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A Handcrafted Cedar Wood English Gypsy Traveling Cart and Wood Interior

Cedar English Gypsy Cart The author built this old-style English Gypsy cart from a sheepherder's cart base and carved the trillium flowers by hand with knives and gouges. In the winter of 1972, a wandering antiques dealer came by my shop in southern New Hampshire. He was hauling a rickety old sheepherder’s wagon fixed to the frame of a Model T truck to make it roadworthy. I was enchanted: I knew that I had to someday build such a magical, visible-xs-inline space for myself. A few years later, after research into traditional sheepherder’s wagons and wainwrighting (the craft of constructing wooden carts), I designed an all-wood structure for the bed of a 1940 flat-bed pickup. It was built mostly of pine tongue-and-groove boards screwed to an oak frame to create walls and then enclosed with canvas “sailcloth” spread over steamed oak hoops. I couldn’t stop myself from building more sheepherder-type travel trailers on the side. I studied the definitive book on the subject (The English Gypsy Caravan by Cyril Ward-Jackson and Denis Harvey) and ordered drawings of some vardos (what the Gypsies called their living wagons) published by John Thompson. It turns out that these “one-horse drawn, four-wheeled, one-room, chimneyed” vehicles were only produced for a relatively short period of time in England during the Victorian era. The Gypsies themselves rarely built their wagons — they relied on a handful of wainwright shops scattered throughout the countryside. [caption id="attachment_12874" align="aligncenter" width="395"]The wagon's roof is made out of Egyptian treated canvas sailcloth wrapped over steam-bent cedar hoops. The wagon's roof is made out of Egyptian treated canvas sailcloth wrapped over steam-bent cedar hoops. I built a number of these vardo-type wagons in the 1980s. Each was more refined structurally and more highly detailed in cabinetry, trim and carving work than its predecessor. Last year, I completed a bow-top. To ensure predictable performance and durability, I had the chassis professionally built of welded steel channel and fitted with a standard trailer undercarriage and tow-bar equipment. For windshear strength, I constructed the walls by sandwiching cedar tongue-and-groove boards around a plywood torsion box. The woodworking in this wagon was, for me, the most fun of all: Except for machining the wood to dimension, I used hand planes to smooth all the surfaces; hand saws and chisels to create most of the joints; and drawknives and spokeshaves to create all the ornamentation. (No routers or power sanders were harmed in the creation of this project!) [caption id="attachment_12875" align="aligncenter" width="310"]Wood interior on English gypsy cart The interior of the cart is similar to a marine interior, built from spruce, cedar and fir to maximize durability and longevity. For more details about my wagons, visit my web site at: www.jimtolpin.com or the Port Townsend School of Woodworking at www.ptwoodschool.com.