Updated: February 2014

Where did this begin?  While pondering the cargo trailer and pickup truck I owned thinking about rolling homes I read the book English Gypsy Caravan: Its Origins, Builders, Technology and Conservation by Cyril Henry Ward-Jackson and Denis E. Harvey and I thought it would be great to tow something like this behind a truck.  It showed the vardo in all it’s glory.  Unlike the BenRoys, the “slouchies” and teardrops I had considered the old fashioned “showman” or “Gypsy” vardo a classy look and feel that a woodworker can appreciate and all the amenities of home, if rather spartan for some tastes.

From the English Gypsy Caravan.

From the English Gypsy Caravan.

The question was: Can I make this work at highway speeds?  It seemed unlikely but I am hard-headed.  The internet was no help at that point as I couldn’t find anyone with a similar design online so I looked to the library.  Little help there but there was plenty of information documenting old-time wagons if one were willing to chase down the leads.  And so it began.  The more I looked at the plans, the more I thought this could really work.


I am a firm believer in looking to the past for solutions.  Maybe it’s the skeptic in me but I think most of our modern answers are based on what someone wants to sell us, not what is the right way to do something.  I’m not against innovation.  But how can I improve on a layout like this?

ReadingInt I admit, I dumbed down the 19th century workmanship to fit a modern time and financial budget but the inspirations was there.

Below are some of the pages from my notebooks as they evolved over several years.  Some are poor designs but maybe they’ll help someone come up with their own special design.  Please excuse the quality of the scribbles.  These were made during snatches of stolen time as ideas formed in my head.  Seeing them sketched out helped solidify thoughts and eliminate things that simply wouldn’t work.  The constraints in size, weight, money, and practicality were both difficult and helpful.

I’m a visual person.  I make a lot of sketches, drawings, schematics, and mathematical notations when I’m thinking of building something.  I’m not sure where the earliest sketches of the Vardo are but I’m sure they are in one of the many notebooks I have lying around.  The earliest plans were all either teardrop-style campers or strictly old-time Reading or Showman’s wagons from the great book The English Gypsy Caravan.

I explored a lot of designs early in the process including Ben Roys, Tear Drops, and Canned Hams.  Since money was a huge constraint in this build I limited the plans to fit the cargo frame I already owned.  If money were not an object I would have likely built something about two feet longer but upon reflection, keeping it short really helped distill out the essentials and keep down the weight.

Things I didn’t need affected the plan as much as things I decided did need.  id est; I don’t need electricity or plumbing inside the caravan but I do want a wood stove, a stow-away table, and lots of compartments for storage.

Early thoughts included a porch as seen above but it really seemed pointless when the ground will serve the same purpose.  I would just be pulling around an extra couple feet of nothing.

Forward or backward?  The above design had the door opening forward as with a horse-drawn caravan.  There are some advantages to this but I would want a longer tongue on the frame to clear the tailgate of the towing vehicle.  Also, facing forward really forces access to one side as the tongue will always be an obstruction.  Although I really love the overhanging eaves these just didn’t turn out to be practical for highway speeds.  I took a lesson from Sheep Camp designs and clipped the forward-facing overhang off entirely.

The above and following sketches are very close to the final design.  After a couple years of tweaking I felt I really understood what I wanted and why.  This is probably not true for someone who uses an existing design or purchases a mass-produced product.  For me, this became very personal.

The above design was developed to really nitpick the space, where things would be stored, and how a human or two would fit in various activities.  The dimensions are quite accurate in order to estimate necessary lumber.

There is a final design, not shown here, that is far more artistic and complex as well as sightly bigger.  I dropped that plan for many reasons, not the least of which was money constraints.  I hope to develop it into my “perfect” vardo for when the day comes to hit the road permanently.  More on that one later…

Finally, here are the final “plans” used to make the endwalls and the early framing plan, the core of the construction.

Wallplan Plan B

11 Responses to Sketches

  1. Frank. Rosbottom says:

    This is EXACTLY what I really need. I have a trailer frame ( step 1 for me ) I am a disabled man looking for a project. My love of basket making which are mainly made from material I personally gather in woods,fields,swamps, road ditchest ….. (You get the picture) . I needed a small place to live during gathering times and something that I could take along with my baskets to farmer’s markets, fairs and other events . I wanted something compact, light and something that would draw the crowds. Your design fits the bill in every category and then some.

    You mentioned having more complete plansif so would it be possible to for to get a copy. My email is :
    I have three questions: 1.) what was your trailer frame size ?
    2.) what kind of springs do you have on it ?
    3.) would you have any changes to the above two questions ?

    I am stoked to get started

  2. Adrian says:

    He has a tutorial of sorts here: its really well done!

  3. Brian W. Young says:

    You have inspired me to build a Vardo very much like yours. Would you please share with me the amount of money and actual build hours you have in this amazing project? Thank you so much for your efforts in sharing your project with us and for a response to my particular question.

  4. lamar says:

    I make medieval fiddles , vielle and hurdy gurdy uke’s and such have a digital recording studio .I use to attend many festivals. I was going to build one of these and got sidetracked with an 87 minnie winnie in real good shape. Now I will build one based on this and some of my own design changes.

  5. David says:

    Hi, So I have been working on a gypsy wagon based on your design for the past 9 months (winter set in and to hold off for awhile). I have gone through multiple bed configuration changes and just haven’t been satisfied with my results. Any chance you have some more detailed photos on how the sliding bed was built? As I said I followed your design, you can take a peak at some of my build photos if you want over at Not much on the site except a few photos of the wagon. Thanks

    • Paleotool says:

      Your build looks great. Glad the blog was a help for you. The extending portion of my bed is really just a plank that rests on rails as it pulls out; oak for stiffness. Here are a few photos I took just now. Maybe they will help? Slid open. Slid closed (to right). Note rail on which the plank rests. Oblique slid closed. Oblique slid open.

      • David says:

        Hi Paleotool, Thanks for you the photos they do help but now I wonder where the plank goes when you slide it in the closed position? Do you lift it up a little and slide on top of the stationary bed portion? The plank and the other portion of the bed look level in your photo of it slid closed, is that just an optical illusion? I had attempted a ‘finger’ interlocking platform for the bed that allowed it to slide open without any overlap but the boards get hung up on each other and can be difficult to open. I have half a thought to use a modified futon style bed and make a couch area.
        Thanks again.

      • Paleotool says:

        Yes, the plank just sits on top of the stationary portion. Nothing fancy and it’s the way they were done in the 19th century. In fact, some kept extra planks under the bed so it could expand even further as needed.

      • David says:

        Ok perfect. I suppose I was trying to over complicate it and should have just stuck with the Keep It Simple attitude :) Thanks again for the information.

      • Paleotool says:

        Keeping it simple has been the motto throughout this build for me.

  6. Bill says:

    what was the final weight of your gypsy wagon.

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