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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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