As I mentioned back in August, I bought a 1947 Spartan Manor and contracted with a renovator to bring it back to life. It arrived in September, when I realized that what I thought would be nearly done was still several months of work from finished. But I had it in my posession finally, and I had the time, so I got to work. Nights after dinner. Weekends. Lots of friends helped. I did most of the work, though, alone. A labor of love.
I installed a skylight, a wood stove, a zinc countertop and a sink. I turned an Ikea Kallax shelf unit into a storage bed, and joined a reclaimed tabletop with some folding brackets to make a folding table. I cut ikea mattresses up to fit the weird-shaped storage bed in the back room, and made new covers for the pieces. I put in two new ceiling lights and installed a composting toilet, and turned a galvanized feed trough into a shower.
One big job I couldn’t tackle myself was the solar power. For that I had an expert, Ryan Wallace from Qwiksolar in Geneva, who was willing to lend his know-how. We designed the system together, based on the estimated loads and given the room I had in the back of the trailer, under the back bed. And now I can be totally off the grid. Or rather, their grid. I have my grid, right here.
In the last week in October, I finally moved in. A friend came forward and offered a nice little meadow on his farm. It’s as close to the middle of nowhere one could get and still be a five minute bike ride to downtown. There are lots of birch trees, which reminds me of the Rockies (where I’ve been) and Siberia (where I’ve only dreamed of going). There are deer, and wind that rips across the adjacent corn field, promising to test my insulation and constitution this winter. There is a pond, and trails, and not a street light for a couple thousand feet in every direction. The night sky is a joy. The trailer is designed to be an astronomer’s refuge; all the lights are two position, with both white and red LEDs. So at night I can protect my night vision, or play submarine. I can check the sky conditions by just looking up and out of the skylight.
My main heat source is a small wood stove made by a company in Michigan called Fatsco. The stove is called the Midget. Don’t blame me, I didn’t name it. Fatsco has been around since the early 1900s. Apparently their line of wood stoves, all of them different degrees of small (one is called the Pet, the other the Tiny Tot), were designed for the back of milk delivery trucks, to keep the milk from freezing on the journey. Anyway at some point boat owners started using them for their cabins and they have been in business ever since.
I designed the layout based on some basic measurements the renovator gave me of the shell. We were really starting from scratch. It was reduced to the steel frame, wheels, aluminum skin, windows and doors. The inside was a clean slate. I neither wanted (nor could I afford) to reproduce the original 1947 interior. The Spartan Manor had a lot of closets (which is nice) but not a lot of people space (which is not). I left it as open as I could. Spartan was an aircraft company, trying something novel to stay afloat in the post-war demobilization, so narrow walkways were common for them. I wanted it to be more open; the galley and the observation deck (these are Spartan’s original terms for their divisions) is one open space. I wanted it to feel roomy and modern, and yet I wanted to reference the original design, which is why the doors have round portals, and the wood is birch, just like the original.
I’m having to relearn much of daily life. There are big differences. The water is just a single hand pump in the galley, and it comes out one temperature, which in this season is cold. That makes doing dishes difficult, which is changing how I cook and eat. But I like the challenge. I want to live differently. With less of a footprint. (250 square feet to be exact.) With greater simplicity. Less to own, less to burden me. Save money. Save the earth. Live by my wits. If I want to stay warm, I have to chop wood and feed the stove. Or, bake apple pies.
The light during the day is great. Spartans have a lot of windows, and the skylight adds a ton of natural light. The above images were taken with natural sunlight only. On Sunday I had some friends over for brunch, the first of a series of trailer-warming parties. (I’m spreading them out over some weeks, having just a few people over a time. Not much room for more!) Before they arrived, I baked some apples pies (the only pie I make), which is my way of saying “I live here.” It felt good. I’m eating that pie right now, and thinking about my next post, which will be about Interstellar and good science fiction.
It’s not just an astronomer’s refuge, but a writer’s.