A few months back, the Matchbox moved. It left its old, troubled home in Stronghold and rumbled on over to a quiet backyard in a quiet corner of Brookland. It was a tricky move—tight turns, a narrow alley, a crooked tree and a muddy ground and a bench so sunk into the soil that it took a bottlejack to pry it loose. It was tough, but after the three or four messy hours it took, I reflected on just how fun it had been.
Not this time. Last weekend the Matchbox moved again, and this time there are no cute photographs of a tiny house on the road, no video snippets of those rain chains blowing in the wind. There’s only the nightmare of this weekend scarred into my memory: twenty hours of towing for two miles of movement. And, I suppose, a few lessons learned.
First, some context: the Matchbox relocated from Brookland (where the wonderful landowners needed the yard back for a spring garden) to Ivy City (where a wonderful landowner has so generously offered to give it space for the time being). Our expert tiny house mover was out of town, and my attempts to find a reliable tower (or truck, for that matter) got me nowhere—tow companies didn’t want to tow the house, or didn’t have a pickup, or both. With no professionals available, I resorted to all I had at my disposal: a Ford F150 rental from Uhaul.
I have no experience towing. This became immediately apparent as we got to work trying to pull the Matchbox out of the yard. First through the mud, tires spinning futilely, and then as we tried to haul the house around a tight corner, with an old tree leaning overhead, in reverse. Hours passed, progress was made, progress was lost. The hitch broke, the Matchbox’s siding got all scraped up, the back of the Ford sunk lower and lower into the ground. By late afternoon I’d all but given up. Despairing, I gave one of those tow companies a call—the one that had been most open to helping out, willing to come by if we were able to get it most of the way out.
I wouldn’t say it was most of the way out (not even close), but Darnell from Scott’s Towing [note: this isn’t a solicited review; they’re just awesome] swung on over around 5PM with a much-needed smile and positive attitude. He took over behind the wheel and—after about an hour of maneuvering—freed my little house from its little alley prison. We hit the road and I biked behind and twenty minutes later we were in Ivy City, my new home for the next few months. Or, almost. It was growing dark and there was still work to do: tearing down a picket fence, backing the house into a(nother) tight yard. We didn’t want to rush things, so we parked the house on the street for the night (legal in DC as long as it’s attached to a vehicle), then got to work the next morning with tons more back-and-forth before finally, sometime around 7PM, settling the Matchbox into the quiet backyard. A full weekend, sun-ups to sun-downs, moving one little house.
There’s lots more horror I’m skipping over: hours and hours of broken gutters and cracked concrete and trailer underbelly dragging over speed bumps and low curbs. A few angry drivers, an angry neighbor, and a tiny little paw-paw sprout left in critical condition after a run-in with a double-axle. Truck exhaust and human exhaustion, splintered wood and splintered hands. The scrapes and bruises will fade. But before the finer memories do, a few things I learned:
- Nobody puts baby in the corner. Don’t squeeze a tiny house somewhere it won’t fit. Just don’t. Backing up will always be more difficult than pulling in, and just because you’ve managed to get something pushed into the deepest corner of a narrow alley doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get it out. There were a few terrifying moments this weekend where I truly believed my house would never be able to make it out in one piece, and it’d be a terrible shame to put a house on wheels only to immobilize it through sheer, stubborn geometry.
- An F-150 is, like, totally okay but totally not great. It’s tricky to find a good truck to use in the urban East, but in a pinch an F-150 is, well, just fine. The Matchbox is a bit of a larger tiny house (mostly due to the flat roof and cantilevered porch), but the little(ish) Ford did just fine on the road, at least as far as braking and climbing little(ish) hills is concerned. Of course, a tiny house hauler would be far better fitted with something more powerful: the torque and the weight of the truck left much to be desired (and probably made the move much more difficult). But, y’know, desperate times …
- All good on the plaster front. A lot of people have had concerns about the Matchbox’s earthen plaster walls (and the drywall underneath). Will it crack? they ask. Maybe one day, but not yet. In the past few months my house has gone through a pair of two-mile moves, with lots of bumping and dropping down curbs and potholes, and though four miles isn’t exactly a long haul, so far the walls haven’t shown even the slightest hint of cracking.
- People are awesome. Two sets of wonderful host families, two sets of spectacular volunteer moving crews. Big thanks to Raquel, Janet, Jenny, and their families for giving the Matchbox a home during our time as a tiny house community-in-exile, and tons of appreciation to Robin, Lee, Erum, Molly, Lauren, Alix, Josh, Micah, Bao, and Darnell(!) for hours of grueling, muddy, miserable work helping the Matchbox move.
Of course, this is all just temporary. In a few months the Matchbox will move again, and this time (we hope) to a much more long-term home. More on that soon—including a really exciting upgrade to the (nearly off-grid) house—and lots more lessons from our time in transit. Looking to talk tiny houses in the meantime? Come join us for a movie and beer at Bardo next Friday!