Remodel and Rebirth of the Little Green Vardo

It just seems right.

The timing,

the monetary investment,

the effort.

This is a requested repost of a series I did almost five years ago when I took my eight foot single-axle vardo caravan and reconstructed it into a 12 foot body on a robust tandem trailer.

After adding up the mileage from the log book I keep with the Vardo, I see we have clocked over 21,000 miles since she was first put to the road in February of 2010.  I have, no doubt, missed some small side trips and there are excursions I know I forgot to record, but this is, more-or-less, where we stand.  The trailer frame itself was high-mileage but well-maintained when I acquired it back around 2002 having first been owned by a university, then by a private individual before coming to me.

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My “before” photo. Rated at 2,000 lb. gross vehicle weight. It was solid and well-built but already showing some signs of age and life in the salt air of the Pacific Coast.

The real beauty of this trailer is the square tube construction and heavy-duty hitch.  Starting small was wise for me as it constrained the build and forced me to squeeze every inch out of the design.

On the way to becoming the "after" photo. The full box body nearly done.

On the way to becoming the “after” photo. The full box body nearly done.

I eventually replaced the original jack with a more heavy-duty model and replaced the jack wheel with a large foot for stability.  For safety, the tires were replaced when the trailer was re-purposed due to age, not wear.  If you missed it and want to read more about the construction of the micro house we call a vardo, GO HERE.

The Vardo; Where are we now? What do we want?

This little living wagon is great and serves it’s function well.  It’s a little beat up and showing it’s miles; living and traveling in all weather, a lot like it’s owner.  But still, it’s a little homey shelter from the elements, providing all the necessary comforts, and making travel a breeze.  With about 49.5 square feet of living space inside (4.6 sq. meters) it is spacious for one and comfortable enough for two adults who do most of their activities outdoors.  However, I have long pondered placing my vardo on a longer trailer, either to gain cargo space for tools and the like OR to extend our living space.  Sticking with the Minimalist thinking, I  decided long ago that 12 feet was about the maximum I want in a trailer.  With a standard 4 foot hitch that makes for 16 feet (4.9 meters) dragging behind the truck or about the length of a second truck.  I did the math on the new space and I liked it.

So back to it.  What do we really need?

Thinking of the many scenarios we find ourselves in, some added amenities could be handy in certain situations.  From wilderness areas in Utah to posh campgrounds in San Diego, highway rest areas in the Midwest and museum parking lots in Santa Fe, or even stealth camping on a city street, our needs are varied.  Although the vardo was built as a wilderness base camp, sometimes it feels like a miniature fortress or space station or temple of solitude.  When we’re camping in the remote west, beyond the confines of civilization and snooping gawkers, it’s not a problem spending most of our time outdoors, using a campfire or cook stove to fry up some bacon and boil some coffee, but try that in a grocery store parking lot in the city and you will only find trouble.  But we still essentially live outdoors.  We don’t need a dance floor inside.

Two thing we want that this space can supply:

  1. A simple kitchen.  By this I don’t mean a Martha Stewart style, butcher block countertop with rotating spice racks, dual ovens and a six burner ceramic-top range.  We need a dedicated space to store our cookware and food, do some prep-work, and make simple meals in any weather, beyond the prying eyes of the local gendarmerie.
  2. Secondly, we want more storage space for our personal belongings when we finally hit the long open road and don’t look back.  Tools for making things and raw materials alone take up a lot of our space.  Leather, wood, sewing supplies, fasteners, etc. all require more space than we have.  On top of this, a large, flat work surface would be a nice addition indoors.

After several (many) sketches and mock-ups… Voila!  I think we nailed it, the vardo formerly known as the Snail reborn as Nautilus 78.  Even though we know that nothing comes from nothing, our minds like to think of things as having a beginning, middle, and end.

So in that sense, here’s to our new beginning.

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The new foundation. Tandem wheels, brakes, breakaway safety system, LED lights and 7,000 GVWR. Let’s hope we’ll never need this much trailer.

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Too many badges, certificates and insignia. Still, and excellent buy I think.

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First things first. The heavy wooden floor must go.

On to PART 2

Caravan Family

During the heyday of Caravan living it is important to remember that these were rarely the dwelling of a loner. The Caravan was the hub of the nuclear family and groups of wagons represented larger, extended family groups and allies.

We are social creatures that thrive in community.

Interview Time

Well this is exciting. I got interviewed at winter count near Florence, Arizona back in February.

It’s heavily edited from a much longer discussion but I don’t think I sound too stupid here talking about the Vardo.  The interview is very close-up and tight but you can get a feel for the interior layout. There is a lot of good stuff on the Cheap RV Living website and I’ve been a reader for a very long time.  Check it out.


https://youtu.be/ktkXcXmR96Q

ProtoStoga

I want to re-share this camper I posted about back in 2010.  I would still like to know more about it but love what I’ve seen so far.

I see some definite similarities to my own concept of a vardo but I really like to metal sheathing as a modern, low maintenance exterior.  Also, the rounded front was a long consideration in my plans but in the end I chose a more “old-timey” look.

You can just about see the evolution of the Airstream design in this construction.  They also have a nice Tiny House that’s worth checking out here: http://www.protohaus.moonfruit.com/

For those who don’t follow the Tiny House Blog, check out the ProtoStoga here:

http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-house-concept/protostoga/#more-12243

Paris Travellers

Paris, around 1900.

Paris, around 1900.

A tiny accommodation, side entry single horse style.  It is documented that the adults with this style wagon generally slept outdoors except in very bad weather.  It was a good way to confine the children and the valuables.

This is part of a series of images, mostly Romany, Irish and Scottish Travellers collected from around the internet.  Many of these historic images found on the web are without citation.  When a clear link to a source is found, I try to include it.  If a source is known, please pass it on and I will gladly include it or remove it if necessary.

Caravans

Here’s another excellent photo of a pack of vardos (caravans) in the wild.  It looks like everyone came out and maybe even spruced themselves up for the photo.  I couldn’t find any metadata on this one but it looks fairly early, probably late nineteenth century.  These appear to be high-end models in great condition still.

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Happy travels!

Community of Wanderers

Nomads are not loners.  In fact, humans do not do well alone in any setting.  We have always been communal people, depending upon one another for help and support.  Many hands make light work and it is essential to be near others you can depend on.

1930sI have been collecting images of Traveller communities for many years and I really enjoy the gritty, homespun feel of the old encampments with peeling paint and makeshift tarpaulin shelters.  I’m sure this image was not welcome in settled communities around Europe and the shiftless nature of these wanderers led to many suspicions, both unfounded and real.

4203n Woonwagenkamp, een draaiorgel komt langsThese are not the rolling home of the wealthy showmen of idle rich but the best compromise for families destined to live on the road.

FamilyVardoThe vardos bear many differences but within fairly tight physical contraints of size, weight, needs, and technology.  It’s important to remember as well that historic travellers of most varieties didn’t design or build their own accommodations but often modified or improved that which they acquired.

Dutch1940Even though they show few relevant details of the caravans themselves these are some of my favorite images; they give us a glimpse of the people who called them home.

Although Traveller families lived (and live) on the margins of “normal” society they were (are) more like their neighbors than not.

I hope you enjoy the photos as we head into the season of Thanksgiving here in North America and give thanks for what we have.

We are at our best and worst in groups, whether that is family or friends.  Humans are social animals.

A Dog and Her Vardo

So, a vardo is a small space, especially when living with a dog. 

Stationed for maximum observation.

The old dog loved sleeping under the rig as she took her guard duties seriously but unfortunately, she is no longer with us.  The youngster, on the other hand, has no interest in that sort of nonsense and only wants to be by my side as much as possible.  She loves enclosed spaces so the vardo is a big attraction for her.  She spends much of her time under the main bed, hidden away, and often forgotten about until she decides to get under foot.  I even lost her for the better part of a day when she snuck in while I wasn’t looking, slipped into her bed, and was locked in for several hours.  When I found her, she looked content enough and came out stretching like a sleepy child.

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Making it fit.

Much of 2016-2017 I was lucky enough to spend many nights camped in the gypsy wagon with just my dog for company.  She doesn’t get on furniture inside the house but the dog has decided the floor or her bed are not good enough when she’s in the vardo.  Since she knows she not really supposed to sneak into the bed, the (too small) bench seat is often her compromise in the wagon.  She doesn’t really fit but I guess it makes her feel like one of the family.

A bed’s eye view in the morning.

A couple years ago I learned to be extra careful when sliding out of bed, especially in the dark, as she often plants herself on her favorite felted rug; right under my feet.  In this case, it also happens to be in front of the ceramic heater on a chilly morning.

Photo-bomb. She climbed out from her bed in order to not miss the action.

Even while getting ready to go to work, she seems to manage a photo-bomb; always lurking nearby and not wanting to be left behind.  Just because it’s a small space, there is still plenty of room for a dog; sort of.

 

Dugald Semple and a Simple Life

I would like to re-share this older post I wrote about a caravaner, scholar, and philosopher I am quite intrigued by – Dugald Semple

Dugald Semple was a Scottish philosopher of the early 20th Century and an advocate for simple living.  After becoming and engineer he took to the woods and, for a period, a life on the road, living in a tent and in various caravans in order to write and travel and avoid the enslavement of increasingly urban society.

Semple on the beach.

His major question was always “How ought we to live?” an ancient subject for thinkers the world-over and a very important topic in Asian philosophy as well.  His teachings are interesting and he still has a serious following of vegans, fruitarians, and Christian Phlosophers around the world.  He apparently never ate meat, eggs, or cheese, and subsisted on a mostly fruit diet.  It clearly worked well-enough, as he died at the age of 79 in 1964.  Not bad, but think of all the bacon he missed!

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Of course, my interest in Dugald lies primarily in his simple lifestyle and his fondness for caravans and living in the open.  He married well.  Cathie, his wife was a widow who was independently wealthy, owning a large house and grounds.  This certainly contributed to the success of the life-long experiment in simple living.  Even as he settled down, he still philosophized and associated with his old friends who roamed the countryside and set up guilds of craftsmen (Nerrissa Wilson, Gypsies and Gentlemen).  He envisioned a new generation of skilled travelers who could pack up their trades and families and move to where the work was, thus alleviating some of the new stress of urban life.

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Semple in his summer camp.

I love this camp.  This wagon seems perfectly suited for summertime use with the fully opening sides.  Too bad his dream didn’t catch on, but he admitted that life on road could be stressful and difficult.  At least we can give it a try; even if in a limited capacity.

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As an end note, here’s a quote he is well known for on his philosophy of a vegan lifestyle:

Personally, I began rather drastically over 50 years ago by cutting out not only all meat or flesh foods, but milk, eggs, butter, tea and coffee. Cheese I have never eaten; indeed I hate the very smell of this decayed milk. Next, I adopted a diet of nuts, fruit, cereals and vegetables. On this Edenic fare I lived for some ten years, and found that my health and strength were greatly improved. Probably this was also because I lived more in the fresh air and closer to Nature. (Emphasis added by the ed.).

I just don’t know if I can fully trust a man who won’t eat cheese…

Ice Cream Cart

Looking for an attention-getting color scheme for your vardo or caravan?  Look no further than this fine little burro-powered wagon from Pakistan.

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Kulfi Wala (Ice Cream Man) – Photo by Ane Malik.

A most cherished traditional dessert from Lahore, Pakistan, known as Kulfi, which is made with condensed milk, almonds, cardamom, and sugar is served from these little hand-built carts. The ice cream is then poured into the cone shaped moulds then and placed into traditional-styled ice containers.

The cart is decorated and painted in vibrant colors and with traditional motifs and with names of Allah and the Sufi Saints.  The emergency brake is engaged in this photo (see rock under left tire) while the motor idles.

If you would like to make this delicious treat for yourself, look for it here:

Click for a delicious Mulai Kulfi Recipe.

A View from the Vardo

Working away on a weekend day a little while back.  Enjoying time on the prairie in my little rolling home; coffee, a banjo, and connection to a HotSpot so I can get some work done.  The best of all worlds.

A reminder to myself as to how the vardo is in constant change. Little updates happen all the time and I often forget them until looking back on a photo like this one.

I don’t remember for sure but I suspect there is a dog or two laying on the floor or, more likely, under the wagon keeping an eye out for wildlife.  I’m itching to get back out on the road.

Wyoming Sheepherders

Today, it’s sheep camps from Wyoming from the Wyoming Tales and Trails webpage.  Great photos and some good information about Western history.

Note the important things; wood stove, wash pan hanging on the door, the big tub sitting outside, and a fiddle for company.  I could spend a good chunk of my life like this!

Another sheep camp, dog included.

This camp is downright crowded with two wagons.

Although the site is a bit difficult to navigate, there is a lot of information about western history to be found there.  Have a look around.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/

A Fine Old Sheepherder Wagon

I love these the old sheepherder camps.  I’ve seen quite a few parked on ranches from Colorado to Idaho and even a few in Arizona.  I know they aren’t highway capable but it seems they could provide a real housing alternative for low-income minimalists who have access to land.  Far better than a housing complex or apartment for sure if you can deal with a small footprint.

Originally designed on a narrow wagon box, the builders took advantage of every square inch of space.  Since weight wasn’t really an issue, many have large stoves like the one above for heating and cooking.  As most of these wagons were homes for ranch workers in the western U.S., they needed to be prepared for extreme cold and windy environments.  When I was building my vardo, I took a fair amount of design inspiration from these wagons, adding their vibe to the more European designs I was ingesting.  My stove is small and I envy this one above; at least the cook top.

Off-the-shelf or build it yourself?  It’s the details of hand-built structures that make them stand out and this chimney cap is no exception.  This looks far more interesting to me than the local hardware store option.

The photos are from Ken Griswold’s Tiny House Blog.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve been a fan of his site for a long time now and recommend it for anyone with an interest in Tiny Homes.  Here’s a link to the full article about Lorna’s wagon.

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Novel Camping Trailer from 1929

From the ingenuity of the Roaring 20s.  Pack up with your favorite Flapper and head to the wide-open spaces!

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Novel Camping Trailer Opens Into Comfortable Quarters
A NOVEL camping trailer has been produced in London which is hailed with delight by lovers of the outdoors because of the comfort it provides. The trailer, compact when closed, is attached to the rear of the automobile by a device which makes it ride easily with a minimum of side sway. But when camp is made the sides of the trailer let down to increase the available space and a door at the end provides access to the interior where there is ample headroom.

From Modern Mechanics and Inventions, December 1929.

Who Says Bigger is Better?

Okay, in some cases maybe.  This cute little combo caught my attention a couple years ago and I’m just getting around to posting it.  A truly minimal teardrop trailer that I suspect can just sleep two with about one suitcase each. I found it labelled “The 1941 Kozy Coach Travel Trailer ” but a search around the internet didn’t turn up anything confirming this.  My only real fear in pulling this micro home on wheels would be the complete lack of rear visibility.

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A perfect little combination.

All I have is conjecture and observation for this one.  If anyone knows more and wants to share then please post in the comments section.  As a scooterist myself, I’m a bit jealous of this rig.

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And for some continuity, my great-grandfather on his brother-in-law’s scoot just after the war.

Back in Business

DSC_0119 (7)Greetings from the great middle west of the United States, where I currently reside.  The vardo is in the outbuilding awaiting some much anticipated upgrades and paint.  I have projects and side-projects and unfinished work to complete in every direction I turn; not to mention the fun little things set aside to try on a rainy day.  There’s a new energy happening here and I hope to share the good stuff when I can.

I have back-orders I let slide and half-finished items to put out for sale; three upcoming talks to write, an article collaboration, and more.  I’ll catch up or die trying.

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All dressed up and no place to go.

Be back soon…

Kevin’s Vardo

I always enjoy hearing from others who have built their own caravans, especially when accompanied by photos and descriptions.  If you follow this blog you probably saw Kevin’s original photos here recently with a short post about his build.  If not, you can read about it HERE.

The promised follow-up is finally here as I have posted the images and text he sent.  Honestly, this is my favorite kind of living wagon where old and new technologies are melded into a practical, yet affordable dwelling whether for long-term living or just overnight luxury travel.  As shown here, there is a great use of fine woodworking and joinery combined with modern materials and hardware to create a rugged and practical living space that is road (and off-road) worthy.

Here is the rest of Kevin’s mighty fine vardo project (his original text in italics).

This shot offers a view of the short bench with built-in AC/Heat ducts, one for cooled/heated air (right), and one for return air (left). As well as accommodating air circulation, the bench provides handy storage. Also shown is a 110 volt outlet that provides power to the interior when the Vardo is attached to the generator or some other power supply. There are three interior outlets (the other two are hid pretty well), and three exterior outlets on the camper. There are also 12 volt power plugs inside the camper that are tied to the vardo’s battery. These are great for charging phones and running fans at night. It gets pretty hot along the Texas/Mexican border.

You can see a top view of the access doors to the under-bench storage provided in the long bench. You can also see the flip up section that turns this bench into a single bed. On the side of the door, if you look hard, you can see the hinged corbel that provides some of the support for the flip-up section. At the top of the photo you can catch a glimpse of the bungee net that provides overhead gear storage. This works very nice for carrying fishing poles and a broom.This is how the “chuck box” (cooking box) is stowed when traveling, or when not in use. The small counter top is very handy when brushing your teeth and emptying your pockets at bed time. Underneath, as can be seen, typically is stored a pickers stool, a larger folding camp table, and a folding chair.This wagon can haul a whole mess of Hunting gear. A trip to the desert requires a lot of ice and water. Everything is packed for travel, keeping the weight forward and the trailer stable on the road.A photo of our south Texas hunting camp, with the Vardo set-up. We always get a bunch of comments and compliments along the way. The wagon provides comfortable accommodations for 1-3 hunters.The chuck box gets unloaded and set up for use in camp.

This vardo looks very familiar to me and I think I’d be right at home in it.  Thanks so much for sharing this with us and the community.

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Yet Another Sheepherder…

(from the Paleotool vault)

I love these things.  I saw quite a few parked on ranches from Colorado to Idaho last week.  I know they aren’t highway capable but it seems they could provide a real housing alternative for low-income minimalists.  Way better than a housing complex or apartment for sure.  The photos link to Ken Griswold’s Tiny House Blog.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a fan of his site.

I took a fair amount of design inspiration from these wagons but added a bit of class along the way.  I wouldn’t mind having a cook stove like this one though.

Off-the-shelf or build it yourself?  I love these details in hand-built structures.  This looks way better to me than the local hardware store option.

Have a look at Lorna’s old wagon here.

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A Guest Vardo

I always appreciate getting mail and comments on the blog; especially when someone is able to take information away and create something of their own.  I recently received some fine photos from Kevin with his own Vardo build.  I emailed back for more information but haven’t heard anything yet.

The wagon is a lovely and familiar design and it’s great to see it out in public alongside the more normal modern camp setting.Kevin also builds beautiful coolers that I hope to see more of in the near future.  One is visible next to the vardo in the image above. Here’s the email I received and I hope to hear (and see) more from Kevin soon:

George:
Hello.  I have been following your blog for a few years.  I’m writing to you directly as I want to share some photos of the Vardo that I built, using yours (and a few others) for much of the inspiration.  I wasn’t sure how to go about posting the photos to your blog, so I figured I would send them directly to you.
I live near Houston and own property in Buffalo Wyoming, home to a historical population of Basque sheepherders, and many currently rolling sheep wagons.  Living in two extremes, I have had some issues with changes in humidity affecting the performance of the wagon and would likely do a few things differently, if I were to do it all over again (but wouldn’t we all).
I haven’t seen any updates on your Vardo-make-over in quite a while.  Hopefully there’s more coming.  I know the work on mine is never done.  There are always items hanging around on the list of future improvements.
Let me know if you have any questions about the construction and performance of the wagon.  I’m happy to carry on a discussion if your interested, and willing to send more photos if you request. You’ll notice in the photos some glimpses of one of my hand made coolers.  They’re marine fiberglass coated wood on the inside, and out; built sort of like a cedar strip canoe. I built the chuck-box in the first photo as well.  It travels in the rear of the wagon to be set out for camp cooking. I figured these were both items that might interest you.
Kevin

It looks great Kevin.  I can’t wait to see more.

~GTC

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Growing Up on the Range…

(from the Paleotool vault)

Here’s a great story I read years ago about being raised in a family of six in a sheep camp measuring about 7 x 8′! (I think that’s the floor space).  I recently relocated the article in Mother Earth News.

Nice layout sketch of a sheep camp.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The canvas-covered sheep wagon was roughly about seven feet wide by eight feet long. On the front end a door opened out of the middle and you stepped down onto the wagon tongue and thence to the ground. From the inside looking out, the stove was on the left of the door. On the right was a small wash stand with several wooden drawers for storage of linens, towels and socks. A bucket of water and washbasin were on the oil cloth covered top and a small mirror hung above the basin for shaving. Soap, toothbrush, razor and essentials rested on top of the stand when in location or were stowed in a drawer when moving.”

Read more here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-community/sheepherders-wagon-zmaz70mjzkin.aspx

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Wyoming Sheepherders Again

 (from the Paleotool vault)

Sheep camps from Wyoming from the Wyoming Tales and Trails webpage.  Great photos and some good information concerning everything “western.”

I could spend much of my life like this!

A self-contained base camp in a sheep wagon provides a cozy home on the prairie.

A beautiful culmination of cultures a innovations created this iconic American living arrangement.  We can learn a lot from these designs today.

The Wyoming Tails and Trails website contains a lot of other information about western history along with more than 100 photos.  Have a look around and get a feel for the old west.

http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/

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More of The Beautiful Japanese Vardo

This is a follow-up to the previous post.

I say Vardo because that’s really what it is.  You can sense that the presenter of this show isn’t too familiar with true rolling homes, caravans, vardos, or whatever you want to label them but his enthusiasm is real.  I like this home a lot but there is too much gymnastic restructuring for my taste.  I’m probably just lazy.  I’m not knocking his aesthetic or design though; they are spot-on.  Mr. Tagami fit a lot of useful ideas together to create a wonderful living space.  Several of these innovations are being integrated into my future plans.

If you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a video detailing one of his creations and the happy owners who inhabit it.

Let me know what you think…

Tony’s Trailer

A home-built camper with a old-fashioned Mail Coach theme.

Tony passed on his links to me to share with the vardo community.  When I first saw the giant wooden wheels I thought it was a stationary sculpture piece for the back garden.  These actually remove for travel and are really just for show.

img_06231I’m always glad to see someone’s concept sketches as I have filled notebooks with these myself over the years.

side-view-door-openTony’s web page guides you through the entire process in photos (newest to oldest) so you can learn from his build.

stem-walls-and-ledge-placementNote the “dead” space in the ledges as it becomes important storage later.

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Straight forward off-the-shelf hardware is used throughout including things like Simpson Strong Ties for the rafter connections.

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first-test-drive-iiIt’s a pretty whimsical design and I think this photo sums that up nicely.

pan-box-doorStorage door closed.

pan-box-drawer-outDoor open to reveal a very long drawer.

aft-ditty-shelvesA simple rustic look inside fills the bill and looks quite functional.

stove-installedThe little stove removes and stores in it’s own locker for travel.

If you are looking to build your own camper, vardo, or other living wagon, you can’t have enough great ideas so get over to Tony’s website and have a look:

https://trailercoach.wordpress.com/

There are tons of photos and some great ideas there.

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Fitting Out and Fixing Problems, Vardo Remodel Part 9

Sink, seating, and storage galore – I’m finally moving onto the luxuries that make this addition what it is meant to be; essentially moving some outdoor activities and living indoors with more amenities and easier foul-weather living.

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Copper mixing bowl drilled for a drain.

Beginning with a little sink re-purposed from an old copper mixing bowl set –  This one was the middle size and fit the area perfectly.  I’m certainly not taking credit for the idea as I took this freely from Mick’s vardo.  The bowl is a perfect size for some personal hygiene, tooth-brushing, etc. while on the road while the bigger cleaning can still be done outside with the old washtubs and in the future, with an outside shower.

Drilling the hole – I was concerned about this step as there were several things that could go wrong; hole placement, dented bottom, rough fit, and so on.  In the end I did my best to find the exact center with a tailor’s tape, from the outside, and marking the location with an awl. I then flipped the bowl over, set it up in a scrap board, and while holding it with my feet used a hand brace with a Forestner bit to slowly cut the hole.  This worked surprisingly well and required only a little sanding and smoothing before moving on.

The bowl is not very heavy copper so I was concerned about the solder strength at the joint.  There should not be much real strain on it but to ensure a larger surface area to sweat the solder, I sleeved the short pipe with a heavy coupling.  I flowed the solder deep into the sleeve before attaching to the so they should be united forever now.

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Pipe and coupling soldered in place.

Some serious tugging and testing leads me to believe this is a solid joint.

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View of the plumbing from below.

A couple elbows and a short run of pipe completed the plumbing “system” and installation was a breeze.  A small shelf to hold a couple Dr. Bronner’s bottles and a towel bar will be added soon to complete the set-up.  The storage area to the left was sized to hold the beautiful new copper cistern during travel.  The cistern will live outside in the kitchen area when encamped.

A note of caution – Although not really discussed here, the oak-framed windows are visible in some of the images.  These were recently added and are glazed with Lexan for its light weight and excellent strength.  Keeping the weight low is still a major priority, even in the addition and, if you are building something like this, remember: EVERY SINGLE POUND COUNTS!  Fasteners, glass, hardware, accoutrements; they all add up and will be paid for in the final weight.  If I could build everything with oak and walnut and hickory for durability, I would.  However, the weight will add danger in towing, lower the fuel efficiency and have a cumulative effect on the overall structure.

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Looking down the drain.

The sink was fitted into place and a outflow pipe seated in the hole drilled by the same Forestner bit used in the bowl.  This counter is a re-purposed old office desk top from the 1930s or 40s that I’ve had for many years.  It is a white oak laminate over a red-oak core (when things were built to last).  A couple passes through the planer yielded a beautiful and sturdy surface to work with.  The rest of the desk top was turned into the large counter on the starboard side that will be included in the next post.

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The Samovar in position for washing and the shaving mirror in it’s new place.

This old Samovar was a lucky find for us and fits the location perfectly.  It’s high pedestal provides clearance that would otherwise need to be created with some sort of shelf.  Otherwise, it’s simply a beautiful and functional piece.

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The new bench and a smattering of varnish.

The next step was to create a small bench with the idea that this would give room when two or more people were inside as the floor space is limited in the main cabin.  This area will serve as something of a mud room for the rest of wagon.  The hinges were an Ebay find of solid brass under a hundred or more years of varnish and tarnish.  I think Stacey really enjoyed making these shine again.  This wood is some very solid pine reclaimed from an antique child’s desk and again, a planer made short work of cleaning it up for use.

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Side bench.

I would have preferred the seat to be a little deeper for comfort but didn’t want to interfere with the traffic-way through the door.  Nobody wants a shin-buster in such a small space.

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There cannot be enough storage space in such a small accommodation.

The bench provides another small storage compartment for items that may need to be readily accessible; it’s not large but every bit counts.

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An overview of the new area.

It’s always difficult to get a clear picture of arrangements in such a small space but this shot from the main cabin gives a general impression of the area and the relative size the new window.

For Part 1 of the rebuild/addition then CLICK HERE.

On to Part 10! (Coming soon)

Door and Frame, Vardo Remodel Part 8

Every home needs a door.  It’s a tricky bit that must fit well, open and close easily, provide some security, and hopefully, look good doing it.  

We found a mahogany, two-panel door at the Habitat Re-Store in Lubbock a couple months ago and since the price was right ($10), we bought it.  It was clearly well-made and I suspect it ended up at Habitat due to a largish scratch near the bottom on one of the rails.  The only down-side for me was it’s height.  At 94″ (2.38 m), it was far too tall for a simple,  tiny vardo.  I knew I had to cut it down and was willing to risk the $10 as it went to a good cause either way.  I suspected the panels were solid but, as is usual with this type of door, the rails and styles would be laminate over pine (or similar).  I had not initially considered a professionally made door but the final selling point was the nice arch-shape to the top of the upper panel.  It was an arc that I could match when came to finishing the door.

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Some stressful cutting; 20 inches removed.

The circular saw seemed the obvious choice for a long, straight cut like this so I set up a board as a guide and went at it, taking a full 20 inches out of the middle.

Matching the glue surface.

Matching the glue surface.

The top was then folded down for planing to get a precise fit for gluing surface.  This part took a lot of fidgeting and tweaking to get it correct over the entire run, but I achieved it in the end with only a little frustration and some muttering.

Clamping it back together.

Clamping it back together.

To hold it all together, I decided to use polyurethane Gorilla Glue. I don’t use this for much but it can make an extremely strong and waterproof bond.  A couple very long screw completed the hillbilly engineering and I was confident with the result.  With the loss of 20 inches from the middle, the grain no longer lined up perfectly, but at a short distance, it isn’t very noticeable.  Hey, it’s a $10 solid mahogany door after all.  Talk about some good and frugal recycling.

Top arc is cut and the glue line looks pretty clear here. It's a lot less noticeable in real life.

Top arc is cut and the glue line looks pretty clear here. It’s less noticeable in real life and will be less so as the door darkens with age.

I cut the top of the door to match the arc of the inset panel and I think it’s a great match for the curves of the wagon.  But now, it came down to making a door frame, after the fact, to match the new door shape, compound arc and all.

Square hole, round door.

Square hole, rounded  door.  A scrap of wood was secured to hold the door in position while fitting and marking for the frame.

Obviously, the hole for the frame was the next step; requiring another stressful free-hand cutting job.

Matching the arc in the opening.

Matching the arc in the opening.  There is hope for the new door.

Cutting and sanding complete, it was time to build up the frame from oak to provide stiffness and stops to seal the interior.  Fortunately, outside of a couple fierce storms, the weather has been extremely clement this winter, making for good working conditions.

Mortising for the hinge.

Mortising for the hinge.

A smattering of new and old hardware.

A smattering of new and old hardware.

I both got lucky and splurged a bit on new hardware.  The hinges are real beauties and very sturdily built. There is no perceptible play in them whatsoever and they operate very smoothly.  I went with a 19th century Eastlake pattern from House of Antique Hardware in Portland, Oregon.  Great stuff, great service, just too much to choose from.

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The door is nearly fitted into it’s final position in this photo. High quality hinges not only look nice but function so much better than the cheap, temporary ones they replaced.

I’ll admit that this tricky bit of framing isn’t perfect but is far better than I could have hoped for and suits us fine.  A small speakeasy grill will complete the door and even serve as a small vent when necessary.

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Eastlake style.  Notice the beauty of the natural mahogany next to the oak.

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Test-fitting the new hinge mortises.  I just couldn’t pass these beauties up.  Still some finishing work to be done on the door but without an indoor shop, something had to be in place.

There are lots of small steps that still need to happen but at least there a door in the hole.

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Piecing together the door jamb and frame.

There is a lot more to report and I’ll get it posted as soon as I can.  Great things are afoot and I can even see a distant light at the end of the tunnel.

For Part 1 of the rebuild/addition then CLICK HERE.

Or on to PART 9.

More Historic Caravans in Art

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Copyright The Munnings Collection at The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum.

Here are a couple final Alfred Munnings images of Romani caravans in an English countryside.  As a keen observer, he definitely caught the important details of each type of caravan and the essentials of camp life.  The watercolor above is somewhat unusual for Munnings as it shows no animals, people, or campfire.

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Alfred Munnings.

Above is a rarely shown rounded square-top among other carts and caravans with livestock milling about.  The variety detailed in these historic images should be helpful for those desiring to design and build a similar living accommodation.  The previous post gave a glimpse of Laura Knight’s work on the subject and her subjects are remarkably detailed and informative.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

Gypsy Camp, ca 1938, Dame Laura Knight.

This is one of my favorite scenes of a camp in the countryside; two beautiful ledge wagons and a marquis tent in a field.  I could picture this in a high parkland of the Rocky Mountains.  Many people don’t know that the outlier tent, awnings, and tarps are almost ubiquitous with the old caravans.  This allows for a very flexible and expandable living arrangement or a sheltered kitchen area.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

Young Gypsies 1937, Dame Laura Knight.

If you look closely at the sketch above, you can see that this is the same encampment from another angle, focusing on the kids at play.  It looks like a fine way to grow up.

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Gypsy Wagon and Tent, Dame Laura Knight, 1962.

And finally, another favorite of mine.  I suspect it’s the same little yellow wagon next to the sketchiest bender tent ever.  Probably a makeshift shelter for work or cooking.  A wagon wheel in the foreground seems to await repair while the kids look on.  Note the size of these caravans relative to today’s “needs” and remember that whole families lived and were raised this way.

If you missed the previous post about historic caravans in art go HERE or check out a whole page of images I have curated HERE.

Historic Romani Caravan Paintings

These images might whet the appetite for summer days, picnics, an caravanning off into the great unknown; or it might just be a bunch of pretty pictures if the former isn’t your cup of tea.  Anyway, these are generally labelled and classed as Gypsy images although we know that this is often seen as an offensive word to many Romani (Roma, Romany, etc.), I don’t think it was intended this way in many cases.  For that matter, when not applied to an actual people, the word gets thrown around in art, aesthetic style, dance, music, and many other ways.  I have only known a few “Gypsies” in my lifetime and that was the term used; maybe out of simplicity, maybe just as resignation to the common language.  But enough of this digression, enjoy the paintings.  There will be more to come.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsy Caravans, 1935. LONDON.- Trinity House.

“Knight … bucked trends through depicting liminal sites, such as circuses and gypsy settlements, from the very beginning of her career. An example of this is her delightful work Gypsy Caravans (1935).”

The caravans depicted above are the Rolls-Royce’s of their day; highly ornamented Reading Wagons with mollycrofts, awnings, windows, and fine paint work.  They would catch they eye of any artist.  I am particularly fond of the domestic scene around the hearth; laundry being done and hung out to dry in the background.

The paintings below are by Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), a British artist who made many beautiful watercolor paintings of horses, encampments, and caravans.  What better, more colorful, and dynamic subject matter?  Alfred Munnings’s biography states that he clearly considered himself accepted among the gypsies when he was able to persuade several of the older women to bring out the brilliant shawls, boldly coloured aprons, and flamboyant ostrich feathered hats that were special occasion wear for the women.”

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Sir Alfred Munnings.

The ubiquitous fire hook and kettle rest as the true center of this scene.  Everyone is done up in the Sunday best at Epsom Downs.  We see all kinds of accommodations from a bender tent to various quality of living wagon.  And no camp is complete without a lurcher (dog) and the milk goat.

Munnings became president of the Royal Academy and was made a Knight of the Victorian Orderwhile Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) served on a panel of European judges for an international exhibition at the Carnegie Institute and was appointed as an official artist for the Nuremberg War trials for her technical abilities.  In other words, good documentary artists.

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Sir Alfred Munnings.

Travellers and their goat gather ’round the morning tea.  I envision Mick’s garden will look like this once Jim and I get our ‘vans parked for the summer.

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Gypsy Life, the hops pickers, Sir Alfred Munnings..

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One of my favorites.  So much going on here and a great color scheme.

More images added HERE.