Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Our new project - a vardo!

We really loved visiting Yosemite. Hard to believe some place that beautiful and breathtaking is so close to the busy city we live in - we're so fortunate! Every curve in the road gave us a new view of something incredibly stunning:

The hard part for us was driving back to our hotel each evening -- it's quite pricey to stay in the park hotels, and any hotels nearby are also really expensive, although we wish we had been able to get a room close!  As it was, we stayed in a city about 1.5 hours away, so although the drive was nice enough, it meant we had to leave earlier than we would have liked to, and by the time we got back to our room, we were beat.

We want to go back, but next time, we'd like to be able to spend more time wandering and exploring, and with Dale's medical problems, he can't go for long periods of time - it would have been great to take a break part way through the day to stop and relax, before going back out to explore more.  We talked about getting a travel trailer - I've loved the idea of campy, gypsy-style trailers and we helped my daughter work on hers (although it's not done, yet!).  So we thought we'd look for a fixer, since we like a good project, and we're kind of picky about how we want things done.  I wanted one small enough for just the two of us, but something we could pull with our truck and leave at a campsite.  We started checking craigslist, but only found "fixers" for about $3000 -- we wanted to spend around $500 since we knew we'd be doing lots of modifications and changes.  Dale had mentioned earlier that we should just build one (or more to the point, why don't we buy a junk one, tear it down and then just build it all over again?) -- so one morning a few weeks ago, I got looking at "home-made gypsy trailers" - and ran across a whole bunch of amazing photos and instructionals and tutorials, and oh dear, that did it!

The two main kind we liked were bow-top caravans like this:

 (I love the over-the-top painting on this one!  We plan on doing things like this for ours.)

and wagon-style vardos like this:

We decided to do something like this, but along the lines of a "ledge" style wagon -- it starts off with a small footprint, then has a ledge to expand the size --

This is from an amazing project - the frame is welded 1x1 square tubing, which is beyond what we want to do - but the basic shape is what we like.

We also like the cupola on the top, or what gypsy wagons call a "mollycroft roof."  It's a place to add some windows to brighten up the interior, which looks a little dark because of the small windows. In the picture to the right, the large opening is going to have a bay window inserted, which makes the opening appear much smaller when it's finished ---

These are built on a utility trailer.  We started looking for one of those on Craigslist, and new they run around $1200 -- we still wanted to stick with our $500 starting price, knowing we'd be throwing all kinds of money at it in wood and other materials.  So we looked at Harbor Freight trailers, read up on the pros and cons, and decided to go for it.  The trailer was on sale at Harbor Freight for $369, and we had a 20% off coupon, so for under $300 we had our start.

We began by assembling the trailer -- which took us a couple of evenings.  Crawling around on the floor is not so fun and neither one of us can do that well, but we got it put together.

 A zillion bolts, wires, nuts and bars - it weighs about 250 pounds now that it's done.  We are shooting for keeping it under 1500 lbs, the closer to 1000 the better.

I sprayed the frame black, so it won't have that Harbor Freight red/orange look.  I didn't spray the center bars, since they'll be under the vardo and it would be pointless, but I got all the showing parts black. 

This week, we worked on building a platform. We decided we'd extend the back side a little to add a 2' long deck, mostly for being able to get into it, and to set things on in camp.  The bed of the trailer as it comes is 4 x 8, which is the size of a sheet of plywood, which seems really little when you think about putting a bed, a kitchen and a dinette in it!  But it will grow fast enough.

I made a mock up cardboard model so we could talk about some of the features and have an idea on how to proceed:

I want a rounded top to the door, Dale wants the mollycroft, and you can see how small the deck will be.  The outside will be covered with tongue and groove boards, and the inside will have smooth walls.  Insulation is a necessary beast - both for keeping the camper warm in the winter, but also to keep it cool in the summer.  so we insulated the platform before building on top of it:

We're using two layers of foil-backed styrofoam sheets, with one side facing up and one foil side facing down.  the uninsulated part is what will be a deck.

Keeping in mind that all materials are adding weight, we're working our best to keep both costs and weight down. 

We would love to get the basic box built this week, although I am leaving to teach in Tennessee on Friday, and then I'm off to Indiana for a week, so Dale will be on his own. I don't know if he'll be able to make any progress without a helper to hand him stuff and hold things in place, so we may not make much progress until the end of July when I return, but we're not in a big rush.  It's fun to think of all the things we have to figure out -- the floor plan, the colors, the process -- we do love a good project.  Hopefully, we'll make good progress!
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