Monday, December 31, 2012

Hobo Seen Moving House on Wheels

The transition from hoboing to modern, "civilized" home dwelling has been a gradual and ongoing process.  On November 1st, I handed over the cash and accepted the deed to my property on the impoverished Southside of Richmond.  The local convenience store did not have any champagne, so I celebrated with the "Champagne of Beers" instead:

This was the first step in the transition to tiny house life- moving from the streets to a regular parking spot that I actually legally owned.  The first night there in the back of my truck was pretty warm (40 ounces of High Life provides good insulation!), but November seemed determined to disprove global warming and I was forced to reevaluate my sleeping quarters.  I did own a 1400 square foot house, but to be truthful, I was a little creeped out by the thought of sleeping in a 1920s vintage structure that could probably be rented for horror movie sets.  But after one night of sleeping in its balmy 34 degree quarters on a luxurious 2-inch cot mattress instead of a flimsy foam pad, I was ready to commit to being "home-bound".

Its hard to feel like you're actually living in a home though when the light switches fail to illuminate at night and the furnace hasn't seen a drop of oil in years.  I was anxious to get electricity and water (keys to the modern age, right?), but the quote I received was going to be over $6,000 to lay water and electric lines 100 feet underground.  And that was factoring in me digging the trench!

So, over the next several weeks I kept warm in the evenings by digging, foot by foot.  Finally, sometime after Thanksgiving, I found an electrician that would install the 30-amp receptacle for my tiny house and a couple 15-amp GFCI receptacles for $1100, a price I could live with.

Around the same time, I manned up enough to enter the extensive but very cramped crawl space under the big house in search of my water inlet.  After getting stuck several times and wiggling through much dust and animal droppings, I returned to the entrance where I noticed a thin black pipe connected to a section of copper that was then connected to CPVC that appeared to be going up into the bathroom wall.  I had found a similar section of black plastic pipe while digging my trench.  Slicing into it with a pair of pipe cutters confirmed that I had indeed found my water line.  No need to hire a plumber!  After a trip to Lowes and a Saturday afternoon, I had a functioning water spigot ready for my tiny house to hook up to!

Thus, it was about time for my tiny home to take its first trip down the road.  I scheduled a pick-up rental from the guys over at Commercial Enterprise and got to work on trimming branches from the willow oak at Betty's to give my house enough clearance to exit her backyard.  On the second Saturday in December, my dad and younger brother, John, came down to Chester to assist.  We hitched it up, attached the license plate, and off we went, rolling through the suburbs to the big city!

I love trailering (yes, that was part of the motivation for building a house on wheels), and this structure was a dream to tow, but I'll shut-up and just let the pictures tell the story.  I will say that most of the suburbanites out driving paid little attention to it and seemed to block the tiny house from their vision.  As I approached my neighborhood though, I saw a grizzly-bearded old timer with a brown bagged liquor bottle in his left hand look up, spot a house rolling towards him, and start grinning and nodding his head in agreement!

Hitching Up

Winner of the license plate contest: Eric K.!

Maneuvering in the tight back yard

Squeezing my house around Betty's

Will it make it?!


On the road!

Waiting for Dad and John to catch up

Road trip!

Turning into the alleyway

Sneaking behind my neighbors' houses

On site!

Maneuvering into position

 Am I completely transitioned from the hobo life to home dwelling?  No, far from it.  I just hooked up the gas yesterday, took my first HOT SHOWER!, and am still working on shelving, keeping my water lines from freezing, and building stairs, etc.  As a lot of people have pointed out, tiny life is very different from how most live.  It blends modern conveniences such as electricity and running water with old time chores such as disposing of waste and hand washing dishes.  Its not for everyone, but for this hobo, its just dandy :)  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Property Search COMPLETE!

Okay, I'll admit I've been shying away from posting anything new about the tiny house for the past few months.  This has mainly been due to the fact that it still hasn't found a home, meaning I've been hoboing it for a while.  To bring everybody up to speed, I did finally find a property in Southside Richmond, and I did sign a contract to purchase it September 5th...

Well, September 5th came and went, but the title work for the seller still wasn't complete.  Week after week went by, and I still didn't have a deed in hand.  It was frustrating being in a sort of limbo- committed to a piece of property, cash in hand, but unable to take the last step that would make it mine.  But, as this project has taught me time after time, patience pays off.  I was finally able to close on the property last week and am now a full-fledged land owner!

Its not the greatest neighborhood, and I need to do a lot of work before its ready for my tiny house to move in, but it feels great to finally have a spot where I can pull in for the night and know its mine.

Now that I actually own property, I'm frantically trying to work through all the issues that come with ownership.  First on the agenda is finding a contractor that will lay water and electric lines from the existing house to the back yard where I'll hook up my tiny house.  Searching for skilled labor is a good reminder of why I've chosen to learn how to build my own house in the first place.  The first handyman I talked to wasn't a certified electrician, so most of the conversation consisted of him asking technical questions such as "Well, I don't know, would the electric have to be grounded separately?" or "I don't know, you might have to use bigger wire to account for voltage drop...", to which I would respond, "Hmm, I'm not quite sure..." while thinking "I called YOU so I wouldn't have to worry about finding the answers to these questions myself!".

I've set up an appointment with a large plumbing and electric contractor, Michael and Sons, in the hope that they can take care of everything.  Chances are, they'll be expensive, but with winter rolling in, it would be nice to be cozied up in my own house with working water and power.  Once that project is done and I take down some trees and an old shed, I'll be ready for the big move!

P.S. Sorry I don't have any pictures of the new property...I don't make it back there before dark and its not the snazziest looking place.  But, during my travels I stopped by Greenfront Furniture in Farmville and found this little bench that's the perfect size for my Great Room!

Down the road at the Wholesale Electric Company I picked up a handsomely crafted sconce for the bathroom:

I have a continual list of projects to work on, so if you'd like to stop by for a day and help out, let me know!  Burn barrel and beer may be involved :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cedar Red House

Things are rolling along at the tiny house- rolling too fast in fact to keep House for a Hobo up to date!  But, I did want to share a pic of the outside, freshly stained with Sikkens Red Cedar!  It went on kind of chocolate/gumbo brown color, but turned out a very rich cedar color.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hobo for a House

My last post was titled "The Final Push", but let me tell you, I've had to do quite a bit since then, and there's no sign of it letting up anytime soon!

To start, I moved out of my rental house June 1st and temporarily "moved into" my tiny house.  I was still busy with construction of course, but on top of that I was preparing for my California trip in eight days, so it was really just a spot to lay down for a few hours each night.

"How was California?" you ask?  AWESOME!!!  I had a great time, trekking 250 miles through the desert, and 225 miles into the Sierras, for a total of almost 500 miles in 24 days.  In the process, I got to do most of the John Muir Trail (considered one of the most scenic trails in America), and hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental U.S.!  Plus, I saw tons of states I had never been to before by traveling Greyhound from one side of the country to the other and back.  All in all, it was a great trip, and very inexpensive.

If they can build a stone shelter at 14,000 ft, anybody can build a tiny house!

Now, remember that I had said I had moved out of my rental before leaving for this trip.  That means that I no longer had an address, or anywhere to legally call "home".  In effect, I was back to hoboing.  During my trip, I decided that, unless something else came up, I was going to get serious about buying a place to park my house so I could move in.  When I got off the trail July 5th and made it into Reno, I called up a lady I knew who works as a Realtor on the side and gave her the details of what I was looking for.  While waiting in the park for my next bus to take me back East, I saw an elderly lady talking to some homeless people and giving them candy.  A couple minutes later, she walked over to me and started sharing her faith testimony.  We talked for a while about Jesus and faith, and she told me that "Everything's going to be alright" and then invited me to a dinner in the park later that evening.  I realized that she thought I was homeless and thought about correcting her until I realized that wait, I am homeless!  So what did I do instead?  I enjoyed a delicious chicken and rice dinner by the river :)

Back in Virginia, I found that not having anywhere to go after work most days greatly increased the amount of time I have to work on the house.  Since I've been back, I've painted walls Vanilla Ice Cream white (can you tell what I've been thinking about?), polyurethaned the window interiors, installed trim around the windows, started on baseboard and chair rail, finished polyurethaning the floors, clad the cabinets with wormy maple, and, one of my favorites- installed the kitchen sink and faucet!

The color I chose for the trim is "Whipple Blue".  I was looking for something that would add some lively color to the rooms; sorry I don't have any good pictures of it, but let me know what you think of the color scheme!

My realtor has yet to provide me with any prospective buys (in fact I haven't heard from her in weeks), so I'm mostly shopping by myself right now, but hopefully I'll find something before too long.  For now, I guess its rather fitting that a hobo wouldn't actually live in his own house, right?     

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Final Push

* Caution: The following  post is picture dense.  Images contained may cause tiny house envy.

Wow, after a four day weekend, I think I'm actually ready for the work week- just so I can have a brief break from house building!  Its been a tiring last two weeks, what with planning my Pacific Crest Trail trip and hosting two work weekends.  But, as of last night, all of my "major materials" projects on the house are complete.  And just in time, because as of the end of this month (Friday), I will be moving out of my rental!

What do I mean by "major materials projects"?  These are the things that, well, simply take a large volume of "stuff" to build, such as siding or flooring or drywall.  My current storage capacity includes a little shed attached to the house, a cheap, leaky Walmart tarp covering a pile on the ground, and the house itself.  Since I'll be "camping" in the house next week before my trip to California, it would be really, really nice to not be tripping over boxes of nails and 2x2s in the middle of the night, so I wanted to be done with these big projects beforehand.

The first push was to finish sealing up the exterior by completing that dreaded soffiting project that was rained out last time.  My brother David and his girlfriend Connie generously agreed to come down last Saturday and help out.  After a day of being perched up on ladders and Connie getting gassed out by the fumes from oil-based polyurethane, we had the soffit and gable trim up and the yellow poplar inside coated!

Using the brad nailer on the soffit.  Maybe not the correct way to attach it, but hammer or drill wouldn't fit.

Securing the gable end trim.

Still alive after a long day of work!

My dad and brother Nick arrived on Saturday to help out with hanging drywall.  The plan had been to finish all the drywall, and hook up all of the electric.  Unfortunately, they were only able to stay for the day, but we still got most of the drywall up, and I was able to finish and plaster it over the following two days.  Yes, it took two days to smooth every corner and joint.  I've about had my fill of that task, but at least the drywall putty was a tasty looking pink, kind of like cake frosting :)

Installing electrical box for exterior light

Notching drywall with the keyhole saw

Applying Liquid Nails before hanging the sheet rock

My finger after slicing it on the edge of the roof

Here's a picture of the difference between the unfinished ceiling and the whitewash pickling.  It really brightens up the place!

I'd love to get a coat of paint up and the floors sealed before I move in, but we'll see.  After working on drywall all weekend long, I was able to finish hanging the remainder of the siding under the eaves, and Voila! A new Tumbleweed!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Off to Californy!

Well, its official.  I'm heading to California to do some hoboing (without the house).  I requested a month off in June, and got approval yesterday, so I've purchased my cross-country Greyhound ticket and am makin' plans!

When I quit my old job and switched to a wage position with State Parks, I had a few objectives in mind.  First was to free up time on a daily basis, so I could do more relaxing, reading, hanging out with friends, etc.  Second was to free up time to build my house.  And third, I wanted to be able to take off at least a month to do a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Objectives #1 & 2 are continually "in progress".  Objective #3 wasn't really even started until today, May 18th.  My bus leaves in less than three weeks, on the 8th.

Initially, I figured pulling off a section hike of the PCT would be simple, similar to going out for a weekend hike on the Appalachian Trail (throw some gear in a pack, drive to the trail head, put one foot in front of the other, return).  My brother asked me a couple weeks ago how my planning was going.  I shrugged my shoulders, "Planning?  Not really doing much, other than planning on getting a train ticket to California and hiking to the trail, then buying another ticket back.  Or not."  But as I started reading about the trail some more, I realized that I didn't even know how to get there.  What town would be a good start?  Where to end?  What buses run where?

So, I invested $46 and purchased Yogi's PCT Handbook, a handcrafted collection of trail wisdom from various individuals that have thru-hiked the PCT.  Let me say here that I am glad I did.  By the end of my hike, I think I'll say the same.  Originally, I thought I would hike a section from Oregon to Washington, since I've never been to those states before (that was honestly my only reasoning- I didn't care where I hiked, just that I could claim that my shoes had crossed state lines).  CLOSED.  Not legally, but physically closed to hiking until sometime in the mid-summer.  Most hikers start in Campo at the Mexican border late April/early May, hike an average of 25 miles/day, and arrive in Canada sometime mid-October, not because that's the nicest weather to hike- its the only weather to hike.  Until mid-June, the Sierra Mountains are basically impassable due to snow and ice (a mind blowing concept to this east coast native).

With this knowledge, I've rerouted my itinerary to arrive in Palmdale, California and hike 20 miles to the trail at Agua Dulce, where I'll head north (destination?  TBD).  Why Agua Dulce?  Well, mostly because the name sounds sweet (sorry, I had to), but it also should position me for entry into the Sierras after some of the snow has melted.  Some.  It looks like ice ax and glissading techniques may still be required, but I'll face that challenge another day.

Other challenges:  Its hot in the desert.  Its cold at night, every night.  Bears like human food- not me, per se, but things like Cheetos and Twinkies tickle their taste buds, so much so that sometimes food has to be carried and stored in bear canisters (think giant Nalgene bottle).  Snow is slippery.  And it hides trails.  Cacti puncture stuff.  And, I'm gonna be spending a solid two and a half days on a bus.  Each way.

Why am I taking a bus?  Well, hobos don't exactly hop rides on planes, at least that I or the TSA are aware of.  I've flown to Reno before (my only time flying), and it was cool, but I really didn't get to see anything along the way.  I've never been to any of these states before, so ground travel will give me the opportunity to see some new sites and check places off my list.  Originally, my mode of transportation was going to be Amtrak.  But, as I got closer to departure date, ticket prices started going up, well beyond the reach of my wallet.  Advance ticket purchase for Greyhound cross county: $140.

Yes, after working a low paying job for the past year, and building a house, I am broke.  And, as of right now, I still don't have anywhere to live in my house (its not even finished!).  Some would see this as a terrible time to take a month long expedition.  In some ways, yes, that's true, but the one advantage of having such a small income is that when its gone, do you really even miss it?  Right now, most of my wages are going towards taxes, gas, and rent.  Well, actually mostly just taxes.  I will have bus ticket, gear, and food expenses while traveling, but otherwise, everything else will be limited.  My plan is to move out of my current house at the beginning of June (to where is still unknown.  Walmart.) so I won't have to pay rent while I'm gone.  Insurance, credit card bills, property taxes, etc. I'll pay before I leave.

If you couldn't tell, there's a lot of uncertainty with this seat of the pants trip.  I predict I'll face a lot of challenges along the way.  But, isn't that what hoboing is about?  I can't wait to see all of these new places and once again live simply from just what I can carry on my back.  Thanks to everybody who has supported me in my crazy endeavors in the past, and to those who can spare a minute, please say a prayer for me!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Resources for the Modern-Day House on the Move

In my ongoing hunt to find a home for my house, I've stumbled upon a couple interesting and useful websites: Tiny House Listings and the Tiny House Map.  Tiny House Listings is similar to a lot of real estate websites, except instead of advertising respectable cookie cutter homes in the suburbs, it offers tiny houses for sale and possibly illegal parking spaces for rent!  In addition to such fascinating classifieds, the website hosts a neat little blog on all things tiny housing, including, oh hey! House for a Hobo!  Check out the summary here.

Sweet rides such as this show up on

The Tiny House Map just came out last month, but I think its sheer genius.  The movement to smaller housing has definitely been growing (when I first learned about Tumbleweed and joined their Facebook page last year, they had 24,000 some fans- now its well over 42,000!), but its really hard to gauge how many people have actually taken the plunge from dreaming to making life in a 120 square foot box their reality.  "Not many" appears to be the answer.  Check it out- I'm the only tiny houser in the state of Virginia!

Its interesting to see the distribution of tiny housing across the country.  With a bit of demographic information, one could probably come up with good guesses about what it is that makes people interested in tiny houses, e.g. cost of rent, environmental surroundings, age distribution, etc.  Any theories?      

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Little" Progress, Lotsa Fun

Since the start of this project back in September, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to not have a single team work weekend rained out.  This has been fantastic for me because not only do I get to maximize the working hours of my helpers, it also means that they haven’t wasted a 2.5+ hour drive to Chester.

Of course, this trend wasn’t going to last forever, especially now that spring is upon us.  Last Saturday started out sunny enough, even though the weather man was calling for rain all day.  After having plans needlessly cancelled multiple times due to “possible bad weather”, I’ve gotten into the habit of ignoring the weather and setting out with a determination to enjoy myself no matter what.  Normally it works, but by noon the skies were overcast and a deluge forced my dad and I inside to sit it out while having lunch. 

The rain didn’t really go away for the rest of the day.  I don’t have any pictures of us working under the gloomy, overcast sky because, naturally, we weren’t much in the mood for taking pictures.  The plan had been to work on installing trim and soffit under the roof, a task that I wanted to be done with so that we could move on to more glamorous projects.  So of course I wasn’t too thrilled to have progress slowed by the steady drip of water onto my face and the threat of electrocution from the mixture of water and power tools. 

Sounds like the weekend sucked, doesn’t it?  Well, not really, actually.  I was primed for the rain by last weekend’s backpacking adventure in West Virginia.  It was a similar situation of forecasted rain, sunny morning, wet and dreary afternoon.  When it started to rain while we were on the ridge above Seneca Creek, I could feel the temperature drop and the waterproofing on my rain jacket fail.  I thought “This sucks.  Like, I’m really uncomfortable, and I’d rather just be somewhere warm and dry with somebody taking care of me.”  Then it occurred to me that there was a day (in my “younger years”) when I would have gotten the jollies from such miserable weather, you know, the thrill of "braving the elements and overcoming obstacles".  I decided then that I wasn’t going to let a little discomfort ruin the trip, so I saddled my pack back on and had a great time with some wonderful people in an awesome place!  (I go hiking with a group called Obsessive Compulsive Backpackers, so you know they’re not going to let a little bad weather get them down!) 

So instead of falling into a bad mood because of some drops of rain on my work weekend, I considered everything I had to be grateful for, and my dad and I pressed on, albeit at a reduced pace.  And I had bucket loads for which to be thankful!  My buddy Eric came down Friday afternoon, and we got to spend some time at the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, after which we hit up the taco truck caravan outside, walked out to Belle Isle after dark, made a little fire at El Tiny House and camped out in the “Great Room” (I’m hoping that Eric’s starting to catch on to how AWESOME RVA can be!).  It was great to have both my dad and Eric helping out the next day, and by taking our time, we were able to get some pretty good work done.  And, last but not least, how cool is it to have your own house to duck into when it starts raining?!

Despite some of the problematic weather recently, I have been able to make some progress on the plumbing and the kitchen.  My last update described some of my excitement over finally having running water in the house.  Well, I’ve decided that, for the most part, I kind of like plumbing.  After a little practice, I’ve figured out that, like most things, if you take some time to plan it out and fit everything together properly, the stuff actually has the potential to function like it should!  Here’s some pics of the drain I installed from the kitchen sink, where it connects with the shower drain underneath to make up the “gray water” system:

Also in the kitchen, I have been busy framing up the kitchen cabinets.  My planning on these wasn’t exact (the framing was back ½” too far), but, all in all it looks pretty decent and is really sturdy.  I used 1x4s for most of it, which I screwed together with a “pocket jig” where I wanted to conceal things.  At $15, a pocket jig is another one of those brilliant inventions like the door handle installation kit.  If you couldn’t tell, I like devices that lock things in place so you don’t have any room for error!

Speaking of tools, Mr. Makita, my new hammer drill, started making some knocking noises Saturday when I was cutting out vent holes in the soffit.  It was some tough, rather dangerous work in the rain (the drill got ripped from my hands a couple times- I recommend easing the hole saw into the wood instead of plunging straight down), so I can understand why Mr. Makita may have been a little grumpy, but I decided I had better take it safe and return him to Home Depot before the warranty ran out.  They replaced it with what they said was the last one on the shelf, but when I got back to the house I noticed this:

Ha, dirt on a brand new drill?!  It was obviously a return or rebuilt, and a lot of the parts were dusty or sticking, so I went back to the store once again and picked out a new Milwaukee.  It just drills, doesn’t hammer, but seems to be sufficiently zippy so far.  It did a good job with the pocket jig, so I have some high hopes for this new tool.
As of right now, my game plan is to basically complete the house by the end of this month, move out of my current rental, and, if I haven’t found another home by then, I’ll move the tiny house to one of the local mobile home parks (but before that happens, I still have to finish siding, dry walling, electrical, trim, and painting!).  I have a variety of prospective adventures rapidly coming up in my life, so I’ll keep you all updated as things unfold!

Tiny house under the oak tree on a perfect spring evening