The discovery of a gypsy caravan painting by California artist Vanessa Valencia has inspired Jacksonville resident Calvin Howell to create a caravan of his own, using various and sundry items he's collected throughout the years.
Using the artist's rendering as a guide, Howell began the project on Jan. 5, spending nearly four months building his caravan – a British term for a travel trailer – from scratch.
“It brings tears to my eyes sometimes, when I see it,” he said. “I love it. It turned out so beautiful.”
According to Wikipedia, “in Europe, the origins of travel trailers and caravanning can be traced back to traveling Gypsies, and showmen who spent most of their lives in horse-drawn caravans.”
Howell's 2,450-pound blue and orange caravan rests upon a five- by 10-foot trailer bed, which hitches to a vehicle for towing.
Much of the handcrafted vehicle is made from repurposed items, he said.
“I repurposed everything I possibly could,” he said, describing the tiny kitchen sink – a 1960s-era gold-plated chrome piece – was donated by a friend, while a readily available coffee table fit perfectly into a niche on one side of the trailer. A pair of salt shakers create colorful wall sconces, while a scarf donated by a family member is now serving as curtains and a bed sheet is the backdrop for a Murphy bed created to better utilize space inside.
“I'm a hunter-gatherer,” he laughed. “I just pulled it together from stuff I have …. I just love to re-use stuff wherever I can.”
Outside, notable features include a pair of custom-ordered concrete gargoyles and a lion's head “repurposed from a water fountain” that doubles as a cover to a small window-unit air conditioner.
Parts from an unused king-sized bed-frame and rods from a classic Jenny Lind crib were recycled for use as exterior trim, and solar panels were incorporated to charge up the 12-volt battery system set up along with a 110 power source.
Howell estimates it took approximately $6,000 in total materials and along with a large number of man-hours spread across a five-month period to complete the colorful caravan, which sits adjacent to his home on County Road 1405.
“It's definitely been a labor of love,” he said of the Jenny Lynn – his name for the caravan – which was completed a day prior to his birthday.
“See what a 77-year-old man can do with a skill saw and a can of spray paint?” he laughed.
The most challenging part of the project was “building it upside-down,” explained Howell, who is better known as the “whirligig man” who creates wind-operated yard art seen at home and businesses properties around Jacksonville.
“I built the ceiling before did the walls and the interior, going from the top down,” he said, explaining that “most of the time, you build from bottom up, but I built from top down, because I had never built a curved arched ceiling before and I didn't know how it was done.
“Before I could really determine the height, I had to have the arches in place so I could figure out how to tie my walls to my arches,” he said.
To determine whether the Jenny Lynn was road-ready, Howell made his maiden voyage at the beginning of June, to Broken Bow, Arkansas.
“It pulled beautifully, and never wobbled,” he said proudly.
He also has taken his caravan to Canton, where he recently set up at the city's monthly “Canton Trade Days” event. “I had lots of people come look at it, oohing and ahhhing, and I was in hog heaven, because it was like showing off my grandchildren – it was a lot of fun!”
While the caravan is for sale via Facebook Marketplace under the title “Gypsy Travel Trailer,” Howell said he's had several strong offers on it.
“It's a niche market. In fact, I had one lady who is a fortune teller, who is seriously interested in it – she wants to take her show on the road.”
For now, though, Howell said folks can contact him at 903-316-9973 for tours of the caravan.
“I want it to be fun for everybody,” he said.