Camper Trailer Australia — 2 September 2013

Ivan Mckinnon wanted to automate the set-up in his favourite tray back camper layout. So, the retired farmer referred to his drawings and worked a winch into the design. According to Ivan, the creative process “more or less” involved drawing on a piece of paper — the tools of choice were a graph pad, a ruler, cardboard and an inquisitive mind.

“People say I must have done it on a computer program but I don’t even know how to switch one on!” laughed Ivan.

The scaled down cardboard panels ensured the full-size model fitted together as intended. This straightforward methodical approach has served the camper trailer hobbyist for almost 20 years.

Although he has built many camper trailers, Ivan has a soft spot for this particular design, having taken the original version to Darwin and on several trips on the Murray.


Hard-top tray back campers are traditionally bound by the size of the tow vehicle’s tray, so Ivan maximised the camper’s internal dimensions by slanting the rear. The rear panel was shaped like an elbow, with the long arm forming half the roof — which is visible during travel. When you hinge it back, the exposed travel top meets with the concealed front and side-peak panels to create the pitched roof.

According to Ivan, the high roof provides ample head space and improves ventilation.

To automate the set-up, Ivan fed the winch wire on the inside of the exposed roof and anchored it to the concealed front panel. Ropes connect the front panel to the side-peak panels. A flick of a switch raises the four panels together, and two quick yanks of handles on each of the side-peak panels complete the set-up.

The steel steps, which ride flat against the cladding during travel, are supported by a steel right-angle guide for graduated access to the interior at camp.

Inside appears to be quite spacious for its dimensions. The east-west bed pivots on casters and can slide on a rail to rest parallel with the roof, providing room for a couch during the day.

The battery for the winch, fridge and the 12V lighting is under the bed and the two 240V power points are connected to a transformer and run straight through the front roof.

“If you make it easy for the electrician, it helps keep the costs down,” Ivan explained.

The handyman attributes the source of his ideas to years of experience camping and making things for the farm.

“The more you build things, the easier it is to work things out. I was always mucking about building shearing tables and potato machinery and things like that. Things we needed,” he explained.

“Usually if I have an idea, I work it out and just go and do it. Once I have an idea in my head I rarely vary the design…I am pretty stubborn like that.”


Maintaining weight is a battle when it comes to building camper trailers, which is one of the reasons why Ivan uses aluminium sheet in his designs. Styrofoam provides lightweight insulation and ply is used for the frame, where possible.

“I chose 20x20mm Duragal for the frame to suit the camper’s shape, but you don’t want to use too much steel as the weight adds up.”

The aluminium and Duragal elements are fabricated with a mig welder and a bender and the ply is cut on Ivan’s better quality saw.

Aussie Traveller supplies the windows and roof vents but Ivan makes his own bin and security doors, including the folding door shown.

“The doors are built from aluminium, so they are pretty easy to make. I use rubber edge to minimise dust and midge-proof screen to keep out the flies. The aluminium panels simply slot into the 10in edging.”

Ivan uses an old Triton saw and tin snippers to cut the aluminium accessories and cladding. He also uses the Triton saw for the steel checkerplate elements but admits it gets messy and requires a bit more care.

“It’s worth spending extra on the tin snippers,” says Ivan.

Although Ivan has fitted laminate benchtops to some of his camper trailers, he finds white checkered ply featured in this design to be lighter, cheaper and equally resistant to heat. Thick, vinyl covered ply is used for the floor.

Each camper takes about a month to complete from conception, except in winter, as Ivan only likes to work during daylight hours. His workshop measures about 50ft x 20ft (1520x6010mm) and is approximately 10ft (3m) high.

“Sometimes it’s a bit tight but I prefer a low roof, as you can hang things on rafters, which helps when you are fitting panels together, particularly the roof.” 

Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia #66, June/July 2013.


Review Adventure Camper Trailer Vehicle DIY Tray Equipment