Final Community Glue Workshop repair clinic for 2014 – You probably want to be there.

251864_308307849262178_2047452886_nWe’ve had a lot of interest surrounding our Chicago-based repair clinics, so I wanted to plug it once more as we wrap up another year of badassery. December is a rather ridiculous month to schedule with all the holiday hooplah, so we decided to give ourselves and our incredible volunteers a month off to laze about, hunker, and watch football or Downton Abby reruns, uninterrupted.

All are welcome to come to the clinics!

To become a volunteer fixer, email me at carla@communityglueworkshop.org

To bring in your broken stuff for repair (or diagnosis if we don’t have the parts needed or the repair would be hazardous): Just show up with something you can push through a standard door frame.

Hope to see a few new faces this month. Otherwise, we’ll see you all in January!

http://www.communityglueworkshop.org

If you're in the Chicago area, check out one of our fall repair clinics. Can it fit through a standard door? Let's have at it!

Checking Back with Historic Green in New Orleans

A very happy crew, just after receiving their shipment of donated tools in their Kansas City office.

A very happy crew, just after receiving their shipment of donated tools in their Kansas City office.

Last month, we were able to donate a kickin’ little arsenal of tools to Historic Green, including:

These tools were based on the needs of this nonprofit, which is dedicated to helping under-resourced communities rebuild existing homes, community buildings, and outdoor spaces in a way that preserves cultural heritage and focuses on sustainability in both Kansas City and New Orleans. For more on Historic Green, check out last month’s post here.

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

I caught up with the crew after their most recent New Orleans trip, which, appropriately, overlapped with GreenBuild this year. According to Jeremy Knoll, the architect who pioneered the Historic Green nonprofit, they have done an astonishing amount of work in New Orleans, especially on the “Center” project. For this project, they have helped the CSED (Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development of New Orleans) with a wide variety of initiatives over the years, including:

  • 50+ home renovations/weatherizations
  • Playground construction/restoration
  • Community centers
  • Rain gardens
  • Community gardens
  • Supporting garden education spaces
  • Bayou access and restoration projects, and
  • Several design-build projects. Wow.
Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

The affordable retrofit demonstration house — the house they are working on in these pictures — represents the culmination of a lot of their efforts over the past several years. It will act as a new center for their operations where they can stage project materials, train and manage volunteers, and demonstrate affordable home renovation and green living strategies to area families through ongoing programs.

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

For this house, Historic Green helped them to clear the lot of overgrowth, build a new roof (deck to shingle), deconstructed the bathroom, re-built the garage/shed, installed a rain-garden, re-structured and decked the front porch, re-built portions of the floor, removed the non-historic car-port, provided LEED Certification advisors, helped to develop an insulation strategy, and did research about the history of this (originally) 1880’s cottage in the Lower 9th Ward to help with permitting and decision-making about what elements to restore or ignore. One of their Board Members also helped them to put together and launch this a kickstarter campaign, which (if successful) will complete the construction budget for the project.

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

Historic Green in New Orleans (Photo: Matt Kleinmann Photography)

Obviously, this is, er, not a lazy crew. So, if you’re up for supporting these efforts and undoubtedly more, please consider donating to Historic Green’s efforts. These nonprofits are what stabilize neighborhoods and foster stewardship in the most meaningful and immediate ways, truly.

If you've ever done volunteer work on a site in New Orleans, you understand how important this picture is. (Photo by Historic Green)

If you’ve ever done volunteer work on a site in New Orleans, you understand how important and happy-making this picture is. (Photo by Historic Green)

 

The only thing more fun than fixing things is fixing them with free tools.

Hallelujah!

The Craftsman loot!

The Craftsman loot! Beer was on me, in celebration of the aforementioned loot!

Thanks to a very generous Craftsman tool donation, the last Community Glue Workshop repair clinic involved some pretty sweet tool bags filled with the kinds of tools we use most when repairing:

Digital multimeters (batter testers)

Precision screwdriver sets

Heavy duty screwdriver sets

12″ bar clamps

(Very attractive!) utility knives

Soldering irons

Pliers/needle nose pliers

Tool bags

Beyond these tools, we generally use a lot of glue (all glues are not created equally, btw, and Super Glue truly is a miracle), screws and nuts, sewing needles and machines, and some bike repair tools. We also get creative and bust out a few other random items because lord knows we can’t predict 90% of the things that come through the door. Of course, that’s half the fun.

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Happy Brian checking out the spoils.

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Rachel, even more excited. This made me wish we could have given her a car.

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Ally doing lamp repair with a precision screwdriver, pliers, and a tremendous amount of patience.

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Stu testing some batteries.

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Fred fixes a flat, pretty much ever clinic this happens. He’s fixed two of mine and it’s not even winter.

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Record player diagnosis. Not a belt issue, not an electronic issue, looking like a new needle is needed (bowing for alliteration).

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Becky’s first electronic toothbrush battery removal. The end had to be twisted and pried with small screw driver and the new battery will require soldering. Yeah, who knew?

Non-Craftsman muffin donation. Yessssssss.

Non-Craftsman muffin donation. Yessssssss.

If you’re in the Chicago area, come check out the next clinic!

If you're in the Chicago area, check out one of our fall repair clinics. Can it fit through a standard door? Let's have at it!

 

Community Glue Workshop and the very real need to shift our focus to the 4th “R”: Repair.

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Over the past decade, the environmental movement has had a resurgence focused on the production of more “eco-friendly” products than you can shake a recycled bottle cap “stick” at. Here’s the thing: for the most part, it’s complete rubbish. (Applause for the pun.) Recycling takes a tremendous amount of carbon intensive energy and often involves shipping goods overseas to be broken down, mixed with additional materials, and shipped back to be sold in a form that is a downcycled piece of cheap nonsense as compared with its original form. I know this is hard for folks to hear, but recycling, while often a better alternative to throwing something into a trash can, is not a really a sustainable practice. Period.

Often if something isn't working, the entire thing doesn't need to be scrapped! Don't be afraid to "look under the hood" and tinker. It's already not working, so you may as well give repair a shot!

Usually, if something isn’t working, the entire thing doesn’t need to be scrapped! Don’t be afraid to “look under the hood” and tinker. It’s already not working, so you may as well give repairing it a shot.

We also have “repurposing,” which has become incredibly popular in recent years because it’s fun, creative, and keeps materials out of the landfill. It’s something we all should certainly do, but often times it also results in downcycling. Someone will repurpose an existing item that has a broken part—say a toaster with a broken spring—and turn it into a flower pot. Your standard toaster is comprised of hundreds of parts and complicated methods of metal extraction and other processes that are labor intensive and often manufactured in other countries under questionable employment practices. You know what else can be a flowerpot? A leaf. A cupped hand. A single piece of fired clay. Your brother’s gaping mouth if you shove a plant into it. Any simple thing, really.

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Image from The Toaster Project. That there’s the insides of a very basic toaster. Those parts took a lot of energy to create and came a real long way to make it to your local Target.

My point is: let’s just fix that toaster and not waste the kabrillion pieces that do work inside of that sophisticated little heat trap, people. In 2012, my friend Ally and I started Community Glue Workshop in Chicago because, quite frankly, we were pissed off at the fact that the environmental movement had in no way embraced one of the most obvious and abandoned part of sustainable living: REPAIR. It even starts with an “R,” so why it was never promoted is beyond me (P.S. “Reduce” is totally legit). Producing and consuming more materials is the opposite of the solution—“green” or no—and not fixing what we already have only leads to more consumption. Maybe you have a flowerpot now, but you’re still in need of a toaster and will go out and buy a new one anyway, and waste all the embodied energy in that original toaster, which is a big old shame and not doing the planet any favors.

That's a mighty pretty toaster that we fixed. Definitely a more sophisticated piece of machinery than any old thing that can hold dirt.

That’s a mighty pretty toaster that we fixed. Definitely a more sophisticated piece of machinery than any old thing that can hold dirt.

Not able to order replacement parts? That’s absolutely a problem, yes. Manufacturers intentionally don’t sell those parts like they used to in an effort to force you to buy new items. To get around this hiccup, Community Glue has used an inexpensive 3D printer to make simple little new parts when needed. Don’t have access to a 3D printer? Honestly, most of the time we can find another fix that doesn’t require the production of a new part. There are many ways to skin a cat, and that’s why fixing is indeed a creative and innovative process.

Fixing, fixing, fixing. Most of these humans have never met before, by the way. Much more interesting than going to a big box store, wouldn't you say? Also, I know that you can buy a new lamp or headphones or skirt for a reasonable amount of money, but most of the time, fixing is FREE. Beat that, Walmart.

Fixing, fixing, fixing. Most of these humans have never met before, by the way. Much more interesting than going to a big box store, wouldn’t you say? Also, I know that you can buy a new lamp or headphones or skirt for a reasonable amount of money, but most of the time, fixing is FREE. Beat that, Walmart.

Community Glue is comprised of about 10 regular, dedicated volunteers who come together once a month to fix anything folks can fit through the door, from broken table legs to vacuums to bra straps. It doesn’t matter if we have never seen anything like it (in fact, those are the most fun projects), repairing is also a collaborative process and we can almost always figure out a fix or at least diagnose the problem. There are exceptions: perhaps your exploding microwave from 1984 is accidentally cooking your brain through a cracked something-or-other and needs to be disposed of. We get that. But more often than not, the materials we consume are repairable.

Folks meet, mentorships happen, stuff gets done.

Folks meet, mentorships happen, people without resources get some help.

Next month I’ll be posting more on Community Glue Workshop and featuring our October repair clinic. I’m not gonna lie, I’m very excited to finally give some props to our amazing volunteers, curious, smart, generous buggers that they are.

If you're in the Chicago area, check out one of our fall repair clinics. Can it fit through a standard door? Let's have at it!

If you’re in the Chicago area, check out one of our fall repair clinics. Can it fit through a standard door? Let’s have at it!

The organizers. We got mad about the misinformation regarding "green" goods and practices and decided to do something that is actually useful for our community. Folks don't look that happy taking a pile of stuff to the recycle bin. Nope.

The organizers. We got mad about the misinformation regarding “green” goods and practices and decided to do something that is actually useful for our community. You can, too. People are into it.

Historic Green: Sustainable skill-building from New Orleans to Missouri

Historic Green volunteers working in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. They currently do most of their work through partnerships in New Orleans and Kansas City, Missouri.

Historic Green volunteers working in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. They currently do most of their work through partnerships in New Orleans and Kansas City, Missouri. (Picture taken by Historic Green)

I have a major soft spot for historic buildings and community outreach initiatives. These two things go together like peanut butter and jelly. Yin and yang. Captain & Tennille. Yep. A colleague recently pointed me to a group in Kansas City, Missouri that understands this perfect union all too well and has taken it to a level that very much deserves to be recognized, celebrated, and supported.

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Yes, there was much work to be done. Some challenges are larger than others, but hey, somebody’s gotta just pick up the tools and get to it. In this case, people are doing it for free, which should, assuming you’re not a cyborg, make your heart explode.

Historic Green is a nonprofit dedicated to helping under-resourced communities rebuild existing homes, community buildings, and outdoor spaces in a way that preserves cultural heritage and focuses on sustainability. They started up in 2007 as a response to Hurricane Katrina. More than 85% of New Orleans’ existing homes were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, homes with rich histories and deep cultural significance, and the need for help and environmentally responsible action was too great to ignore. They started “Spring Greening,” an annual greening event in the Lower 9th Ward’s Holy Cross neighborhood, a neighborhood I’ve been lucky to work in quite a few times myself with the same goal of making the neighborhood viable and sustainable. Here is a draft video recently completed as the first part of a series of videos they are producing around the New Orleans project.

Fixing brick piers, 2012 (Picture taken by Historic Green)

Repointing brick piers. (Picture taken by Historic Green)

Now, to be clear, “sustainability” has become such a buzzword that it has become woefully detached from its intended meaning. The term can be downright cringe-worthy because people now use it interchangeably with unsustainable practices and materials in an effort to market these things as being environmentally-friendly for one reason or another. In the case of Historic Green, the term really does have chops. Historic Green is focused on making utility costs affordable, making buildings healthier, and teaching those who are living in these places how to maintain their buildings and act as stewards to the community at large. Sustainability is about how to realistically keep people in buildings so they don’t end up abandoned and it’s also about educating a population on how to care for these buildings so they will last. Sustainability is about people — it has little to do with recycled content and green gizmos that don’t even function properly without an education component.

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Restoring original wood sashes. (Picture taken by Historic Green)

Obviously, it was a no-brainer to reach out and ask if they needed some tools — naturally, they did. The crews are currently working in both New Orleans and in their home city of Kansas City, in its Green Impact Zone. Both projects involve an historic home being fully renovated using affordable and replicable methods, and will feature restoration of historic detailing and carefully measured energy efficiency improvements. Swoon.

So…the tools have been shipped! Stay tuned for updates on what tools are most useful and how they are used in a project focused on restoration, efficiency, and community. I’m very much hoping to carve out time to drive down there and get my hands dirty with this crew. Yep, it’s gonna happen. 

The gorgeous historic home that will be brought back to life using big hearts, lots of sweat, and some shiny new Craftsman tools. (Picture taken by Historic Green)

The gorgeous historic home that will be brought back to life using big hearts, lots of sweat, and some shiny new Craftsman tools. Look at those piers!!! (Picture taken by Historic Green)

Revisiting the Austin Tinkering School

Today's crew at the school. L to R: Jack, Kami, XXX, Oren, XXX

Some of the crew from the Austin Tinkering School in October 2013. (L-R: Jack, Kami, Luke, Oren, and Andre)

In the summer of 2013, I signed a contract to work with Sears and Craftsman to look for groups that needed tools and to write about them. Yeah, dream gig. I was headed down to Texas, so the very first place I contacted was the Austin Tinkering School, a group I learned about through the fixer movement that I’d been involved with for a while. They happily accepted, asked for a bandsaw, proceeded to slay me with their enthusiasm and creativity and fearlessness, and then taught me more than I ever expected to learn about child development. To read more about this wonderful school, its origins, and the tinkering movement, check out this post. Through the magic of the Facebooks, I’ve been able to easily follow the school–they just wrapped up their summer session–and Kami Wilt, the school’s founder, said she’d be happy to send over an update.

I got this email from her earlier today and I swear on my mother’s eyes, there is no secret marketing robot who made this up:

I don’t know how we ever got by before without the bandsaw!  It has been in near-constant use. Before, when we had to make curved and precise cuts, we had to get out the jigsaw, clear off a table, clamp down the wood… it’s a little bit of a production.  And then when we needed to make really finicky small cuts, like when kids want to cut out a really detailed shape, it was pretty harrowing, because the jigsaw is so big and jouncy and it’s hard to give kids free rein with it.
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Having the bandsaw made it possible for us to make much more detailed and precise cuts, and having it there, set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice was really liberating.  The kids loved it!  There was a line to use the bandsaw all summer long.  Kids were able to cut cool little swords with curvy handles, wheels, doors for dollhouses, the letters for their name… the list is pretty much endless.  The fact that they could cut out pretty much any shape they could draw really opened up limitless possibilities.  And apart from the detailed cuts, it became our go-to tool for just making a quick straight cut.  The bandsaw really completed our shop space and made it a lot more functional and effective.  We’re super, super thankful to Craftsman for donating it to the Austin Tinkering School!
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Students are trained first in safety and then supervised, but free to do whatever they wish. Basically, there is no right or wrong, they try something and if it doesn’t work out, they try it a different way. Kids aren’t allowed to fail today and as a result, they aren’t allowed to learn how to solve problems and, god forbid, have fun.

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“If kids never learn how to deal with things that can hurt them, they’ll get hurt when they finally encounter them.” -Kami Wilt

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For more information on the original school that inspired Kami to start up a branch in Austin, check this out, and then get out there and start one in your own town: http://www.tinkeringschool.com/

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Turning Dirt into Dialogue at El Paseo Community Garden

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“A poem is a walk.” -A. R. Ammons

Five years ago, five residents of Chicago’s West side Pilsen neighborhood sat around Sallie Gordon’s kitchen table and decided that they needed to acquire a vacant lot and create a space for locals to congregate and grow food. People needed a source of fresh, healthy, affordable produce, and the community needed more cross-generational and cross-cultural interaction. After a long search and some support from local organizations and officials, a garden, now known as El Paseo Community Garden, was built in July of 2009. For most people who lived near it, it was the first community garden that they had ever seen.

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(Left to right) Ron Gordon, Sallie Gordon, and Harry Irizarry, who acts as a translator to foster cross-cultural communication at the garden.

“People didn’t understand that they could plant their own food there for the first year. They didn’t understand that this garden was for everyone. We had to have an Octoberfest party and other events to get people into the garden, and then slowly, they started to get it. It was a long process.”

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While we filled more raised beds this weekend, countless residents, whether they volunteered at the garden or not, used the long pathway between the gardens and native prairie to walk their dogs, ride their bikes, and stroll with their families. It certainly beats any of the parallel streets. Appropriately, “El Paseo” means “The Walk.”

In 2009, there were 6 raised beds, built with the help of 15 volunteers. When I visited there this weekend to bring over a Craftsman round point shovel, spade, and leaf rake (and, of course, to get my hands dirty) there were 27 beds and over 30 people involved with the garden. Groups like Greencorps Chicago helped to expand the garden considerably in 2011, and some residents like Antonio Acevedo have really stepped up to take on major projects on the land like constructing a rain collection system and building compost bins and a tool shed.

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Antonio Acevedo, a civil engineer by trade, has volunteered for four years now and built a rain collection system and other structures in the garden as well as managed many of the projects on site.

This area of the city has also had serious environmental issues to contend with, including high levels of lead in much of the soil. Beyond using clean soil and compost and building raised beds, the entire length of one side of the garden contains prairie plants, which help to remediate the sins of the past (it also happens to look incredibly beautiful). They also obscure the railroad tracks behind them—many believe that the railroad and how it was used historically is a contributor of the contamination they have to contend with in the area. Some residents have planted gardens in areas that have unsafe soil, unaware that their attempts to providing themselves and their family with free, fresh food is (very) unfortunately not a healthy practice. Another reason why these kinds of community gardens are hugely important in this neighborhood.

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Carlos Nunez, Sallie, and Raúl Sandova glowing in front of a newly built fence last year. The amount of volunteer work that has gone into this place is astonishing, and you can really see just how expansive this garden is in this picture! (Photo by Ron Gordon)

Beyond helping to fulfill a need for a healthy, free source of food, the garden is located near senior housing and is an outlet and gathering space for many older residents, many of whom grew up on farms in Mexico. The site also acts as a Monarch butterfly sanctuary, holds potluck summer dinners, evenings of guitar music by residents, volunteer days, workshops, high school class visits, children festivals, and tours to a variety of groups.

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Community members now gather regularly for potlucks and barbecues. (Photo by Ron Gordon)

The garden has also always worked with the Pilsen Community Market, which was started by Ron Gordon, Sallie’s husband, who is an architectural photographer by trade and who has lived in this neighborhood since 1973. Ron is also very active at El Paseo and has done a lot of regular maintenance and building on the land, not to mention documentation of the progress and events through the years–check out their Facebook page for several years worth of images.

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Paula Villa, an active volunteer for several years, tidying up.

According to Sallie, more and more people keep coming to the garden now, and after almost 6 years, she believes the garden is strong now and can survive. “There is always more work to be done and all are welcome. What we need most is more hands to work and use all of this beautiful land!”

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I mean, who wouldn’t come here to eat lunch?

Antonio’s rainwater collection system.

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About sums it up. (Photo by Sallie Gordon)

 

Trailer Blazers: A weekend up north with vintage trailer restoration gurus

Christie Webber and Shawn Fairchild are collecting and restoring vintage trailers in their spare time.

Shawn Fairchild and Christie MacDonald are collecting and restoring vintage trailers in their spare time. Their addiction is our gain.

Smaller Living

So you like the tiny house movement, right? Want to fit everything you own into a 100-square-foot house with a lofted bed and a toilet that converts into a dining room table? Better yet, do you want the ability to tug this incredibly adorable house on a flatbed behind your Prius and park it wherever you like on trips across the country?

Great, that will only cost you a kabrillion dollars. Of course, if you don’t have that much disposable income, you can just build it yourself. No big whoop.

Christie's beloved Shasta, mid-restoration. Shastas were built between 1941 and 2004 and were originally constructed as housing for United States Armed Forces. One of their most charming features are a set of wings on the rear sides of the trailers. These are often difficult to find as they've been stolen off of most of the older models. They are mostly cut off in this pic, but you can see them in the picture above and on the Vin Tin Tin Facebook page.

Christie’s beloved Shasta, mid-restoration. Shastas were built between 1941 and 2004 and were originally constructed as housing for United States Armed Forces. One of their most charming features is the set of wings on the rear sides of the trailers. These are often difficult to find as they’ve been stolen off of most of the older models.

Don’t get me wrong, I love DIY, but building such a thing without experience would require a whole lot of patience and whole lot of time and still would cost some serious moolah. Want an efficient, mobile structure that has everything you need to live, actually was built to be transported, and does not require existing infrastructure to land somewhere for a while? Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to rekindle our love for the good old American trailer. Ta-da!

I recently drove up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to meet with Christie MacDonald and Shawn Fairchild to learn about their passion for restoring vintage trailers. Airstreams have been embraced by hipsters from Austin to Seattle, but there are so many more options that for some inexplicable reason, we never hear about.

Rolite made the first hardwall pop-up trailers. This guy (with a trunk!!) was build in the 1960s and opened in less than two minutes by pushing a button. The inside sprouts a furnace, stove, sink, closet, dining area, beds and a couch, which fold up or down when the walls and roof are raised. (What?) This particular find has had only one owner--a family that went camping all over the place, sleeping 7. Yes, 7. The other great part is that this trailer was created in Wisconsin, home of Vin Tin Tin. These are super rare.

Rolite made the first hard-wall aluminum pop-up trailers. This good looking guy (with a trunk!!) was build in the 1960s and opened in less than two minutes by pushing a button. The inside sprouts a furnace, stove, sink, closet, dining area, beds and a couch, which fold up or down when the walls and roof are raised. (What?!) This particular find has had only one owner–a family that went camping all over the place, sleeping 7. Yes, 7. The other great part is that this trailer was created in Wisconsin, home of Vin Tin Tin. These are super rare.

About 2-1/2 years ago, Christie and Shawn got together to start Vin Tin Tin, a business restoring mid-century trailers. There are many components to the business, but perhaps my favorite is their plan to acquire land to rent out a collection of their favorite restored trailers in the same way you would rent out cabins on a plot of land. They would be pretty much permanent in their locations with period-appropriate awnings and regular maintenance to keep them looking as amazing as they do in their temporary warehouse home.

Kristie and Shawn don't mess around when it comes to keeping everything strictly to period. They even plan to have these original mattresses specially cleaned and disinfected to keep them in their original home. Want.

Every detail of these restorations is kept strictly to period. They even plan to have these original mattresses specially cleaned and disinfected to keep them in their original home. Want.

Shawn works on mega yacht interiors during the day and therefore has a wealth of experience working with the same materials found in these trailers, as well as furniture set at a smaller scale. Christie is passionate about research and scouting for new trailers—in fact, they both do all of the work and love all of the components of this business. They are happily hoarding any and all vintage items to fill up these trailers in their huge warehouse—from canopies to ashtrays—all completely to period and in excellent condition.

Nothing can compare with authenticity. And heck, the 50s and 60s were already campy and the vibrant colors and boomerang patterns and metal and curved corners elevate the heartbeat and can’t help but make one feel cheery.

ToolMade drove a Craftsman C3 impact driver kit all the way up to Door County, Wisconsin as an excuse to come meet these folks and see their work. They need these drivers to deal with the insane number of bolts during the restoration process--they once counted 400 on just the BACK of one of a these trailers.

ToolMade drove a Craftsman C3 impact driver kit all the way up to Door County, Wisconsin as an excuse to come meet these folks and see their work. They need these drivers to deal with an insane number of bolts during the restoration process–they once counted 400 on just the BACK of one of a these trailers.

Mobile Home History

In the beginning, the mobile home was an innovation for the wealthy. They came up around the start of the automobile era and allowed for long, leisurely trips before highways sprawled and cut across the landscape and emptied into avenues lined with motels. During WWII, the federal government, focusing more on portability and convenience than luxury, purchased tens of thousands of trailers to house workers producing goods for the war. After the war, trailer parks started popping up on college campuses to house former soldiers under the G.I. Bill.

Stripped down to the "studs."

Stripped down to the  studs.

Things shifted further in the 1950s and the mobile home became a low-cost residence, often parked permanently in a rapidly growing number of trailer parks around the country. Today, there are 8.6 million of these homes, housing around 12 million people. A stigma still surrounds the trailer park, though that may be shifting again as retirees are buying them up like crazy.

This luxury camper is similar to the model that Lucy and Desi made famous in the 1950s. All of the trailers that Christie and Shawn buy are rare or coveted for one reason or another. There is no lack of personality.

This luxury camper is similar to the model that Lucy and Desi made famous in the 1950s. All of the trailers that Christie and Shawn buy are rare or coveted for one reason or another. There is no lack of personality.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of regulation surrounding trailers—often in an effort to combat this stigma. Christy and Shawn explained that the smaller trailers that they work on are generally not welcome to park in otherwise trailer-friendly areas. There are rules in place that restrict trailers over a certain age—rules like this are basically intended to keep out people like Cousin Eddie and his rusted 1972 Ford Condor. Of course, trailers made now are made with increasingly lousy materials in an effort to keep them enormous but also meet fuel efficiency regulations. They’re downright flimsy compared with vintage trailers, and utterly forgettable. But, as we’ve seen with architecture, we are told to value bigger, crappy living quarters verses smaller, quality spaces that work. Don’t get me started.

Fortunately, to combat this nonsense, Christy and Shawn also plan to make land available for smaller trailers to come and hang out and live their handsome little lives. Check out the pics and links below for more information, and especially follow Vin Tin Tin’s Facebook page for more pictures and information on their future endeavors. I’ll wave to you from the Shasta I’m renting on their land.

For more on the restoration work of Vin Tin Tin, check out their picture-laden Facebook page.

For more on the history of pop-up campers.

A rather fascinating New York Times article on today’s trailer parks.

My god, even the curtains are original in this puppy. Swoon.

My god, even the curtains are original in this puppy. Swoon.

Some bigger projects outside of the warehouse space.

Some bigger projects outside of the warehouse space.

I can't stop posting pictures! These are some other immaculate vintage finds that will eventually accompany their appropriate trailer at the rental park. None of this stuff is reproduced. Original or nada.

I can’t stop posting pictures! These are some other immaculate vintage finds that will eventually accompany their appropriate trailer at the rental park. None of this stuff is reproduced. Original or nada.

Details. Sigh. These things will be cleaned up, but man, they even look good in this state.

Details. Sigh. These things will be cleaned up (sorry, Christy, I know you don’t like the rust pictures), but man, they even look good in this state.

Eat your heart out.

I mean, eat your heart out.

Saving South Bend

One of around 1700  vacant homes in South Bend whose fate is yet to be determined. (South Bend Times photo by Greg Swiercz)

One of around 1700 vacant homes in South Bend whose fate is yet to be determined. Sure would be a shame to see you go, good lookin’. (South Bend Times photo by Greg Swiercz)

South Bend, Indiana is, like many Rust Belt cities in the Midwest, marked by de-industrialization and population decline. The economic shocks of past decades—attributed to factors like the transfer of manufacturing to the Southeast, the decline in steal and coal industries, and good old globalization—have left a lot of these cities without jobs and well, without as many people. So, South Bend found itself with more homes than could be filled, currently around 1700 vacant properties, which apparently must either be smashed to bits or rehabilitated. Well, guess which is usually cheaper?

A home is demolised in a Near Northwest neighborhood. The demo is part of the city's push to address 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days. (South Bend Times photo by James Brosher)

A home is demolished in a Near Northwest neighborhood. The demo is part of the city’s push to address 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days. It might be worth arguing that if we addressed all of our issues by turning them into tiny obliterated hunks of waste, we might not quite be addressing the root cause. (South Bend Times photo by James Brosher)

Here’s the thing—it’s not the building stock’s fault that there was an exodus. In fact, the buildings in many of these cities, which once boomed with jobs and industry, are generally pretty extraordinary, laid out in well designed planning grids with accessible and centralized main streets. They are walkable and human-scaled and downright handsome. These historic structures are also unequivically the greatest assets these cities have to offer. They hold their resale value better (think long-term), are made with incredible old growth wood and other materials that are no longer available, and will, quite frankly, easily last another century if they are just shown a little TLC. This is simply not the case for new construction which tends to be out of scale, made with inferior materials, and ages about as well as acid-washed jeans.

Local residents learn the basics of power tools through a Restore Michiana workshop. Empowering people to fix up their homes and neighborhoods is a slick and useful way to help save your city.

Local residents learn the basics of power tools through a Restore Michiana workshop. Empowering people to fix up their homes and neighborhoods is a slick and useful way to help save your city. (Photo by Restore Michiana)

So, it was a no-brainer for ToolMade to support a group in Indiana that is working to empower homeowners by offering workshops that help them repair and restore their buildings. South Bend’s aggressive demolition program is already in the works and is set to span the next three years, so if the local government doesn’t see the value of preserving more of its built environment, it’s time to educate and put tools in the hands of residents who want to fight for their history and quality homes and neighborhoods.

Pad sanding like a boss.

Using a pad sander like a boss. (Photo by Restore Michiana)

To help fill the knowledge gap and teach homeowners and contractors how to work on these buildings, people like Elicia Feasel and Steve Szaday create and run workshops through Restore Michiana. This group is the result of a partnership between Indiana Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County. Why the partnership? As Steve puts it, “every house has a story, even if it was no more than Billy’s Grandma’s house…and if we can teach someone enough to give them the courage and skills to save that house by doing some of the repairs themselves, we have successfully made a difference.”

Hardware 101.

Hardware 101. (Photo by Restore Michiana)

The workshops are lead by experts in specific fields and are refreshingly cheap—usually around $25-30 for a whole day, sometimes with pizza included! In the past two years alone, hundreds or locals and contractors have taken classes through Restore Michiana. Lectures have been given on a topics like how to research your home’s history, historic paint colors, and historic masonry care. Hands-on workshops have focused on plaster repair, wood floor repairs and refinishing, and the upkeep and repair of historic wood windows.

"Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia." -Alexis Carrel

“Life leaps like a geyser for those who drill through the rock of inertia.” -Alexis Carrel (Photo by Restore Michiana)

The program is self funded and all of the fees are used up to print flyers, buy supplies, and help reimburse equipment rentals and or logistical costs. Some local hardware stores have helped by providing basics like glazing, chemicals, wood fillers, etc., and all of the tools that were used on these workshops were either brought in by guest experts or are a part of the Restore Michiana’s personal home stash of tools. This unfortunately meant that all the tools had to be shared, even with 15-20 people in a class. That’s limiting and frustrating if you’re itching to get some hands-on know-how.

If you want to save your homes, resources, neighborhoods and possibly even souls, you must provide pizza. It is the #1 rule of organizing.

If you want to save your homes, resources, neighborhoods and possibly even souls, you must provide pizza. It is the #1 rule of organizing. (Photo by Restore Michiana)

The May class was a day-long Intro to Power Tools workshop for people having little to no experience using tools. The focus was on learning the basics of sawing, routing, sanding, and drilling, and took place at one of the most enduring and unique properties in St. Joseph County, the Birdsell mansion. The building is a Local Historic Landmark built in 1898, and currently available for lease (yes, sure, this is a plug. Preservationists ain’t nothing if not resourceful).

Thanks to the support of several concerned groups, more of these classes are going to happen going forward. If we want our neighborhoods to improve, we have to get out there and get our hands dirty.

Thanks to the support of several concerned groups, more of these classes are going to happen going forward. If we want our neighborhoods to improve, we have to get out there and get our hands dirty. (Photo by Restore Michiana)

Several sponsors, ranging from hardware stores to Habitat for Humanity to real-estate groups to the local pizza spot underwrote/sponsored the event. ToolMade donated several items including a much-needed Craftsman Lithium-Ion 3-Piece Combo Kit (a drill, circular saw, work light, extra lithium battery, circular saw blade and a multi-chemistry charger), a Compact Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, and an ever-useful pad sander. The best news? Because the Power Tools was so well attended and now has more of the needed tools, there will be more of these classes going forward. Not bad for a crew working on a shoestring budget that is also conducting a number of other classes, often dragging in tools from their own garages. And so, I am left with no choice but to bust out the old Margaret Meade quote to wrap this one up: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I know, but come on, it’s just so damned true.

Digging in the dirt: The absolutely essential need for kids to know what they’re eating

1506395_10152864513989119_133232486_n-1Joseph Dummitt has been teaching after school programming through a charitable arm of the Chicago Public Library for the past 5 years. Monday through Thursday, from 3pm-6pm, he helps kids with their homework until their parents are able to pick them up. And sometimes, when they finish early enough, he teaches them how to garden and about where their food comes from.

There is zero budget for the food education component of this program, so tools were desperately needed to build raised beds and cultivate the gardens. Joseph reached out with a “dream list of tools” and I drove out to the McKinley Park library with all of the Craftsman gardening items I could get a hold of, including a trowel, a couple of cultivators, a bow rake, a curved claw hammer, a garden hoe, a digging fork, and a round point shovel. Joseph and a 2nd grader named Daron came out to the car to help bring all of the tools into the library. I’m not sure how to describe them except to say that they were outright gleeful when they saw the goods. I was in a lousy mood earlier that day. That mood was utterly obliterated.

Joseph working with a student at the McKinley Branch Library.

Joseph working with a student at the McKinley Branch Library. (Original photo source: Streetwise)

When we got inside, I asked Joseph why he decided to put the extra effort in with the gardening program. He looked at me, then turned to Daron and said, “hey, what did they give you to eat at school today,” to which Daron replied “Ummm, chicken nuggets. Oh, and bread. Bread, too.” Then he looked back at me with the same expression of “seriously, how can I not.” Basically, kids just eat fillers and garbage that doesn’t look like food and in some ways really isn’t even food. Joseph grew up around farms and gardening with his family in Champaign, Illinois and couldn’t believe how detached these kids were from their food supply. So basically, he just took up the cause. He has been working with the library to carve out a little space and grow things with the kids, things that are hard to kill like green onions, tomatoes, leafy greens, and wild flowers. He said that when he picks something that they’ve grown and hands it to them to take a bite, they are completely mystified. Maybe even terrified.

Boooo.

Boooo. (Original photo source: Chicago Now)

As the population of the United States has transitioned from a predominantly agrarian society to an increasingly more urban one, our youth have become detached from a fundamental understanding of agriculture. Food just appears and lives in supermarkets. Chicago is around 85% paved, and many areas with patches of green space find out that those patches are contaminated from years of  surrounding industry pollution, so it’s no wonder there is a disconnect in most urban environments. And don’t get me going on what food we subsidize in this country. It’s criminal.

The following pics are screenshots from Jamie Oliver's t.v. show. He asked a bunch of grade schoolers what the following vegetables were. Apparently, these are potatoes.

The following pics are screenshots from Jamie Oliver’s t.v. show. He asked a bunch of grade schoolers what the following vegetables were. Apparently, these are potatoes.

This detachment from food and farming has gone on long enough that in some cases, multiple generations of families just have absolutely no idea how to cook real food. Microwaves or bust. And if you aren’t teaching these things at home, perhaps you assume that schools will surely pick up the slack, eh? Yeah, nope. School is supposed to arm kids with tools to navigate the world, but it hasn’t evolved to address our current crises and usually doesn’t address health and nutrition in any meaningful way, if at all. In fact, classes like home economics have been cut in most schools because they aren’t seen as being vital. Ha. Also, schools serve crap for lunch. 31 million kids pick up highly processed fast food from the lunch lady each day and wash it down with chocolate milk. It’s literally killing them.

"Broccoli?"

“Broccoli?”

According to the American Heart Association, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. Instead of having to deal with skinned knees at recess, they are sedentary in their classrooms and dealing with issues that only adults experienced before like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and elevated blood cholesterol levels. I can’t even imagine these things being discussed when I was a rambunctious little troublemaker in the early 80s. To top things off, obese kids are, of course, more prone to low self-esteem, negative body image and depression. Good thing we live in a world where kids are getting positive feedback from media and movies that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful! Oh, wait.

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“Celery?” “Onion!”

So listen, support people like Joseph who are trying to combat this issue through education. Put some shovels into the hands of kids, dig some holes with them, and show them what real food is. Let them have that joy of picking something off of a vine and biting into it. If schools and families aren’t equipped to teach these kinds of skills, help out anyone who is able and willing. Or volunteer to do it yourself because most of us adults would surely benefit from more time in a garden as well. Stay tuned—I’ll be doing a follow-up post once those beds are built and the planting begins.

"Pear?" And after a big hint from Jamie: "Egg salad!"

“Pear?” And after a hint from Jamie: “Egg salad!”