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Shelter Publications World Headquarters

In the middle of a vegetable garden, hooked into the world with a half dozen Macs and a bunch of iPhones.

Built almost entirely of used wood from torn-down Navy barracks at Treasure Island (between Oakland and San Francisco) during the early ’70s.

I made friends with the wrecker, George Taylor, and we did a feature on his tools and techniques in our book Shelter.

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GIMME SHELTER – February, 2021

To anyone receiving this for the first time, I send these newsletters out every few months. They’re different from social media — old school in a way — in that they go to a select audience (about 4,400 people now), rather than blasting out into the internetosphere.

If you’re not signed up on the list to receive it, you can sign up for email delivery of the Gimme Shelter newsletter here.


“I would have written a shorter newsletter,
but I didn’t have enough time.”

–Iteration on a statement by Blaise Pascal, 1657

(And yes, I’ve said it before in these newsletters.)

I’ve been swamped with work for months now, and just getting rolling in the last few days, so this is a long newsletter. A dearth of soundbites.

The State of Shelter’s State

With new versions of Stretching, the Stretching Pocket Book – 40th Anniversary Edition (available in early June), and Galloway’s Book on Running, our sales are up over last year. And — ta-da — we’re just about to start on Rolling Homes.

We’re working on search engine optimization (SEO) for selling our books; we’re way behind in this area, and we’ve got an immense amount of content. Suggestions welcome.

I want us to keep operating for another 10 years — I ain’t retiring! For one thing, I’ve got 3–4 books waiting in the wings. Plus we’re running a hub for like-minded people. Sometimes I think of us as a tribe similar to the book lovers in Fahrenheit 451. Not mainstream, but committed to a certain lifestyle — we want to make stuff for ourselves, we want to be as independent, as self-sufficient as possible, we want our homes to be colorful and warm and inviting and handmade.

Rolling Homes

Drawing by Al Ortiz, Jr.

This will be unlike some of our books, such as Tiny Homes, where we came out with a publication at the onset of a movement. Nowadays, there’s a plethora of information about homes on the road. A number of pretty good books, plus on Instagram, hundreds of accounts of 21st century nomads. To see what I mean, do a search on Instagram for van.

When I first considered this book, it looked like there was a saturation of information. But as I studied the books, Instagram accounts, YouTube videos, and websites, I found a lot of sameness. There’s no end to Instagram posts featuring Mercedes Sprinter vans with young, attractive couples living idyllic lives; a lot of shots of them lying on the bed, looking out the rear view window at a beach or other photogenic background. They are, of course, linked in via satellite with iPhones and MacBook Airs, and some cases, monetizing the lifestyle.

Nothing wrong with that, but there is another, much larger group of people without the resources for brand new kitted-out vans. (And a lot of people these days are forced into mobile living.) Almost all of our contributors are do-it-yourselfers. We’re going to cover it all, from $400,000 Earth Roamers (not owner-built, but boy what rig!) to a $300 aerodynamic pickup camper shell — with everything in between.

We have so much material (it’s pouring in!) that I’m thinking of doing a series. We’re thinking about being a hub, an ongoing source of communication on the subject — not only with books, but also on our social media platforms and with YouTube videos. Handbuilt Rolling Homes, brought to you by Shelter Publications.

From our 50 years of publishing building books, we’ve got a robust network of people who like to work with their hands, and when we put the word out, we get lots of input (photos and stories).

Contribute to Rolling Homes

If you have or know of any road rigs, please contact: lloyd@shelterpub.com.

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien

Read More …

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House Built of Bridge Timbers in Big Sur

In 1968, I moved from Mill Valley to Big Sur and worked as foreman on a job building this house out of bridge timbers. The architect was George Brook-Kothlow. George had purchased all the bridge timbers from the town of Duncan’s Mills on the Russian River; they tore down the redwood bridge to build one of concrete, and George had hand-hewn 12 × 12 posts, 16-foot-long 6-by-16s and 16-foot-long 8-by-22s.

Carpenters Paul and Seth Wingate went down with me and we lived on the site, Rancho Rico, a 400-acre ranch with two private beaches. We remodeled some chicken coops for living quarters.

I spent about a year on the project. It was a struggle. We had to splice together two 2-by-8s for the 32-foot-long rafters, and lift them into place with a boom on the back of the ranch backhoe. There were 11 concrete pours for the foundation, each one coming 40 miles down the winding coast from Monterey. I quit after we got the building framed.

About 10 years ago, I went down for a visit. The family had moved into the chicken coops and they were renting the house for $13,000 a month.

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Michael Kahn’s Stained Glass Greenhouse in Arizona

My cousin Mike and I hung out together until we both went off to college. Mike started painting at an early age, moved to New York, where he sold paintings on the sidewalk, then to Provincetown, Cape Cod, where he painted, did pottery, and supported himself waiting on tables.

In the ’70s, he moved to a piece of land near Cottonwood, Arizona (near Sedona), where — partially influenced by our book Shelter — he started building a partially underground village of sculptural buildings, which he called Eliphante. I visited him and his wife Leda off and on, and in Home Work, published 24 photos of his wildly creative compound.

This is his greenhouse room built out of old auto windshields, put together with silicone caulk. The stained glass, which he got free, was siliconed on the inside of the windshields.

Mike is no longer with us, but you can learn more about him and Eliphante at: www.eliphante.com/…

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My Home in Big Sur, Built in the ’60s

I built this house in 1967–68 at Burns Creek in Big Sur, California (about two miles north of Esalen). The 14 posts were 12-foot-long 6″ by 12″ double-track railroad ties on 8′ centers. The girders, as well as the rafters were 30-foot-long, 2-by-14’s that had been salvaged by Cleveland Wreckers from an old horse stable in San Francisco. Sheathing was lumber from a farm labor camp I tore down in Salinas, and the shakes were split from deadfall trees I found in Palo Colorado Canyon. I used studs in between the posts. For shear panels (diagonal bracing) on one 8-foot-wide section each of the 4 walls, I used ⅝″ plywood nailed 2″ on centers around the edges and 6″ o.c. on the interior studs. I used annular grooved nails, which are way stronger than smooth nails.

Foundation was a grade beam with concrete delivered (40 miles down the coast) from Pacific Grove, on top of which I mixed and poured 14 round piers shaped by cardboard Sonotubes. Steel brackets embedded in the piers held the posts.

It took me about a year. I did all the carpentry, plumbing, and wiring. It’s a very simple house, a big shed really, and the carpentry is less than exquisite, but it got a roof over our heads. Oh yes, total materials costs were $8,000.

I developed a water supply by building a little dam in a spring 600′ above the house, and running plastic pipe down the hillside. I started some small-scale farming and we had a big garden and I would pick up fish guts in a 50-gallon drum on the Monterey wharf (in our 1960 VW van) on our weekly shopping trips into town.

There were a few things about it that didn’t exactly fit the building codes, so once when the building inspector came, I put on a Jimi Hendrix record loud when I saw him pull up, and he was so rattled that he didn’t notice the non-compliances.

The owners love the house, and I visit once in a while, and camp out next to a studio above the house.

When I decided to leave Big Sur (and embarked on a 5-year period of building geodesic domes), I sold the house to the owners of the land for $11,000.

Item of interest: Barbara Spring, an artist who bought the house from the land owners in the early ’70s, was a friend of the architect Phillip Johnson (post-modern architect known for his Glass House, co-designer (with Mies van der Rohe) of the Seagram Building in NYC, etc.). Johnson was looking for a house to buy in Big Sur and when he came to visit Barbara on a rainy day (with the Ashley Automatic wood stove warming the house), he told her this was the kind of place he would love to find.

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First Nations Builders

The natives of the northwest coast of North America are referred to as First Nations people. In Builders of the Pacific Coast, we have a 12-page section, with 30 vintage photographs of their buildings and totem poles, as well as drawings showing how they raised the huge poles and beams of their remarkable longhouses. (A Salish building discovered by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792 was over 1000 feet long.)

Haida man standing in front of a six-beam Haida house at Haina, Haida Gwaii (formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands), 1888. Note the immaculate carpentry.

Kwakiutl (Kwagiulth) House frame of relatively recent times (note milled wallboards)

From the wonderful book, Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians, Copyright 1984 By Hilary Stewart, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto

Rear totem of the Raven House at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii, Shows (from top) Raven flanked by two frogs, a human figure and the Thunderbird.

Interior post from the caps on big house of Yestaquana at Skidegate, Haida Gwaii. The post, originally painted black, red, white, and blue, stood at the rear of the house, aligned with the front door.

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Steel-Framed House on British Columbia Island by Builder Dean Ellis

From Builders of the Pacific Coast, pages 154 to 155.

As I go through the 1000 or so photos in this book, there are more than 100 like this that deserve large-formatted viewing. It strikes me that we could do an exhibit of selected photos from this book.

Note: We have an unconditional guarantee on all of our books. If you are not completely satisfied, for any reason, at any time, call us up and we will send you a refund. No need to return books. Also, we have a 30% discount on two or more books, with free shipping — which is usually a lower price than Amazon.

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Boathouse with Steel Rafters on British Columbia Island

This gracefully curved little steel-frame boathouse was built by Dean Ellis on the beach of an island in the Strait of Georgia, BC. Posts are 4″–5″ steel, 8 feet on center. The curved steel purlins are 2½″ steel tubes, The curves formed on a break in a sheet metal shop. The 1″ by 6″ wood sheathing is welded to the steel purlins with nails.

The wood sheathing is connected to the steel purlins by driving nails through the roof sheathing alongside the steel purlins, then welding to the purlins with wire-fed welder.

Details in Builders of the Pacific Coast, page 159.

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