- Associated Press - Friday, December 30, 2016

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Steve Auth was building tiny houses before most people even knew what tiny houses were.

Today, tiny houses have become a counter-culture social movement for people who want to live simply without the frills and space of a large home. There are even TV shows dedicated to the movement.

But when Auth started building his small, immaculately constructed living quarters more than 10 years ago, he never thought of them as tiny houses.

His creations were called something completely different: Wooly Wagons.

“I never really called them tiny houses, but that’s essentially what they were,” he said.



Fast forward to today, and the 64-year-old has become a master at building small, picturesque campers based on traditional gypsy and sheep wagons.

All the wagons are constructed with an aluminum frame and sturdy, weather-resistant wood such as fir, Cyprus and cedar. And just like campers, they all come with modern conveniences like running water, batteries and power convertors.

Auth said he’s built about 20 of the wagons over the last 10 years at his ranch-style property in rural Howard County located approximately six miles northwest of Russiaville.

About half of those have been bought by people who are now living in them as their home. The other half uses them as campers, an extra bedroom or just a place to get out of the house.

Orders for the wagons have come from as far away as Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Illinois, Missouri and Texas.

Auth’s wagons have now found a niche in the tiny-house movement, but he wasn’t inspired to start building them from any kind of no-frills philosophy.

Instead, he said, his inspiration came unexpectedly from a movie called “Wooly Boys.” The film, released in 2001, told the story of a sheep rancher who visits the big city. One of the characters lived in a traditional sheep wagon.

Auth said he was instantly taken with the structure.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to make one of those,’” he said. “They’re pretty neat.’”

And so he did.

That first structure was built on the frame of an old hay wagon and wasn’t much to look at, Auth said.

“That one was pretty plain-Jane simple,” he said.

Even so, a woman in New Hampshire got wind of the wagon and made an offer to buy it.

So Auth made a second one, but decided to find a more unique and attractive way to design the structures. That’s when he got the idea to build them on an aluminum frame to keep the weight down.

Like everything Auth does, he learned to engineer and build the wagons himself without any formal training, although he’s been doing woodcarving his entire life.

Auth is a barber by trade. He ran a barber shop in Kokomo for more than 40 years before he recently retired, but he’s always had a knack for building things.

“I’m a do-it-yourself guy,” he said. “My father once told me, ‘Son, unless you’re independently wealthy and you want things in life, you better learn to do them yourself.’ I really heeded his advice.”

Each wagon became progressively better as Auth perfected his craft, but they all were based off traditional sheep and gypsy wagons.

As people started showing more interest his creations, Auth decided it was time to create a website and start an official business. He said it only seemed appropriate to name his company after the movie that first inspired him to start building the wagons.

“I thought, ‘What will I call them?’” he said. “Well, I’m just going to call them Wooly Wagons. The idea was to create a question for people. What’s a Wooly Wagon? You know how people’s curiosity works.”

Now, his creations have become known for their old-timey charm coupled with the modern conveniences of a standard camper. He said he sells them anywhere from $8,000 to more than $60,000 depending on customers’ requests for extra features and frills.

“People can go out and buy a camper cheaper than they can buy one of these, but the difference is you’re not pulling a tin can down the road,” Auth said. “If you pull one of these into a gas station, you can’t ever leave, because people come swarming over and say, ‘What in the world is that?’”

Auth said since stepping down from his barbering career, building and selling the wagons has become a nice retirement plan. The job keeps him busy and brings in a little extra income.

And for someone like Auth, staying busy is something he needs.

“I’m the type of person who has to stay busy with his hands,” he said. “I’m always dreaming of something. I like to take concept ideas and make them come to life.”

“With this job, we get to take a unique design and turn it into artistry,” Auth said. “That’s what we sell. People like unique things. Not everybody, but most people.”

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Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2iaYHNr

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Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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