Although there was so much beauty in the snowy mountains in Vermont, this particular February (2013) had left me desparate to run away and hide. I announced to 3 of my 4 children that I was going to throw some things of Ben’s (my youngest child) into the back of my pick-up and drive to California. Joshua, the oldest son, recommended a topper for the truck so I could lock it and not tempt someone to sell Ben’s dj equipment. Good idea! I started to seach and make my plans for escape.
A few days later, Jesse, the middle son, said “I think you need a slide-in camper! Then you can take your time traveling and save some money.” There just happened to be a camper warehouse between my house and Jesse’s. I stopped in one day just to look…
So cute! SO EXPENSIVE!!!!! No way.
Then it was Jennifer’s turn. She is my oldest and very much like myself – we are both drawn to unusal things. Jen showed me what she thought my answer to my delimma was. “It looks like a gypsy caravan!” I said.
You know how you don’t hear a word for years and then it is everywhere – in the newspaper – songs on the radio – strangers saying it in check-out lines… well, gypsy was that word.
I started designing and dreaming. I bought the cheap version of the Vardo plans from Tumbleweed Tiny Houses for $30. But I really didn’t want the camper permently attached. And it was a bit too tiny.
So then I ordered the $30 plans for the Don Vardo from Portland Alternative Dwellings. I studied the drafts and searched the net. I sketched and measured and taped out dimensions on the livingroom carpet. The dream kept growing stronger and crazier with each passing day.
I did make it to California that March… but I flew and took my sketch book with me.
The first step was the utility trailer. I originally wanted to build the entire trailer from scrap and recycled materials. After Joshua and I looked at several used trailers, he thought it would be a good idea to buy new since it would be the foundation. Determining the size was difficult. I had never towed anything but knew from others’ experiences that it was difficult. I decided on a 5×10 trailer mostly because I preferred the 15″ wheels rather than the dinky ones on the smaller trailers..
Most of the people who have built similar trailers begin with removing the side rails and any flooring. After cutting off the metal ramp I decided not to cut off the rails only because the saw and cutting scared me. I thought maybe the sides and the flooring would keep the intergrity of the frame. If I ever build another – I’ll remove the sides and floor.
The trailer was backed into a small space between my house and barn in April 2013 and there it sat… waiting for me. I would spend long hours just sitting looking at the trailer trying to figure out how to start. I was always Gary’s building assistant. I would hold while he used the circular saw. I would hold while he screwed the sheetrock into place. I did do a lot of demolition on our old 1830’s house. And I did do a lot of the finishing work – painting and clean-up. But never had used a chop saw or table saw or any of the many power tools Gary had collected over the 35 years of home and barn repair.
So I signed up for the Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop that April in Boston. I was hoping for a hands on workshop but the presentation was by Ella Jenkins. Ella was so very inspiring and honest but she was young (I was 60) she had her father, a carpenter (I had no one – well, my 9 year old grandson, Noah, did help me on occasion).
Ella also played the banjo for us! Ella is such an amazing woman!!!
But there is sat. Day after day, week after week. I saw it every time I went to my kitchen sink. Could this really happen?
The summer of 2013 changed my life even more (if that was even possible). Joshua had been living with us for the past couple of years. So was Jennifer and her family – husband, Brian – 8 year Noah and 6 year old Kate. Joshua and Karly moved to California. Jen and family moved down the road about a mile. Even Jesse and Cassie moved from 8 minutes away to 2 hours away. I had been caring for Isabella and Jaxon since they were 3 months old. (Bella was now 4 and Jaxon 1 1/2) I went to Bloomington, Illinois to visit my Mom and family and when I returned I was alone in my house for the first time ever.
And so it began… I used Grace Ice and Water Shield on the deck of the trailer over the wood floor – it was leftover from when the roof had been replace a few years earlier.
I built out over the metal rails with 2x12s. I would rather have used 2x14s but they are only available from a mill and I should have gone to the extra trouble. By the time I put the wall frames up it only left 5’8″ as the width for the back beds. I am 5’5″ so it works but it would be a tight sleep for anyone 6′ tall.
My trusty companion, Brewster, stayed by my side during the entire project. When 5:30 or 6 pm would roll around Brewster would start howling and whining and demanding I stop for the day and take him for a w-a-l-k. By that time I was pretty tired and ready for a cold beer.
At every level I had to stop and figure out the next step since I couldn’t wrap my brain around the 3-D and 2-D of my designs on paper. And since I really don’t know anything about construction. At night I studied pictures on the Internet of various vardo building projects. The ones that helped the most were:
Just google gypsy caravans or vardo and you will be amazed!
The electric… oh, my! The more I read the less I understood. Jesse helped with the wiring and the breaker box. We put in a 15 amp (overhead light and outside lights) and a 20 amp (2 inside and 1 outside outlet boxes) breakers. If I need to run a small appliance – I can.
The side windows I bought and were extremely easy to put in. Unlike the back windows I bought at ReNew Salvage. The back windows were from an old built-in cabinet. Building a frame for them proved to be very difficult. They are still not right but they do keep the rain and snow out.
I found I don’t know how to miter corners. But I am learning. There are more to do on the trim inside.
The flooring was leftover from a project at Jesse’s old house. Not quite enough for the whole floor so I put cheap flooring under the beds. Eventually I hope to build some drawers for storage under the bottom bunk.
My imaginary deadline was October 2, 2013 – The Vermont Sheep & Wool Festival. I taught 5 workshops in 2 1/2 days and put another 24 spinners into the world of fiber.
The gypsy wagon was not complete but I decided it would be a great trial run. I filled the wagon with spinning wheels and wool and camping equipment and hit the road.
She towed wonderfully! Even on the mountain roads in mid-Vermont.
It was dry and cozy.
But a little lonely.
The beds went in and a counter after the festival. I then added a drop-down table (which I am not sure I will keep or reinvent) and a sink. The sink is a hand-thrown pottery bowl that was a barter with a wonderful Putney student named Brian. I spun and knit him a sweater. What a great deal!
As soon as the weather warms a little, I plan to begin work again. There is still some insulation and trim and a lot of finishing touches.
When the ice and snow melts, Brewster and I will hit the road. Be sure to look for us at your nearby campground.
Chapter 1: It all began with a gypsy caravan…
Chapter 2: So what am I going to do in this Gypsy Wagon?