“There comes a point in time when we must step out, take a leap of faith, and ground our dreams into a 3rd dimensional reality.” -#InTheField
Six months ago, I committed to my long time dream of building a tiny house on wheels. Five months ago I knew nothing about the difference from a trailer tongue, hitch, jacks, leaf springs to trailer axles. Four months ago, I started heavily searching for a trailer that would be the start to turning my tiny house dream into a 3rd dimensional reality.
The trailer component to a tiny house is like the “meat and potatoes” of a home cooked meal that you’d find in Wisconsin! It is truly the foundation of the house and its structure and condition determine how secure and sound the rest of the house will be. This being said, I knew the laying of a foundation couldn’t be skimped on with the trailer itself. There just couldn't possibly be room for error in getting a cheap, DIY project of a trailer that’s a screw away of popping off and falling apart. Even though it’s my intention to use reclaimed, re-used and recycled products as much as possible for the mobile design studio tiny house project itself, my foundation on wheels simply needs to be solid.
Why wheels and not a tiny house on a foundation, skiis, or atop of water? Tiny houses on foundation can be incredibly charming and cozy, however, they also have a set of codes that need to be met and because they many times don’t have the luxury of much space, they can fall short of those codes, unfortunately being condemned and bulldozed as a result. So we have wheels (!) and wheels allow for a tiny house to essentially become a vehicle. Within this parameter, international, national and local building and plumbing codes don’t necessarily apply to the vehicle. In turn, a tiny house on wheels can allow for more leniency, flexibility and mobility. As a millennial minimalist of sorts, a tiny house fits my current, out of the box lifestyle while aligning with my values, providing a true sense of meaning that’s multi-purposeful and functional.
First thing first, I needed to obtain as much information as I could so I could talk a mad-trailer talk! In all seriousness, I just needed to be able to understand what people in the trailer world were talking about and at the end of the day, use the proper language to make decisions. After speaking with friends and family, I started asking questions and taking notes from experts in the trailer field about the anatomy of the trailer. The measurements of trailers to be legal on the road were also needed if I was going to plan any further with the blueprint of the tiny house; the maximum legal road height on US roads without a permit being 13’6” and 102” wide.
Secondly, I needed to decide whether I would go with a used, new or custom built trailer. Within this big dream world with a tiny house planted in it, I began sketching what my ideal, beefy dream trailer would look like alongside my first set of tiny house plans, aka the blueprint. The dream consisted of being a comfortable 28’ long and 8’4 wide to allow 2” additional space for sheathing and exterior siding, with a GVWR of 14-18k lbs. and bottom flashing of 18 gauge galvanized steel sheets. The custom trailer would have the cross members placed flush with the top of the deck to save on vertical height from floor to ceiling on the interior of the tiny house by insulating inside the trailer and using it as the subfloor. I was most interested in a low-wider so I could build around the wheel wells to combine maximum height and width but was still open to a deck over or utility trailer at the same time.
Additional potentials for specs with possible modifications included:
• deck frame – 5"x2"x.188 tubing fully welded
• tongue frame – 5"x2"x.188 tubing fully welded
• 5/8" threaded rod - 60,000 PSI tensile strength (x8)
• 4' tongue length
And here was my first trailer sketch:
After speaking with a dozen local fabricators and custom trailer manufacturers within the nearest three states, I was beginning to find that unless my budget changed, I was going to have to modify my dream’s foundation. This also included a modification to my sketch of a blueprint that would now be 30' long. In between speaking to fabricators about a custom, I began the search within the market for new trailers.
I remember the time my eyes spotted this brand new trailer that made me all giddy inside --- it was a brand new gooseneck trailer. Aside from the hefty, double digit price tag, photos were taken and my mind started dreaming up all types of possibilities I could do with the gooseneck of the trailer. Talk about some extra space to Be & Love!
Narrowing down on specifics, the search for laying a foundation continued. To be in line with my budget of under $4k for the trailer, I knew I'd have to start compromising, while still knowing 30’ long would be an ideal length for the mobile design studio tiny house. I started weighing pro’s and con’s. Specifically, I hadn’t seen many tiny houses built over 28’ long, so I needed to reach out to others in the tiny house community who had built tiny houses 30’ or longer. I wanted their opinions on whether it’s best to have two or three axles for that size trailer, what’s best for towing, what type of vehicle could be used for towing, what’s best for weight distribution and what's best for the longevity of tires and the trailer itself.
What I learned is that each person and tiny house company has their own opinion, and aside from the trailer basic necessities, each opinion was entirely different! Now knowing there was really no right or wrong way of laying this foundation, I could breathe easier feeling a huge relief. Among the many choices to be made, I was beginning to find it was time to start forming my own opinions, getting specific, while buckling down on some decision making, continuing the move forward!
I decided I would find a salvaged trailer. I began searching Craigslist when I woke in the morning and before bed at night, sometimes multiple times in between throughout the day. I was determined to find something that would fit within my tight budget. I knew it could be done. I called inquiring about ads. I looked at trailers in person. I had friends and family recommending ones they’d hear about. I’d even call junk yards and salvage posts to call me if anything came in. I questioned what determines a good salvage from a bad one with every potential trailer that met my specs and I became very grateful for all the well informed trailer peeps in the area who helped me determine some questionable options along the way. Although frustrated at times, feeling as if I was digging for a needle in a haystack, I just kept my eyes on the dream, taking baby action steps almost daily to move closer to my solid foundation.
Baby steps most days were searching physically for the trailer itself. However, some days were emotional baby steps. I needed to feel as ready as possible to take action on closing a deal when the time is right, so as I was envisioning this, I also knew that I needed to let go of any resistance I had towards moving forward. I could feel the resistance of buying a trailer, knowing it would be a huge startup investment. I set the intention to get a money fund to use towards the purchase of a trailer. So in preparation one week later, I said goodbye to my California license plates. I sold my Honda Civic. Now I was ready, car-less and peddling around on a bike everywhere, and all in. I had a gut feeling that an opportunity for a salvage trailer with my specs and budget would open up quickly.
Like magic, a new post on Craigslist was there matching all my criteria. Check. The man behind the post was real and looking to get rid of his trailer fast. (Background) Check! The trailer would just be a 3 hour drive down to Weston, Wisconsin to look at the possibility of the foundation of my future mobile design studio tiny house.
There before me was a 30’ long, with an 8’x8’ extended gooseneck, 2012 Load Trail trailer. This was the one. It was beautiful. Thoughts began to flood in ---
…The above wheel deck would certainly limit the inside height for additional indoor height but as a gooseneck, I have the option of putting a single story “loft” space within it.
…I would need a ¾ ton or 1 ton pickup or flatbed to tow it, but I could always hire someone to help move it. After all, with my intention on the design mobile studio, I don’t anticipate it moving much after being built.
…As an added benefit, there can be a lot more weight held on the truck and there is more room for error with a gooseneck
...Not to mention, there's more flexibility with a 33% hitch weight.
Between all of these thoughts, a mustache smile nose pin and mad trailer talk that day, I had secretly just learned how to pump air into a tire for the first time ever. That’s right. What do I have myself in for?!
This learning journey I was coming to find would be an epic ongoing process through this project. I’ve always been one to stick to what I know, doing what I know but now that I’m undergoing a project where I have no construction experience, I’m having to learn through doing, moment by moment, and letting go of needing full control. More than the destination of the tiny house itself, it’s this learning, growth and expansion process I think I’m most excited about.
And so, as for now, I’ve been learning a lot about trailers the past few months, more then I’d ever have thought I’d fill my noggin with. I can say that I also love having a target eye for trailers when I drive past them along the highways now. I finally singled in and locked down on one solid foundation that I feel truly happy about. All I had to do now was negotiate, sticking to my budget, and this trailer could potentially have a new, very proud owner.
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