Camping or Living: RVs as Tiny Houses

Recently my wife and I purchased a 27′ travel trailer and submerged ourselves into the nomadic lifestyle. And while it seemed as much like tiny house living as our actual tiny house trailer we soon realized it came with its own culture, own nuances, and own history; and a rich history at that!

In 2010 the recreational vehicle turned 100 years old. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), about 8.9 million households now own RVs. The typical RVer was 48 years old and earned a median income of $62,000. Among those under the age of 35, ownership rates are steady at 4.9%. According the last publicized study – a 2005 study at the University of Michigan - about 450,000 of typical RVers are full-timers. But there remains some undercurrent controversy about whether or not an RV is a tiny house. 

Says Ryan Harris, tiny house builder, blogger, and outspoken tiny house enthusiast, “A home is anywhere you hang your hat and feel comfortable and secure, so in that sense, an RV could certainly feel like a tiny home. Unfortunately, most RV’s [off the lot] are built very poorly, with flimsy materials and are not usually customized to the owner or by the owner, so in reality, for most people an RV makes a poor substitute for a tiny house and will never feel like a true home.” Not a glowing endorsement for RV living but a valid point and one held by a number of tiny house enthusiasts. On the other hand Kristin Snow who together with her husband Jason both lives and works out of a renovated and personalized 1965 Airstream Overlander notes, “We absolutely consider our Airstream to be a tiny house – just one that moves around more than most! Our goal in renovating and moving into our trailer was to embrace minimalistic living and simplify life as much as possible. Being able to use it for economical travel was the deciding factor in going with an RV versus a tiny house for now. Seeing as much of the country as possible for a few years will help us in deciding where, if anywhere, we want to settle down someday – probably in a tiny house!”

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Whatever side of the debate one rests on the fact remains that drivers began making camping alterations to cars almost as soon as they rolled off the line. The first automobile marketed as a recreation vehicle was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The Landau had a back seat that folded into a bed, an on-board chamber pot/toilet, and a sink that folded down from the back of the seat of the chauffeur, who was connected to his passengers via telephone. Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. By the start of the Roaring 20′s, dozens of manufacturers were producing what were then called auto campers. Before then people camped in private rail cars that were pulled along train routes by commercial engines. RVs allowed a certain freedom not yet seen. They allowed people to go where they wanted whether a rail existed or not!

NOTE: The Tin Can Tourists (named so because they heated tin cans of food on gasoline stoves by the roadside) formed the first camping club in the United States eventually growing to 150,000 members by the mid-1930s. They had an initiation; an official song, “The More We Get Together;” and a secret handshake.

TinCan
RV camping and RVs in general really became popular though thanks to a group of men who called themselves Vagabonds. The men – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs – caravaned in simple cars on annual camping excursions from around 1913 to the mid 1920s. Their adventures solicited national attention. The trips were well covered by national media outlets and in turn sparked interest in other motorists to go car camping. With the funds to match their sense of adventure, the Vagabonds took such camping to new extremes bringing with them a custom Lincoln truck outfitted as a camp kitchen. While the men slept in tents they were showing that life lived on the road could be as fun and glamorous as life in the penthouses of New York and mansions of everywhere in between. They were the initial advocates of the RV lifestyle. The nation was being overtaken by the notion of taking your home with you and stopping wherever you wanted without sacrificing the comforts of your own home. The movement would become so popular in fact, that CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt would later capture this road romance with his “On The Road” series that began in 1967 and lasted some 25 years, causing him to wear out several motorhomes and cover some million miles.

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver's seat of his "On The Road" motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver’s seat of his “On The Road” motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

As Wall Street crashed in 1929 the Depression had its way with the RV lifestyle as well. Finding their way off the road some people began using travel trailers, which could be purchased for as little as $500 to $1,000, as inexpensive homes. This is the first time the United States becomes familiar with the notion of full-time living in a rather unconventional home.

War time rationing in the 1940s stopped production of consumer RVs, although – like many other types of companies – some trailer companies converted to wartime manufacturing, making rigs that served as mobile hospitals, triages, transports and even morgues. This usage didn’t last long after the war as returning soldiers on limited incomes craved the outdoor life as well as inexpensive vacation methods. The Interstate Highway System, having begun construction in 1956 offered all Americans a relatively safe and fast way to travel further than trains ran and causing a renaissance in the RV market. 

By the late 1950s motorhomes began to find their way to the market (albeit a far less popular one) due to price and availability. They were seen as more of a luxury though and even for the upper-middle class exclusively. That completely changed in 1967 though when Winnebago began mass-producing motorhomes labeled “America’s first family of motor homes” – between 16 to 27 feet long – which could sell for as little as $5,000 ($34,400.00 by today’s standards.) By this point heating and air conditioning had been introduced into RVs as well as on-board refrigeration and sanitation stations. No longer was camping considered a roadside novelty for families living on a dime. They had become more like homes than ever! Homes on wheels!

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Perhaps though the most notable part of RVs is that they have changed design as technology has changed. Motorhomes and travel trailers on the market today include such amenities as satellite television, washers and dryers, shower stalls, work desks, and even fireplaces. They are more like a sticks ‘n bricks home than ever. And while they are completely portable and in a very simplistic way they still offer RVers what they want the most; the feeling of home and the ability to explore the open road. 

The dress code is casual. The drinks are always cold. The bathroom is but a door away. And the amenities of a larger sticks ‘n bricks are included by simplified in a mobile and tiny way.

 

By Andrew Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

Tina Larkin and her Purple HarpMobile

by Tiny Larkin

I’m a musician, visual artist, traveler and dog lover. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested on living simply and having a small carbon print upon the Earth. I always wanted some sort of teardrop or small RV in order to have a home on wheels.

trailer exterior

The 2008 economic crash and continued downturn of our economy prompted my decision to stop paying rent. I have bought and sold about a dozen houses, flipping them after living in then for a year or two. The current economy precludes my ability to keep doing this. After several years of research and touring as a musician, I made two important decisions…

  1. As a harpist, fiddler, and composer,my talent is best appreciated on the west coast. So to be musically focused on the area of San Francisco to Vancouver, I need
  2. A portable tiny home,which must be towable by my current car,which is a 4-cylinder Hyundai.

I designed a tiny, almost tear-droppy like trailer to go atop a 4 x 8 ft. Harbor Freight trailer chassis. I chose this model because it weighs only 230 pounds and was inexpensive. I decided that the entire trailer needed to weigh less than 600 pounds. I based this on the tiny trailers built by Abel Zimmerman and the Whittled Down folks, and others, all of whom designed their trailers to be used with 4 cylinder cars. I chose 1?4 inch plywood and 2×2′s for my building materials. I decided to use exterior grade silicone for all joints and edges, and a rubber spray coating for the roof, which might also get another cover as the summer progresses. The lavender color is wood stain, not paint.

interior

Before I even got my trailer hitch installed on my car, the naysayers pounced. Most, but not all, were men.

“You can’t tow anything in that car! The owners manual says so!”
“You’ll destroy your transmission!”

“You better use 2×4′s and 3?4 inch plywood! Otherwise that thing is gonna explode going down the highway!!!”
“It’s not safe! You’re just a woman, and travelling alone! You’re nuts!”

It is a good thing that I never listen to the naysayers. I did my homework, so knew what I did know and did not know, and I knew where to find the info I still required. I was able to recognize when others spoke out of their own fear or envy. My online and in-person homework showed me that this venture was, and is possible.

harpmobile

A Seattle friend, Brad Maas, helped greatly in the building of this PurpleHarpMobile, as I have named her. He lent his yard space, tools and knowledge in this venture. Many thanks to him.

The PurpleHarpmobile has more windows now, (that I made after theses photos were taken) and is fragrant with natural wood inside and my favorite essential oils. I live in it full time and can cook inside or out. There is neither real heat, nor electricity, but I have a Mexican terra cotta planter. Four tea light candles inside and a metal bowl over it create a small and charming heat source. I will purchase a solar panel this summer. I am going to custom decorate the exterior this month.

Tina and trailer

So far, I have performed in Seattle, and have done a bit of camp hosting in Oregon. I am about to begin exploring the music scene and tiny house community in Portland. My plan is to use this HarpMobile for Music Festivals, and maybe sell it down the road, and then build a tiny house! Tiny House Blog, and other online info, has been a huge help in making my dreams a reality. Thanks for reading!

email: tinalarkinmusic@live.com
Website: tinalarkin.com

harpmobile at Lake Trillium

Bumfuzzle Bus

Followers of the Bumfuzzle adventures have seen the intrepid couple go from sailing around the world in a catamaran to driving around the world in a VW bus. Their latest adventures: sailing in a beautiful, but cranky, 43-foot Spindrift Pilothouse in Mexico has come to an end and Pat and Ali have moved their two small children aboard a 27-foot 1966 Dodge Travco camper to explore the interior, rather than the coast, of the Americas.

bumfuzzle-bus

Pat and Ali have always been up front with what they spend on their tiny homes on wheels and water. The Spindrift was eventually costing them too much money in repairs and docking fees. When traveling the interior of Mexico, they were essentially not living in their boat—but still paying for it. Pat writes in the Bumfuzzle blog:

“In my opinion keeping a boat that you aren’t using is one of the stupidest financial decisions a person can make. Two years, $500 a month dockage/hard storage is $12,000. Paying somebody to keep an eye on it $2,500. Coming back after two years to repair everything that has been neglected or just simply stopped working while you were away, another couple of thousand easily.”

bumfuzzle-dining

bumfuzzle-bus-interior

bumfuzzle-bus-bed

bumfuzzle-bed-kid

Still wanting to travel, homeschool their children and live in something with a little style, the couple purchased the vintage Travco online sight unseen for $9,000 and added another $12,000 of repairs and additions including solar power, custom mattresses and new upholstery. The bus has a living space with a dining table, a fold-out couch, plenty of seating, a back bedroom with two beds for the children, closets and a bathroom.

bumfuzzle-bus-storage

bumfuzzle-bus-family

bumfuzzle-bus-winter

The bus (just like their other modes of transportation) is clean and minimalist without a lot of toys or clothes. In fact, when the family of four left Mexico, they only had six boxes of belongings. Pat says in the Bumfuzzle blog:

“Six boxes. We have two kids. Are you wrapping your head around this? Because I’m not. I really don’t think about our minimalism as minimalism, if that makes sense. I never think about it at all. It just is. I guess we’ve lived this way for so long now that it has become second nature—it’s no longer a conscious decision. In fact, it’s not a decision at all. But I think it is a way of life that enables us to go on doing exactly whatever the heck it is that we want to do. Being able to load all our belongings on an airplane for $200 makes that big move from one country to another feel a whole lot more doable than wondering, “How could we move? How could we change course? How could we get all of our stuff from here to there?” For people like us these would be the worst questions we could ever find ourselves asking. We need our mobility. It’s a part of us.”

bumfuzzle-minimalist

Photos by Bumfuzzle.com

 

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]