It was the middle of winter in the middle of nowhere. After being fired from my last job on a trail crew in Vermont (long story here) I was living back at home with my folks, and I had just ended an almost 3-month dry spell with work, finally winding up rolling burritos part-time in the tiny kitchen of my area’s most popular Mexican restaurant. I was basically in the same place in my life I had been a year back, when I had dropped out of college to spin pizzas at another restaurant just down the street. But worse: I wasn’t living on my own, I was driving an even older heap of a car (having wrecked the first one), and I had fallen back into the orbit of an on-again, off-again love affair that seemed to be slowly driving me crazy. And I didn’t yet have the full-time hours at the restaurant to distract myself. Something had to change.
Around the same time, I started working for a contractor who specialized in installing wood floors. I wanted the construction skills I knew I would gain; that’s how I justified the pitiful pay and put up with his overbearing personality. But it was tough; he wasn’t patient enough to teach an inexperienced person like me properly, and he would become angry when I made unintentional mistakes. If he had other workers on the site, he would angrily hush us when we tried to talk while working, even about work-related subjects. I did learn how to install wood floors though (see my future post about my floor…)
Between my two jobs, I would search Craigslist for a used cargo trailer. The cargo trailer, for me, posed several advantages over other tiny home options. Unlike a van, vehicle and living space could be detached, so in the even of a breakdown, I could still have living space while my vehicle was in the shop. Unlike a pop-up trailer, it could be insulated for use in all weather, and I could install a small wood stove. Unlike an RV or camping trailer, it was a fully customizable blank canvas. And unlike constructing a tiny frame house on a flat bed trailer, it was already a structurally sound, enclosed box on wheels-perfect for someone with my low level of construction skills (and when I say low, I basically mean zero.) Eventually I found the perfect trailer, a 6×12 enclosed Wells Cargo. Since my vehicle at the time was a 1990 Honda Civic, a tiny toy of a car that would struggle to pull so much as a skateboard, I had to get the seller to deliver-a favor for which I offered him $200 over his asking price for the trailer. I’m not exactly a fantastic negotiator. The only problem was, the day we agreed on for the trailer delivery, I was stuck working late for Floor Guy. We had to finish sanding and coating the new floor in a very fancy, very modern house miles out in the woods. He swore we would be out by 4:30, but as the hours dragged on, I began to doubt him, and he snapped at me every time I asked to leave. Finally, I called my father for a ride home, and we rushed back to the house, heedless of Floor Guy’s griping. We pulled in the driveway to find the trailer seller sitting in our driveway in his truck, in a surprisingly good mood considering we were almost 15 minutes late. I wrote him a check, filled out a bill of sale, and sat down to dinner giddy with excitement.
The next day, I went outside to look at my future house in the day light. It had a small door up front, a fold-down ramp door in the back, but no windows. The floor was rough plywood, painted with peeling black spray paint. The interior walls were covered with scratched, dented paneling painted a hideous industrial grey. There was no ventilation-the small vent on the roof had been blocked off-and no insulation of any kind. The trailer’s frame was made of metal ribs covered in a thin aluminum skin. The mostly-metal composition of the trailer later became my nemesis; it was impossible to attach anything securely to the wall without drilling into the metal frame. I broke many drill bits due to a combination of impatience and inexperience. But that was still a long way off; for now, the trailer was doomed to sit for almost a month, waiting for warmer weather and for me to summon the courage to pick up my (newly inherited) set of tools.
TO BE CONTINUED