Old Time Tiny House Trailers

The Tiny House Craze is cool and feels New, but it’s actually one of those things that has come around — though with a twist.  There is a lot to learn from the past if we take a few minutes to look.  Here is an older style “Tiny” living quarters on wheels that representing a time before coining the term “Tiny House”.  Most definitely a “Specialty Trailer” too.  Here are some interesting bits to learn from as we re-think tiny house trailers.

I found this trailer while exploring some back areas by mountain bike.  Since I grew up in the country and spent time in the hills, this didn’t seem out of place.  In fact, I went right past it twice before realizing this is a previous generation’s version of what we now call a “Tiny House“.  It’s small, people live in them for extended periods, it’s efficient, it’s mobile, and it’s not an RV.  There you go.  While it is reminiscent of older thinking, this Old Timer Tiny House trailers paradise doesn’t appear to be that old.

Old Timer Tiny Mobile Living Quarters

I’d love to know more about it, but the owner wasn’t around.  Is it DIY?  Or does a factory build these currently?

There are two things that caught my attention.  First, I want to know more about the steering mechanism that’s under the trailer front.  Second, the two axles that are not in tandem (specifically for use with a tiny house) intrigue me.

Two Axles, Not In Tandem

Let’s start with the second part first.  We see two axles on trailers all the time, but it’s not often to see them not in tandem.  That said, this configuration is not at all surprising or unusual.  It’s how they made wagons for ages.  And wagons are just a type of trailer.

Two, non-Tandem Trailer Axles

Wagon wheels, as this arrangement is sometimes called, are shown in the image above.  You can see the rear axle is simply a standard trailer axle mounting in the standard way.  Looking at the image below, it appears a similar axle is on the front, but instead of mounting to the frame, the front axle mounts to the pivot beam, or subframe, for steering.  This is the classic little red wagon, but with the addition of a spring type suspension.

This type of axle arrangement has been around for a very long time.  If implemented correctly, it can be relatively stable, yet it can also be quite unstable.  The difference is in the details — as well as in the driving conditions.  For a tiny house trailer that does not need to travel fast, this makes a pretty ideal way to support the house while minimizing the frame strength requirements.

I have not done the calculations, but I think this would be pretty interesting for a longer-ish tiny home.  Perhaps, especially if it does not need to move very often (or ever).  For some people, a deck-over design with lots of under-floor storage, may answer the Tiny House Size Quandary.  It certainly reduces the beam size needs under the trailer.

The Tiny House Trailers Steering

It’s not very often we talk about steering for a trailer.  Since most have single or tandem axles, the trailers don’t really “steer”.  They pivot on the hitch ball as they simply follow the tow vehicle.

This trailer also follows the tow vehicle, but with an extra moving piece (the tongue and front axle).  Think of it as extra degrees of motion freedom when pulling.  Yes, it’s a little different.  Steering like this is not as stable on the road (normally), simply because of the extra degrees of freedom.  The obvious examples to the contrary are the multi-trailer semi trucks we see on the highway.  They do more with the steering axle than a simple trailer like this, but it’s basically the same.

Wagon Tongue Tiny House Trailers Steering

In the image above you can see the front axle support carriage and the pivot area.  Under the center pivot they may have a large lazy-susan style bearing, or maybe just a grease plate.  Either way, it supports the load of the front as well as providing the steering.

While these are amazingly easy to maneuver when the tongue is free (moving them by hand), they are a real bear to back up when hooked to a vehicle.

To help with some of the steering and stability issues, some people use a more traditional steering such as Ackermann steering geometry.  Still others have implemented 4-wheel steering that supposedly makes the trailer track and maneuver better.  (To see the 4-wheel steering in more detail, watch this video too.)  However, unless you were moving it a lot, there really isn’t a reason for the added complication for tiny house trailers.  Cool nonetheless.

Potential Integration

OK, this must be the engineer coming out.  I look at this thinking of ways to potentially integrate with other ideas, and perhaps improve it.  If you’re thinking about this kind of approach, here are some additional thoughts.

First, in a tiny house, head space is important.  A deck-over design for tiny house trailers puts the floor pretty high, so use the space under for storage.  Maybe storage access from the outside like they do on a Greyhound bus.  Or maybe under floor storage with access from inside by lifting floor panels.  Either way, the space between the axles is prime real estate.

That said, I think some fenders for a lower floor over the main portions of the trailer, then a small lift — like a 5th wheel (but not as much) over the front axle can work really well.

Second, build a little caster into the front axle or pivot.  By putting the pivot pin in front of the axle, you gain stability.  It will make the trailer more “tippy” when turning at drastic angles, so there needs to be some trade-off with how far the pivot is forward, but it’s an appropriate improvement.

Third, move the back axle forward some.  It’s not a big deal for short trailers, but for longer ones, rear overhang will improve maneuverability.  Kind of like a school bus with the overhang behind the rear axle.

None of these suggestions are much — just things to think about.  There is value in this approach to tiny house trailers that makes a lot of sense.

Comments on Tiny House Trailers Applications

I’d love to hear your opinions about using such an axle arrangement for tiny house trailers.  Maybe I’m out of the loop and this is already popular?  Please send in some pictures.  If you have built one, let’s give it some love on our Customer Stories page.

Leave your comments and if there is serious interest, let me know.  I’m willing to design the trailer frame for your tiny house as a partnership to learn and experiment with the concepts.  We’re always planning for the future, so tell us what you want.

In the meantime, Have a Wonderful Day.

7 thoughts about “Old Time Tiny House Trailers”

  1. That is a sheep herders wagon. Probably not very old. Most that I see are even more ‘covered wagon’ looking and they all look very homemade, although there are outfits that sell them.

    They do seem to be very practical seeing as they are the preferred mobile house of pretty much all sheep herders who travel around the country grazing there sheep for their whole life.

    Reply
  2. How I found this posting was, I was looking for info on converting a 1986 Mini-Beggo ( a Winnebago Itasca Phasar, a FWD mini motorhome ) into a towable mini travel trailer. My first thought was to remove the motor and front wheels and just weld a tongue to the frame to attach it to my hitch. The rear axle is pretty far back though, so I think to get the hitch weight down, it would have to be pretty long. Leaving it 4 wheels down is interesting to me, as I understand it’s easier on my truck. A tow bar is a fine option, but the inability to back up is a definite negative, for me.
    So here are my options as I understand them.
    1. Tow bar: Can’t back up, but is easy and cheap.
    2. Long tongue: would act like a trailer, but would be pretty long and probably cost me mpg since it wouldn’t benefit from any drafting effect with the tow vehicle. More metal and more welding.
    3. Short tongue and add a second axle and a platform to the end of the motorhome for an ATV. Even more metal, welding and cost, but would be more balanced and trailer like in tow performance, plus I can take my ATV with me.
    4. 4 wheel tow with a custom tongue that also effects the steering of the trailer. I don’t understand the math involved with this one.

    As for option 4, This would be cool, the angle of the trailer would make the trailer steer to follow. Is this possible? Do you want to work on the math with me?
    If not, I’ll probably go tow bar (option 1) as step one, and then work on option 3, when I have time.

    Reply
    • Interesting thoughts. Tow Bar is not a bad idea. Take it for an alignment and have the caster set for best towing. Backing might be the showstopper as many camping areas require you to back in. I don’t understand #4. I’m good with math, but you’ll need to give me a visual so I know what you’re thinking.

      Reply
  3. What I mean for option 4 is to have the tongue hinge at the wagon (I’m gonna call the ex-motorhome a wagon) and the angle that the hinged tongue is at while being towed (during a turn, say) affects the front wheels of the wagon so that they turn to follow in the proper circle to follow the tow vehicle through the turn.
    I imagine that as long as the wheels are pointing in the same direction as the tongue, the wagon would be following the correct path?
    It seems to me that this setup would be able to backup about the same as a regular trailer.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’re talking about a tow bar. If so, it’s done a lot by RV’ers towing a car. I don’t know why it wouldn’t work towing the RV. The key is setting the caster. Just make sure you build a super sturdy tow bar and connection points.

      Reply
  4. That trailer looks like a “sheep trailer”. A place to stay while grazing the heard and looking for the proverbial greener pastures.

    Reply

7 thoughts about “Old Time Tiny House Trailers”

  1. That is a sheep herders wagon. Probably not very old. Most that I see are even more ‘covered wagon’ looking and they all look very homemade, although there are outfits that sell them.

    They do seem to be very practical seeing as they are the preferred mobile house of pretty much all sheep herders who travel around the country grazing there sheep for their whole life.

    Reply
  2. How I found this posting was, I was looking for info on converting a 1986 Mini-Beggo ( a Winnebago Itasca Phasar, a FWD mini motorhome ) into a towable mini travel trailer. My first thought was to remove the motor and front wheels and just weld a tongue to the frame to attach it to my hitch. The rear axle is pretty far back though, so I think to get the hitch weight down, it would have to be pretty long. Leaving it 4 wheels down is interesting to me, as I understand it’s easier on my truck. A tow bar is a fine option, but the inability to back up is a definite negative, for me.
    So here are my options as I understand them.
    1. Tow bar: Can’t back up, but is easy and cheap.
    2. Long tongue: would act like a trailer, but would be pretty long and probably cost me mpg since it wouldn’t benefit from any drafting effect with the tow vehicle. More metal and more welding.
    3. Short tongue and add a second axle and a platform to the end of the motorhome for an ATV. Even more metal, welding and cost, but would be more balanced and trailer like in tow performance, plus I can take my ATV with me.
    4. 4 wheel tow with a custom tongue that also effects the steering of the trailer. I don’t understand the math involved with this one.

    As for option 4, This would be cool, the angle of the trailer would make the trailer steer to follow. Is this possible? Do you want to work on the math with me?
    If not, I’ll probably go tow bar (option 1) as step one, and then work on option 3, when I have time.

    Reply
    • Interesting thoughts. Tow Bar is not a bad idea. Take it for an alignment and have the caster set for best towing. Backing might be the showstopper as many camping areas require you to back in. I don’t understand #4. I’m good with math, but you’ll need to give me a visual so I know what you’re thinking.

      Reply
  3. What I mean for option 4 is to have the tongue hinge at the wagon (I’m gonna call the ex-motorhome a wagon) and the angle that the hinged tongue is at while being towed (during a turn, say) affects the front wheels of the wagon so that they turn to follow in the proper circle to follow the tow vehicle through the turn.
    I imagine that as long as the wheels are pointing in the same direction as the tongue, the wagon would be following the correct path?
    It seems to me that this setup would be able to backup about the same as a regular trailer.

    Reply
    • Sounds like you’re talking about a tow bar. If so, it’s done a lot by RV’ers towing a car. I don’t know why it wouldn’t work towing the RV. The key is setting the caster. Just make sure you build a super sturdy tow bar and connection points.

      Reply
  4. That trailer looks like a “sheep trailer”. A place to stay while grazing the heard and looking for the proverbial greener pastures.

    Reply

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