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RV Review: Homebuilt Vespa “foamie” trailer is ambassador of joy

Have you ever heard of a “foamie”? I hadn’t, but it’s a term I was introduced to by Thomas Burick who built one and tows it with, of all things, a 1962 Vespa scooter. 

A foamie is a trailer made of foam and often coated with “poor man’s fiberglass.” That was another term I had never heard of. But the result is a small, 170-pound teardrop-style trailer that Burick tows around with his Vespa. Yes, I’m talking the Italian motorbike Vespa. 

Thomas Burick is a self-described aficionado of motorbikes, including Vespas. But he also shares my enthusiasm for RVs, particularly the towable kind. As such, he built a trailer a few years ago that he refers to as a scooter cargo trailer. As proof of concept, he towed that trailer over 7,000 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Mexico, and on to San Jose, California. 

With a Honda Ruckus scooter.

It’s important to note that the Ruckus is a 50cc scooter that Burick describes as having “absolutely no torque.” So that ride was interesting, to say the least. Even the slightest incline slowed the bike, rider and trailer down to about 8-10 miles an hour – at which point balancing becomes tricky. 

“As soon as you hit an incline you’d feel like a guy on a tight rope hoping not to fall off.”

The Vespa is “rather torquey”

So this setup is a whole different animal – starting with the fact that the Vespa sports a two-stroke engine. Burick describes it as being “rather torquey.” I mean, not like Hummer H1 1,000 ft-lbs of torque torquey – but certainly better than the Ruckus. 

The trailer build

Building the trailer started with the design – and Burick searched for what he would classify as the perfect design. His search stopped when he came across a 1947 Cabin Car trailer. That was an all-wood design that was crafted by one of the many companies who found the need for their manufacturing capability changed after World War II. They shifted from making aircraft-related products to making things for civilians, and Cabin Car was a small teardrop trailer for civilians.

But lots and lots of civvies preferred much larger trailers at the time. Also, the fact that the manufacturer recommended an annual re-varnishing of the wood used in the Cabin Car so demand wasn’t overwhelming. 

But its design is so appealing Burick took that and scaled it down by about 25 percent. A friend of Burick’s took a side view of the Cabin Car and digitized it such that a CNC machine could very precisely cut the foam that is used to build the trailer. 

Foamies

The trailer’s light weight is a product of how it’s built. Like all RVs, the foundation is the place to start and the one under this foamie is all aluminum. The welded aluminum chassis was put together by another friend and incorporates 13” tires on a solid axle. These are significantly larger than the 8″ tires that the Vespa is shod with. 

From there the sidewalls and roof are all cut from 1″-thick block foam, which is a material many RVers may already be familiar with. Many smooth-sided RVs are a product of a welded “cage” with block foam between the ribs. 

But the foamie is only block foam, no ribs. Well, not many. More on that later. 

The sidewalls and roof are mounted in place and then a layer of canvas is literally glued on top of the foam with “tight bond” glue. At this point you use a warm iron to seal and help dry the layer. 

Once the glue dries, the canvas layer becomes rigid and is then painted with waterproof latex paint. 

This glue and canvas layer is referred to as “poor man’s fiberglass.” It was around before actual fiberglass, but isn’t tremendously different in concept. In fact, many early trailers used processes similar to this for their skins. 

“You would be surprised how much structural rigidity canvas and paint add to the build.” 

It’s a trailer

Despite the diminutive size and extraordinarily light weight, it’s still a teardrop trailer and fully functional as such. In fact, Thomas Burick shot a video on his new YouTube channel where he actually prepared an entire Thanksgiving dinner complete with a bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes and peas – and enjoyed it with a friend in the foamie trailer. 

Out back there’s a spot for a kitchen that features drawers and a prep surface. Heat for the cooking comes courtesy of a single-burner portable stove. 

Unlike many smaller rigs, this one also has the ability to prepare coffee and such inside – should the weather ever cause the need. 

The foamie has already been camping once in the three weeks since it’s been finished and there’s already a second trip on the calendar. 

But why?

There are a lot of reasons for doing something like this. But who needs an actual logical reason when it’s just something you enjoy? 

Okay, there was a reason – and that started with Burick’s profession as a teacher where he works with children with special needs. There is a camp component to his teaching and he got the idea to build a throwaway trailer that the kids could have fun with. But as more and more people started pitching in and the trailer got better and better, he realized it was no longer a throwaway project. 

“This little trailer is a conduit of joy and human connection.”

That’s fully understandable. Just like when you go to a car show and there are all the big, fancy, flashy cars. But if someone shows up with a BMW Isetta, that’s going to be the star of the show. 

Thomas Burick has always wanted to build a travel trailer, and now he has. He enjoys pulling it around at speeds up to 40 miles per hour with the collectible 1962 Vespa scooter. 

And now we all have learned a couple of things, too. “Foamies” and “poor man’s fiberglass.” See what you can take away from RVTravel.com? 

Around the holidays we all appreciate homemade goodies and I hope you enjoyed this look at such a unique RV.

##RVT1032b

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Gary Swope
1 month ago

Very nice home built. I would be worried about getting hit with crosswinds. It’s so lite. Enjoy your adventures, Thomas. Be safe out there.

Tom Burick
28 days ago
Reply to  Gary Swope

Hi Gary! The crosswinds can be challenging lol…I have to really pay attention when it’s windy…it blows the trailer around pretty easily.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

We watched the video about the dinner. We thought it was going to be about the trailer. Nope.
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting home-built unit. Hats off!

Last edited 1 month ago by Tommy Molnar
Tom Burick
28 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Hi Tommy,
I’ll have more videos in the future that focus on the trailer. I’m brand new at making videos and I’m trying to find my feet lol…I appreciate your view. Thank you so much 🙂

Donald N Wright
1 month ago

At a rest stop, I parked next to a two wheeled enclosed wagon towed by a man riding a three wheeled recumbent tricycle. I regret I did not have a few hours to spend listening about his journey.

Dan
1 month ago

Your best review ever, Tony. It would be great to see more home-builds, but this one is hard to beat.

Tom Burick
28 days ago
Reply to  Dan

Dan,
Thank you for the positive comments. I also follow Tony’s reviews. I was really hoping he’d be interested in covering my Vespa build. It was extremely well written…such a great job!