East Troy man crafts gypsy wagons with an eye toward the fanciful
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The view from the door of one of the gypsy wagons that James Nelson builds at his East Troy area home. Terry Mayer/staff.
EAST TROY — James Nelson put in almost 20 years at American Motors Corp. in Kenosha, helping turn out trucks and car parts in the company’s heyday.
The vehicles he crafts now, however, look more like something from the pages of the Brothers Grimm than the lanes of local highways.
Nelson builds gypsy trailers and wagons, the kind you’ve seen in old movies, Romanian travelogues and back-and-white news clips of 1967's Summer of Love.
In fact, back in the 1960s Nelson was something of a free spirit himself, converting old buses into hippie vans.
He was no slouch when it came to carpentry, either, building his own log cabin near Princeton during a back-to-the-land movement decades ago.
The couple live in a small house on a heavily wooded lot they’ve made their own. Their trees are twined with tiny twinkling lights; the yard supports delicate woodland flowers and budding bamboo stalks. There’s even a delightfully detailed tree house.
The setting seems tailored for creating something ethereal, but Nelson’s gypsy wagons are solidly built. Each has a trailer chassis and comes with electric brakes.
Nelson custom designs the wagons, but trailer sizes average about 12 to 14 feet in length and 7 feet in width.
He’s built more than a dozen.
Buyers have included a pug rescue organization and a couple who are book artists. Surprisingly, he’s never sold one to a fan of the Grateful Dead, though gypsy trailers seem like the ideal transport for making the band’s cross-county concert circuit.
“Deadheads,” said Nelson, shaking his head, “have no money.”
More information at www.gypsytrailerusa.com
Read the full story in the Sept. 12, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, PAGE 12A.