Vardos and Their Cousins: Part Five

Living Quarters, kitchens, shower trucks… what else could Vardos and trailers possibly be used for? Well, during my tenure at Pennsic there have been a bunch of shops that used wagons as the basis for their set up. The first one that I was aware of was the Old Stave Church, which sadly is no more. It was built on a tall trailer, and was actually something of a pain to get in and out of, and for its height had relatively little floor space. It was used as a shop for many years and always contained an interesting collection of things that ranged from fossils, to bars of pure tin (I own several), and scribal supplies like gold and silver leaf (I own a bunch of those, too). I went looking for a picture of it in my photo stash, but I didn’t have one, but then I found this great picture on the web, that includes both the Stave Church and the wagon/building that is used by Laurel Cavanaugh Goldsmith.


The Stave Church is obviously on the right, and the wagon used by Laurel is in the middle. The two story building on the left side is actually assembled on site every year from bolt-together panels, and is home to five or six merchants, ranging from potters, to several jewelers, and Billy and Charley’s Pewter shop.

The newest wagon/shop to appear at Pennsic is owned by The Haunted Bookshop. They decided that having a permanent place to display all of their books was preferable to setting up a tent and dragging out tons of boxes of books at each event. There also used to be a fabric shop over near the barn that used a trailer for their shop, and Klaus the Toymaker, The Guild of Limners, and Heart of Oak Crafts have been in wagons for as long as I can remember. At other wars I know of a knife/sword merchant who works and lives in his wagon/shop for comfort and security. We have actually considered a Vardo for smaller events, with a quick set-up shop under an awning.

wagon-collage-2Heart of Oak on the left and Klaus the Toymaker on the right.

In closing I would like to add a few random thoughts, in no particular order, for those considering making their own Vardo.

Understanding what your state’s vehicle laws are for trailers, campers and RV’s would probably be a good idea. Some states are very lenient and some require multiple inspections. Generally people are not permitted to ride in any sort of RV or trailer during transport (except for Class A RV’s obviously), for safety reasons.

A friend who built a Vardo also mentioned that when you buy a trailer, be sure that the trailer uses tires that can be easily purchased. Some inexpensive utility trailers use odd sized tires that may have to be specially ordered, which could be a real problem if you needed to replace one or more while you are on the road.

If you want more information there are at least two active Vardo Groups on Facebook: SCA, Vardo Trails: Vardos, Roma ‘Gypsy Style’ Wagons and Camping and Gypsy Vardo- The Original Tiny House

Vardos and Their Cousins: Part 4

Last time we discussed several different approaches to building Vardos, but this time I want to talk about alternative uses for Vardos and Wagons.

One of the first years that I attended Pennsic, I remember seeing a trailer in someone’s camp. The trailer had been decorated to look sort of like a post and beam building. I eventually found someone to ask what it was used for. The answer? A kitchen. Since then I have run across several larger encampments that have a kitchen trailer. I was told that this wagon, at Pennsic this year, is a kitchen. Unfortunately, I was going somewhere at the time and didn’t have a chance to see if I could get a tour.


The second most common non-living quarters use for trailers that I have seen in Pennsic camps is shower trailers. I had seen this trailer from the road one day, and popped my head into the camp to see if anyone was home.


A gentleman there graciously invited me in, answered my questions about the trailer, and even allowed me to take pictures. Here is a picture of the trailer from inside of the camp.


The first section of the trailer is a washroom with a sink, counter and garbage can, and plenty of room to change clothes. The area behind the door is a shower.

Now for people that have never been to Pennsic this may all seem a bit confusing, or over the top. A friend who had never camped in a proper household at Pennsic went this year. He said on facebook that he was told that the camp had a shower. He expected what we call “bag o’ mud”. Water heated in a solar shower bag – i.e. a five gallon lukewarm shower. What he found instead was a real shower with a propane hot water heater, and a sump. Pennsic is one of those locations where it is permissible to dig a sump for kitchen and bath water. In the case of the shower trailer that I just mentioned, they simply run a pipe from the shower to the sump. In the case of our household, which is a much smaller camp, we share a shower with our neighbors. We give them a little land and they have the pop-up with custom walls, The young men dig a sump, we have a pallet that goes over the sump, they have a hot water heater, and we provide the propane for the heater. A hose runs from the water spigot to the hot water heater, the shower, and the kitchen sink, which is outside and is used for washing dishes. The sink drains into the shower sump.

One of the old households that we belonged to had four showers, with a sump and a kitchen sump with a sink. There were about 24 tents in that camp, and everyone was crazy busy teaching, and running the archery range. Remember, many of us are living at Pennsic for a full two weeks. Comfort and sanitation are a good thing.

Next Time: What else can Vardos and trailers be used for?

Vardos and Their Cousins: Part 3

Last time we started looking at some of the types of Vardos that are being used as living quarters. And I mentioned that this Vardo was the first one that I ever saw at an SCA event.


When I first posted this picture I was immediately contacted by folks who knew the owner of this marvelous gypsy wagon. And fortunately for all of us that are really interested in such things, she has websites! The wagon in the picture is actually her second gypsy wagon. But to understand it, you really need to watch the building of her first one. So here is her original gypsy wagon website.  I was trying to think if I remembered the original wagon. My husband says yes, and the dates are certainly appropriate for me to have seen it. And here is her second website,  which follows the construction of the second wagon at the location of a professional “caravan” maker in Canada. I was familiar with the term from watching British television. They call all sorts of small RVs “caravans”. I should warn you about the caravan maker’s site. I found myself just wandering around in it and dreaming of owning my own caravan and designing in all sorts of cool things. Having spent quite a bit of time in and around RV’s I have a certain affection for the beasts.

There are obviously many different ways of making Vardos. The professional caravan site gives several ideas and shows a bunch of the types that she has made. But the canvas covered ones that I see most commonly in Arizona are made with a very different system. They use a light weight bow top, like the Conestoga wagons, to create a Vardo with a low center of gravity and an overall lighter design. This allows the Vardo to be pulled by smaller vehicles.


This Vardo belongs to some Midrealm friends. If you are interested in how they built this Vardo, they have a Pinterest Page that documents the process. Plans for this general type of Vardo are available through the American Vardo Site. A friend who made one of these assures me that the book that they sell is very good. They also have plans, and for impatient people, an e-book.

I love this picture of the three Vardos that magically appeared down the street from us this year. I love the differences in design and decoration. The use of bright colors on two of the wagons is very reminiscent of the painted designs that were used on traditional gypsy wagons in Europe.


Even the location of the door on the Vardos varies. The traditional gypsy wagons from Europe, that I have seen pictures of, all have the door at the back. That way they do not have to be unhitched in order for people to go in and out easily. But the Vardo on the far right in this picture actually uses the tongue of the wagon to provide a location for a landing outside of the door. The addition of a sturdy set of wooden steps completes the entrance way.

Next Time: Alternative Uses for Vardos and Wagons