Ever been to a BYOV event? It’s on!

My last post led off with a reference to T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, in which hope hurts–and April, mocking us with possibilities that can’t be realized, earns a reputation as the cruelest month of all. But this April, in a stretch of Nevada desert outside Pahrump some might view as a wasteland, there are those who might beg to differ.

Spearheaded by Bob Wells, van dweller extraordinaire, a group calling itself the Homes on Wheels Alliance (HOWA) is making ten minivans, SUVs, a Class C and a pickup truck more livable by installing floors and solar power systems, insulating walls and ceilings, and building beds and shelving units. The month-long project, relying on volunteer labor and donated supplies, is HOWA’s first Bring Your Own Vehicle event and will be capped by an open-house April 29 to which the public is invited.

There’s nothing fancy here–and anyone who’s followed Wells’ “career” would be surprised if it were otherwise. Starting as an involuntary van dweller in 1995 after a difficult divorce, Wells gradually grew into this new lifestyle, then embraced it so completely that in 2013 he self-published How to Live In a Car, Van or RV to help others follow in his footsteps. The subtitle explained what drove him–And get out of Debt, Travel, & Find True Freedom–and mostly it stresses low-cost simplicity and self-reliance, seasoned with the community that van dwellers create with and for each other.

Odds are you haven’t read Wells’ modest little book, but if his name sounds familiar anyway, it might be because you ran across it in Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland, published in 2017. Or because you actually saw him, playing himself, in the movie version, which came out in 2020. Or maybe you’ve attended some of the activities of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, a two-week event outside Quartzite, AZ that Wells has hosted each winter since 2010 and that has mushroomed from 45 attendees that first year to more than 10,000 self-professed nomads annually.

But while the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is these days a bit over the top, the BYOV build event is at the opposite extreme: giving people who have next to nothing a little something that far exceeds its nominal value. Chosen from among minimal-income applicants who are full-time nomads living in vehicles that aren’t equipped for boondocking, the recipients include :

–Cathy, who has mobility challenges and whose van is getting a 200W solar power system for her medical equipment, as well as a ceiling fan;

–Richard, a veteran who has been sleeping in his pickup cab but is getting a floor, insulation and a platform bed built under a topper shell in the back, as well as a 100W solar power system;

–Ryan, who lost his job during the pandemic and has been living in his older van, is getting a 200W solar power system, a ceiling fan and wall and ceiling insulation.

There are, as mentioned, ten nomads benefiting from this inaugural BYOV. More were eligible but couldn’t be helped because of limited supplies and manpower–and it’s not going out on a limb to say that as word of this event gets out, the demand will grow. One can only hope that BYOV becomes as much of a phenomenon as the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and that April will deliver on at least some of its promises.

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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