Vardos and Their Cousins: Part 2

Last time we discussed my introduction to the use of Vardos in the SCA and today we will start investigating them, and their cousins.

When I noticed that there were a ton of Vardos at Pennsic this year I decided to take an active look at some of the different type of wagons that were out there and what they were being used for. Because I am actually running a shop in the market I know that I did not even come close to seeing all of the Vardos and other wagons, but I tried to investigate some that I remembered were not standard living quarters, because that may be a unique concept for some folks. I am also going to mention a few things that I think Vardo owners need to consider when building and parking their Vardos.

The first thing that I noticed this year was this Vardo that arrived right across the street from our encampment.


When it arrived it just looked like a box, and there was nothing above the seam in the wood that I have marked with a yellow arrow. When I came back later in the day, there was a canvas cover on the wagon that had turned it into a place to live. I spoke briefly with the owner at the end of the war and she said she thought it was probably going to undergo a complete rebuild. I suggested that she put reflector tape on the tongue of her trailer or possibly add a solar lantern so that people could see it at night. I had watched multiple people and cars come within a very small number of inches of crashing into the tongue of her trailer in the dark. It had been parked too close to the road by the people who transported it, and the tongue was black with no reflectors. Looking objectively at the canvas, I think it would have leaked badly if there had been a serious rainstorm with wind. This is an excellent example of why we should look at historical wagons. Think of the Conestoga wagons that the pioneers in the western US used. The canvas on those wagons wrapped completely around the corners so that driving rain could not get in easily.

This picture shows the sort of Vardo that I see in Arizona, although the ones that I have seen usually have a tighter cover. They are sort of a miniature version of a Conestoga wagon. The canvas cover is on all of the time. I did not have a chance to chat with the owner of the this Vardo to see if they drive the Vardo with the cover in place. The big advantage that I see to always having the cover on is that the Vardo is ready to use almost instantly when you arrive, just like our old RV used to be.


The first Vardo that I ever saw at Pennsic, was a very different design.


Next time: More Vardo Details

Vardos and Their Cousins

I have been playing actively in the SCA for over twenty years. When I started we were mostly day tripping to events, because we still had kids at home that required at least some supervision. Many of our friends also day tripped because of work schedules and other obligations, and the area of the kingdom that we lived in (East Kingdom) had huge numbers of events within easy driving distance of our home.

Our first real camping event was actually the Pennsic War in PA. We purchased a new cabin tent for the event, loved it, and put Pennsic as a permanent event on our schedule. But at this event we were exposed for the first time to Gypsy Wagons. There weren’t many of them, but they were really cool. This wagon has been in the same place on the same street for as long as I can remember.


We also saw a giant Pirate Ship!


Jump ahead a few years and we were in the West Kingdom. I never saw any gypsy wagons there (or Pirate ships), but RVs were becoming increasingly common and there were also some tent campers and camper vans. We had an RV ourselves. I have to admit it was pretty awesome. No folding up the clothing; the carefully ironed tunics and gowns were simply hung in the closet. And with the greater distances that we often drove to an event, we could roll in to a site at midnight and be in bed at 12:10 AM, with an inside flushie as a bonus. We were set up with a propane heater, a frig, a propane stove, and ceiling fans. If we had a hook-up, which we did at some campgrounds, we even had a microwave and an air conditioner. Luxury camping at its best.

Jump forward another twelve years and we are in Atenveldt. And this is where we were exposed to the use of Vardos at weekend events. To be honest, we had never heard of the term. Technically speaking a Vardo is a traditional horse-drawn wagon that is used by the Romani people of Great Britain (gypsies). But except for the horses, and the lack of a wood stove, these camping wagons looked like Vardos. We actually knew two couples who had built their own canvas covered Vardos. Like the RV that we used to have, they had the advantage of being a self-contained dwelling. You could just roll in to a site, chock it so that it didn’t roll away, and have a “home”. The chance of snakes, scorpions, or high water from a rain storm being an issue was minimal. You couldn’t easily level it the way you could our RV, but it was still an amazing camping solution.

This year the proliferation of Vardos and other wagons at Pennsic was really noticeable. There have never been any on our block before, but this year there was one directly across the street from us, and several more down the block.

Next Time: Investigating the Wagons

Event Strategies – Fun or Not: Part 4 – Keeping it Real and Being Honest With Yourself

No matter how much we try to plan for an event, stuff happens. Only you can decide if your mental and physical stamina is sufficient to be able to deal with an event, especially if it doesn’t really work out the way you had hoped that it would. Do you have an exit strategy? Are you heat sensitive or cold sensitive? Do temperatures over 90 degrees, especially if it is humid, send you into a physical downward spiral that can end at the ER? Is rough ground a problem? How long a distance can you walk? Only you can evaluate the facts and make that decision.

I have friends who no longer attend camping events, or if they do, they sleep at a hotel or cabin. Bad backs, CPAP machines, the inability to deal with temperature extremes, and a lack of physical mobility are just a few of the reasons that they made this decision. When the stress of camping takes away the fun of attending an event, you need to reconsider your options.

Switching to a camper trailer or small RV has allowed several of my friends to keep attending events. Using an RV at SCA events, can be good and bad, depending on the event site. If there are electrical hookups available it can create a rather luxurious situation, with most of the comforts of home. But the downside is that you may be camping a much longer distance from the center of the event. Camper trailers and RVs are often shunted off on an edge of a event, so check ahead of time with the autocrat. Many event sites do not have any sort of hook-ups, electrical or otherwise, so you will need to understand exactly what your camper is capable of doing. Our old RV could easily do a two 1/2 day “dry” camping trip without running our generator. Generators are prohibited at a lot of sites. You also need to check for additional fees. RV’s often have to pay an additional fee at some parks, especially if there are hookups.

And then there is the Gypsy Wagon, or Vardo. They are towed like a trailer, but they are usually acceptable in camping areas and still provide a greater level of comfort than a tent.

Vardo 2

And sometimes things just get messed up even when you have done all the planning that you could possibly do.  A friend had been looking forward to a hands-on embroidery class. The teacher showed up to class without any supplies and announced that she would order in supplies and then teach the class again on a day that that my friend could not be at the event. Major disappointment.

Another teacher showed up for what was supposed to be a hands on nahlbinding class with no kits or notes, no class limit (she expected 6 and 30 showed up),and no note in the schedule about bringing your own supplies. In this last instance we have to question whether the teacher came from an area with low class attendance, was inexperienced, or was she suffering from a data entry error. Data entry error? Yes. I once had one of my Viking Knit Chain classes appear in the schedule as “Viking Knit Chairs”. Oh, and the class limit had magically disappeared, too. Fortunately I had enough supplies.

Assessing your ability to deal with an event is all about being honest with yourself. In 2015, when it looked like Pennsic was going to be a giant bowl of mud, several folks that use scooters decided not to attend because of the mud. Only you can decide if temperature, rain, terrain or other factors are going to make an event just too difficult. Plan it out, be prepared, and have a great time!