The Two Brothers of Gateway Teardrops
How Our Big Adventure Began
The name "Gateway Teardrops" comes from the tiny town of Gateway, Arkansas, where our mother grew up. Ron and I remember spending vacations there; playing in the gravel pile in front of Pawpaw’s old shop building. Pawpaw was a chair maker who had moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas sometime before 1900 in a covered wagon. We always thought that was a cool story, and now, we are pretty sure they would have been more comfortable with one of our campers.
When we were kids, we camped with our brother, David, our sister, Linda, and our parents in parks around Arkansas. We started out in an Appleby pop-up tent camper and eventually moved up to a much larger Jayco pop-up. Greers Ferry Lake, Lake Greason, and DeGray Lake were the main places we went; especially after our parents bought a ski boat in the early 1970’s. By the early 80’s, our camping had ended and we had moved on to other interests. One by one, we kids all graduated from high school and moved on to college and careers.
In the early spring of 2015, I (James) took my college-aged daughter and two of her roommates on a camping trip to Big Bend National Park in south Texas. We camped in four different places on the four-night trip, and I had to pitch a tent each time. By the end of the trip, I had convinced myself that I wanted to camp more in the future - but not in a tent.
A month or so later, my wife and I rented a teardrop camper to see if it might be something we would want to have in the future. By the end of the trial weekend, I had decided that I could build my own camper. As I thought about it over the next few days, I thought building teardrops for other people might be a good idea. There seemed to be a growing demand for them around the country, and there weren’t many builders in the market yet.
I sent my brother, Ron, an email filled with links from my research and a proposal for how we could go into business together. That was April 11, 2015. Three days later, we started working on the first teardrop design. By August of 2015, we had rented a shop and completed our first prototype.
First there was Ron.
A Little About Ron
James and I met just before I embarked on my educational career at the age of six. When we first met, he made a lot of noise, but didn't say anything for quite some time. I already had one little brother that I met at the age of two, but this time around, I was more acutely aware of the impact he had on life as I knew it. Barely two years later, we all first met our sister, and things have never been the same since. Shortly after the addition of our sister to the mix, the family took our first tentative steps toward camping, and I've been camping ever since.
When it came time to decide what to do after high school in 1976, I chose to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I never thought of myself as undecided on a major, but I changed majors several times before settling on Crop Science. During my sophomore year, on Super Bowl Sunday, 1978, I met the beautiful girl who would become my wife. Fran and I began to date in September and were married the following June.
In May of 1979, I was accepted into the Student Trainee Program with the Soil Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture. I worked that summer in the Fort Smith Field Office. In the fall, I returned to the U of A and completed my degree. I graduated in May 1980 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Crop Science. After graduation, my first assignment as a Soil Conservationist was to the Hamburg field office, and after a couple years, I was transferred to the Paris field office. Don't get too excited; both these offices are located in Arkansas.
In the mid-1980s computers and automation began to proliferate government. In the infancy stages of automation, it was possible to shift into the IT field if you had an interest there. I was interested, so I did. In November of 1984, I transferred to Little Rock and became a Computer Specialist.
Gateway Teardrops is my second career choice that was impacted by my brother, James.The first occasion was in the spring of 1993, Fran accompanied me to Fort Worth, where I taught an IT class. One night, we met James for dinner. At one point during dinner, while Fran was away from the table, I told James that I had learned of an opening for IT Manager for my agency in Anchorage, Alaska. Fran returned to the table before the topic of conversation changed. Much to my surprise, she was highly interested and ENCOURAGED me to apply for the job. If it hadn't been for James, I might never have even mentioned the possibility of moving to Alaska. Thanks, Bro. Seriously. Three months later, we moved the family to Anchorage, Alaska, and I began my role as the USDA Soil Conservation Service State IT Manager. Our sons were in the fifth and seventh grade when we arrived in the Last Frontier. The next three years proved to be a great adventure. In addition to work and general life activities, we enjoyed bicycling, sledding, hiking, cross country skiing, ice skating, fishing, camping and sightseeing. At the end of three years, in June of 1996, we returned to Arkansas via the Alcan Highway, across Canada.
When it was time to leave Anchorage, Fran and I decided to relocate to Conway, Arkansas. For the next sixteen years, I served as a Computer Specialist for USDA. During my Information Technology career, I was a programmer, system administrator, trainer, security analyst, project manager, and IT Manager. In 2012, with 32 years of service, I elected to take an early retirement.
Early in my retirement, I was able to pursue a dream of mine to become an author. In July of 2012, I became a professional Grandpa, known locally as Poppy; specializing in rocking and spoiling a wonderful granddaughter. I managed to self publish four books before I received an email from James that pretty much changed my focus. A few weeks after we decided to build our first camper, Gateway Teardrops was born. Now we build campers when we aren't spoiling our grandchildren and our wives.
Then came James.
The Book of James
Mom and Dad met at the University of Arkansas, and Ron and David followed in their footsteps. When I came along, however, I had to do my own thing. I headed south to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. Two years later, our sister Linda followed my example and enrolled at Tech. In 1985, I met my future wife, Jill, at Tech, and when I graduated in May of 1986 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Jill and I got married. We moved to Clemson, South Carolina, where we both enrolled at Clemson University. I got a Master’s Degree in Engineering Mechanics, and Jill finished her undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences.
In 1988, we left South Carolina for Fort Worth, Texas, where I took a job with General Dynamics working in research and development on advanced materials for fighter aircraft. Three years of that convinced me I should find something a little more fun to pursue, so in 1991, I wrote a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a highway guardrail end treatment as part of their Small Business Innovation Research program. That led to a career in highway safety product development that lasted until 2007. Nineteen United States Patents were the result of my sixteen years of highway safety work. I ended up with three product families that are manufactured by Trinity Industries in Dallas, Texas, and sold all over the world.
From 2007 to 2015, I dabbled in a few different things. I bought a hardware store in 2009. I taught math in 2010 and 2011 at a small private school, and I picked up a few small engineering jobs along the way. I spent a lot of time watching our kids play sports, as they finished high school in 2011 and 2013. I spent a lot of time with a camera in my hand shooting mountains, football, soccer, and portraits.
Both our kids attended Clemson University in South Carolina, which helped me renew my ties to one of my alma maters. One of the most interesting things I did during this time was to serve on the Advisory Boards for the Mechanical Engineering Departments at both Louisiana Tech University and Clemson University. As part of that gig, I got to speak to groups of students about entrepreneurship as a career path in engineering. That was always a lot of fun.
In mid-2019, Jill and I decided I should make a greater commitment to Gateway Teardrops. For the first few years, I had commuted back and forth from Texas whenever there was something important happening at the shop in Conway. We packed up our lives in July and said goodbye to 31 years of history in Texas to start over in Arkansas. Both of our kids are married now and live in the Carolinas, so leaving Texas was probably going to happen eventually anyway. Gateway Teardrops made it happen a little sooner. So far, we love it.