By Maraley McMichael
Senior Voice Correspondent 

Grandma's tiny house


November 1, 2019

Courtesy Maraley McMichael

Clayton family station wagon and camp trailer at Watson Lake, Yukon, Canada summer 1960.

"Would you be willing to drive to Slana and help me retrieve the little 1955 camp trailer?" I asked my son Patrick. "Sure," he replied. He had just told me he was coming to Alaska this past August, only this trip he planned to help with projects on my "honey do" list. Because of his busy schedule with his architectural firm, he's lucky to make a trip to Alaska every two or three years, and when he does, he usually plays "fishing guide" to a group of his buddies that come along, too.

A couple of years ago, I got the idea that if my family's old 12-foot camp trailer was parked in my back yard, it could be used for additional sleeping room. After a summer when even a cargo trailer was put into service as an extra guest bedroom, this project seemed to rate quite high on my list. Transporting it from Slana to Palmer would be a big job, but since Patrick was agreeable, I set the plan in motion.

The trailer was sitting on land in Slana that my dad had owned since the 1950s. Dad had parked it there at least 30 years ago. I inherited this land about the time we moved from Slana back to Palmer.

Since the tire rubber (or the vintage frame for that matter) couldn't be trusted enough to hitch it to a vehicle and tow it to Palmer, we needed Gary's trusty Dodge pickup combined with his 18-foot flatbed trailer for transportation. I called a friend in North Carolina to get permission for two overnights in their Slana cabin. We also needed the help of another Slana friend, who used his Max all-terrain vehicle to pull the trailer out of the woods and back it up onto our flatbed trailer. It was quite a process and a lot of work, but successful. Back home in Palmer, Patrick used Gary's Kubota tractor to unload the camp trailer from the flatbed trailer and park it in its new home.

In the summer of 1960, our family of five drove out the Al-Can Highway to Montana to visit Dad's relatives. We then drove to Chicago where we took a train to New York to visit Mom's relatives. On the return trip, Dad and Mom bought this little camp trailer "used" from a dealer in Montana. They thought it was great except for the lingering smell of cigarette smoke from the previous owner.

Although quite tiny on space, it was a step up from tent camping with three little girls aged four years and under. It could sleep five. Mom and a child or two slept on the short, double size mattress that was hemmed in by walls and built-in cabinets, all except for 34 inches. Above that was a built-in canvas cot with steel rod side rails. The two-person dining room table folded down, along with the benches, to make a bed the width of half a twin size mattress.

Above that Dad created another built-in cot in the later years. Dad slept in the back of the station wagon.

Cooking in the tiny kitchen was a one-person affair. Frequently Dad cooked a breakfast of oatmeal or

hotcakes and Mom usually cooked dinner. Dad fashioned a 34"x 10" board to fit between the kitchen cabinet and the closet. This served as the eating table for us three girls, as we sat on the double bed. Lunch was a picnic affair eaten at a scenic view spot or in the car if the weather was bad.

I so loved my special sleeping place all those years - the cot above the main bed. In the beginning, as the oldest child, I was the only one big enough to stand on the edge of the kitchen sink and climb over the side of the cot. My bedding was the liner of a big Army surplus sleeping bag, with ties for closure rather than a zipper. Mom was afraid I'd fall out during the night, but that never happened. There was talk of sharing this special location, but somehow through the years, I never had to relinquish my sleeping spot to a younger sibling - a first born privilege!

Courtesy Maraley McMichael

The trailer at its new home in Palmer.

Besides driving home to Alaska in 1960, our family also used this trailer for other month-long trips to the "states" in 1965 and 1970 and numerous shorter trips around Alaska from Homer to Fairbanks and all points between. There is a 1962 photo of us three girls holding up starfish on the Homer Spit with our Granny from New York. My brother was two-months-old that summer. Granny probably slept on the dining benches and table. We also spent several days using it in Fairbanks taking in the 1967 Alaska Centennial celebrations just a week before their big flood. So, I have numerous memories.

Shortly after the little camp trailer was parked in its new home in my Palmer back yard, I walked out with my laptop during a Skype visit with my 10-year-old granddaughter and gave her a show-and-tell of the exterior and interior, both of which are in pretty rough shape.

"Grandma," she said, "I can't wait to come to Alaska again and sleep in your tiny house!" Thanks to my son, that is now a possibility.

Author Bio

Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan now residing in Palmer.

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