Contemporary Prairie Schooner

Libby Reinish and Tristan Chambers contacted me about a project they are working on and wanted to share with you.

My partner and I are building a bow-top gypsy wagon and documenting our progress on This is our first tiny house, and we will be moving into it in one month, when we depart our home in Santa Fe, NM and begin a cross-country move to New England. We plan to live in the wagon for the remaining warm months of the year, and haven’t entirely ruled out retrofitting it for winter living later. The wagon is based on a gypsy wagon design, but we like to think of it as a contemporary take on the prairie schooner.

Our gypsy wagon design meets our three main goals: 1) To build a home for just over what we currently pay for a month’s rent ($1500 total), 2) To build a portable home that can be towed by my Hyundai Elantra, which has a 1,000 lb tow rating, and 3) To find a design that provides all our basic needs (food prep, sleep, electricity, toilet) in a small space.

The 54 sq. ft. wagon is built on top of a 4×8 utility trailer. The wagon is built out of a combination of new and used/salvaged materials, using tools borrowed from our local Tool Lending Library. The finished wagon will have a solar panel for electricity, a kitchen area with a sink and a one-burner stove, a sleeping area, and a multi-use food prep/dining/work area. We are also working on a design for a homemade composting toilet that will not have to be emptied into an outdoor humanure pile. The pictures you see here show the wagon with a temporary tarp roof–the finished wagon will have a natural canvas roof. As you can see, we still have lots to do in the 4 weeks we have left!

I am a beginner builder, and my partner is handy but also inexperienced. I hope that readers with limited funds and experience will be inspired by our project. You can read our blog,, to follow the project and glean ideas. Anyone can build a tiny house!

Thanks Libby for sharing your story and I look forward to seeing the completed schooner.

14 thoughts on “Contemporary Prairie Schooner”

  1. We weighed the wagon as it is now at the local dump, and we came up with an unloaded weight of about 420 lbs. We have some doubts about the accuracy of their scales, but that’s the best number we have right now. You can see our trip to the dump here:

    I’m not sure this is what you’re looking for on the tires, but they are 12″ tires with 5 lug wheels.

    • The canvas roof is definitely a weight saver. As an added benefit, you can open it up during the mild weather and have flow through ventilation. Well done.

  2. Great work for a beginning builder. Like Russ I do wonder about the rig’s weight and the trailer. But the design is very nice.

  3. you will catch a lot of wind when you tow and it will be hard on your vehicle . see if you can find some load rated trailer tires or some ten plys ,if you blow a tire you could roll your trailer.

  4. Libby and Tristan—-

    It looks wonderful, I wish you good luck and all good things on your cross country travel.

    Some of the posters here are undoubtedly more informed than I about what’s required. I know you are eager to leave (and pressed for time) but you may want to try a day or two shake-down cruise to discover anything you forget or anything that may not work as planned.

    No matter, the idea and goals are much to be admired. Thanks for the post!

  5. Nice craftsmanship & thrifty idea. I live in Northern Maine at the end of 95.
    I actually saw a couple in a similar wagon- being pulled by a horse. They seemed to be traveling, and
    did stay in a home for a while.
    The man was as big as a mountain and wearing a kilt. Maybe they were on the way to the Scottish games in nearby Nova Scotia.
    Enjoy your adventure.

  6. I would rather have a hay burner than an oil one, like the last post pulling one of these. Impressed with the design and like very much. Good luck.

  7. As mentioned above, careful w/ those little 12 in. tires. Keep in mInd the number of revs those small wheels make to keep up w/ your 14-15 in. car tires. Summer temperatures really put a lot of stress on small trailer tires at freeway speeds.

  8. Hi everyone. Thanks for the comments on our wagon. A lot of you are concerned about the tires on the trailer, so I wanted to let you know that we just took a 50 mile (100 mile round trip) test drive, and the trailer performed very well. The tires are rated as safe up to speeds of 55mph, and we have no desire (and probably no ability) to exceed that speed. Hope you’ll stay tuned!

  9. So how did it work out? Did it tow well? Ive wondered about these because of the light weight my car can only tow a 1000lbs too. I considered a Tiny travel trailer sort of like a teardrop for camping in but standing up is so nice lol.

  10. It’s sad that so many people need to do this that are working while the non-workers demand larger subsidized housing….New normal


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