teardrops.”

The Coberlys and their team, which includes six employees, derive inspiration from the ideas of their customers — many of whom have custom designs named after them. The “Day-Walker Cabinets” and “Cheslow Galley,” for instance, are design choices named after the customers who inspired them.

“We’re very inspired by our customers’ ideas,” says Coberly, who adds that offering custom is a benefit to both his clientele and his company. “The fact that we can do custom and people seek us out for that, that empowers us to not have to keep an inventory. It makes it a good business model, and the bread crumb on the trail leads back to Alphacam. Having Alphacam and knowing what it’s strengths are is at the heart of our business.”

While Bill Coberly handles the design and production end of the business, he credits his wife and partner, Linda, with deftly providing the “organizational substrate that our business operates on.”

“My creativity tends to wane when I start thinking about ordering materials, taxes, payrolls, accounts payable and due,” he says. “Without Linda tending the front office business, none of this happens.”
Having grown in a few shorts years to support a production facility and a showroom, Teardrops Northwest currently produces five to seven teardrops per month, with lead times spiking from eight to 14 weeks from February through the summer months.

“Right now, we’re just absolutely rocking,” Coberly says. “I’m thrilled that my crystal ball was right. I saw teardrops as being good for practical reasons and impractical reasons — and they are.”

About the Company

Name: Teardrops Northwest

Business: Design and manufacturing of custom teardrop camping trailers

Website: teardropsnw.com

Benefits Achieved

  • High-quality, detailed design manufacturing achieved with 3D engraving capabilities
  • Ability to create toolpath for custom designs in minutes
  • Ease of use in programming and cutting complex shapes


“Having Alphacam and knowing what it’s strengths are is at the heart of our business.”

Bill Coberly, owner


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