The Batch

polly and wagon

by Bernie Harberts

A while back the Tiny House Blog posted some photos on a project my mule Polly and I were working on. The first was a tiny wagon that took me across the US from Canada to Mexico:

http://tinyhouseblog.com/pre-fab/mule-drawn-tiny-home/

Last time we communicated, I was working on the Batch: http://tinyhouseblog.com/stick-built/bernies-shell-house-project/

Since then, mule Polly and I have traveled across Newfoundland (2012) in a homemade sheep herder wagon. Or was it a two-wheel cart pulling a Conestoga trailer? Who cares! It was funky, had a wood stove and let me boil down lots of cod liver oil. But I digress…

We’re now spending some quality time in the Batch. Here are some photos of how that project worked out. Figured you might be interested.

After spending 13 months traveling from Canada to Mexico in my 21 square foot wagon (2007 – 8), I decided to build something larger. Something more permanent, but still mobile. Low-maintenance was key. It had to be something that could repel southern weather – humidity, cold, rain, bugs. I count splitting wood, harnessing mules and writing among life’s pleasures, but not painting wood siding.

26 foot trailer

It’s one of the few things I purchased new. It set me back 2 grand. Here, the floor has been insulated. I built the Batch in my barn. In winter. I froze. Never again.

So I bought a steel trailer frame, drank some whiskey and ordered some tiny house study plans. Then I wadded them up and threw them out (the plans, that is). All the stuff I saw was too straight. Just iterations of the pointy roof thing.

sketch plan

The sketch that turned in to the Batch. It was part of a letter to friends. From this angle you can see how the roof is laid out.

You see, I’ve lived on boats and in wagons too long to put up with things too angular. Give me a barrel shaped roof. A bow top wagon top. Stuff I can build with roofing tin, two-by-fours, plywood and the curves of my imagination. A place where a man, a sailor, and a mule would be equally at home.

So I built it. It took about 3 months. I call it the Batch. A batch is a small structure early New Zealander bachelors lived in. Describes me close enough.

the batch

Morning sun. The lattice enclosure is for my winter garden. The sheet of plastic, found on the side of the road, forms a mini greenhouse for my cold weather greens. If you look in the distance, at the 9 o’clock position, you can see the tiny yellow wagon mule Polly and I traveled from Canada to Mexico with.

It’s moveable if not mobile. I’ve hauled the Batch over 1500 miles behind my ’92 diesel Dodge. Tows slow, but it’s still faster than my mule pulls many of my more recent homes.

Mostly, the Batch serves as office and spare bedroom. Sometimes Polly the mule joins me. Occasionally, Smoky the burro drops by. Not to sleep. Just to hang.

the batch interior

My writing desk and fold out bed. A futon serves as mattress. I built all the furniture. It’s like what you’d find on a boat, it’s all designed to fold away. The chair is a curb find and one day I’ll get around to repairing the white oak bottom.

See, you have to understand my life is governed by mules, boats and gypsy whims. That’s why you see mules in so many of my photos. Even ones of the batch. There’s mules on the porch – front and back. A burro, too. All seem at home with the Batch and its peregrinations. My creation travels almost as much as I do.

polly on the porch

Mule Polly and Smokey the burro hanging on the front porch. This is the porch with the spent casing pounded between the boards

In the summers I’ve hauled it to Oriental, NC. I do freelance writing work there. It’s here, in North Carolina’s Sailing Capital, that it weathered its first storm. I just tied the sucker down with anchor lines. Hurricane Irene passed over, huffed and puffed and flooded the town out. Caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. But my tiny tin mansion stayed put.

hurricane and the batch

The Batch in Oriental, NC, tied fore and aft in preparation for Hurricane Irene. Yes, the photo is fuzzy. Yes, Oriental flooded.

During winters the Batch lives on my farm in Western North Carolina. I heat it with wood and not much of a stove. One I bought from my buddy Kenny. The hinges are thin and brittle as potato chips. I tell you, that’s one cheap stove. Has to be if Kenny’s getting rid of it. My hero. The stove pipe runs through the window. Never overheats. It’s enough to keep the joint warm while I’m writing up whatever I’m working on.

the batch in the snow

Snowfall. From this low angle, you can see how the roofline angles away from the wall. This makes for an ever-changing shadow show.

Last Christmas, I threw a corporate party in the Batch. Hell of a lot more fun than the ones I suffered through in my coat and tie days. I think Polly and Smokey enjoyed it. Details are here: riverearth.com/news/party-in-the-batch

I won’t bore you or your readers with the technical details on how I built the Batch. What interests me more is the design process. I find detailed accounts of nailing boards together tedious. When you build by eye like me and every other garden variety savage, you measure with your heart, lengths of string and arm spans. Sort of like a bird that has access to power tools. Plans would be useless. CAD even worse. I’ve learned that. Get my drift?

the batch at home

Home for the winter. The Batch sends a plume of smoke over the shed, thorugh the chestnut tree and down the valley.

Your creative process may vary but mine works like this. Doodle on receipts. Write your friends a letter. Send ’em a sketch of your notion. Drink some whiskey. Smoke your pipe. At least that’s what I do. Napping is good for inspiration. Smart phones aren’t. First thing you should do when tackling a project like this is stomp on your iPhone. All they do is connect you to ideas that have already been built. So you end up cloning what’s been done before. Maybe that doesn’t bother you. It does me.

Polly and Bernie

Bernie Harberts and mule Polly

Then there are the false starts. The Batch looks nothing like what it what I started out to build. I’d spent a month building straight walls and roof beams like you see on many tiny homes. A loft too. Then I realized I was just copying what lots of other folks have already done. In a fit of discontent, I ripped the whole thing apart. I stopped going on the internet. Holed up in the barn where I was building and started from scratch.

The second time I got it right.

polly in the batch

Mule Polly dropping by for a gam.

Creation is a sloppy business. Messy. Frustrating. Lonely. Often isolating. Leads to bloody fingers. But that’s the only way I know of creating something that doesn’t match up to what everyone else is building, eating, blogging, tweeting, following or trending. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it stinks. But it’s yours. Straight from your brain an guts – including the parts that went off the rails but the better moments, too.

I didn’t use much more than a circular saw, hammer, drill, jointer, square and hand plane to build the Batch. Of course string and pencils. Plenty of those.

Much of my materials were scavenged or surplus. The metal roof and siding came from the Tarheel State’s Cowboy Capital – Love Valley, North Carolina. Odd lots and end runs. The type of stuff where, halfway through the pile, the sheets go from Hunter Green to Mentos Green. Damn. That’ll teach you to spread the sheets out before you screw them down. Life’s funny that way. Then again, it’s mule resistant. I’ve replaced enough chewed boards to value metal siding even if it doesn’t quite match.

Anyway, I think my mule is colorblind so it really doesn’t matter, does it?

the porch and polly

Mule Polly on the back porch. The shingled section serves as storage area. It covers the front of the trailer, just aft the hitch. It also serves as a wedge against the wind at highway speeds.

The locust boards for the front porch came from an old house. While I was prying it up, I discovered loads of spent 22 rifle shells wedged between the boards. Where the last resident used to shoot at the ground hog that was undermining his barn. When I installed the locust boards on the Batch, I wedged some of those casing back between the porch boards. Just to make the ground hog nervous.

The poison pine (pressure treated) for the breeze way came from the local building center. Okay, so I didn’t recycle everything.

The southern yellow pine used to hold up the ceiling panels were old flooring from the same carcass of a house that donated the locust. The roof’s insulated with 6 inches of that white foam. Looks like the same stuff they make white foams cups out of at church fundraisers. Mine came out of a building that was being torn down. Windows and doors came from the Habitat House.

Out front, when I’m not hauling this thing down the highway, I’ve planted a small garden. It’s never suffered from groundhogs though occasionally a mule wanders in.

And that’s the Batch. A curvy affair to make a sailor man smile and a mule want to jump aboard.

For more on the Batch, homemade travel and folks met along the way, visit RiverEarth.com.

Copyright 2013 Bernie Harberts

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MJ - September 13, 2013 Reply

Zowie! Bernie does it his way! With just a passing mention to suit and tie days, the road between that reality and this appears peppered with kicking out the jams (no offense to Polly) of any envelope. A+ for inspiration and fascinating reading.

scotth - September 13, 2013 Reply

creativity …. it ALL started one stormy nite with a bottle of whisky, a hammer and a monkey! ha. keep the spokes turnin. later

David Harber - September 13, 2013 Reply

What a lovely article and Bernie from your picture I would say that your lifestyle makes you a happy, healthy and contented man. Excellent!

Dave H

Eric - September 13, 2013 Reply

I really appreciate your free spirit and the flow of creativity that drives your processes. A single suggestion: sometimes people are all doing something the same way because it works, or even because it works best. Not the McMansion thing, that just sucks. I do, however, see some things in your build that will shorten the life of your creation, and some ways it could have been super-awesome but isn’t quite. Those specific things that other people are doing, well, those might best not be so carefully avoided.

Philippe - September 13, 2013 Reply

Bonjour Polly et Bernie,
Passez du bon temps dans votre petite maison merveilleuse. SUPER

Donna - September 13, 2013 Reply

Bernie, you are quite the commodian if you get my drift! Found your writing to be quite amusing! You appear to be a good friend, a sort of green guy, and world traveler. Count me among your admirers. Oh and I like your independent building style too.

Maureen - September 13, 2013 Reply

Love this man! knows how to live and he’s funny too, what more could you want.

Ross Johnson - September 13, 2013 Reply

This is awesome! Never thought of having a mule, but I’m thinking of it now….

I love the freedom you use in the design process, it’s not for everyone but its the same way I build.

Just a final note – I’m a New Zealander, it’s spelt “bach”, unless you’re in the South Island – and there it’s a “crib”

The Batch | turnings :: daniel berlinger - September 13, 2013 Reply

[…] The Batch: I won’t bore you or your readers with the technical details on how I built the Batch. What interests me more is the design process. I find detailed accounts of nailing boards together tedious. When you build by eye like me and every other garden variety savage, you measure with your heart, lengths of string and arm spans. Sort of like a bird that has access to power tools. Plans would be useless. CAD even worse. I’ve learned that. Get my drift? […]

Lynne - September 13, 2013 Reply

I want to know this man.

Lorelei Reed - September 13, 2013 Reply

oh my gosh!!! what a terrific way to live!!I am envious and about 15 minutes away from packing my toothbrush and coming to move in!! I am simply in LOVE with Polly, she is perfect!!!

You are living my dream…traveling, writing, living with animals…(Minnie the 8 year old terrier mix rescue, Bad Alice the feral kitty and Maizie-Belle the dinosaur-sized 10 month old Bouvier puppy live at my house) Teach me to build a cart and Maizie will haul us across country! SO enjoyed your article!!!

Bettina L. - September 13, 2013 Reply

Wonderful piece.Are you a single man?

Theresa - September 13, 2013 Reply

Awesome! Ideas, mule, and lifestyle ……. Not to mention, “Killer Smile” 🙂
One of my first adorations as a little girl was an abused “Jenny” that my dad brought home. There is nothing I like better now than being on a boat or near the water. I have been gathering ideas for “my tiny house” hoping to combine the best things I like into one…..
Maybe I will give your technique a try!
Your story is my favorite so far…………

Janis - September 13, 2013 Reply

I wish someone would buy up some land and sell off 1 acre spots for us to build tiny homes on in the south. They all seem to be out in the west and north central states.

Pam N - September 13, 2013 Reply

Where is the bathroom? I’d love to see more pics of the inside!

mary - September 13, 2013 Reply

Where in WNC do you winter? I’m in Black Mountain, would love to see it in person sometime. What stops me from the tiny house idea is that I love to cook~ I need a tiny home that’s entirely kitchen! ; )

Marian - September 13, 2013 Reply

Love this! Especially the New Zealand connection, where we usually spell it ‘bach’!

Cynthia - September 14, 2013 Reply

I want to know, too, are you single? Polly is adorable.

Bernie Harberts - September 15, 2013 Reply

Bernie here. The guy with the mule that built the Batch (pardon the dangling participle in that sentence). Cheered y’all enjoyed the post. To all you commenting and non-commenting New Zealanders, gotta say I took tremendous inspiration from your island. Think sheds, cribs and Barry Crump. Thanks for setting me straight on the proper Kiwi spelling of what I built – “bach”. I’m sticking with my spelling because it reminds me of me – a cross between a bachelor with a mule and a batch of sticker berry wine fermenting in a five gallon bucket on the porch. Cheers. Bernie Harberts and mule Polly

Jim Zeichman - September 19, 2013 Reply

Fantastic work of real estate, Bernie. Unlike Eric, I didn’t see any glaring kinks in your design. And as someone who has spent his entire life in the building industry, I am really impressed with your ability to think outside the box. I especially like the connected structures and the clever way you shed water off the ribbed metal roof. If it weren’t for inventive folks like you, the Tiny House Movement would not be gathering momentum. Well done.

Penny Freeman - September 21, 2013 Reply

My all-time favorite tiny house article. Polly is adorable and the freedom of your thinking and life-style is refreshing. Please write more!

Sally - September 21, 2013 Reply

How inspiring. Wonderful writing, great ideas, liberating, and, best of all, a mule in most of the photos!

dawn - May 14, 2014 Reply

i love it!!! you got great thought! and i love the mule and donkey! would love to meet sometime and pick your brain! single woman of 52! lol! love reading your stuff, were else do you write that we can read! thanks for being you!

Dawn

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