"Alternative Lifestyle"

by Dorothy Ainsworth

My brother Leonard was a devoted but comically unconventional single father with two teenaged sons. He worked as a consultant for city and private water departments as a chemical engineer on call, and he traveled a lot.

Brother Leonard
Leonard or Tom Selleck?

On one such three-month assignment, his supervisor encouraged him to stay on the premises of the huge stockyard where he worked as a water-quality inspector by day and a watchman at night. The grounds had an office with bathroom facilities and a shower.

Since it was summer, and the kids were out of school, Leonard thought of a brilliant idea for the housing situation and acted on it without hesitation.

Leonard entertaining his sons
Sons Dwain & Tim

He bought three little 16-foot self-contained travel trailers cheaply ($300 apiece in the Nickel Want-Ads), towed them one by one into a shady corner of the yard, and set them up pow-wow style...in a circle with all the doors facing the campfire. Each brave had his own private realm of being, but the chief could keep an eye on things.

It worked unbelievably well. His son, Tim, 17, decorated his bachelor pad with rock star posters and practiced his guitar constantly. His other son, Dwain, 13, was into Star Wars and played handheld video games that went bleep bleep incessantly. Now Dad could finally rest in peace in his own quiet capsule after a hard day's work.

Because they each had their own space, the boys didn't feel a need to compete or rebel. If they had a temporary grievance with Dad or a spontaneous outburst with each other they could take great pleasure in slamming their doors shut and locking themselves inside. Being able to run away without leaving home was the perfect solution for disgruntled teenagers.

When they were in the mood to socialize, which was often, they'd all prop their doors open, sit on their makeshift steps, and contemplate the universe, or affectionately banter and tease each other. When it came to the wit and humor dept. though, the boys were hard-pressed to get the best of their old man, who was a combination of Dave Barry, Gary Larson, Bill Bryson, and Einstein. I've never known a funnier man.

Leonard and his twin daughters

Almost every evening Leonard would bring out his acoustic guitar and together with Tim on electric guitar and Dwain on harmonica, they'd enjoy a laughable jam session trading licks from Elvis to Aerosmith.

No matter what the mood of the day was, one sure way to coax the boys out of their holes was by their noses. Leonard would cook up some aromatically enticing concoction, like hamburger and onions and fried potatoes, and pretty soon he'd hear two doors pop open. Then sniff sniff, knock knock. "Hey, Dad, we're hungry. What's for dinner?" Right on cue.

Leonard's Studebaker colection
A "Stude" for each family member
Leonard's Studebaker Wagon with "Day Tripper" camper

Leonard saved a lot of money that summer. Before going on to the next job, he sold the trailers, got his investment back, and moved to the big city...this time to a permanent position as superintendent of a water department in southern California. He rented a conventional house and tried to live a conventional life (Studebaker collection notwithstanding), but nothing ever quite compared to the freedom, fun, and comraderie of those good ol' campout days. (Sadly, we lost Leonard in a plane crash in 1999.)

Leonard's "da man"
His bumper sticker

When I visited the Tin Men that summer and saw their communal arrangement first-hand, I was impressed and amused by such a creative idea and have since concluded that it would work in a variety of circumstances.

Instead of burying your teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 and digging them up later (as the saying goes), just lovingly set them up in travel trailers in the backyard or carport. Ideally, they could work and save enough money to buy their own trailers, thus earning their precious privacy and valuing their real estate purchases to the max.

There are other practical applications for disposable trailers. If you are developing a piece of land and building a house, you could buy two or three or more camp trailers and enjoy temporary modular living for the fun and novelty of it, as well as saving money on rent. Search the want ads for retro Sputnik-era trailers...they're a dime a dozen, and you can always recycle them.

Involving the whole family in the building process is an enlightening and bonding experience. Mom and Dad could set up the main (larger) trailer or RV, add a communal electrical hook-up and plumbing connected to the septic system, then stake out the kids here and there in the outpost camp trailers. After working together all day, each party would retire to his or her own cubbyhole to R&R.

If they'd listen carefully they would probably hear an audible sigh of relief coming from Mom and Dad's trailer.

Trailer converted to bathroom

Another use for a travel trailer is to convert it to a bathroom on wheels. Gut it out, build a painted-plywood shower, install a toilet and wash basin, hang a mirror, and you're all set until the house is built. Of course you'll need electricity for the water heater (installed next to the shower stall), a water line, and a septic hook-up, but that's it.

I know because I did just that while I was building my own house, which took years! When I was through using my humble commode I advertised it in the Nickel Want Ads for $500 and got so many calls I could have sold 20 of them! Mobile is the way to go. You can get rid of anything that has wheels and a trailer hitch!

Leonard playing his banjo - one of 10 different musical instruments he mastered
Leonard's "Osprey" seaplane - his pride & joy