The Lady Loam (Re)Creation Story

Part 2: More than a Fixer-Upper

To catch up on the first part of the series, read Part 1: Big Dreams require Bigger Decisions.

We ate breakfast in the creaky gutted trailer the first month we had it, starting our days by discussing our plans and the placements of things, windows we could reuse and ways we could salvage the existing materials. We loved the general shape of the trailer, and it was easy for me to apply my years of tiny home video research to the house that I now was going to build. I swept all the dusty layers off the flaking plywood floors one morning in a habit of good-housekeeping, and not even 10 minutes later, Isaac and I concluded it was best to rip up the floor and lay new plywood down. Once we began to take apart the little things, we began to see the reality of the situation; “brisket wood” flaked off the floor, holes in the exterior shell, dry rot in the wood spacers holding the walls… a lot to repair if we were going to salvage the existing structure. It was clear that the two previous owners had stalled on redoing the trailer to the point that there was very little left worth reviving. However, doing a full demoloition meant we were signing up to recreate an entire structure; walls, floors, ceiling, wheel wells, the whole thing. It was daunting thinking about all that, but after much back and forth, Isaac and I decided there wasn’t another choice if we wanted still wanted to live in a tiny home by the time I graduate.

So, we took the hard way around. Stage by stage, conducting hours of research and cross reference, utilizing “Youtube University”, stuffing Isaac’s CRV with unsalvagable materials from the original build to dump at nearby parking lot dumpsters. We worked on demolishing the structure weekend after weekend, fitting it into our busy schedules and employing friends to help demolish the once-neglected camper trailer. Once I had the trailer registered in my name, it all really felt real.

Lots of things began changing after I bought the trailer; we had a falling out with a roomate, we went on a big summer trip to Israel, Jordan, and Italy for a month and a half, and we came back to a dirty, empty, hot house in the middle of the Sonoran summer.

In retrospect, we should have been better about cleaning up the area around the trailer. It was still technically in the front yard, and partially visible from the street but a tall solid wall blocked most visability from the street and neighbors. About a week after arriving back in the US, we were written up for a citation from the neighborhood HOA we had never heard of, nor known we were subject to their rules beause it was not in our lease. The city called our hands-off impersonal landlord about there being a loose door laying in the front yard, and the landlord called me directly and yelled at me for 3 full minutes thinking the absolute worse of us and the situation (I had never talked to this man before, nor had any communication directly with him previously). I explained to him our perspective, but he insisted that by next week he wanted no building projects of any sort on the property. Isaac and I did research about the citation, the city’s suggestion for clearing our name, and the house lease. We cleaned up the area and made sure no building materials were visible from the front sidewalk, got a second-hand storage cabinet for outside, and I stood up to our nasty landlord about keeping the trailer on the premises and cited the city and the lease to defend our position. Later, when we met him in person so he could see his property for the first time in 3 years, and he had the audacity to comment about how devoted I was to keeping the trailer (no kidding, it is my future house, and if anything was going to stop me from building it, it would be my own decision!!).

After the business with the citation, we were highly motivated to finish the demo. The demolition process ended with one climactic push - we had worked a full day with our dear friend to remove the windows, metal vents, weaken the wall structure and exterior, and finally we were ready to do the big demo… I stood inside and kicked the front wall, and the whole front part slowly leaned forward, the roof dipping down, supported by Isaac and Brandon from the exterior side. That marked the fall of the old relic, and revealed the foundation of our “new” home.

From there, we sorted the materials into “salvagable”, “trash”, and “donate” and got to work clearing it all out of the yard in one day. We were left with the simplicity that is a flatbed trailer. The steel was in good condition overall; it just needed a few (many) hours of angle grinding to sand down the accumulated crud and rust. Truly the best case scenario; the investment I had bought for $1,200 was worth much more in just the steel, wheel axel, and registration/title alone. Although we were disappointed that we weren’t able to utilize the existing walls and roof, and all that material, we were looking forward to rebuilding it better and exactly to our preferences.

We installed the license plate and some temporary brake lights so the trailer bed was street legal, and spent the next month drafting designs while it was getting fixed up at a specialty break and wheel axel auto shop. Before building on the trailer bed, we needed to have the back beam realigned and have the leaf spring suspension replaced. Once again, our friend with the truck helped drop it off at an auto shop just down the street, and the trailer was worked on for a month. Meanwhile, Isaac learned to use a CAD software on my iPad, and we spent hours discussing everything from the height of the roof to the design and placement of the tiny steel tabs for the wall and how the window reinforcement structures attatch to the steel frame. We tried our best to keep the visual style of the original 60’s camper as we designed the exterior.

This was a huge growth period, as we had to make decisions about the tiny home without an expert, and with very little serious construction knowledge. Not only is this a tiny house, it is also a moving, transportable, and road-safe building. It wasn’t like building a little garden shed. The structure would be moving every week, shaken around, bouncing on dirt roads, and its design must be considered in the event of a car crash. The stakes were high.

We consulted YouTube University, construction forums, and some engineer friends for inspiration and advice. Something that many constructor builders will tell you is that there is rarely only one way to do something. We were embarking on a project where there were millions of options, and the decisions made at the beginning affected the outcome of later building methods as well as functionality while living in the trailer. We joked about how nice it would be if we could purchase a kit with all the plans, measurements, and materials to construct our tiny home that way…

isabelle's painted sky ● Copywright 2023