The Secret Lives of Vintage Trailers Page 2

by Ann Japenga

—The Goblin?

My trailer! My heartache! Last February, Constance found this little tiny trailer for me, and the owner was asking only $600. It needed lots of work, but I fastened on my blinders, because I wanted it with every fiber of my being. Reality set in as soon as I got it home, and in the act of unhitching it, I realized that I had probably just made the biggest mistake of my life. I spent the first week desperately trying to figure out a way to unload it on to someone else. It was towable, but a rolling deathtrap. I couldn’t do it. After that, I found a neighbor/friend with a huge shop space and old trailer rehabilitation skills to help me get it at least to the point where it was safe to tow.

The Goblin

2016 turned into the year of everything going wrong that could. Besides the 6 week trailer restoration taking 5 months, there were unexpected vehicle breakdowns, a couple of ruptured waterlines in the house, and I learned not to whisper under my breath, “it can’t get any worse”, because it usually did.

By the time I got it towed back home from being (partially) restored, it was July hot, and I was beyond broke. Things have gotten much better, but my boyfriend and I just haven’t had the time to finish the restoration, which means getting it into a useable state: refinishing and putting cabinet drawers and doors back together, building a sleeping platform, etc. While the inside will be like a little jewel case, I am going to leave the outside in its decrepit state, with the exception of getting a striped awning. More in keeping with the desert motif. I also bought a bunch of old style large bulb Xmas lights. Oh, do I have plans!

—Tell us the stories behind some of your Mobile Domicile paintings.

Tin Goose

The first time I saw it parked in front of the Joshua Tree Saloon, I knew it would be a great subject. Being parked in a public place, I figured it was fair game, so I took some pictures of it. The challenge was when I got home, while the bus was still painting worthy, but not the highway and its surroundings, at least from the head on angle I wanted to paint it from. So I took some artistic liberty and put it in a desert setting, where it looked more at home. The owner, who also owns the Joshua Tree Saloon, saw the painting when it hung at Joshua Tree Art Gallery, and was very complimentary of it.

The Tin Goose

At the same time in February of 2016, I was also able to meet the creator of the Tin Goose, Dan Van Clapp from Pomona, who was having a show at Taylor Junction in Joshua Tree, at the same time. He and his wife were very touched by painting, because he used to take it camping in Anza and Baja California, before selling it to Gerard, the Saloon’s owner. My instincts were correct, The Goose was indeed more at home in a desert setting.

Dream Small

The woman in the painting, Constance Walsh, is also the person who owns the trailer in “Lanternlight-Moonshadow”, the trailer that started it all. I have painted 4 completely different versions of that trailer, as well as 3 versions of the trailer in Dream Small. While people are always encouraged to ‘Dream Big!’, there is a lot to be said for ‘Dreaming Small’ and all of the horizons which that can open up. Come to think of it, that kind of comes around to my childhood revelation that a small house on wheels could take me places.

Dream Small

Willy’s All American

My love of old, odd, vehicles and machinery (another series I did), made this one an obvious choice. It is parked on a lot where the proprietor sells pre-made sheds and firewood. The history of the local desert is also part of military history. Not only the Marine Base in 29 Palms, but Patton’s WW II training ground east of there, and the veteran soldiers from WW I, who, suffering from the effects of mustard gas, were advised by their doctors to move out to the drier desert climate to relieve their suffering. Veterans have been coming out to the desert to retire for a long time, and the proud, patriotic Willys in the painting is no exception.

Willy’s All American


The trailer that started it all. I don’t know why it took so long for my love of trailers to manifest itself into paintings of them, but that all changed when Constance gave me a b&w photograph of this trailer on a foggy day in Pioneertown, that she had taken years before. “Paint this” she said, “it will sell, guaranteed!” Well, I still have that painting, but subsequent versions have sold. I still have the original of this one too, but have sold many canvas prints and cards of it.

Trailer in the Mist, Pioneertown. Photo by Constance Walsh.

Trailer in the Mist, Pioneertown

A note on working from photos: Yes, I do, and No, I do not consider it ‘cheating’. A camera is a tool. The camera’s image sensor does not ‘read’ colors anywhere near as well as the human eye. It took a lot of study on color, nocturnes, and other desert painters and their palettes to train my eye to see what a scene would look like in real life, not necessarily what the photograph shows. I still study paintings for color and technique every chance I get.

Marcia Geiger at work

Learning my way around Photoshop has been a huge aid in getting my photos where I want them and eliminating some of the guesswork. It is like doing a preliminary sketch before starting on the final piece. I don’t always need to take it as far as I did with the Tin Goose, that is an extreme example of the process.

Most of the subjects of my nocturnes are from daylight photos. Nighttime photography is tricky, and even then, the camera is even worse at accurately capturing what little color information is there. I get a better result using filters in the software to achieve what my eyes see at night. I have studied nocturne painting a lot and excerpts from “The Life of James McNeill Whistler” were especially enlightening. The idea isn’t to be a slave to applying to canvas what I see, but to persuade the viewer that it is a convincing rendition.

Desert Reflection

February 2015, ‘hanging day’ (I love that phrase!), at Joshua Tree Art Gallery. Next door is the local Laundromat, there is nothing like the permanent odor of laundry soap that hangs in the air most days…(yuck). As I was finishing up and getting ready to leave, I saw this shiny, glorious ‘thing’ parked out front. I knew a little about Airstreams, and knew this was something ‘other’. What caught my eye the most was not the vessel itself, but the way the desert and the highway was reflected funhouse style on its mirror-like skin. I grabbed one of the photographers from the gallery, and asked if he had his camera along, and could he take some pictures for me? He did, and he would!

Desert Reflections

While this was going on, the owner came out, and I asked if it was okay if I did a painting of his RV? He seemed a bit perplexed as to the why of it, but agreed. The story he gave about the vehicle, was that the owner/builder was an engineer at Lockheed Martin back in the day, and also had access to the parts he needed to build it. He started with a 1950s Cadillac Fleetwood chassis, and from there built it from parts. This painting was accepted into the 2015 ACE show.

Twilight Years

This grouping has been on a property behind my house since before I moved to Landers 20+ years ago. I have never met the absentee owners, but to their credit, they do come in periodically and keep the property cleaned up. Or perhaps they hire aliens to come in and do it under cover of darkness, because I have never seen anyone there. Much like a civilian version of “Willy’s All American”, this painting reminds me of people who come out here, and whether they intend to or not, seem to sink into the ground and become a permanent part of the landscape.

Twilight Years

Midnight Mojave Sonata & Company’s Coming

Since it is my only alien themed piece, this is de facto going to be my featured piece for the Alien Drive-In. I have also painted this trailer several times, I wanted to have a little fun with it. When I paint a nocturne, I usually start with a photo taken in daylight and add filters to it with Photoshop to achieve a nighttime, or twilight effect. I was so pleased with the way the image came out on this one, I wanted to produce it as a printed image, besides what would become “Midnight Mojave Sonata”. Remember the aliens I mentioned in “Twilight Years”? Well, this is the way I imagine they would be living here in my neighborhood, pretty much the way a lot of humans do: What do you do when the cabin on your property is uninhabitable? Well, you put a trailer on it, and live in that. For better or worse, code enforcement has caught on to this, and it is now technically illegal, but people do it anyway, and hope the neighbors don’t raise a fuss and turn them in. The notoriety of the UFO conventions held at Giant Rock in the 1950s, where people speculated on, and awaited visitors from outer space, is just a couple miles from here and completes the theme.

Midnight Mojave Sonata

After adding the aliens and flying saucer to the image, I have had it printed onto brushed aluminum, with a sheer gloss finish that allows the metal to shine through. It doesn’t translate well to a picture, you have to see it in person, but the effect is amazing! I have plans to do more in a series on this theme.

Company’s Coming

For more of Marcia Geiger’s art see:

About the Author: Ann Japenga is a former Los Angeles Times reporter whose work has appeared in many publications including Sierra, Utne, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times Magazine. She has written columns about desert lore  for Palm Springs Life and Desert magazine; and her essays appear in anthologies such as “The New Desert Reader”.  Ann has a deep acquaintance with the canyons and oases that inspired the desert painters. She’s also versed in “deserata”—prospectors, burros, hidden treasure, hermits and ghost towns. More...


Related DesertUSA Pages


Share this page on Facebook:

DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)

The Desert Environment
The North American Deserts
Desert Geological Terms



Enter E-Mail address:

nimble for dogs

Get the Best Hotel and Motel Rates

Hot temperatures in the desert Are you interested in the temperatures in the desert?

Click here to see current desert temperatures!


Home  | About | Contact Us | Feedback | Privacy | Site Outline | Advertising on DesertUSA | Aquis Towels | Hotels

Copyright © 1996-2018 and Digital West Media, Inc. - -