M101A2 "Poor Man's Teardrop" - A five year retrospective

Dean

Adventurist
Founding Member
#1
In 2015 I embarked on my first long-distance overland adventure dubbed "The No Highways Tour." Went from the Easternmost Point of the US in Maine to the Southernmost Point of the US in Key West, FL over the span of a month. On that trip I tent-camped the entire time and realized rather quickly I was wasting a lot of time and effort making and breaking camp every day.

Later that year, in the fall, I was in North Carolina for the American Adventurist Appalachian Rendezvous followed by Overland Expo East --- aka "Underwater Expo." Those two weeks of incessant rain pretty much solidified my plans to build a trailer.

After returning home I sourced a modified, but mostly unmolested, M101A2 from a friend of mine. He had already stripped off the hydraulic brakes, lunette, and mil-spec axle in favor of a traditional hitch and a Jeep width Dexter 3500# axle with Jeep 5x4.5 bolt pattern and electric brakes.

Trailer when I got it:

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Building the trailer wasn't hard. Found a truck cap off Craig's List for $50. It required a little work, but in the end I was able to make the trailer live-able for $1200.

Year 1: A month in CO, UT, & AZ

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The first year the trailer was pretty basic. Spring-under with 31" all-terrains. Jeep was still under-construction as well so it was on borrowed tires for that trip. It worked really well for the most part. Only real issue was the bed frame which was a hinged design. Wasn't very practical. All in all it did well for the month long trip out west as well as the summer/fall events season.

Year 2: A few upgrades & Another trip out west

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For this trip the trailer saw it's first "hardcore" terrain along the AZBDR in Tonto National Forest. The first limitation I noticed was it being spring-under with 33's. The tires rubbed even on flat ground, and on rough ground they were even worse. I also noticed the "dump tongue" on the M101 was more annoying than useful (more on that in a little bit). However, even with its drawbacks, the trailer still worked really well off-road. It tracked behind the jeep beautifully and was very stable even when off-camber and flexed out. That's mostly due to all of the weight being within the silver portion of the tub. Everything in the camp area was empty space. Only things with any measurable weight up high were the awnings. Since the camp is aluminum and sheet metal it really doesn't weigh much.

Here are some action shots of the trailer in some technical terrain:

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The other limitation I noticed was the Jeep's rear suspension was bottoming out. Partly due to the Jeep still running "heavy" but also due to the poor suspension geometry of the rear springs.

Year 3: Upgrades all around!

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The biggest upgrades in 2018 were finally sorting out the rear suspension on the Jeep with some spring relocation brackets. Pretty much gave me an inch back as well as straighten the spring so it actually did what it was supposed to. This allowed me to switch the the trailer to spring-over making it preform off-road much better. However on-road it was evident I should probably put shocks on it. It does okay without them, but I'm sure a pair of small shocks would mitigate the small amount of sway the trailer has. Shocks would also smooth out the bump-rebump effect between the trailer and Jeep.

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The other major upgrades to the trailer was adding the 270 awning. Combined with the ARB 2500 & Deluxe room the trailer expands into a nice "base camp" for events. However when in travel mode it still takes zero time for me to just open up the back, crawl in, and go to sleep. Gives me the best of both worlds.

I also built a new bed frame which was a "cubby style" and pocket-hole-screwed together. So much better than the older hinge-style bed frame.

Year 4 - The not-so-fun year

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Year four started off bad and only got worse. I started off diagnosed with skin cancer requiring surgery in February. I had already planned on quitting my job effective the end of March. Someone also got the bright idea to attempt an LS swap in the LJ. The worst part was as soon as I was recovered from my surgery my mother's cancer came back and I ended up playing caretaker for the remainder of the year. Luckily I was able to sneak out to a few events between her chemo treatments and was never more than a few hours from home. To make life easier I swapped the trailer back to spring-under, switched out for some baby 235/75R15's, and spent the year pounding pavement with the trailer behind a Grand Cherokee --- at least it had a Hemi. Who knew the M101 would do 85 mpg?!?

Year 5 - Current Year

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So far the biggest change in 2020 is addressing the tongue. I wanted to get rid of the "dump" feature for a few reasons. First, the sub-frame hung down below the rest of the frame rail and it meant needing a 5" drop hitch behind the Jeep. This mean it had a terrible break-over angle. Also the tongue is ridiculously short making the trailer nearly impossible to backup accurately and also made it a little squirrel. I also didn't have enough tongue weight. So by extending the frame out and up it made it longer and more stable, also gave me room for a small platform for things like batter and fuel/water cans. This would give me a little extra tongue weight with moving the batteries to the front of the trailer and then I could dial in the rest with liquid weight (if needed). I also had a nice place to stash trash and/or firewood if need be. It tows sssooo much better now, and has much better ground clearance for the break-over angle.

The next phase of the project is to completely rewire the trailer, switch the axle out for a newer one with larger hubs and brakes, as well as ones with a parking brake feature. Other than that this trailer is pretty much "done." I'm already considering building a new trailer project next winter using an M116A3 flat-deck trailer I picked up at auction. But that's a different trailer for a different post.

Main stats and links to build albums can be found here.
 

Dean

Adventurist
Founding Member
#3
What’s the difference between sprung under and over? Never heard that before.
Spring over is when the leaf spring is bolted to the top of the axle. Spring under is when the axle sits on top of the axle.

Spring under is considered more stable and less prone to axle-wrap in vehicles that have power to a leaf-sprung axle. However many people will convert or "flip" their axle to a spring-over configuration because you gain the diameter of the axle as lift.

It's not as big a deal with trailers since the axle isn't powered and therefore not prone to axle wrap. So in my case the difference between spring over and spring under is about 3 and a half inches.

It should be noted that you should never flip an axle upside down when going from spring over to spring under. Trailer axles have a slight arch to them and if you flip an axle upside down (so it smiles rather than frowns) you'll throw the camber off when loaded and wear the insides of the tires off prematurely. The axle under my trailer has two sets of spring perches so I can switch between them while maintaining proper (frowning) orientation of the axle.
 

Dean

Adventurist
Founding Member
#6
I have always liked this trailer. Simple, functional, and flexible.
Thanks. The two mantra's my friend repeated to me over and over again when we were building it was, "it's replacing a tent" and "bed in a box." Sort of a practical manifestation of "keep it simple." Since then it's slowly evolved to add a few things like solar, the fridge, and awnings, but for the most part that basic "metal tent on wheels" idea is still there.

I'd love to see some more pics of it set up.
I have some on my other computer which is in PA. Next time I'm there I'll try and snag some. I'll also see if there are any I can glean from my social account or older blog posts.
 
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