Art and design projects. With stories about the people, places and experiences that have shaped my

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chicken Wagon Chic... Poor Henry

Some readers who follow this space have come to expect nothing less than quality-reportage of important, high-brow design issues. Here, however, a slight detour from prior standards may be necessary. This past summer, 2012, I designed and built a portable chicken wagon for my sister-in-law, Sophie Purdy. Yes a chicken house on wheels. You tow it around the farm with a tractor and the chickens sleep in it at night. It is 18 feet long and 9 feet wide.

Build local / think global: No design event could be more important to Henry the Rooster than specifying suitable lodgings for the winter months ahead. Henry, an avid reader of Dwell Magazine, prefers the clean, mid-century 'test house' lines to mere farm vernacular architecture... "Give me a good, flat-pitched 'Case Study Hen House' in place of a musty Georgian pile any day!" asserted Henry. (With apologies to Biatrix Potter...).

Henry the Rooster
Henry has also long been of the opinion that he has existed 'free-range' quite long enough. "I am seeking a suitable abode in which to live out my feathered life in style," whispered Henry.

The new chicken wagon.

One day on walkabout he surveyed his Dutchess County domain once again, but with fresh eyes. Suddenly he came upon the answer to his wobbly wattle dreams. "What-ho is this?" cried Henry, "...this chic caravan must have been created just for me! Why, even its blue and green colors are akin to the hues of the hen's eggs."

Wondrous interior of the chicken wagon.
Henry flew up to one of the open-air windows. Peering in he exclaimed with delight, "This is excellence personified for an old roaster - ahem... rooster - like me. It has everything I need!" Indeed it did. He especially liked the hot-dipped galvanized chicken wire that had been installed in the window openings. "That should keep those pesky nocturnal racoons at bay," he thought.

Auntie Sophie
Henry was just about to enter his new private quarters when at once Auntie Sophie reached out, abruptly interrupting his forward progress. "Hey, whaaa, what is the meaning of this... buuackkkk?" protested the perturbed fowl.

"Henry, this wagon is not for you, at least not for now," answered Auntie Sophie. We are going to have a birthday party in it for the children on Sunday.'

'Styling' the wagon for the party.
Just as Auntie Sophie uttered these prophetic words, two of the cousins were seen entering the wagon. They decided to have a tea party for two before they got down to serious work; previewing the wagon's appointments. They served each other 'tea' from a pink vintage Russell Wright designed '50s ceramic tea pot. "Just the thing to wash down these lollypops," said one of the girls. "I think we will be requiring a George Nelson Marshmallow Sofa on the south wall immegiately." said the other.

Taking a snooze.
In short order the sun began to set. How Henry wished that he too could recline - basking in the warm, western glow admitted through ample clerestory windows. Alas and alack, his dream was not to be. The girls hunkered down into welcoming couture floor pillows that had been arranged by Auntie Bartley. Good night... And good night Henry too. You will just have to wait until the wagon is properly commissioned to accommodate those of the 'pinioned' persuasion.

The End. 

Post-script: Fast Forward to October 2013

Here is the clear-roofed new Chicken Wagon a year after it was put into service. Note how some of the hens opt-in for the shade underneath. The two chicken doors each have their own ramp. See the bird going up the left ramp. Inside you can see the nesting boxes hung on the far wall. Below is a photo of the original metal-roofed wagon that this one was based on.
This is the old original Meili Farm chicken wagon; version 1.0 so to speak. It is also on wheels. The white mesh electric fence is to keep critters at bay; raccoons, foxes, mink etc.

Next: See how the chicken wagon was built.

International Harvester running gear.
It all rests on top of this old IH 'running gear.' Hay wagons are often supported by these universal rigs.

Master metal-smith-to-the-stars, Peter Kirkiles fabricated four custom framing attachment plates and welded them to the stock IH stakes. Peter is an artist and acclaimed designer / fabricator. He normally makes museum-quality bronze pieces for discerning clients. The work shown here comes under the heading of helping-a-buddy-out...! Find him at:

Douglas fir wood framing bolted to the stakes.
The two triple 2"x10" by 18 foot girders perch on the metal frame of the running gear. Girders are through-bolted to the four (4) metal stake plates. One of these stake plates can be seen here; rear left. The whole business had to be squared-up with a 'come-along' winch.

Deck framing completed.

Celebrating the roof rafters going up.

Installing the 1820 paneled door that came out of a client's old Kent house in 1995 with original hardware. The varnished grab-bar / pole to the left of the door is a safety feature.

Paint the floor white for E-Z cleaning. Chicken door at far end.

Done! Uncle Craig drives it over to the farm for painting.
A number of people have asked if they might have one of these wagons for more ... domestic purposes. My sister, Lizzie, in North Augusta, South Carolina wants one so she can look at her landscaping in comfort. Others see portable pool houses, writing studios, love nests, artist retreats and cozy cabins. What do you see?

Where do the eggs from Sophie's hens go?
Welcome to the Amenia, NY Farmers' Market, a year round market: