As the name suggests, this site is about restoring. Specifically, it will detail my efforts to return to glory a 1957 Spartan Imperial Mansion. You may learn a thing or two about such a project, especially from the first-timer mistakes that I will inevitably make. Beyond that, I hope this blog serves metaphorically to illustrate how my recovery from alcohol addiction both fuels and benefits from this project.
When Sparta was built in 1957, there probably wasn’t a lot of thought given to where the T.V. should go. There are so many windows and mirrors that much of the wall space is taken. Add to that Cristina’s artwork and even a flat screen, L.E.D. unit is a challenge to situate. Furthermore, as I set about recreating this trailer, I wasn’t thinking about television and how it should fit into my romanticized, spartan (pun intended) lifestyle.
Soon after moving in the debate began. I wanted the big 40-incher (otherwise I can barely read the subtitles) and Cristina preferred the less dominant 2-footer.
There was also the issue of location. I wanted to view in the Observation Lounge and Cristina lobbied for the bedroom. But there is no freakin’ way to put a large screen in the boudoir. So what to do. That’s when I got to thinking about projection. Like everything else these days, miniturization has arrived in projectors and screens have always been collapsible. BINGO!
Granted, this arrangement only works well in the dark, but it’s usually late by the time we get around to watching Netflix. For TV news, the little LED is our living room compromise.
A domestic crisis averted thanks to the wonder of technology.
You may recall that our first heat-wave in early June necessitated a quick installation of my 12v ceiling vent fan. Without taking the time to do a proper install it looked tacky.
Furthermore, the unit was noisy, having been designed to supplement a car’s radiator cooling where engine noise was presumed to drown out its racket. So I bought what’s called a potentiometer – a fancy word for a controller that adjusts current and therefore fan speed. I also bought a reverse polarity switch so that when needed I could change the fan’s direction, bringing air in, not pushing it out.
After several attempts, I could not get the reverse polarity switch to work. I kept blowing fuses. So I abandon that effort, settling for variable speed – a good solution for now.
I also built a crude birch wood grate to give a more decorative touch to the whole thing. Have a look:
So with my catering business back on ice, I can devote more time to improvements on Sparta. The original trailer came with a headboard – really just a birch frame with a thin piece of padded vinyl in it. We decided on an upgrade. Cristina picked out a nice fabric tying into our burnt-orange theme and I ordered some foam and assembly was easy.
Meanwhile, my daughter delivered a custom-made table top utilizing exotic woods from around the world. Beautiful! I ordered a basic pedestal from Webstaurant Store and assembly was a snap.
The above title is misleading. No, we didn’t get married. It’s my feeble attempt at irony. Our first two months on this hilltop have been no honeymoon and, please, this is no knock on Cristina. It’s about the inevitable disconnect between one’s idealized vision of a simpler life (pick one: downsizing, back to nature, reducing one’s carbon footprint, etc.) and the reality of it. Admittedly, this experiment has been undermined by Covid-19. The pandemic has eliminated so many diversions that would have made the past 60 days more agreeable. Can’t go to the gym. Can’t work. Can’t travel. Can’t go to the air-conditioned library. Can’t relax by the pool. OK, you get it. But there are many things about tiny house living that take some getting used to, pandemic or no. Let’s talk about a few for the benefit of anyone contemplating such a lifestyle change:
Poop/pee – This composting toilet has been great. It works as advertized. What doesn’t are those perched upon it. I am having to empty this contraption twice as frequently as promised in the literature for a typical couple. Living proof that I, at least, am full of it.
Waste – What!?! We should be producing less, not more refuse. Nope. Today I will be making my third dump-run since moving in. I am talking about filling up my SUV with bags of garbage, the aforementioned human effluent and cardboard (so much of the latter). It’s gotten so bad that I went to Home Depot and purchased mint-scented garbage bags (I had no idea) to make the 30 minute trip to the Petaluma dump more bearable. Now, granted, certain variables have changed – we’ve switched to compostable plates to reduce dishwashing chores, we’ve had many Amazon deliveries and the associated packing material to outfit our new home (and sheltering-in-place retail) and I thick pandemic-induced boredom has increased our food consumption. Also, it probably is due to the fact that incremental, weekly trips to the curb with one’s garbage cans pale in comparison to the monthly barge-load of trash.
Heat – This should come as no surprise but this fucker gets hot! Duh. A metal box with thin foam insulation, single-paned windows and a hilltop setting with no shade. Nice work, Copernicus. It’s been made worse by the fact that I gave my portable A/C unit to my tenants as their central unit broke. Another happy problem that needs my attention. But I have attempted many fixes to deal with the heat – putting reflecting foam in the windows, running my ceiling vents full blast all day (imagine jet engine sound effect) and installing a nifty twin blade three-way window fan. It works best when running one blade out and one in. Push/pull is optimal. These fixes have helped a bit but I have come to realize that tin-can living is best attempted in the spring or fall.
Vermin – I knew mice would be an issue. What I did not know was that Cristina carries some childhood trauma from Brazil involving rodents. I forgot she grew up in a third world country (she hates when I say that). But she is unusually frightened by the cutest little rodents – even gophers, moles and voles. Our troubles in that department have a new twist as we are being told that the rattlesnake hatch was especially prolific this spring. Mices and gophers and snakes, oh my! Never fear, the property comes with pest control.
Our friends have been very effective as we’ve yet to discern any evidence of rodent invasion inside Sparta.
Another great thing about Spartan life is light. There is so much of it. With a total of 28 windows and 6 mirrors, everywhere you look there is something to see – the best of which is the outdoors.
Now I am here to tell you that as much as I enjoy Sparta’s ever-evolving interior, I prefer to spend my time outdoors. In fact, if not for the exterior options to relax, eat, read, sunbathe, etc., one could go quite crazy whilst living in a trailer, even one as large as mine. So making the most of the outdoor space is critical to trailer sanity, particularly if living with another sentient being.
Haven’t felt much like blogging lately. My trailer musings didn’t seem noteworthy with all that’s going on in the world. But, alas, trailer life goes on in my insular sphere and it’s time to check in.
I am happy to report that last night’s strong winds inflicted no damage here. Sparta held fast, nothing important blew away and, most importantly, there are no grassfires in the vicinity. Trailers are often the first casualty of various meteorlogical and man-made catastrophes so this is good.
With the weather cooling and Cristina out of town, I’ve turned my attention to Sparta’s interior where several tasks have needed attention. I have cut and tacked lots of trim here and there too insipid to describe. Also, I finally got around to hanging all of my lights. The biggest challenge was the ceiling can lights. When I installed the can fixtures way back when (over 2 years ago), I had barely a notion about what I was doing. Their locations, depth, size of hole in the ceiling birch, etc. were all just guesstimates. In my usual fashion I just put them in thinking I’d figure it out later and that surely I could buy things to fit. Well, in the world of 12v LED lights it’s not that simple. I could find no inserts that fit my needs, were the right color or that sat flush with the ceiling. I found and bought 5 copper inserts but they were too small for the holes I’d cut.
So these cute little fixtures were the right color but didn’t quite cover my holes in the ceiling. Enter “goof rings”. Yep, that’s what they’re called. Not “can light collars” or “transition rings” or some title meant to assuage the wounded ego of the DIYer. These goof rings are solely designed to cover, well, my goofs. Perfect. All they required was a little matching paint, clearcoat and BINGO.
So, for those of you attempting this at home, just enter “goof rings” in the search field. That would have saved me a lot of time.
I finally hung this old pendant light over the bed. I braided 3 strands of clear lampcord to create a study means of support and power.
I am happy to report I finally got my Excell on-demand water heater working. Sometime between a year ago when I first installed it (it worked perfectly) and earlier this month when we moved in, it decided not to ignite. I did everything – checked water pressure, replaced the batteries twice, cleaned the cold water filter, replaced the drain bulb screw (which I broke whilst tinkering), and finally called the Excell company in desperation. After walking me through all the possible causes for malfunction, they finally suggested I remove and clean the igniter magnet. It worked! Phew! Cristina and I finally took hot showers yesterday evening. Heaven.
Here’s another quickie to mention the heat. Until yesterday, I really had no use for the A/C. But, by 3:00pm when the indoor temp hit 86 degrees it was time to fire her up. Unfortunately I was too late. I was behind the curve. All I could do was turn the A/C towards the bedroom and make that our escape. Today I am prepared. First, a 7:00am trip to Home Depot to buy silver-sided 1/4″ foam (8×4′). Second, I closed all of Sparta’s windows to seal in the cool air. Then, I covered the windows, shiny-side out, on those most exposed. It is 9:10am and 70 degrees in here. Let’s see how it goes before turning on the A/C.
Heat update: It’s going to take some trial and error on this heat management challenge. Unlike a house, which these days has doubled-paned windows and gobs of insulation, Sparta is a metal box with thin insulation and 27 single-paned windows. While it would be nice to seal her up in the morning and trap the cool night air like one does in a conventional home, it does not work here. I have found the best approach is lots of venting. I have to keep the air moving through Sparta, otherwise she heats up like a toaster. The reflective foam paneling is fine, but I have to leave the top louvered windows open and run my powerful ceiling fan.
Yesterday it was more comfortable. I just ran the air conditioner in the early evening to get the bedroom down to a perfect sleeping temp.
It’s been fun to repurpose Sparta’s old light fixtures, some of which didn’t seem to offer much potential. But a little sanding, painting, glue and new 12v hardware and I’m lighting things up around here.
I am glad I wired so many light receptacles way back when. Next, I have to finish the five can lights.
When I set out on this mission to resurrect a trailer and, to some degree, my life I was single. My goals for the project were to immerse myself in constructive activity, create something of value out of almost nothing and have a dwelling for some then undetermined time and place. A side benefit was that it might help keep me sober. This stuff is covered in my blog’s “Bio” and “Welcome” sections. Surprisingly, it all came to pass pretty much as I’d hoped, albeit with a much longer duration and a little twist.
I’m pretty sure my siblings thought I’d lost it when I announced my new acquisition and plans four years ago. Admittedly, when a 60 year old alcoholic buys a forlorn vintage trailer with lofty expectations, it reeks of impending disappointment. The Internet is rife with stories about time and money wasted on such projects, with the sad, half-finished results jettisoned like a toxic relationship.
They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him/her your plans. Sometimes the same applies to friends and family. But, as time went by, I did get encouragement from them. My brother even went so far as to coax me into creating timelines and spreadsheets for marking progress. The doubters became champions.
Their mounting optimism was, I’m sure, taken aback when I got a girlfriend one year into the project. Relationships have a way of undermining, even supplanting, things that were once important. The fact that my love interest lived in Miami and offered the complexity of a bi-coastal romance only worsened their expectations for this project’s completion. When Cristina moved west a year later, I could almost hear the chuckling from the peanut gallery. Picture this: a Rio-bred Brazillian comes to California from a Miami penthouse. She is blond with a pronounced accent and a decidedly urban style. All I was missing was a pig named Albert. So this Green Acres redux, 50 years hence, had to appear comically mismatched. Admittedly, the smart money was on Cristina bailing once she realized my trailer was her new nest.
Well, bringing her onboard wasn’t as simple as all that. I had to make some refinements – call them romance retrofits. Originally, Sparta was to be offgrid – solar, propane and maybe a generator in a pinch. Comfortable luxuries were not high priorities as they generally involve more power than I imagined having access to. But here on my Sonoma County hilltop I am plugged in. And it gets hot here – high 90’s possible – and dusty. That made two things non-negotiable – air conditioning and a washing machine. I wasn’t about to put a swamp cooler on top of my beautifully restored rig, thereby placing it solidly in the “trash” category. So I had to find a portable A/C that could fit inside. Same with the washing machine.
As I have said before, everything you could possibly ever want can be found on the Net. And if it exists, the Chinese make sure it’s affordable. My Danby 12,000 btu A/C and Black and Decker .9 cubic ft. W/M fit the task, both around $300. Of course I had to sacrifice space in my study for the A/C and a large area in the kitchen cabinet gave way to the washer but, what the hell. A little cut here, a new hole in the floor, some pipe and we are now ready for a hot and dusty summer on our hilltop.