How to Live in Your Car

Now here’s a story: a guy in Oregon has figured out how to turn the hulks of four to six former cars into cool little houses that cost between $100,000 and $250,000, depending on their size. The stories I read burble on to describe the incredible energy efficiency of the houses, how they are designed to be built by five workers in forty-five days rather than by the average fifteen workers in the average 225 days, and how rats and termites and carpenter ants and suchlike will curse and moan because they cannot chew their way through recycled steel, and how the houses take advantage of the biggest, heaviest recyclable product that pretty much everyone owns, and how the houses, called Miranda Homes, don’t look like gleaming metallic yurts, as you might think they would, but more like your regular old friendly suburban cottage, the kind where Donna Reed is beaming at the door and you can smell bacon and there’s a kid upstairs not doing homework, and I get so fascinated I track down the guy, and we have us a good talk.

His name is Rob Boydstun, and he’s spent nearly twenty years running a company that builds and sells commercial car carriers, but since the car-carrier market has crumpled, and he’s laid off four hundred employees in the last two years, and he has brilliant engineers on staff, one day he gathered them together to invent a new way to make houses. “If you had a lot of recycled steel for framing, and designed a tight little house that you could build mostly ahead of time, and streamlined the building process radically, you could revolutionize the archaic and inefficient housing market,” he says. “Even in a down market for houses, there are always houses being built, unlike the car-carrier market, which is deceased,” he says. “Look, everyone talks green, but only about 20 percent of people actually live that way, so we are making houses for the other 80 percent. You get an SUV house that drives like a Prius. It costs a lot less to build, it costs a lot less in utility bills, it’s real hard to burn down, it uses up old cars, and it’ll last forever. And when these houses get popular, I hire back all the people I laid off. We’ve already hired a bunch of people back, and they’re good at making houses. Same process as making car carriers, just a different product.”

Boydstun and his colleagues have built one Miranda house so far, a model near their Portland factory, and as I stare at it, thinking of Donna Reed, I wonder about how, if a house could be built of the four evil haunted satanic cars that I personally have owned, the house might refuse to work; and how if I was a real writer I would take a bus that runs on cooking oil all the way to Arkansas to see the huge centrifuge where most retired cars in America are whirled to death by Nucor Steel, according to Boydstun; and how one time I met a guy in southern Oregon who was growing houses out of circles of trees whose branches would be woven together until eventually the house was waterproof; and how if you can build houses out of common recyclables, I could build a house out of my kids’ thousands of reeking sneakers; and how maybe you could build a really smart house out of old computers; and how if Rob Boydstun’s idea goes viral, and new houses use much less wood, there’ll be more trees, which means cleaner air for holy beings; and how I really and truly should take a trip to the annual Donna Reed Festival in Iowa where she was born Donnabelle Mullenger, there must be a bus that runs on old sneakers or something, right?

Brian Doyle (1956-2017) was the longtime editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He was the author of six collections of essays, two nonfiction books, two collections of “proems,” the short story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the novella Cat’s Foot, and the novels Mink RiverThe Plover, and Martin Marten. He is also the editor of several anthologies, including Ho`olaule`a, a collection of writing about the Pacific islands. Doyle’s books have seven times been finalists for the Oregon Book Award, and his essays have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, OrionThe American ScholarThe Sun, The Georgia Review, and in newspapers and magazines around the world, including The New York TimesThe Times of London, and The Age (in Australia). His essays have also been reprinted in the annual Best American EssaysBest American Science & Nature Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. Among various honors for his work is a Catholic Book Award, three Pushcart Prizes, the John Burroughs Award for Nature Essays, Foreword Reviews’ Novel of the Year award in 2011, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008 (previous recipients include Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Mary Oliver).”


  1. Brian, I really liked “The Greatest Nature Essay Ever”, but this one could have benefited from shorter sentences. I criticize because I care! 🙂

  2. Reminded me of Ken Kesey’s attempt to get ONE FOLD changed in half-gallon milk carton construction to facilitate their recycled use as panels in a geodesic structure that he had brainstormed with some friends… and how the paper company turned him down. A $100,000 recycled steel house wouldn’t be “a steal” in my mind… it’d be more like a “stolen-from”.
    I spent 4 years in a schoolbus with my wife & 4 children… a bus that cost $360… and was a comfortable abode. I still have it. 2 of my children used it as their ‘transition’ home, as they moved out & into their own lives. ^..^

  3. Somehow this seems more appealing than living in a $360 schoolbus. Call me crazy….

  4. This is my favorite bit: it’s “an SUV house that drives like a Prius.”

    Erik, Orion Grassroots Network

  5. This made my night! I love hearing stories of such ingenuity, particularly when the idea can reduce the waste stream.

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