We took my boho vintage horse trailer turned camper out to the Black Rock Desert in mid December for a fun little get away. The playa itself is too wet to drive on in the winter, so we found a great spot in the hills to the west overlooking the ancient dry lake bed. There is something so peaceful about visiting the Black Rock area during the off season, and there are so many places to explore. Since 90 percent of our 2020 weddings postponed or cancelled, we had a ton of free time on our hands, so we took several trips to the remote Northern Nevada area throughout 2020. It was the extreme version of social isolation while still being able to get outdoors, hike, and explore, a win-win for our sanity last year!
Since I had recently painted the outside of the horse trailer as a project to keep me busy during the Covid-19 quarantine, we also decided to do a photo shoot! I am super excited that it will also be included in a book project this year! I don’t want to say too much now, but when the book gets published, I will update you with the details!
You may be wondering what motivated me to turn an old horse trailer in to a camper. About 15 yers ago, my mom, Marthakay, had the crazy idea of turning one of my parents’ huge cylindrical metal water tanks into a Gypsy cart inspired guest room on their property in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She got the idea after I leant her the book Home Work: Handbuilt Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, which has a whole section called On the Road and includes photos and stories of funky Hippie homes on wheels and what most people would describe as Gypsy wagons. (I recently learned that the term “Gypsy” is considered a derogatory word referring to Romani people who migrated from India centuries ago, so I have decided to call my horse trailer a boho wagon instead.) My mom began collecting crazy quilts and all sorts of things she wanted to decorate it with. She was a creative, hand-stitch quilter, and her first version of a Gypsy cart was a small “quilt” wagon that she sewed and filled the inside with miniature pots and pans and other on-the-road items. Sadly, she passed away in 2012, and never created her life-sized water tank whimsical escape. And sadly, I can not find the little quilted cart that she made. I did, however, find the quilt that she made as the “ground,” complete with a stream and garden for the imagined travelers. After she passed away, I also found her crazy quilt collection, so I have a few of my favorites that I can now add to my boho wagon.
My mom’s unrealized dream project inspired me to make my own wagon, but instead of a traditional wood wagon, I had the idea of converting one of those cute, vintage horse trailers that started popping up all over as traveling bars! So I started looking for horse trailers in early 2019 on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. The key for me was to find one in relatively good condition that was also air tight because I wanted to camp in it at Burning Man. There are some serious dust storms out there, so finding one with windows and doors that could seal tight was important. Most of the older trailers that were in my “fixer upper” price range had open air doors and sides, rusty parts, and questionable tires! After a few months of looking, I finally found this 1976 Haynes Walk Thru horse trailer at the end of July 2019, and began to fix it up and decorate it for it’s maiden voyage out to Black Rock City that year. The inside was pretty immaculate, and according to the person I bought it from, it had not been used to transport horses since the 1980’s! My dad, Stephen, welded the frame for the bunk bed, fixed the floor boards and made me a little ladder to get up in the bunk. My husband, Scott, rewired the brake lights for my safe travels. I cut and stained some patterned wood trim to cover the old aluminum window frames and stained the new floor. The windows themselves are original, and since I love the aqua sea glass color, this is a bonus detail that I love about this trailer!
People kind of thought I was nuts to bring a metal horse trailer to Burning Man because they thought the metal would be way too hot for the desert! Well, I don’t party all night and sleep all day on the playa, so it was perfect for my needs. At night, the metal actually cooled it down to a pleasing temperature to sleep in while several of my other camp mates had to get out of their regular trailers to sleep in lounge chairs because they retained too much heat from the day … no generators in our camp, so no AC for them.
I decorated the inside with a lot of family heirloom items: my mom’s guitar, old family photos of my great, great grandfather, Jacob Goldberg, and my great grandmother Zelda’s post cards from the early 1900’s that he sent to her from around the world. You can see the dates 1904 and 1907 on the postcards in a few of the images below. I also displayed some fo my mom’s old books dating from the 1800’s and early 1900’s, which include Rebecca, Count of Monte Cristo, and Don Quixote. The pewter animal head shot glasses were a wedding gift to my parents. I got a few other things like the floor rug tapestries, a wooden coat rack, the piano stool, and a wooden drawer from my dad’s house ( he is a hoarder who likes thrift shop bargains, so I can find almost anything I can think of at his house, lol!) The last things I needed was furniture for my costume storage and I found the antique radio cabinet for $1, and the early 1900’s trunk on the sidewalk for free in my neighborhood. When I knocked on the door of the neighbor to make sure the trunk was on the sidewalk for donation, they told me it’s history … it came across the Atlantic with their great grandmother …. and it still had a few of her baby clothes and knitted socks inside when they gave it to me! I got the smaller wood chest at the Santa Cruz flea market many, many, many years ago. The Santa Cruz flea market was the main weekend activity of my family growing up.
Just a few more details about the trailer … I had originally named her Delilah Rose, but after I finished painting her this past December, I decided to change the name to Wandering Star ll , named after my 98 year old grandfather Harry’s sailboat that he built up from the base of a fiberglass wineglass hull when I was growing up as a kid. My family heirlooms add unique character and charm to this project, so I wanted to honor more of my family history as well … He named the boat Wandering Star based on the song from the old musical Paint Your Wagon …. Lee Marvin sings, “ I was born under a wandering star ….” so I feel like my little horse trailer has that same spirit of adventure when we bring her out to the remote desert! You will see the name painted on the back, and the “BRC” stands for Black Rock City, which is what is created by the Burning Man gathering ( it is not a festival, lol! )
Also, a few more technical things about the trailer itself … My husband didn’t rewire the interior lights, so I just use little battery operated twinkle lights as the light source at night. And then if I want to read, I just use a head lamp. There is no potty, shower, or stove built in to the trailer … I have created an outdoor kitchen on one side with our Coleman stove that fits perfectly on the wide double wheel fender.
One of the things I love about this trailer is being able to have the back doors wide open during nice weather. And another thing that I love about it is that it actually also has a full size “ walk in” door, which most small, vintage horse trailers do not have, they only have half doors that open for putting hay inside. The name plate even says Haynes Walk-Thru … I of course included a few detail images of the original name plates which are on both sides of the trailer.
The original wood panelling inside is beautiful! And I kept the bumper pads because I just like the way they look. Also, birds are part of my life, I had a Blue headed Pionus Parrot named Daisy for her 17 years of life, so the stencils of the blue birds kind of pay homage to her. The gray and black mockingbird represents a very meaningful mockingbird who visited me many times right after my mom died and I swear it was a messenger from her! And the black bird represents a crow, which is the special bird that my sister Nanette feels is the connection with our mom.
I sure do wish my mom could see it, I know she would want to climb right in and spend the night too!
And lastly, here is the quilt that my mom made for her little wagon … the blank brown spot is where the wagon would sit. And she even made a tiny crazy quilt that would be the perfect picnic spot next to the wagon! And the last image is me with some of my mom’s crazy quilt collection before I began my horse trailer project.