In the summer of 2016, my wife, Lisa, and I decided that it would be nice to have a small guest cottage on our Upstate NY property. Since I am a builder, I naturally suggested building it myself. "Piece of cake," I said, but Lisa, who has had some experience waiting a long time for some of my other "quick and easy" projects, suggested that we look at prefab cabins. I was reluctant, but we went and found a few models that we both liked, and it would have been simple and easy to just write a check and wait for delivery, but we hesitated, or maybe I should say, I hesitated, because as a person who is deeply involved in historic restoration with high-quality materials, it was difficult for me to accept a cabin built with Home Depot type lumber, plastic windows, and asphalt roof shingles.
So, we put our decision on hold a bit, and then one day, while perusing eBay, I discovered an old sheepherder's wagon for sale in Nebraska. It looked pretty rough, no, let me restate that, it looked very rough, but with lots of mystique, lots of potential and the best thing was that Lisa liked it too! Talk about impulse buying, I hit the "Buy It Now" button, and the deal was done.
"How are we going to get it back to New York?" Lisa asked.
"I'll hire a truck," I said, sounding confident. After checking with more than a few trucking companies we found out that our sheepherder's wagon was over wide and over high and would cost an arm and a leg to get back to New York.
I'm a person who doesn't give up easily, so I kept looking, kept asking, and kept hoping. I finally found someone that was willing to go out to the farm in Nebraska and at least take a look at the thing, to see if it was at all feasible to truck back to New York. The report that came back from our last hope trucker was not good. "It's too wide, it's too high, and this thing won't last more than a hundred miles on the open road before it blows to smithereens. "But," he said, "I could demolish the shed and bring you the rolling stock, which is more valuable without that piece of shit on top." That "piece of shit" was our never seen in real life, but already beloved sheepherder's wagon, so I told him I'd think about it, just to be polite, but with zero intention of following his advice. Lisa and I thought about our two options: abandon the project and lose the investment we had made for the purchase, or have the rolling chassis, the floor, and a few sample parts shipped to us. We opted for the latter, with the realization that our "piece of cake" restoration had now turned into a complete, time consuming reconstruction.
Finally! Arrival in Ossining, NY. Lisa says, "That looks like a big project to me, Tom."
In location for the re-building process, blocked up and level.
4" x 6" re-sawn cedar floor joists in place.
Rim joist installation.
Rim mortised to accept the tenons of the floor joists.
1 1/2" x 6" T&G yellow pine flooring salvaged from an 18th century factory floor.
Enjoying the shade and a different perspective on a hot day.
I tried to use the lightest possible wood so that the finished wagon would not be too heavy to maneuver. The wall framing is white pine.
Starting to take shape. While the basic overall dimensions are very close to the original, Lisa and I decided on bigger window openings to let in more light and look more "cottagee."
I had to guess at the exact curve of the roof rafters based on an old photo since none of the originals survived.
One way to measure our progress was to look at the much smaller pile of lumber in front of the wagon.
Starting installation of the Re-purposed vertical cedar board siding.
Besides spending a significant amount of time sourcing and then re-configuring our materials, we spent some time chatting with interested passers-by, who pretty much all insisted that I was building a caboose, never having heard of a sheepherder's wagon.
Not too heavy, but braced enough to resist racking when moving. Shady but bright.
The only way to achieve a hand-planed look on the vertical interior panelling was to use an actual period hand plane. Found out that another name for tennis elbow could have been planer's elbow.
A bit hard to see, but can you make out the hand-planed finish?
One of those things that doesn't photograph well: hand-planed, beaded T&G with the first coat of milk paint.
Because we know that farmers who settled the Midwest during the 19th century often came from Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Finland, we opted for a traditional Finnish red exterior.
Charlie looking ready to herd the non-existent sheep.
Although the larger than original windows let in significant amounts of natural light, I have a penchant for very bright interiors, so a decision was made to add a skylight. Probably would not have been there originally, but it almost looks as if it could have been, no?
Handmade window sash looks great with re-claimed antique glass. Also, after much looking, I found an Early 19th century 3 plank door with original paint, and it just so happened that I had a super nice hand-wrought iron thumb latch in storage for over 30 years that worked perfectly. What a great feeling to finally use something that you've been saving for many, many years!
The final steps were adding floor finish and some furniture. Ready for Christmas and my kind of "camping:” off the ground, a nice roof in case it rains, windows with screens to keep the skeeters out, and the most important thing, a real mattress!
We build beautiful new homes and restore historic buildings, churches, and houses. Since 1975, we have offered award-winning historic restoration and construction services throughout Westchester County and Putnam County in New York State.