Have House, Will Travel
One couple takes the ultimate road trip in a miniature house on wheels they built themselves.
The prairie schooner— outfitted with Sunforger water-repellant canvas and an outdoor perch for the couple’s cat, Lionshead—is homey, even away from home. The perch is made of plywood and wire cube shelving.
Getting dressed in the morning in such a small space proved to be a challenge. The payoff? Cozy nights with a glass of wine and candlelight illuminated off of the canvas roof
Salvaged tongue-and-groove boards, protected with marine quality Spar Urethane (like the kind from Minwax or Rust-Oleum), formed the front and back walls.
Bows, 12 purlines, and corrugated steel salvaged from a trash bin form the walls.
A 50-watt solar panel and a modified car inverter powered laptops, a camera, a fan, and a lightbultb.
Learn to make this straw mattress.
Written by Amy Palanjian
Photography by Tristan Chambers & Libby Reinish
When Tristan Chambers was approaching the end of his undergrad studies last spring, he and his girlfriend, Libby Reinish, thought of the perfect way to celebrate: They decided to build a 54-square-foot gypsy wagon and tow it across the country.
Never one to shy away from projects, Chambers admits that this was the biggest to date—and the scariest, with friends proclaiming that it would surely tip over. “Libby and I had talked a lot about building a house together, so when we realized that even building a Tiny House would be too expensive, this seemed like a compatible idea,” he explains. Plus, Reinish knew that her 4-cylinder Hyundai had a towing capacity of about 1,000 pounds, far less than what is needed to haul a Tiny House. So, taking the concepts of small and mobile from the Tiny House movement, and cheap and light from modern gypsy wagon plans, they spent about a month drawing up their design. To get used to how they’d soon be living, they used tape to mark out the wagon’s intended square footage on the floor of their apartment.
“We did the design work together, with Tristan focusing on the structural integrity while I focused on fitting all the functionality we wanted in a 54-square-foot living space,” Reinish explains. They set a budget of $1,500 (slightly more than what they had been paying in rent each month), started salvaging materials (like near pristine tongue-and-groove boards for the walls), and checked out tools from their local ReStore Tool Lending Library.
It took about three months to build the wagon, which included installing a 50-watt solar panel on the roof and an inverter on the inside to charge their laptops and iPods; getting rid of most of their possessions—including Reinish’s vintage Dressmaker sewing machine and an art installation that Chambers never quite finished; sourcing canvas for the roof (and having it sewn by a friend); and saying good-bye to their life in Santa Fe.
“When we started this process, we weren’t exactly sure where we were going beyond the vague goal of New England,” says Reinish, who adds that the area is home in many ways—it’s where she went to school and where Chambers spent part of his childhood. “We also suspected that it would be easier to grow food and live a low-impact life in that area,” she adds.
So they headed east, not getting far before their first stop in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico (extreme heat and a dead battery). Another small setback occurred just two hours down the road in Carrizozo, New Mexico (had to fix a fuel leak). After that it was fairly smooth sailing, and highlights included Kansas City, Missouri (stayed in a KOA campground next to a “short bus” RV); Columbia, Missouri (filled up on food at the local health food store); Kidron, Ohio (visited Lehman’s in Amish country, lehmans.com); Ithaca, New York (stayed with friends on their homestead), and on into Western Massachusetts. The car held up well, considering all it was towing, though they admit they kept an eye on the rpms.
The wagon, which is now parked in the backyard of the group home where they live in Northampton, Massachusetts, is pulling triple duty as clubhouse, reading room, and guesthouse. And it serves as a mobile home when the couple wants to go away for the weekend. “One day we’ll buy some land, and the wagon will be used for its intended purpose of giving us a place to live right away.” The mobile home market will never be the same.
For even more, check out their site at whittleddown.com.
This page is dedicated to the covered wagon we built and traveled in on a cross country pilgrimage from Santa Fe NM to Western Massachusetts in the summer of 2010. Boy, what fun it was! We built the wagon on a 4×8′ utility trailer and towed it with Libby’s 4 cil. sedan. The construction was wood with a canvas top. Our goals were to build a portable living structure that was light and cheap. Traveling cross country was an experience in itself with many reflections roused on our country’s landscapes, farms, economy, and culture.
For a general overview of the completed structure check out the Grand Tour post.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Ok, folks. It’s time for the grand tour of our new, not-so-grand home. Building the wagon has been, hands down, the most challenging project we have taken on to date. It has also been the most rewarding. While many components of our home did not adhere to the original plan, the overall vision that we had for this place has been carried through in a way I thought I could only dream of. Our systems work, our stuff fits, and it fits the aesthetic we were aiming for when we began this project in March.
So, without further ado: