Ranch Diaries: Tiny living, 23 miles from town

After a chicken coop, a tipi and no electricity, this four-season camper is our most modern home yet.


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first year of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.

Sam and I are often asked what it’s like to live in 320 square feet of space. We had a taste of tiny living before moving here: I spent eight months living in a smaller camper outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and we spent a summer together in a far more rustic camper when we managed a herd of 1,000 goats for weed control in Montana. There was no heat, running water or electricity, and before we moved in, the last occupant had used it to house orphaned goat kids—but it had a roof. We’ve lived in a chicken coop remodeled into a tiny one-bedroom house, and Sam lived in an Arizona cabin the outlaw Ike Clanton was said to have built. We’ve spent many nights outside in our cowboy tipi, a 7-by-7-foot canvas pyramid tent.

Our current home, 23 miles from Ruidoso, New Mexico.

This 2007 Crossroads Cruiser four-season camper is the most modern housing we’ve ever lived in. Many ranch jobs provide housing for full-time employees, so we’ve spent time in a wide variety of houses and camps. One cow camp was a former cavalry remount station where we pumped water and waded through snowdrifts to get to the outhouse and where the big round corrals were littered with old bits and pieces of tack. My favorite place was the little brown board and batten house where Sam and I were married almost four years ago, a century-old homestead with a couple of additions. That’s the house where my breakfast was interrupted one morning by our black kitten attacking a rat larger than herself. After sic’ing all four dogs on the rodent, which had fled the kitten, and frantically overturning furniture in the living room, I finally dispatched it. That was the end of the strange scratching sounds in the attic, and we’ve kept cats around ever since.

Getting married at the little brown house.

Inside the camper we live in now (parked 23 miles southeast of Ruidoso), we have a little foldout couch, a queen-sized bed, a table with benches that converts to a child-sized bed, a bathroom, a shower, a three-burner stove and a tiny oven I use to bake bread. I managed to squeeze in a small bookshelf and a desk. I go grocery shopping every week or two, and have learned to buy produce that holds up better to storage, like potatoes, apples and squash so I can best utilize our pint-sized propane refrigerator. Someday, I’ll have a garden again, like I did when I lived in the little brown house. But a three-year old cow elk named Coconut, who was bottle-fed as a calf and released on the reservation this year, finds our camp pretty comfortable. I’m sure she’d love to help harvest fresh veggies (although I’ve been told by one of her many fans that she’s partial to Cheetos­­) so I'm going to hold off gardening until another time.

Laura Jean at the non-electric cabin in Montana.

Like any ranch house, our camper has seen its share of the unexpected. After a heifer calved on a snowy afternoon late this February, her newborn bull calf was having a hard time getting warm. I hefted him into the camper, wrapped him in towels, blasted the heat and started rubbing him dry. I got some colostrum into him to help warm him up from the inside. After a few hours, I put him back in the corral with the cow, they paired up and we turned them out. Instances like these remind me the life we’ve chosen isn’t really about the housing. It’s going to be great someday to unpack our storage unit and have luxuries like a washing machine and a drier, or a freezer large enough to fit a pizza box. But living without those things, you find out how little they matter. It’s about making home where you are. Now that the camper is full of our books and jackets and boots and spurs and cards from friends, it doesn’t feel too small at all. It feels like home.

Lamplight shines out from the non-electric cabin in Montana.
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