When people ask about my half-finished tiny house, I’ve sometimes joked that it was right next to the checkout. While that’s a slight exaggeration (it was on Craigslist), this was an impulse purchase. Early signs of shoddy construction were clear but I was going to buy it anyway, so why ruin the moment with an investigation of uncomfortable facts?
It was worth it, too, because this caboose gives me that powerful feeling of being reconnected to a younger self. I was an indoor kid with big ideas, who firmly believed that reading The Boxcar Children and My Side of the Mountain were preparatory research. I’ve always loved weird building projects, and studied children’s den cultures. But this? This one is mine. Even better, it’s parked in my friend Erin Davis‘s back yard.
She has a complicated history, as a French Canadian school bus dressed up as a caboose, then put on a trailer and made into something approaching a home. But there’s no stove hookup, toilet or electricity or water… Not yet, anyway! People tend to blink at all this, and then laugh. There is something absurd, and even freeing about the poor workmanship I’ve inherited. It really takes the edge off worrying about my own DIY skills, which in turn makes the whole thing a lot more fun.
There was another moment of unexpected familiarity, when my parents came up to take a look. It was deep winter, and everything had moved in transit so that one door wouldn’t open and the other wouldn’t close. Snow had blown in and was standing in deep drifts, but the red paint remained bright and optimistic. Erin fetched a broom, then she and my Mum swept out the snow and chatted. Dad walked around saying ‘hmm’ behind his mustache, making calculations in his head. Little Asa sat cross-legged on the floor moving his palm across the patches of sunlight. It all happened so quickly, so smoothly, that I started to laugh. There was that feeling of warmth and busyness, of everyone quickly finding a role they wanted, that reminded me of nothing so much as a good adventure playground. And me? I was on the edge, of course, taking notes and feeling a deep fondness towards them all.
This is a play project, if ever there was one. I go up there for a couple of days at a time, puttering around with a tool bucket usually stocked with hammers, crowbar, drill, trashy vampire novel and a half-bottle of bourbon. These are all lessons I’ve met before, in supporting children’s play, but we learn things more deeply when they happen to us.
- Play can be super frustrating sometimes. I’m learning an enormous amount, but that is definitely not the point.
- I feel a little giddy when people come to visit, especially now that I’ve got a bit more done and it feels ‘mine’. It’s so easy to begin that monologue of ‘here’s the seat and this is how the bed folds out, and here’s my shelf with all my things…”
- My fort is an awesome place to read novels and eat snacks
If you want to see more, there’s an album on Facebook. If you want to visit, let me know! If you’d rather read a super interesting article on the US history of mobile living, which also explodes those ‘trailer trash’ derogations, check this out!