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Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home

This Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home story is a guest post by James L. Parmenter

My Tiny House adventure began in January of 2012 here in New Mexico. Back in 2007-2008 I purchased a repossessed 2 bedroom 14′ x 52′ mobile home from a local park, after renting it for 3 years. The Park went bankrupt so the Bank then took over the property, the Park was sold in 2010-2012, and renovations began.

I put my mobile home up For Sale on a bunch of free Real Estate sites, I sold it 2 days before I got evicted from the Park, the new owners needed the space. I had two weeks to vacate the Park. My mobile home sold for $6,000.00 I was asking for $7,200.00. The first week I spent looking at used RV’s, ha… what a joke that was..! I wouldn’t let my Dog live in half of them, let alone me. The other half of used RV’s I looked at for sale, many set in the owner’s back yard for the last 10 years unused. The tires were dry rotted, the appliances had ceased to function and the roofs leaked. The owners claimed everything worked but could not demonstrate their functions or even fire up the Propane devices because they were out of Gas. I walked away every time without even a hint of guilt..!

Months before all this, I was researching ideas on the Internet, building a Tiny Home on a flatbed trailer, converting vans into campers and Stealth Cargo Trailers…! A local trailer dealer was having a sale published in a local free paper. I paid them visit and spoke of my dilemma, having 1 week to move out of the Park. They had Flatbed trailers and Cargo Trailers…. but there was no way that I could build a livable Tiny House in less than 1 week… all alone…! The Cargo Trailer came to mind and I switched my idea over into focusing on that. I wanted the 7′ x 14′ trailer but it was $5,100.00 New..! I only had $6,000.00 and I needed a trailer hitch installed on my truck also. That was just under $400.00 and I needed to buy all new appliances, heater etc. and have a place to sleep plus pay for food and camping fees.. that wasn’t going to work..!

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 001

Images © James L. Parmenter

The dealer showed me a used Cargo Trailer, a 2010 model 6′ x 12′ Carry-On brand in excellent shape, and new tires..! Bingo..! I was hooked… ideas flashed through my head about the floor plan, electric, and insulation. The Trailer was $2,400.00 and the trailer hitch came to $385.00 installed…. I drove it off the lot and took it home to begin work on the inside…. I even had Money left over. I dropped off the trailer, locked it up and headed to Lowe’s and Home Depot.. before I knew it, 4 days had past… and the trailer was almost livable. The 30 AMP Electric panel and devices were installed, the trailer was insulated and paneled, the kitchen was almost done, waiting on counter tops.

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 002

I went totally electric on this because Propane here is well over $3.00 a gallon, and I’m on SSDI(social security) with a limited income each month. The trailer has a ramp type rear door and a side door which all were secured with Cam-locks. I removed the side door Cam-lock and installed a regular RV door latch which included a Dead-bolt..! I figured some smart Alec would walk by while I was sleeping and latch the Cam-lock so I couldn’t get out…! Wasn’t going to happen..! I installed a 7 gallon electric hot water heater, a 30 gallon fresh water tank, a 4.5 cu. ft. double-door fridge(huge freezer), GFCI receptacle on the kitchen counter wall over 12î from the Bar sink, fire extinguisher, smoke detector, and a carbon-monoxide detector. In the back of mind, I’m thinking of Solar Panels and going Off-Grid in the future.

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 004

I know that its less than 6′ x 12′ inside because the tongue of trailer takes about 4′, but the actual Cargo trailer measures 11′-11î outside, end to end…. so it’s less than 72 sq. ft living space. I’ve been in this Stealth Camper since November of 2013. A while back I found some used windows at a local Pawn shop that came out of a 5th wheel camper, they cost me $20.00 each which I installed one on each side using some aluminum ìCî channel to reinforce the walls. I just found some larger windows at an RV Salvage yard that are 21.5îW x 28.5 ìT, they’re sliders so I as soon as they arrive I’ll install then in place of the smaller 19î x 13î windows and I’ll have more fresh air flow…! I had put that ìPeel-&-Stick vinyl Tile squares down on the floor, but the first Winter I spent inside it, that floor was freezing cold…I picked up some 5 year warranty carpet squares at Lowe’s and place then down over the Vinyl tiles. The carpet squares had foam backing included on each square so it insulated the floor when applied. Much warmer… as they say… Live and Learn…!

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 00 5 Stealth Camper 4.5 Cu.Ft. Fridge

My Grey water exits the camper via 1.5î PVC drain pipe into RV sewer hose, my toilet is a Thetford Port-a-Pottie from Walmart about $70.00 the two sections separate and the lower half is poured down the sewer connection. I’m thinking about small holding tanks and a regular RV Sewer connection as emptying these items in the winter time is not at all fun…! Since I moved to the Mountains this summer to stay cool (it gets 110 to 115 degrees ìFî) in the desert, (my electric was over $80.00/month running A/C unit to stay cool, I’m also contemplating on the purchase of a ìFour Dog Legî wood stove, but the smaller two dog leg Model DX… and burning wood this winter to cut down on the electric bill from 1500 watt heater.

Stealth Camper 22 Inch Closet

Claustrophobia has not set in yet, if it hasn’t already, it shouldn’t… I guess..? So far no problems with RV parks except for one, that’s not bad, I think with all the ones I’ve been to.. and its quite remarkable how many people stop by and stare at the Stealth Camper, then drop in and ask questions, quite the conversation starter..! If I say so myself….! I drew no plans for the locations of anything, just built it as I wanted it…! It houses myself, my dog, my tools, belongings, 28î TV, Desktop PC, etc….! No wife or kids to support, been divorced a long time… What I like best about the whole thing is, It’s Portable…! Just hook up and drive on…!

Stealth Camper Door Side

Stealth Camper Drivers side

Stealth Camper Rearend, Ramp Door, Closet, etc.

Stealth Camper Ceiling, Smoke Detector, Roof Vent.

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 003

Misty Dawg 2

Man Turns Cargo Trailer into DIY Stealth Tiny Home 007

Images © James L. Parmenter

Any comments, Ideas, plans for holding tanks/sewer, solar panels/batteries would be greatly appreciated… Thanks…!

Our big thanks to James L. Parmenter for sharing!

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Alex

Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!

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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • dew July 23, 2015, 8:45 am

    Nice story, sounds like he’s got it made

  • D. Lowery July 23, 2015, 10:05 am

    Tried to find the ìFour Dog Legî wood stove…but Google would only give me stuff on Lego’s or wood stoves…nothing on ìFour Dog Legî wood stoves. Would you have a website?

  • beejsteph July 23, 2015, 10:19 am

    I Didn’t See A Bed…A Place To Actually Sleep. I Didn’t See Anything To Cook On Other Than A Microwave, A Coffee Pot, And A Hibachi Grill Behind The Cargo Trailer. Where Do You Shower? Looks Like It Could Use A Woman’s Touch…And I Don’t Mean …A Woman To Live In It…Just To Organize Things And Help You Find A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING 🙂

    • James L Parmenter July 23, 2015, 6:53 pm

      Of course there’s a bed…lol, see the pic showing the back ramp..? In the lower right corner you’ll a tan colored square and along it’s back wall is a brown /red/ tan striped cushion. The bed is 24″ wide and 72″ long….
      As for the cooking, I have a Coleman camp stove w/bottles of 1lb propane, I just dont leave it out it gets in the way. The Shower..? There isnt one, I take what is called a sponge-bath… still working on that part I’m about out of room…..

  • Thomas L. Knapp July 23, 2015, 10:36 am

    Very nice, and a great example of what you can do with limited funds.

  • mick July 23, 2015, 10:47 am

    Good Job. Would like to know about sleeping and showering. BTW, do you leave the dog inside when gone. or?

    • James L Parmenter July 23, 2015, 6:57 pm

      There is a bed/couch, look at the pic showing the back ramp door, in the bottom right corner there’s a tan colored square, the backing is on the wall behind it its brown/red/tan Coushion. The dog comes with me wherever I go, I dont leave her alone at any time….
      James…

  • Joey July 23, 2015, 10:51 am

    It might simply be the evil auto-finishing when he was typing. This was the first thing google turned up when I searched, and it has stoves, so…
    guessing this is what he was talking about? fourdog.com

    I think I would be too scared to launch into such work without thinking and over-thinking it, but I also really admire people that just leap into a project and make it happen. There’s a courage in taking on inevitable trouble-shooting issues that I lack. Too much analysis paralysis here! 🙂 Nice job!

    Joey

    • M July 27, 2015, 9:56 am

      Joey,

      I too tend to over analyze but circumstances pushed me past paranoia and I just finished a reno on a gutted van, put my stuff in storage and will see how it goes. Once started, the analysis turned into…drumroll…PLANNING!

  • Carol July 23, 2015, 11:30 am
  • john July 23, 2015, 11:35 am

    Well beejs . . . notice the sort of gold-ish toned bench/bed on the right side in two photos. I believe he probably sat on his bench and took pictures . . . not exactly how I would have done the layout but I’m of a like mind when it comes to “get it done” and enjoy the fruits of your labor with less overhead and more discretionary income to spend. And lets face it he’s got the most important essentials for a good home life: coffee maker, outdoor grill, media/pc screen and a good dog. Hell, I mean guy what else do you really need as a man, lol, honestly. And I’ll bet he has a hot plate there somewhere too. Also, he still looks too young for a lazy boy lounger and he’s already experienced the ‘baggage’ of married life . . . so he’s a free man and seems to be loving it. Further, I’m sure when the mood strikes him he’ll decide on a place for everything and everything in its place . . . but he’s retired so he still has lots of time to chew on that one. Not everyone has to provide for the “good life” the same way and it seems like he’s already thinking ahead while ENJOYING his journey. Good for you mate, may it be a long and fruitful one.

  • Mary July 23, 2015, 11:37 am

    It certainly looks bigger inside than it really is! I would imagine most RV parks have showers? If that’s the case he could get by without one in his trailer.

    • Sondra July 23, 2015, 12:12 pm

      Exactly Mary he already said he stays at RV parks, they have bathrooms, sinks and showers. I saw a bench, maybe it’s a bench when he’s sitting on the computer and a bed at night?? He’s a man, men love to bbq, plain and simple and with all the new fangled burn-proof paraphernalia you can put on your bbq and use it like a stove I’m sure he’s golden. I’ve seen motocross trailers like this where the beds fold up to the wall, like a simplified murphy bed, when you need space and come down to sleep on !

      example: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/3d/d1/8d/3dd18dc85e8fdb23a5e22317f9b6dbf1.jpg

  • Bob July 23, 2015, 11:59 am

    Impressive demonstration of skill-sets. Like beejsteph, I wondered about sleeping, reexamined interior photos and concluded that, unless that’s a bunk to the right of the PortaPotty, Jim multi-tasks the only apparent open space remaining with something like a ThermoRest pad and a sleeping bag on the floor. I suspect that Jim, like me, has made-do with far less comfortable places to sleep. Well done, Jim!

  • Martha July 23, 2015, 12:28 pm

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job of creating a home for yourself. I might get a little claustrophobic, but then again, maybe I wouldn’t. It sounds like you find it perfect for yourself, and that’s the main thing.

  • TeddyBonkers July 23, 2015, 2:03 pm

    If you are looking for relatively low cost solar systems, check out tinhatranch.com. I’m building a tiny home inside a 6×12 cargo trailer as well, and I found a reliable setup for about $2200.

  • Anthony July 23, 2015, 2:38 pm

    An alternative idea for your toilet, although this might be cost prohibitive, it looks like a brilliant solution. It’s called Natures Head.

    Check out this video:
    http://youtu.be/24LimUrb4LM

  • Kathleen-Florida July 23, 2015, 3:34 pm

    Great job! And thanks for the story line. I enjoyed reading how it got started and the series of events that led you to add what you added. — I would love to know the dog’s name, and is he/she an Australian Kelpie?

    • James L Parmenter July 23, 2015, 7:08 pm

      Thanks Kathleen, the dog’s name is “Misty”, she’s a spade-female and from what the Vet. and Pound said, she’s a hound-mix…..lol… =)
      James…..

  • Glenda July 23, 2015, 4:57 pm

    They have a YouTube site: Gone With the Wynns, and they give great RV ideas with flat solar panels and Lithium batteries…

  • TinyHouseAdmirer July 23, 2015, 5:57 pm
  • LBeau July 23, 2015, 7:05 pm

    Respect.

  • Patty July 25, 2015, 12:13 am

    Love your story, your dog and what you have done to make a home for yourself. I congratulate you. God bless you!

  • Joni July 25, 2015, 11:29 pm

    Cool! I have the same amount of living space in a mini-schoolbus. My choices were different as I am off grid now but honestly he is as well organized!

  • M July 27, 2015, 9:51 am

    I am using a 33″ square inflatable infant/ toddler pool as either a base for my solar shower or can sit and soak. Battery op inflator, deflated pool, shower,towels and bath mat, lugable loo, tp, all fit nicely into a square pleather ottoman cube that doubles as an extra seat and the padded top reverses to a tray for more kitchen working space. I call it my “bathroom in a box”.

    • Graham September 14, 2016, 5:06 pm

      Awesome ideas.

    • Graham September 14, 2016, 5:17 pm

      James,
      Great set-up.
      I bought the exact same trailer over a year ago for moving, with the idea of converting it for camping or living later on. Note: part of my plan was to use it for hunting and/or off-grid use.

      Well, I am now mid-way through the conversion.
      For me, as a semi-retired tech, design and planning is everything.
      My walls and ceiling are insulated, taped and panelled.
      My floors, including the rear drop-down, have decent vinyl flooring glued in place.
      Next stop, interior carpentry using recycled and/or discount wood. First to build the couch / bed.

  • gabriel September 24, 2015, 12:23 am

    hey james bad ass my brother ….I wish you woulda had little more time it sounded like you were in a hurry and you made it happen!.. I was a little luckier in that I had time to find a camper on craigslist …and it was a 30 ft road king camper trailer …..he gutted it…its older but beautiful shape..big windows all over …he rewired the whole camper 110 and has no 12 volt system..(which I like a lot ……12 volt always has problems ….(my experience) ..he put in a 4by6′ skylite in the living room .had no appliances and was drywalled and new plywood floors …just wide open and clean and nice …and he sold it to me for $1000 bucks ….I wish you would have found this deal because I have found it has more room than I need which of course I have filled up though…but the bathroom was all there and nice but I had no kitchen so I had to put that in which I did for almost nothing finding all on craigslist in the free section over just a one week time period…and I have 2 dogs and 5 cats so the room is nice for me and the animals im in south florida so I have two 100 dollar a/c units from Walmart keep it chilly even in the hottest months …and if one goes down I can buy another for 100 bucks and alls well ….I do have a propane water heater and stove and propane here is 4 dollars a gallon and I keep the water heater goin most of the time and my gas costs me 30 dollars a month….electric is barely over 100 for two ac/s runnin constant ….I bought a 37 gallon portable shitter tank on wheels at camper world ..(which there proud of those I paid about 350 for that) … which I empty my blackwater every two weeks and its never full…I found a place in the country way out and have electric pole and a well…..that’s it ….for 300 bucks a month I rent it(2 acres) and have nooo neighbors….(very nice) I have grey water open all the time and it is drained out to the plants and they just grow like wildfire ….and I guess I read your story and was in the same position almost as you just had a little more time …and I thought that it was the end of my world …I was homeless in my book in that month I thought wow…what am I gonna do?…and once I got set up I was sooo happy and thought why havnt I lived like this forever …my house foreclosed…so I was forced too….and now a year half later I don’t believe ill ever live any other way ….I love it ….I have the garden goin and eat better than I ever have im healthier than I ever have been …and I feel so in tuned with the world and the beautiful night sky I can sit on the couch and see the stars out that 4′ by 6′ skylight and my ac is chilly and my animals love it out here compared to the regular city size lot we were on …so in thinking my world was over …I have discovered my self and life and the earth and im a tiny house / or camper livin fool for life now I wouldn’t have it any other way …I love if there is a hurricane coming I can just hook up and head north …take a little vacation instead of hurricane proofin the house and prayin its there after….always check craigslist free section alotta people just give away campers to get them out of there yards too if you ever want more space …cuz you could sell that nice trailer you have and get something bigger if you ever want to ….but I thought I would feel couped up …..and I don’t either I love a 30 ft camper everything is right were I want it and its awesome living like this …..I am more free than I have ever been! im a lifer now …if I hit the lottery only thing id do is buy the property….maybe a little nicer camper but this is how I was meant to live!!

  • eydie & eddie October 21, 2015, 1:04 am

    Dude, U did an awesome job!! First, U got wheels. When it’s hot move to a cooler area. When it’s cold move to a warmer area. U can cut your bills 1/2 or more. I am working on solar, but we don’t even have a beginning yet. I need to get to Denver 2 work on the solar affordability. I’m in Cleveland, Ohio. I hate it! My eddie fell 30feet down an elevator shaft. broke his back. I have 2 slow moving disabilities. we are both physically fucked up, our minds R working. We R both hard workers and the thought of another winter here is kicking our mental asses. U can get cabin fever anywhere! get yourself some place warmer. I don’t know where U R, but get back to me. I will keep U posted & U do the same! The best part of your life right now is your POOCH! life don’t mean shit w/out a DOG! I talk to my little girl all the time and the Knodes and turns & looks on her face…I swear she knows what I’m talking about. Email me anytime and be grateful 4 your DOG! eydie

  • V. Rev. David L. Rogers August 18, 2016, 6:02 pm

    I could not find a toy hauler light enough for my belongings and my equipment (prospector, retired clergyman, very mobile).

    Weeellllll, did not all the banks turn me down for the loan for a travel trailer?? Yea, for I wanted to be a “full-timer”, or the Credit Union does not allow for a UPS Store address (land based only), or some other regulation that I did not meet. And I got sick of that.

    Sooo, what to do?? I will but a cargo trailer with a ramp door, about 8.5′ x 24′, wall off about 14′ for me in front and 10′ for the equipment in the rear, insulate and furnish the critter, and PRESTO!! Build my own toy-hauler!!

    Heh-heh-heh, may all financial institutions continue along their merry way granting loans only to those who can prove that they do not need one.

    For I, banks, no longer need you!

    PapaGrizzly

  • Rodney Jordan May 7, 2017, 5:54 pm

    Nice job. Nothing spectacular, but so what. Very livable.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee May 8, 2017, 4:59 am

      Sometimes all you need is simple!

      • Rodney Jordan May 8, 2017, 2:56 pm

        Totally agree. Wasn’t being negative. Such a shame propane would be so expensive for this gentleman. For me, the electric he installed is the drawback. I’d sooner collect wood and cook on a small wood burning stove than go the electric route. Perhaps once he gets his solar installed, it’ll go better.

        • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee May 9, 2017, 7:31 am

          I love a wood burning stove 🙂

      • Rodney Jordan f May 9, 2017, 7:37 am

        Same here. Wood burning is certainly something I’m checking into. One of the little micro stoves would fit the bill for the 20 footer I’m hopeful of starting on come fall. Shouldn’t be difficult to integrate a small area purpose built to hold a bit of wood. As well, sticks are laying around everywhere.

  • Rob June 3, 2017, 1:47 am

    Amazing job especially considering your limited budget and very limited time. When I started reading this post before looking at the conversion I really expected to see a cheap bed and some throw together conversion that looked like a cargo trailer with some furniture thrown in but I was wrong. You truly made a small home that works and that anyone that wanted too could live in comfortably. This shows you what a little work and ingenuity can get you if you just do it and not question you decisions to death. Nice job. I’m betting your as happy her as you have been anywhere and financially you are much happier now than ever before.

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