Living in a Converted Cargo Trailer

The trailer in the desert after the conversion.

The trailer in the desert after the conversion.

Date: 3-17-2011

For three years I lived in a home-built camper on my 1/2 ton pickup. But the camper was heavy and I had everything I owned in the world in it, so it was terribly over- weight. I decided to replace it with a trailer. It had the advantage of getting the weight off the truck, and onto its own set of wheels. My first thought was to look around and buy an older used Travel Trailer (TT), but that had lots of disadvantages:

  • It would be very heavy. It would be very hard to find a TT that weighed less than 4,000 lbs, and that was just too much for my truck to pull up the mountains where I worked.
  • I didn’t have much money, so anything I could afford would be very old and require lots of work.
  • I didn’t want or need all the things in an RV like sewer, water, hot water heater, furnace or bed. They just take up space and weight and give me nothing in return.
  • They have zero stealth (the ability to park overnight without being noticed), while a cargo trailer without windows has excellent stealth.
  • I am much more comfortable in a small space. To me it just feels right!

I realized what would work perfectly for me was a cargo trailer that I converted to a little home on wheels. I thought 5×7 feet would be too small, and 6×12 would be too big, but 6×10 would be perfect. So I started the search for a new or used one. There were very few used ones for sale in Fresno, California where I was for the summer, and when I did see them they were nearly as much as new ones. I found an 800 number for TrailersPlus and called them. The sales person was extremely helpful and we talked for a while until I decided what I wanted. I offered cash on delivery and they accepted. I got a 6×10 Load-Runner trailer for $2,400 plus tax and license. I picked it up at their Fresno branch. I highly recommend them since they have branches in 35 cities nationwide. Here are the advantages this model had for me:

  • Side Door and Barn style Back Door
  • Over 6 feet tall inside so I could stand straight-up
  • 3/8 inch plywood on the walls so I could attach things to it
  • 3/4 inch plywood floor with undercoating so it wouldn’t rot out
  • Tires upgraded to radial including a spare
  • LED lighting which will virtually never burn out
  • Stabilizer jacks on the back

The first thing to think about if you already living in your vehicle, is where will you get power for the tools you need? My campground didn’t have power, but that wasn’t a problem for me. In the first picture below you see my Ryobi 18 volt cordless tools with their 12 volt charger. I have been using these tools for over 10 years and love them. They are only available from Home Depot. In the second photo you see my 110 volt power tools with my Honda 1000 generator to power them.

a-cargo-18volt-use

a-cargo-110-tools-use

a-cargo-insulation

The first thing I did was install the insulation (see above). Insulation is very important because in the winter it keeps heat in, and in the summer, it keeps the heat out. I used 4×8 sheets, 1 inch thick on the walls, and 3/4 inch think on the roof. I used 3/4 on the roof because it is flexible so it conformed to the curve of roof. I used three layers on the roof giving it 2 1/4 inches total. On the walls I used 1 1/2 inch drywall screws with washers on them to attach the insulation, and on the roof I used 3 inch sheet metal screws with very large washers on them to screw into the ribs on the roof. This styrofoam had a shiny, aluminum foil covering on one side and I liked it because it reflected light, so I didn’t add paneling over it. If you prefer it to look more “finished” it would be very easy to add paneling on top of the insulation. My trailer came without finish on the plywood floor, so I stained it with deck stain.

a-cargo-paint-floor

Once the stain dried I added two coats of Spar-Var Marine Varnish on top of that to protect the wood. If I had to do it over again I would do the floor first.

a-cargo-bed-front-use

a-cargo-corner-use

In the two pictures above you can see how I built the bed and the front shelves. The legs on the shelves are 2x2s. They are screwed into the wall with 3 inch deck screws since they have to go through 1 1/2 inch of 2×2, 1 inch styrofoam, and 3/8 inch of plywood on the walls. The plywood is 7/16 and notched to fit around the 2×2 legs. The shelves are 10 inches apart to fit Sterilite plastic drawers. The bed is made with 2x4s. It is 30 inches wide and 74 inches long. My feet actually go underneath the shelves, gaining me a lot of room. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but I love it and highly recommend it as a space-saver. I used 3/4 inch plywood on top for the bed. You don’t see them in this picture but there are 2×4 legs in the center. I would usually use gussets to strengthen the legs, but because the bed is screwed into the wall in the front, and into the shelf unit in back, I didn’t think it needed them, and I was right. The bed is high enough to put plastic totes underneath for storage. The front wall of the trailer is curved, so that added quite a bit of complexity. The plywood had to be cut curved to match the wall. I used a jig saw to cut the curve and the notches.

In the pictures below you can see the finished product

The space for my feet.

The space for my feet.

The front shelves and bed.

The front shelves and bed.

 

The bed and window I installed later.

The bed and window I installed later.

 

Storage under bed. Here you also see the middle leg

Storage under bed. Here you also see the middle leg

In the two pictures below you can see the shelf unit that is in the back left of the trailer. It is pretty simple. The two end pieces and shelves are 3/4 plywood. I used 2x2s as cleats screwed into the end pieces and the wall to hold the shelf. I cut the shelves to size and screwed them in. I sized the shelves for storage underneath and tall items on top, including my printer.

a-shelf-back

 a_cargo-rear

Pictures of storage shelves done:

trailer-shelves

trailer-from-rear-left2

For some reason I don’t have any pictures of building the counter-top on the right rear of the trailer, but below are pictures of the finished product. I had enough storage, so I wanted a work surface to cook on. I found these Sterilite plastic drawers at Home Depot and built the counter around it. There is a 2×2 cleat screwed into the wall and a piece of plywood at the back with a cleat on it. The counter-top is screwed into the cleats. In the middle are four, 2×4 legs with a shelf in it. I painted deck stain and Spar-Var on all the plywood except the counter-top, which has deck stain and polyuerethane for toughness and shine.

trailer-from-rear

 trailer-from-rear-right

 

I have a 12 volt compressor cooler/freezer made by Dometic/Waeco. It is on the floor under the counter-top toward the front by the door. There can't be any legs up front since the lid is hinged on one end and I need to be able to get into it.

I have a 12 volt compressor cooler/freezer made by Dometic/Waeco. It is on the floor under the counter-top toward the front by the door. There can’t be any legs up front since the lid is hinged on one end and I need to be able to get into it.

Rather than waste the space above the counter-top, I put up peg board. The things I use every day are on there. On the counter-top you can see my Coleman two burner propane stove. I use it every day to cook a meal. The front of the counter-top is curved so I don't hit it every time I come in the front door. To cut a curve you get a long piece of string and hold it down on the counter-top on one end, and holding a pencil at the other end you draw a circle. Make the string longer or shorter until you get it just how you like it. Cut it with a jigsaw.

Rather than waste the space above the counter-top, I put up peg board. The things I use every day are on there. On the counter-top you can see my Coleman two burner propane stove. I use it every day to cook a meal. The front of the counter-top is curved so I don’t hit it every time I come in the front door. To cut a curve you get a long piece of string and hold it down on the counter-top on one end, and holding a pencil at the other end you draw a circle. Make the string longer or shorter until you get it just how you like it. Cut it with a jigsaw.