Everyone washes and dries clothes. Most of us have early memories of clotheslines and of the simpler times they represent. Even people who don't hang their clothes out have fond feelings for a time when towels hung out on the line smelled like spring.
What is a clothesline? A clothesline can be colorful Amish quilts hanging out on the front porch of an Iowa farmhouse, an old-fashioned skirted bathing suit drying on a rusty nail in a Maine summer house, a long row of dish towels haphazardly hung on a ranch house line, wool socks drying on a steam radiator in a tiny New York walk up, white sheets flapping furiously in a fierce prairie wind that comes just before the rain or blue jeans frozen stiff on a wintry line in Montana.
Hanging laundry on a line is one of modern life's luxuries. It represents time. Time to be alone. Time to think, even to meditate, accompanied by the repeated actions of hanging clothes--stooping, straightening, lifting, hanging, breathing, watching the clouds. There is a spirituality in the simple, positive actions of this everyday activity.
Portable houses are getting more attention today than they've had since the western frontier closed. And this "new nomadism" concept calls for living small, taking advantage of new technologies, and being free to travel.
The idea of a portable house--of traveling while accompanied by our favorite possessions--is endlessly appealing. It starts when we are still children, listening with fascination to stories of pioneers living out of prairie schoolers for months at a time while slowly making their way out West. That sense of adventure does not leave us when we become adults; it just intensifies. The portable houses of today have to be cozy and warm, but they also have to be practical. They must fit with our idea of simplifying our lives, of living lightly on the land, yet must have a technological component. We may want to travel small, but we also want our favorite creature comforts--radio, CD, wireless Internet access, GPS, iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
Folks who enjoy living on the move cut across a broad spectrum--from young people just getting started to retirees following the sun. The portable houses they choose to call home cut across an equally broad spectrum--from old steel shipping containers to shiny Boeing jets, from vintage trailers to new RVs, from tents, tepees and yurts to floating homes, from remodeled sheep wagons to restored train cars.
While traveling around the country putting together this book, we met so many people who wanted to share their portable home ideas with us. One young architect, Mike Latham, designed a six-foot-square steel-and-acrylic box with a bed on top and storage below. Randy Carlson, who restores Volkswagen campers to their original condition said, "They have such a great demeanor, and they make you take a little more time with your travels." Jay Shafer, an art professor at the University of Iowa, build a tiny, charmingly Victorian home on wheels. It cost just $42,000 to build and used only 4,800 pounds of building materials. Page Hodel learned plumbing and carpentry from do-it-yourself books in order to turn a 1972 International Harvester school bus into a comfortable and road-worthy home.
Jennifer Siegal, associate professor of architecture at Woodbury University in Los Angeles and principal of Office of Mobile Design, has watched this trend develop over the past few years. She says, "You're not bound or rooted to place. It's an idea that goes back to nomads through history. I see our society responding quite well to that due to new technologies, the global economy, and other such factors." Throughout her career she has focused on various aspects of mobile architecture, designing several 40-x-12-fool mobile structures using packing crates and retired shipping containers.
Sisters on the Fly
During the golden age of trailer travel, from the 1930s to the 1960s, Americans found it easier than ever to get away from it all while taking all the comforts of home with them. A new type of vacation was born that combined the adventure and economy of camping without the need to really "rough it."
In the next four decades, however, people began traveling almost exclusively by plane, overflying the national parks and roadside attractions that were a part of their childhood memories. At the same time, motor campers became more utilitarian but less interesting, as wood and aluminum gave way to molded plastic and vinyl.
Now, Sisters on the Fly—the little girls who climbed into the backs of the station wagons pulling their families' Airstream trailers on cross-country adventures—are rescuing these relics from fields, ranches and farms. They are finding vintage trailers through want ads, in junkyards and on the Internet. They are restoring their finds to their original glory and creating comfortable spaces in which to make new travel memories.
"Our motto is 'We have more fun than anyone,'" says Maurrie Sussman (Sister #1) who, along with her real-life sister, Becky Clarke, (Sister #2) are the founding Sisters. They were sitting in a drift boat in Montana one day, happily drinking a glass of wine in celebration of catching an eight-pound brown trout and thought it would be so much fun to share the experience with friends. Maurrie won't say who actually caught that big trout because, "it is a fish tale, you know." She and Becky were taught how to fish by their mother, simply known as Mazie (Sister #4), when they were just little girls. Mazie also taught them the art of telling a really good fish story.
The two sisters started Sisters on the Fly in 1999, a group that soon grew to a dozen members who met in Montana for fly-fishing. That dozen grew to more than 2,000 women all over the United States, in Canada and Australia, each with a vintage trailer and a story about the trailer's history. Many of the rigs are from the 1950s and 1960s, range from twelve to sixteen feet in length, and contain between 100 and 150 square feet of interior space. Models include the popular Shasta, Scotsman, Aloha, Holiday, Aljo and Empire. "We find if to so comfortable to drag our own bedrooms with us," says Maurrie. "After a hard day of fishing and having fun, it is pure bliss to fall into your own featherbed."