All Aboard: Tiny Houses Take to the Rails

“…what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places.”
~ Marianne Wiggins

I remember the first few lines as if I read them just this morning. “One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.” And thus began the adventure of the boxcar children and a lifelong fascination of mine with life in a rail car.

It seems that trains hold this special place in the American collective memory. They evoke this element of grandeur and this air of mystery. From the glamour of the 20th Century Limited to the suspense of Agatha Christie’s Orient Express trains have shaped the landscape literally, figuratively, and academically for the better part of 120 years.

20th Century Limited

Even now rail afficianados and travelers can enjoy a slight upgrade by hitching their own rail car to an engine and caboose. In fact, according to the Amtrak website:

Amtrak provides the ability for rail/train car owners to have their privately-owned rail/train cars attached to our trains between specified locations to see North America in an extraordinary way. We also provide many services, including 480v standby power, water, ice, septic, car wash, parking, and switching.

The charges to the owner of the private car include an annual registration fee, concurrent with the annual PC-1 inspection, as well as a mileage rate based on the number of cars on that particular movement request and other charges based on the services requested. View our Private Car Tariff terms and conditions, and other information about private car movements.

This is great news for normal people like Chuck Jensen. In 2011 he was interviewed by the Washington Post in an article talking about rail car owners and the subjects of their passion. Jensen had recently hooked up his refurbished 1923 Pullman sleeper – the Kitchi Gammi Club – and was preparing to host a group of guests chartering the car.

Charter outings and private parties are what typically pay the expenses of these interesting tiny houses which annually cost upwards of $18,200 (adjust for inflation) for annual storage, insurance and maintenance costs. The Kitchi Gammi is a Pullman sleeper originally built in Calumet City, IL in June and July of 1923. The car was originally named the Mountain View and was built to Pullman plan 2521C, lot 4690. There were twenty cars built to this plan, known as the Mountain series of which only 20 were originally built as 10-section observation lounge cars with an open observation platform. The Kitchi Gammi boasts a kitchen, a kitchenette, two bathrooms, 5 dining tables, a master bedroom, a crew bedroom, and a lounge to seat 10.

Kimmi Gitchi

In the past few years though the idea of live aboard trains has taken on new meaning. As more and more people search for smaller housing, unconventional housing, and sustainable (by way of recycling) housing, emphasis has been put on refurbishing old rail cars and living in them as a immobile unit. Perhaps the most popular though is the Caboose as trains no longer carry them regularly and rail companies are modifying their stock and decommissioning their old. Many of them require major work though and are not cheap to restore at all. One example of a truly glorious restoration is the 1949 Railroad Caboose owned by Samuel and Barbara Davidson of Mercer Island, Washington.

Robinson Caboose 1

At 260 square feet the Davidson’s have lived in their caboose for over 30 years! The design features floor-to-ceiling picture windows on one side overlooking a large 8′ x  20′ private deck and sits on actual rails. The home serves as a live/work space for the Davidson family and for the occasional renter. Some of the restoration work (and cool, original features) include the Otis Elevator metalwork in the bathroom and the stained glass window on the outside door. The tiny house has been updated though with the addition of electricity, heat, water, washer/dryer, and a full kitchen. It is a modern day work of art based on a nostalgic art foundation.

Robinsons 2

Robinsons 3


photos via Apartment Therapy

Whether mobile or stationary train cars offer a new way of tiny house living. They speak to the nostalgic vision of a traveling America while also providing a warm, cozy, and interesting way to adventure through this world.


By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Kottage RV Shipping Container Home

For anyone who can’t decide on a park model home or a shipping container home, Kottage RV of Canada has combined the two into one compact hybrid made of solid steel—with all the comforts of a park model. Kottage RV offers these fully customizable units for several functions including remote living and working, temporary offices, clinical and institutional uses and as workshops and recreational buildings.



The individual units range from 160 square feet to 538 square feet and include slideouts like a traditional RV or park model home. They also include solid steel walls and exterior and 2 inch spray foam (R14) in the walls, roof and floor. The doors are solid metal and the windows are argon filled vinyl frame. Exterior features include a Corten steel roof and various color choices, interior features include an 8’6″ ceiling, custom cabinetry, vinyl flooring, electric fridge, gas stove and microwave and a standard size tub and shower as well as a toilet. Each model is built with recycled materials and green building procedures and can be off-grid if necessary.



Kottage RV offers a 15-year warranty and a 5-year “no leak” warranty, and the homes are rated for four seasons and are fully winterized with all plumbing lines located inside the unit. They can also be renovated when necessary. The one-bedroom model costs around $60,000 and a three bedroom unit is closer to $90,000, but each unit is built to order and delivered to your property.



Photos by Kottage RV


By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

Stealth Camping and The Art of Tiny House Ninjas

Living in an RV, on the road, full-time, makes you completely aware of the costs associated with the nomadic lifestyle. Besides the cost of the rig itself you also incur the costs of “everyday life” (healthcare, food, clothing, etc), the cost of travel (gas, lodging, rent/lease), and the cost of entertainment should you choose. It can be mind boggling to say the least. That is why I spend quite a bit of free time thinking about how to decrease those expenses while not decreasing opportunity. It seems that a section of people including bicyclists, hikers, RVers, and a few others, have also pondered – but with great success – a way to “stealth” camp and come out the other side.

Motorcycles beach campingphoto courtesy of Hasselmann

I have only become acutely aware of stealth camping in the last few months via “boondocking” or the art of staying in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services. It is every bit a form of tiny house living but to a most extreme measure. Your house is anywhere you choose it to be. Boondocking is only one form of stealth camping and it seems that for every passion there is a form of stealth camping to match.


Stealth camping on bike (also referred to as guerrilla camping or free camping) refers to the practice of finding a quiet spot away from people if possible where one camps for the night making leaving behind no trace that they were ever there. And while it may in some way be about saving money by not paying for a campsite it seems more about experiencing the open road to the fullest; at least to this group. It is about pulling over on the road, ducking into the brush, unsaddling your bike, and stretching out your road weary legs. It is a seemingly simple task but it also requires the ride to be observant (you don’t want to camp on private property, a heavily traveled roadway, or in the middle of an airplane runway), cautious, and prepared. In fact, most bicyclists who practice stealth camping recommend you carry with you the following to make your camping more enjoyable:

  • Food
  • Identification Cards
  • Foil emergency blanket
  • Baby wipes (and disposal bags) for quick sanitation
  • Change of underclothing
  • Sleeping Mat
  • Sleeping Bag
  • and A LOT more!

Bike Camper

Allan E. Stokell’s fully loaded camping bike in front of Caerphilly Castle in Wales.

There is quite a bit of information available online regarding bicycle stealth camping. For a robust list of tips visit the Bicycle Touring Pro.


In my estimation stealth camping seems most advantageous for hikers. For instance, on the very popular Appalachian Trail there are shelters and overnight dwellings available at multiple spots along the entire hike. However, the distance from one to another may be exceptionally short or alarmingly long. I have heard from some hikers that on the Maine trail there is a camping spot every 10 miles. The average thru-hiker accomplishes 13 miles a day though so oftentimes a long day will end smack in the middle of the stop stations. There is nothing left to do but stealth camp or wild camp.

The legalities surrounding stealth camping can vary greatly by state, city, or even local municipality. While pitching a small tent on the side of a state highway in Alabama may be fine it may not be fine in Arizona. Hikers interested in being a camping ninja should be familiar with the state law at least before taking their first step.

Stealth camping for the hiker can be a bit of a burden though. Not only do you need to think about food and water for the hike but to some extent (especially for camping) you have to think about lodging, medical emergencies, communication, etc. No one can enjoy hiking with a 100lb. pack. Ideally a pack  – for camping or not – should not exceed about 35lbs. That is quite a task when you are trying to pack food, food prep gear, sanitation implements, a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a small tent, layered clothing, and other objects such as a camera, a journal, or a guide. At to that the unwritten law of leaving the site as you found it you may have to have knowledge on fire starting and extinguishing in safe manner as well as trash and sanitation disposal. A great resource is Stealth Camping online.

Hiker Camping

photo courtesy of JJ Harrison


It goes without saying that stealth camping with an RV is a bit harder than any of the previously mentioned hobbies. Finding a remote location for any sort of vehicle can be quite a challenge. But with the number of unpopulated areas still left in the United States (and serviced by paved roads even!) it can be done. It is important to understand that boondocking or stealth camping in an RV is a bit of a different practice. While many don’t like the word boondocker it has become common vernacular and really just stands for RVers who camp without any sort of hookups and are totally self-reliant. This includes water, sewage, electricity, etc. It also means no camping fees and no park regulations which can oftentimes be the biggest perk involved save the ability to spend time in some of America’s most visually breathtaking spots without any disturbance. There are four considerations when boondocking. Neither is truly more important than the other but all four must be adequately prepared for. Boondockers need to consider water, food, waste, and power.

Water can be supplied by the on-board freshwater tank to which you can augment with water carriers, extra tanks, bottles, etc. It is recommended that you have at least 1 gallon of drinking water per person per day but in addition a boondocker may want to shower, wash dishes, prepare food, etc. Food can be as fancy or as simple as you like. If a boondocker cooks using propane the only consideration is, of course, the propane and perhaps the refrigeration needed to keep the food from spoiling prior to cooking. Even cereal can become an obstacle as milk is needed and milk must stay refrigerated and refrigeration requires power! Waste is both human and garbage. An RV has a black tank so that is not a problem. However, each flush uses water which comes from the holding tank (water) and is powered by a water pump (power). One may want to consider outfitting their RV with a composting toilet instead. As for garbage, it can be disposed of as normal but should be put in a large, black, heavy duty bag at the end of each day and then secured either in the back of a pickup in a box or something similar in order to keep critters out. Power comes in a few forms and is dependent on the type of RV and the boondocker themselves. Think on-board generator, portable generator, batteries, solar, wind, etc. It is important to remember though that even a camper slide relies on power to move in and out.


photo courtesy of The Snowmads


As of late the tiny house trailer crew has taken an interest in stealth camping too as there has been a significant visible rise to the stealth camper. Sometimes referred to as the “Bug Out Bunks” or “Get Out of Dodge” trailer these stealth campers are pretty fascinating as they are outfitted much like traditional tiny houses or RVs yet they are done so within the confines of an enclosed utility trailer. I first became aware of the fad in late 2012 when I saw the ‘Over The Top Cargo Trailer‘ on the Small Trailer Enthusiast website. The idea is that one takes an enclosed cargo trailer and converts the interior to a well appointed camping rig. This is so it can be parked almost anywhere without raising any suspicion as to what is inside. With on-board generators, solar power, comfortable beds, water holding tanks, commodes and showers, and much more these new kids on the block are certainly part of the future of the stealth camping set.

Stealth Trailer


By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]