They may look similar, but don’t call Roger Beck’s housetruck a “mobile home.” Mobile homes are built on assembly lines. Beck built his housetruck with his own two hands.
Roger Beck with his fourth housetruck, built from a 1952 Federal five ton truck.
In fact, he built four of them, all within a seven year period during the late 1960s and 1970s, and each a little grander than the previous. He used them to travel the country, (keeping Eugene as his home base) from festival to festival, selling handcrafted wire jewelry to make food and gas money, and documenting other housetrucks along the way.
“When you go to a three-day fair, you have three days to make as much (money) as possible,” Beck said. “So I trained myself to sit down night after night and make stock.”
It is because of these exploits that Beck was invited to be a part of the Lane County Historical Museum’s current exhibit, “Tye Dye & Tofu,” which is intended to educate visitors about life in Eugene during the 60s and 70s. On display at this exhibit are pieces of Beck’s handmade wire jewelry, a model housetruck which Beck built, and a narrative of Beck’s journey during that time, which began in Southern California and ended where Beck currently resides, in Eugene.
How did Beck come to reside in Eugene? He traveled here after leaving his hometown, Los Angeles, where he was working as a prop maker in Hollywood. For Beck, the thrill of helping create the sets of movies like “The Great Train Robbery,” and “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” didn’t outweigh the difficult work conditions.
“I got hassled by the older guys for having long hair,” Beck said. “They told me I either needed to cut it or wear a hair net. I finally said, ‘Aw the hell with it,'” and decided he wanted leave his dream job to travel north.
A "hippie van" on display at the Lane County Historical Museum, for the Tie Dye & Tofu exhibit
Beck then headed up the coast in his first housecar, which he had built years earlier with the help of his father. After stopping for a spell in San Francisco, Beck eventually found himself in the Albany area. There, he had a lapse in judgment, which set him on the path to his new life.
Acting on an impulse, Beck and a friend stole an eight-track player from a logging truck. They were seen, reported to the police, and ultimately arrested. Beck felt remorseful after the incident, and went to court determined to prove to the judge that he wasn’t headed for a life of crime.
So he brought with him to court a case of his handcrafted jewelry, as well as his bank book, to prove he was capable of supporting himself. In doing so, he was able to work out a deal with the judge where Beck was sentenced to five years probation, but permitted to travel and sell jewelry, provided he didn’t miss any probation reports.
“I knew I had to teach myself the self-discipline of self-employment,” Beck said. “Because every month, I had to convince my PO (probation officer) I was employed.”
With that in mind, Beck began traveling from fair to fair, living out of his housetruck, selling his wire jewelry, and making substantial profits. He said that in a typical three-day fair, he could make anywhere from $1000-$1500, selling each piece of jewelry for only a few dollars. That was more than enough for Beck to cover food and gas, and eventually to buy himself a new truck, and build a bigger housetruck.
After buying the truck, Beck began modifying it into another housetruck, which he said is essentially the same process as building a house on land, except one has to use a truck for the foundation. After three months of construction, Beck’s second housetruck was finished.
“I worked 24/7,” said Beck. “You couldn’t get me to do anything else but work on that truck.”
Beck continued that lifestyle until 1977, when he decided to “call it quits,” settle down, and raise a family. His relationship with housetrucks, however, was far from over. That’s because Beck, during the course of his years on the road, had spent much of his time documenting other housetrucks, housebuses, land-schooners, and other modified vehicles.
Inside Beck's fourth housetruck, he installed a stove, kitchen cabinets, two lofts, and a minature toy horse pen for his daughter.
“Because I was also living in a housetruck, people that I met didn’t shy away from me,” Beck said. “I wasn’t some straight person, just another gypsy.”
He revisited his collection of photos throughout the years, and realized that he had enough picture and stories to fill a book. After trying unsuccessfully to publish his book through various publishers, Beck decided to compile the photos himself and self-publish a book about housetrucking.
Beck purchased a computer in 1999, immediately began laying out pages, and in 2002 self-published his book, entitled “Some Turtles Have Nice Shells.” The book contains 187 pages of housetruck pictures and stories. Beck had 4000 copies printed, and has since sold slightly more than half of them, some to people in as far away places as Japan and New Zealand. Copies of his book can be found in several local bookstores, and on his website.
Currently, he resides in Eugene, his center of operations during his housetrucking years. He owns Front Door Woodworking, a local business that makes mostly kitchen cabinets, meaning Beck has made a career out the “self-discipline of self-employment” he taught himself years earlier. Beck still keeps his fourth road truck, as a memento, and doesn’t anticipate moving out of Eugene.
“I might be from California, but I see myself as a transplanted Oregonian,” Beck said.
Nate Gartrell, Eugene Daily News
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