Tinies, teardrops, miniatures, classics – tiny caravans have had a huge resurgence in recent years but these never went out of fashion for Don and Marilyn Jessen, authors of My Mini Could Tow That! A Collection of Teardrops and Tiny Caravans, a collection of tiny mobile spaces from Australia and New Zealand.
From restoring teardrops from the 1940s, DIY skills and building from scratch with plans from the internet, Don and Marilyn have met a lot of people on their travels. The duo are an enthusiastic part of the ‘tinie’ and ‘teardrop’ resurgence which never left for them.
Beginning with a trip from Hamilton to Whitianga and back, Don and Marilyn still have their own ‘tinies’ and continue to enjoy recreational vehicles today. We spoke with Marilyn to hear more about their travels, inspiration and My Mini Could Tow That!
What year was your trip from Hamilton to Whitianga and back?
The test drive of the 10 foot Pinto behind the 1000cc Mini, which inspired the title of the book took place in 1980. As you can imagine the roads were mainly loose metal so it was quite an epic journey. The round trip from Hamilton to Whitianga, on to Coromandel and back home again returned 26.5 miles to the gallon, which in the era of carless days, high fuel prices and smaller front wheel drive cars was a significant plus. The Pinto went on to become a very successful model for Liteweight Caravans, which Don’s family owned.
Can you tell us a bit about the photography in the book? It looks like you took a lot of the photos?
Yes I did a lot of the photography in the book. Photos were also sent in by the people we featured so that we could get build photos and photos of the rig out and about on holiday. I am what you might describe as a keen amateur with a little tertiary education in a Media Arts degree. I have now completed photography for 9 of our eleven books.
There is a world of caravan sizes and styles out there. What made you want to focus on teardrop and tiny caravans?
We became intrigued with the teardrops we saw in Australia at the National Vintage Caravan rally in 2018. Their teardrops are mainly vintage ones which have been lovingly restored. We wondered why there were no old ones in New Zealand and started to research the history of teardrops and found they started in pre-war USA, became popular in Australia in the 1940s but never made it over the ditch.
Now there is a keen following of DIY teardrop owners in New Zealand who are building the most amazing homes away from home often inspired by the original vintage plans. Tiny caravans have always fascinated us – the efficient use of space, the ability to be towed by a small car, their quirkiness and downright cuteness, not to mention the cleverness and creativity of their owners in making their rigs unique in every way.
It seems like you like to push the ‘caravan’ out. How many and what kind of caravan do you still own?
We have owned eleven caravans over the years ranging from a small caravette, similar to a teardrop which we towed with a 1300cc Kawasaki Voyager motorcycle and sidecar rig, through to an 8metre with all the bells and whistles which we lived in permanently for 6 months through a Waikato winter while our house was being built.
We currently have two vintage caravans – Daisy May our 14foot 1958 Liteweight Kiwi and our 12 foot 1956 Liteweight Kiwi called Maisie. Both of these caravans were built by Don’s father, Maisie being the last caravan built in the home garage before the new factory was opened.
These caravans have seen a large number of miles since we restored them. Maisie has travelled approximately 20,000 kms to most parts of NZ except for Northland and the East Cape. Daisy Mae has clocked up 15,000 kms just in the last 3 years. So yes we love to get out and about in our caravans.
Do you have any more trips planned yourselves?
As we write this we are about to take off for a week away in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, taking in the Classics at Ohope rally. We’ll also be taking in the Whangamata Beach Hop, and weather and workload being on our side we’re keen to head up to Northland and revisit some of our favourite spots.
We don’t tend to plan exactly where we are staying as we are fully self-contained and make use of the NZ Motor Caravan Association camps and freedom camps that we are so privileged to be able to use in NZ.
How long did it take to put My Mini Could Tow That! together? It seems like you may have travelled around a bit to meet all of your caravans.
Some of our best holidays away in the caravan have been our research trips where we travel around and meet all these wonderful inspiring people who like ourselves are passionate about teardrops and caravans. Our Australian trip to Wangaratta in northeast Victoria was fantastic.
We were welcomed to the national vintage caravan rally as if we were one of them, and spent a week travelling with them to vintage stores and museums and just hanging out at the camp. My Mini Could Tow That! took about 2 1/2 years to put together researching, writing and the layup.
With so many bright and creative teardrops and tiny caravans featured in the book, does one stand out to you?
People often ask us if we have a favourite caravan that we have written about. Many stand out and it is hard to select just one. Most often it is the story behind the rig that touches us most. Like Carlton and Sarah who built their teardrop after the Christchurch earthquake.
Concerned that they would have nowhere to stay with their dog if their house was damaged, Carlton built the teardrop as their safety net. Carlton’s mother’s historic, landmark house was destroyed in the earthquake and Carlton used timber reclaimed from the house in the main structure and furniture of the teardrop. The workmanship and finished product is exquisite, but it is the story behind it that really touches our hearts.
My Mini Could Tow That! A Collection of Teardrops and Tiny Caravans. Bateman Books – 9th March 2020. RRP $39.99