Real Comforts

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

Heavy words when you think about them.

I like nice stuff.  I buy good clothes, decent shoes, and drive a new(ish) vehicle.  We all like new, nifty, better, and clever things.  The problem is that we are trained from a young age to grab the newest gizmo and gimmick presented to us.  We are programmed to stockpile and hoard.  Advertisers know this.  Bankers know this.  We spend what we earn, and then a little more.


When we pick up an object, we don’t always think of how this thing will add value to our life; or whose life was devalued to make it and bring it to us.

More stuff is not the path to happiness…

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Dream On

Don_Quixote_16“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

donquixotereadingTake some advice from Don Quixote.  Do your own thing… whatever that is…

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Immerse Yourself in Nature

McKinley_and_hikerTake long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.

Henry David Thoreau, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

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No, Thoreau Was Not a Hypocrite


A good read and observations about some shallow and poorly thought-out attacks on the philosopher of “taking it easy”.

Originally posted on The Gazine:


Your average English major of the past decade has decided to dismiss the body of Henry David Thoreau’s work with one scandalous factoid: Thoreau’s mother did his laundry. For some reason, even the well-read think that this is a relevant fact, as if his dependence on friends and family cancelled out his transcendental conclusions.

But you don’t have to be a die-hard Thoreauvian to see the problem with this mama’s-boy attack. Though my dog-eared Walden perpetually floats to the top of my bedside stack, it is not out of blind respect for the Father of Chill that I defend the guy. My only claim to allegiance is that I read his book.

One Richard Smith of the Thoreau Society has my back:

Richard Smith, a die-hard Thoreauvian.

Richard Smith, a die-hard Thoreauvian.

It should be obvious to anyone who’s read Walden that Thoreau was not a hermit.  Just the chapter called “Visitors” is…

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On the Road

Musicians hitting the road.


Vintage photo found on Tumblr HERE.  No other information was supplied.  Got the guitar, dog, and stove.  Let’s go…

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Caravans for Christ

It seems only natural that evangelical ministers would take to the caravan as a way to bring the Gospel to the people.  Christianity is a missionary religion after all.  The caravan served as a sort of home base for missionaries and a vicarage for ministers, even being outfitted with a harmonium (pump organ) in some cases.


Like hawkers of more earthly wares, church denominations competed for trade by using their wagon walls as billboards.

Anyway, here’s another aspect of the caravan life we don’t often see.


Some could now claim that the whole world was their parish.

Finally, the FORTS.  A concept of the Salvation Army to travel the countryside, gathering pledges of abstinence and converting the destitute.  Definitely the forerunner of the  modern fifth-wheel camper.

The schematics of "The Fort" from Gypsies and Gentlemen by Nerissa Wilson.

The schematics of “The Fort” from Gypsies and Gentlemen by Nerissa Wilson.


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Knocked Up, Knocked Down & Naked


Another installment of “which is the right bench for me when I can’t have everything?” in Chris Schwarz’s blog. It’s a knock-down bench that can fit into a Honda Civic. No vises, just holes for holdfasts and planing stops. It’s dead sexy.

Originally posted on Lost Art Press:

Editor’s note: Mike Siemsen, the host of “The Naked Woodworker” DVD has built a cool little knockdown bench designed for traveling and apartments. Check it out – and we promise that more copies of “The Naked Woodworker” are on the way to our warehouse! Thanks for your patience.


I decided to try my hand at a knockdown bench for transport to shows and demonstrations. Such a bench could also be used by people with limited space.

It is 5’ long so it fits in the trunk of my Honda Civic with its back seats folded down. With the bench’s aprons folded down, it is 6-3/4” thick. If you pull the hinge pins and remove the aprons it is only 4-1/2” thick. It is 22-3/4” wide and stands 32” tall when assembled. The leg sections do not break down. If you leave the aprons attached there is no loose…

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Lightweight Touring Caravan Design from the 19th Century


From Caravanning and Camping-Out by J. Harris Stone 1914.

Here’s a great design from the late nineteenth century.  I could not find an associated photo for the finished caravan but there are a couple of innovations I will want to include in the future.  I believe this wagon was about 12 feet long overall and is a nice setup for 1-2 people.  The flap table makes for added floorspace when needed and there is ample storage both inside and out.  The tunnel locker under the bed is also a great idea that I thought was a recent invention.


A caravan with the ubiquitous storage tent.

This isn’t the same caravan but similar in size and design.  I really like the enormous opening at the front for ventilation.  Another innovation for the future.  Also, it’s good to keep in mind that there were normally a tent or two pitched with the van when parked for storage, dogs, kids, etc.  I thought this was a cop-out of mine but it seems I’m not the first to notice the extra space is a godsend on extended trips with more than one person.

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The Unlikely Banjoist

A post I’ve been hanging onto; a bit off-topic, personal, and possibly without any point.


My most recent banjo polished up and fitted with a new calfskin head.

I am an unlikely banjoist.  I got a very cheap banjo when I was 14 years old but didn’t find a teacher.  I took a couple lessons from uninspired twenty-somethings but didn’t get much from them.  Fortunately, this didn’t stop me.   There was even a old neighborhood guy who offered some help but it turned out he only strummed a tenor-jazz-banjo.  He may as well have played a ukelele for all that it mattered to me. So I learned by listening and from the few books I could find that suited my interest.

seeger_book_coverI don’t even know why I picked banjo particularly, but I did.  I was fortunate to be a latch-key kid from and early age, so when it wasn’t sports season, I cherished my solitary time after school.  I would often sit in the kitchen or on the back porch and plink around, playing old folk tunes.  I discovered Cecil Sharp and Francis Child and learned what I could about folksong of Western Europe and the British Isles.  I found this very old and diverse instrument adaptable to lots of styles of playing having found it’s way from 18th century plantation shacks to Victorian concert halls.


My college instrument. Oh where are you now?

Coming from a classical music background helped.  My dark secret is the I spent three years in college as a music major.  I could read music and understood a little about musical structure so I spent time in the library digging through old folk music books and journals.  I never became great but good enough to not be ashamed to play in front of people and had about an hour-long proficient set of Irish, Scottish, Appalachian, and Ozark tunes in my repertoire.  Then life happened.  I gave it up (mostly) for over a decade while traveling and working like a dog and trying to be a good father but without playing an instrument, I think I lost a little of my identity.


From the era of the “classic banjo.”

So the short story is that I’m back.  Making time to do something I love has helped my mind immensely.  I’ll never be Tony Trischka, Earl Scruggs, or Bela Fleck, but at least I have some music back in my life.


View of the backside to show off the beautiful maple figure.

For those few who may be interested in the technical details of this machine.  My most recent instrument is roughly a Vega design with a White-Lady tone ring.  The tension hoop and arm rest are plain brass and the head is genuine calfskin.  The neck sports a Mastertone-style peghead taken from the diagram in Earl Scruggs’ classic banjo book.  The fingerboard and peghead cover are cocobolo.  The tuners are scavenged off my first banjo and are Keith planetary-type except one.  The D string tuner is a replacement as someone actually stepped on my old neck and broke one!  The replacement is a 5-Star from Stewart-MacDonald’s lutherie shop.  These days I could get online and order one instantly, but back in the mythical pre-internet era this actually took some phone sleuthing.

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Caravan Design: The Open-Lot

An ongoing series of caravan designs to aide the modern builder.  A little history goes a long way to solve our design problems. 

The Open Lot is about the simplest of the true living wagons (properly “waggons”) of the 19th century.  Of course any covered wagon or cargo trailer can suffice when necessary but once these become real homes, some forethought in design goes a long way.  It is worth remembering that the caravans we know an love evolved in the cool, temperate region of northwest Europe and this influenced their design.  If these had originated, as we know them now, in hot, windy deserts or steamy jungles of southeast Asia, other considerations would have prevailed.  For instance, the near universal inclusion of a wood stove would not have occurred.  Better ventilation would have certainly been key.


Illustration by Denis E. Harvey in The English Gypsy Caravan, by Cyril Henry Ward-Jackson.

Some of the earliest truly purpose-built living wagons in our lineage are the Open Lots.  Essentially and early covered wagon with closed ends and built-in furniture.  To maximize living space, the bed slides out for sleeping.  There is ample floor space, a built-in chest of drawers, cupboards and under-bed storage.  The massive cabinet under the base of the bed was used for storage or for children, as need arose.  The example above is essentially the pinnacle of this design whereas some were far simpler.


Illustration by Denis E. Harvey in The English Gypsy Caravan, by Cyril Henry Ward-Jackson.

The Open Lot is almost the blank canvas for later designers to expand upon and improve.  On possible drawback to this design was and is the curved walls, limiting the ability to build upon and essentially eliminating the possibility of side windows.  The positive feature of this design was it’s light weight.  Note that even in this era, side walls were built up, out of normal reach from outside for safety and security.

From Gypsies and Gentlemen by Nerissa Wilson.

From Gypsies and Gentlemen by Nerissa Wilson.

The Open Lot remained the base-level caravan and saw wide popularity until recent times amongst horse powered travellers in Britain and Ireland.

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