Trolley Car Is Living Room in Sierra Mountain Home Compound


Peter and Donna Thomas have a gypsy wagon that was featured in Tiny Homes on the Move. (They brought it down to Santa Cruz and parked it outside Bookshop Santa Cruz when I did a book presentation there last month.) Here is the story of another of their projects, a building complex in the Sierra Nevada mountains, with a 1926 Melbourne W-2 streetcar as the living room with an outdoor kitchen and two gypsy wagons as bedrooms:

After traveling 40,000 miles in our gypsy wagon, we returned back to work in our white-walled studio, in a conventional stick-built home in Santa Cruz, California. It’s not a bad place, but we started to long for the simplicity and pleasure of living in the wagon, and we had to stay home. We began imagine having an indoor-outdoor sort of home, composed of several gypsy wagons, covered by one big roof.

That dream turned into reality in California’s southern Sierra foothills, where weather is too hot and cold and land is cheaper. We found an old gold mine with a big barn structure that had no sides, and started changing what we had imagined to reality.

The first addition was one half of a 1926 Melbourne W-2 streetcar that we had found in 2006 when Donna and I were walking from San Francisco to Yosemite. Our “Muir Ramble Route” took us through Kelly Park in San Jose. Outside their California Trolley and Railroad Corporation Trolley Barn volunteers were cutting up an old metal trolley for scrap.

When we asked if they had any other old trolleys to be scrapped they showed us #403. It was just a shell with no running gear, but a beautiful shell. We sawed it in half, put our half on a trailer frame (my brother got the other half) and took it home. We rebuilt the missing parts with salvaged materials, working to maintain the beautiful aged patina.

Now our #403.5 is the living room of our tiny home compound. We built an outdoor kitchen beside it and use our two gypsy wagons as bedrooms. The story of one of those wagons was told in Tiny Homes on the Move. The second one was bought used, originally build by Dale Michels in Brasstown NC. Sometimes we enjoy the place by ourselves. Sometimes we hold gatherings with friends and family. Then everyone gets to enjoy a bit of indoor-outdoor living and share the pleasures of living in our beautiful little traveling homes.

–Peter and Donna Thomas

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6 Responses to Trolley Car Is Living Room in Sierra Mountain Home Compound

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful way to preserve history and create really great living experience.

  2. Anonymous says:

    how do i find a gyosy wagon or houseEj

  3. So I’m assuming you don’t get snow there, as far as snow load and cooking outside? Really cute but I’d be concerned with the weather (wind) and quake proofness, having grown up in S. Cal. Can you post a pic of the kitchen?

  4. davehead51 says:

    It’s lovely and wild the way you are living there.

  5. dweeze says:

    That’s a W class tram from Melbourne, Australia. They were in wide service until the early 1990s but there a a few restored units still trundling around as tourist icons. I’ve spent many hours travelling in the ricketly old things. Route 51 was originally the City to Essendon railway station route.
    Good to see it still kicking…

  6. Simon H says:

    Just found the picture of the half-tram caravan, what a great idea.
    For your information, No. 403 was originally built as a W class tram at the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board’s Preston Workshops in 1926. Converted into a W2 class tram sometime between 1928 and 1933, the conversion involving altering the door and seating arrangements in the drop-centre section (No. 380 has been returned to the W class configuration). No 403 was disposed of complete in 1986, pity still not in working order.
    And yes, Route 51 ran from the Elizabeth Street terminus in the city centre to Essendon Railway Station, part of Route 59, formerly to Essendon Aerodrome, now to Airport West.

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