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.

Traveller Life

Every traveler has a campfire has the center of daily life. The hearth has been our home for 1.5 – 2 million years now. No wonder it fascinates us and brings so much comfort.

Nomads in a stationary culture are often tolerated at best and left only marginal space to congregate. This will probably never change.

These high-end vardos with fancy covers are probably “gentlemen travelers,” the antecedents to modern RVers.

Yes, I know that Traveller has two Ls in our title but since we’re looking at Britain and the Continent that’s how we’re spelling it.

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

Classic Liquid Fuel Stoves

A look at the origins and evolution of our favorite camp stove…

This post was going to be a few words about the Primus stoves we all love and some images I’ve collected from around the web.  As usual, I found myself rambling all over the topic without a clear direction but here is a bit of an overview of liquid fuel stoves and how they have evolved over the past 150 years.  Clicking the image will link to a larger version in most cases.

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Primus advertisement 1899. Image found on the Classic Camp Stove Forum.

Outdoor cooking has become something of a lost art for those of us raised in the industrial world, but not too long ago, what we think of as camp cooking was just plain cooking.   Several major advances made in the 19th and early 20th centuries resonate in our lives without a second thought from most of us.  Most of our grandparents or great-grandparents cooked with solid fuel (mostly wood, peat, manure, or charcoal) and their grandparents may have felt fortunate to even be able to cook indoors in bad weather. Much of the world still cooks this way and it is an eye-opener for those raised in the more industrialized countries if and when they travel abroad.

In the 19th century, the Caravan Craze, global expansionism, and long-distance campaign warfare sent massive numbers of otherwise “civilized” people back to the outdoors; often with high expectations about the board-of-fare.  Although we, as a species, have cooked over campfires for many thousands of years, this is not always convenient or desirable; whether for speed, lack of fuel, or need for a low profile in the hedgerows.  An early response to this need was the brazier or hibachi-type grill reinvented on numerous occasions in various parts of the world.  These  stoves can use small wood or charcoal but are heavy, smoky, and need large volumes of solid fuel for sustained use.  Not a good option for the traveller (sic).  When coal oil and kerosene became common, liquid fuel appeared to be the answer.

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Tea at the Caravan with the Classic Svea Stove.

Although common now, liquid fuel stoves have not always been a good or safe choice for cooking on the road or in camp.  Early portable stoves used a wick and some variety of coal oil for the fuel.  The flame created with a wick is relatively low-temperature, causing incomplete combustion.

In fact, the early instructions for safe stove use are nearly the same as that of fireworks. 

“LAY ON GROUND. LIGHT FUSE. GET AWAY! – USE OUTDOORS ONLY – UNDER ADULT SUPERVISION.”

Another feature of the earliest wick stoves, due to their relatively low burning temperature, is that they exude fumes and soot, like a low-quality oil lamp. This sooting and smoke make them unpleasant at best, especially in confined spaces.  Though not a terrible option for the 1850s, they are nothing as good as what would come in the next generation.

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Soyer stove.

The advancements of Alexis Soyer – The contraption above is one of the many inventions given to us by Alexis Soyer, celebrity chef and cooking guru of mid-19th century Britain.  Many of his cookbooks are still referenced and can be found for free on the web.  He was, by the way, born a Frenchman but we can forgive him this oversight for his many wonderful contributions to the world of food.

Not only did Mssr. Soyer invent several useful contraptions for cooking, but he is credited with organizing the first Soup Kitchen to help the starving Irish during the Famine.

As a further claim to fame, the large unit stove he developed for the British army during the Crimean War was such and excellent design it was still regular issue 120 years later.  But I digress from our theme.

Soyer_StoveSeen in use above, this little stove was revolutionary for the time but still left much to be desired, especially if one wanted to cook with it indoors.  I don’t believe you’d catch a sane cook using something of this sort on an actual tablecloth unless it was made from asbestos but it seemed like a good idea for the advertisement.  In the 19th century, both camp and home cookery were beginning to change drastically; up to this time the two were not very different.  Along with improvements in stoves, better cooking pots, and roasting pans, other kitchen gadgets were being developed to help make cooking better and easier.  A humble and often overlooked kitchen appliance was invented in this period…

The wind-up cooking timer –

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Soyer’s Alarum.

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This little beauty is something that all modern cooks take for granted.  It seems obvious now, but Soyer realized that mothers, chefs, and camp cooks have many things to attend to at once.  He wisely decided that a dinging countdown timer timer could take some of the strain away from cooking and make for better prepared meals.

The coming of the pressurized stove – The Crimean war, the Raj in India, and other colonial ventures undertaken during Queen Victoria’s reign spurred on great advances in campaign living and long-term camping.  The East India Company and the regular military encouraged officers to bring the comforts of home as whole careers were spent thousands of miles from home creating and running an empire.  From this period, the Brits gave us great folding furniture, camp bedding, portable furnishings, and the Gypsy caravan but it took a Swede to take us to the next level, and camp technology has never looked back.

The pressurized kerosene stove –

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Image 1914.

From the Wikipedia Entry as of October 2014:

The Primus stove, the first pressurized-burner kerosene (paraffin) stove, was developed in 1892 by Frans Wilhelm Lindqvist, a factory mechanic in Stockholm, Sweden. The stove was based on the design of the hand-held blowtorch;

From this...

The origins of the camp stove!

Lindqvist’s patent covered the burner, which was turned upward on the stove instead of outward as on the blowtorch.

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Improvements and variations came quickly after their introduction.

…The Primus No. 1 stove, made of brass, consists of a fuel tank at the base, above which is a “rising tube” and the burner assembly. A steel top ring on which to set a pot is held above the burner by three support legs. Other Primus-style stoves may be larger or smaller, but have the same basic design. The No. 1 stove weighs about 2½ pounds, and measures about 8½ inches high with an overall diameter of just under 7 inches. The tank, about 3½ inches high, holds a little over two pints of kerosene and will burn for about four hours on a full tank.

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We think of this type stove as a camp stove but they were marketed far and wide for household use as well.

…Prior to the introduction of the Primus, kerosene stoves were constructed in the same manner as oil lamps, which use a wick to draw fuel from the tank to the burner and which produce a great deal of soot due to incomplete combustion.

The Primus stove’s design, which uses pressure and heat to vapourize the kerosene before ignition, results in a hotter, more efficient stove that does not soot.  Because it did not use a wick and did not produce soot, the Primus stove was advertised as the first “sootless” and “wickless” stove.

sverige270These stoves are still celebrated worldwide and are in use on every corner of the planet.  They are a labor-saving device that frees their owners from fuel collection and actually lower airborne pollutants in the immediate area.  They are also credited with limiting the natural deforestation that accompanies humans living in concentrated communities.

The ads give a hint as to how far and wide the Primus stove reached around the globe.

This Radius ad is interesting as it shows the kinship or reapplication of technology from blow torch to stove with only a little modification by the engineers.  Below, this advertisement for an aftermarket pressure cap shows the need for improvement as stoves could easily become clogged and explode as a pressurized bomb.  I narrowly escaped this hazard myself when my stove nozzle became clogged on an outing.  A chemical fire-extinguisher is never a bad Idea to have handy living on the road.

The designers continually improved this simple device with, among other features, a safety cap that intentionally failed at a lower pressure than that which would have caused the stove to turn into a brass grenade.  Although safety features were invented to reduce the number of serious accidents, I suspect these little contraptions are responsible for a fair number of burns and the loss of more than a few homes, autos, and RVs.

As with any successful product, there were and are many imitators of this relatively simple design and many still on the market models come from former Soviet Union, China, and India.

Judging by the marketing, they bring nothing but bliss and happiness to the laboring mother… but seriously, these devices were probably a huge boon to the housewife no longer in need of wood or dung for cooking fuel.

The switch to gasoline –

Although introduced in the early 20th Century, the Second World War and subsequent decade saw widespread popularity of the gasoline stove for military use.  Unlike kerosene, gasoline (or purified “white gas”) is truly explosive, not just flammable.  Placed under high pressure, these are potentially bombs.  However, gasoline or derivatives can now be found almost anywhere on earth with the spread of the internal combustion engine, making this a fuel of choice for international travelers.  As per usual with us humans, we chose practicality and convenience over safety.

The iconic early stove of this design is the Svea 123 as it it is a beautiful combination of design features including simplicity of construction, easy field repair, and heating power.

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Classic Svea 123 and a close cousin.

Here’s a link to lighting the Svea 123 (and a little info about why they are so cool):  “DEMYSTIFYING THE SVEA 123

n.b. The original link was dead when I last checked but I have saved an archive copy here with credit to the author.

Variations on the theme are endless, from the Svea 123 (gasoline) to the Ultra-Primus double burner home range (kerosene).  The various designs proved themselves in kitchens, on river trips, mountain tops, and in virtually every modern backpacker’s gear in one form or another.  For much of the world, this style stove is still the centerpiece of kitchen cooking.

A different spin on the basic Svea design. The main feature of the 71 is it's convenient packaging.

A different spin on the basic Svea design. The main feature of the 71 is it’s convenient packaging for the traveller.

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Summitting  Everest, a pretty great endorsement.

As a side note to history, the design was so successful that many other companies copied the essential design.  Here are just a few ads for the Optimus line of stoves and lamps, another spin-off, from their own website showing a wide range of related products over the last century.

The modern era of the camp stove –

In my lifetime, liquid fuel backpacking stoves have undergone some serious refinements but overall, the system for liquid fuel stoves is essentially the same.  Safety has been a big issue, of course, but size (decrease) and fuel capacity (increase) are probably the biggest changes.  Many stoves use canister fuel (butane or propane), alcohol, or solid fuel pellets; but I won’t get into those as they are beyond our scope and interest here.

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A new era; the MSR XGK multi-fuel stove.

The final round of changes came from Mountain Safety Research and its later competitors.  The big innovation was to separate the fuel tank from the burner assembly and add a pressurizing system to the tank.  Small but efficient details were added like the self-lighting sparker, self-cleaning tube, and the inclusion of a lightweight wind screen.  I have used one of these for used with pretty good success but I still find myself choosing the Svea 123 for many journeys.

Links and Further Information –

This post is woefully inadequate in so many ways but it is meant as a quick overview of the pressurized liquid fuel stove we all love so much.  Here are some links to some great information on the web.

And my all time favorite, the Svea 123. We have been friends for many years.

The Base Camp is a specialist equipment internet retailer based in Littlehampton, Southern England since 1986.  They stock classic stoves and have an excellent selection of obsolete parts.

A H Packstoves Supplies and Parts – is an online seller with a wide variety.  He always has good stuff and some hard to find parts.

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The Fettle Box is a good source for pieces and parts for your classic stove. I have had good luck with them.

Finally, the Classic Camp Stoves Forum.  Several images above were found here.  Information about virtually every kind of stove available.  History, art, repairs, tutorials, and reprints are all available on the Forum.

Click here for the mother load of information about Classic Stoves.

More stove ramblings to come…

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

Campsite Life

Scenes of life on the road and around the campsites.

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October 1951: Mrs Robert Matthew, an MP’s wife, campaigning at a gypsy encampment.

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Kids at the campsite.

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A classic image of Traveller children.

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Modern gypsies (Romany) in their simple accommodation.

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I really love these little bender tents.

Family Life

A fine caravan for a successful traveller.

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.

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.

Travellers at Home

Wonderful rolling home.

Wonderful rolling home.

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.

Tents and the Vardo Life; What is a Bender?

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The bender tent provides shelter from the damp while keeping the living space outdoors.

Travellers in Europe and Britain have always been associated with a style tent called a bender.  This comes from the construction technique of cutting saplings and bending them into a dome, elongated dome, or half cylinder shape,  These frameworks were then covered with tarps and made watertight in the temperate damp.  The origins of this design are lost in the mists of time and are believed by archaeologists to be one of the earliest style of recognizable tent structure used by humans.

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This size bender can more than double the living space of a vardo in a matter of minutes.

Even after a certain level of affluence allowed some Romany and other Travelling folk to own living wagons, the bender continued (and continues) to be a way to extend the living space without the need for a lot more gear.

In England, Gypsy women often used their homes for fortune-telling, especially around the Gadjo (non-Gypsy) vacation centers. Image, early 20th century. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

The fact that a tent becomes the subject for a Blackpool post card shows the ongoing fascination with “Gypsy Culture,” especially in the British Isles where Travellers are simultaneously suspect and romanticized.

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The front or vestibule provides a place to do business in relative privacy. Source: Romany & Traveller Family History Society.

If you have family that me be Romany, Traveller, or Fairground folk in Britain or just want to learn more, check out the Romany & Traveller Family History Society at http://rtfhs.org.uk/.

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.

 

Tinker Family in Scotland

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Tinker family. Estimated date : 1920 – 1929 ©The Wick Society,

Here’s a wonderful old photograph of a “Tinker Family in Scotland.”  It is believed to be taken sometime in the 1920s but the location was not identified.  The wagon could just about pass for a western American sheep camp.  Even thought they had the wealth to own a wagon it was still a pretty tough life, often unwanted in non-traveller (sic) communities, these people have been marginalized for centuries.

I found this one while perusing the Johnston Collection on the Document Scotland webpage.  Have a look if you are interested in great images of a beautiful country.

A Perfect Vardo

Desert Dream

This is a beautiful photo of Travellers in Britain, 1950.  I came across it a while back while searching out vardo images for my own inspiration.  This one has some great details and has a distinctive Scottish feel.

There’s a flag of the Scottish Caravan Club flying on the roof and some great signage on the walls as well as the typical harness brass horse shoe on the door.  I would love to find out more about this one.  Comments?  Thoughts?

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!

DugaldSemple

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.

Joy-in-Living

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…

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 Story of an Old Time Sheepherder

It was a lonely life on the range.  “Even if a herder does not particularly care for reading, he will be driven to it in self-defense.”  I wanted to re-share a good story about sheepherding life.  Gilfillan was a shepherd for 20 years and went on to become a well-known humorist, author, and speaker.

Archie Gilfillan was South Dakota’s sagebrush philosopher. His prairie wit en­tertained people in the ranching areas of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota through the Great Depression.”

As to why he never married,

“You profess sincere and unbounded admiration for the beauties of the opposite sex and you practically lay your heart at their collective feet; and then you meet some individual who combines the poorer qualities of a mama wildcat and a bitch wolf, with a voice like a buzz saw, the temper of a slapped hornet, and a dis­position that would curdle the milk in four adjoining counties. And then you have to revise your opinion of the sex all over again –– and downward.” In short, he never met a woman he liked who would have him as a husband.

The full article can be found here in South Dakota magazine.

 

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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Exploring Old Caravan Images

There are quite a few images from the Golden Age of the Gypsy Caravan* floating around the web, many without appellation.  Still, they have much to offer the potential traveler or yearning nomad today.

Vardos

I quite like seeing the nearly universal items one needs for living on the move such as the folding tables, water coolers, wash basins, buckets, and lanterns.  If I were to guess, I’d say this one was taken in some muddy side-alley in southern England around the beginning of the 20th century.

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/03/bd/64/03bd64a272dcfe524ea4320d22f825fe--gypsy-wagon-gypsy-caravan.jpg

And let’s not forget that a large market for the high-end and custom wagons was for professional showmen, another group living on the road.  I have kept the above image in my stock because I really like the awning over the door.

Appleby caravans

Click for a larger image.

I think one of the appealing aspects of these wagons is their almost timeless flavor.  An image from the 1950s at the Appleby Fair looks much the same as one from 1985 or 1895 with the addition of an occasional automobile.  The Open-Lot design above is out of favor with the modern American crowd due to the lack of security but I can see the advantages on a warm summer day.

*”Gypsy” has fallen out of use due to the pejorative overtones when applied to the people known as the Roma or other Travellers (sic).  In terms of describing the living accommodations it is kept here for historical purposes, for the time being, for lack of a better universal term.

A Slow Moving Beauty

Reported from Burning Man 2016.

I don’t really know anything about this beautiful rig but I like what I see.  A converted mower in front as a tow vehicle and it’s pulling a little trailer of it’s own behind.  If anyone knows any more about this one please let me know!  I found it on Tumblr but was able to image search it back to this source:

http://www.archipanic.com/burning-man-exploring-black-rock-city/

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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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A Sheepherder in South Dakota Magazine…

(from the Paleotool vault)

A lonely life on the range.  “Even if a herder does not particularly care for reading, he will be driven to it in self-defense”.  This is a good story about sheepherding life.  Gilfillan was a shepherd for 20 years and went on to become a humorist, author, and speaker.

“Archie Gilfillan was South Dakota’s sagebrush philosopher. His prairie wit en­tertained people in the ranching areas of Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota through the Great Depression.”  The full article can be found here.

 

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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…