A shantyboat is a small crude houseboat. There is a long history of people building and living in shantyboats, the obvious choice for itinerant workers, miners, dockworkers, and farmers. As living on land has felt more and more constrained, people have looked to the relative freedom of rivers, lakes, and seas. This is the chronicle of a journey designing, building, and floating one such shantyboat.

Start at the beginning and work your way forward: A mad idea fueled by gin. Or enjoy a little inspiration for the journey. And finally, here is the plan, more or less.

The rest of the blog details the pitfalls, triumphs, near-death experiences, and joyous moments along our course.

On the Eve of the Secret History of American River People Expedition

As you may have heard, the shantyboat nears completion and we are readying it for the Secret History of American River People expedition on the Upper Mississippi starting in a few days.

This is a research journey to gather and present the lost stories of people living on or adjacent to the river. You can read all about it at the project website.

You can follow our progress on our voyage. You may want to hear about our triumphs and travails and the cool people we meet. If so, you can get automatic updates via email (or Twitter or Instagram and so on) right here: http://peoplesriverhistory.us/contact/

I also hope you will keep in touch with us and send us contacts of amazing people we want to talk to on the Upper Mississippi.

Thanks for all your support that has made this project possible.

Shantyboat on the Mississippi

In July, we are bringing the shantyboat across country to launch in the Mississippi River on an art and history expedition:

Thanks to espressobuzz for the historic photo
A journey to rediscover the lost narratives of river people, river communities, and the river itself. 

Secret History is an anthro-historical artist's journey through the history of a river. It weaves together threads of adventure, history, art, and story. 

We take to the river, Those forgotten waterways that flow through most towns, hidden behind levees, shoved underground or behind the seediest neighborhood.

Just a few generations ago, there were whole communities of people living right on the river in shantyboats. And people living in the bottomlands that flood every spring. Now mostly all gone.

We are fundraising right now to help make the project happen. There is also a beautiful video we produced to give you a lyrical flavor of the project.

The Kickstarter campaign is critical for launching the Secret History expedition. It will help pay for final outfitting of the shantyboat and transporting it across country. It will make sure we have decent audio-video equipment to record our interviews in the river communities we visit.

Thanks for helping support the project.

What the #*@&% happened?

You must hate me.

Last I left you with "Walls take shape" and then radio silence for six months.  Did I lose interest in the project? Get tragically killed by a falling jet engine?

No, I'm not dead and the project is moving along albeit a little more slowly. I started grad school. Which means that I no longer have the time for such luxuries as eating and sleeping.  However, I still spent many weekends working on the boat.

So the blog is six months behind, but the shantyboat is six months further along. Things in store for you as I update the blog, walls, windows, roof, decks, steps, doors.  Cool things like that.

So feel free to send me an email urging me along with blog posts. Here's my commitment: For every email, I receive from a different blog reader, I will create a new shantyboat post.

Roof Rafters - The cabin takes shape

When we disassembled the Hollister chicken coop, we got a bunch of beautiful old 1x12 redwood siding, a shitton of corrugated metal, a handful of old dimensional redwood 2x4s, and finally, a dozen or so roof rafters, complete with birdsmouths.

True they were old and some were a little worse for wear, rotted at the ends or showing signs of termites, but most were quite usable.

This is an awesome diagram with much of what you need to know about roofs in general. Terms you'll need for our shantyboat roof are common rafter, ridgeboard, birdsmouth, eave, gable end and gable end stud, ladder, collar tie, and rafter tie (also called a ceiling joist).

I sorted the good rafters from the marginal. The usable but marginal ones I treated with CopperGreen Clear and cut off the bad parts.

Since our shantyboat is smaller than the original chicken coop, I cut the rafters down to size, decreasing the overall length as well as the length of the eaves. I carefully cut the angle where they met in the center and re-cut the angle of the birdsmouth.

I laid them out on the floor of the barn, and used a temporary plywood collar tie (leaving a slot at the top for the ridgeboard) to keep everything from going wonky while I struggled to secure them into place.

With some ridiculously awkward effort, I got the two end rafters up supporting the ridgeboard.

Then one by one, I installed each of the rafter pairs.

Finally, I added a permanent collar tie to each of the inside rafter.  I suppose soon I will have to add a ladder to support the gable overhang and a fly rafter.

At the end of the day, for the first time, I was able to see the shape and size and height of this crazy boat.