Project Driveway

Project Driveway

In 2020, many of us baked our own bread or binge-watched the last five years of shows we’d missed.

Jon and Sarah Reed built an RV. The previous summer, inspired by Jon’s childhood vacations with his grandparents in their mini motorhome, they’d rented one for a family trip. “It was fun to see Jon’s joy sensors light up,” Sarah recalls.

Then the Reeds went back to their ordinary lives, Jon as the production manager at Yale Rep and an associate professor at the School of Drama and Sarah as a singer and music teacher—until the pandemic hit. Like most families, everyone, including 16-year-old Emma and 10-year-old Henry, was suddenly and unexpectedly home. “When we got to the bored stage of the pandemic,” Sarah says, “Jon started keeping his eye out” for affordable RVs. He found a water-damaged 1996 model for $1200 on Facebook—a deal since the appliances would cost more than that new—and bought it on Labor Day.

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Despite the towing company’s worry that she “would blow apart on the highway” during delivery, Winnie the Winnebago arrived in their North Haven driveway one week later, with holes in the roof and warped siding. The next day, the demolition phase began, removing all the useable components—windows, doors, appliances—and stripping the living quarters down to the aluminum frame to be built back up.

Jon took the lead thanks to his stage production skills, but restoring Winnie was a family effort. Sarah enjoyed making interior design choices while Henry and Emma helped with some of the countless tasks the project required. Jon’s brother, Jared, assisted with the new walls and roof, and his dad, Don, fixed the brakes and worked with Jon to get the “surprisingly complicated” RV electrical systems working.

Documented on Instagram and Facebook, surprises and complications were frequent in the family’s quest to construct Winnie as affordably and lightly as possible. One major question arose over how to side the plywood walls. Professionally installed, full-coverage siding was beyond Jon and Sarah’s budget, so, after playing with various options, they decided to simply paint the upper part of the plywood while giving the lower portion the hardier protection it would need from water, gravel, salt and other road debris. They did that by repurposing a large sheet of fiberglass meant for roofing, which they cut to size and applied to Winnie using a special, hard-to-find adhesive.

As the RV took shape, neighbors, including many the Reeds had never met before, would wander over with coffee and chat. Strangers would pull over on the side of the road and say they’d been checking out the Winnebago’s progress every day. The mailman, on his frequent Winnie-related package deliveries, would pause to discuss.

A mere four months after Winnie arrived, Sarah, Jon, Emma and Henry, plus their two large dogs, Max and Oscar, experimented with camping overnight—in their driveway. Everything functioned as planned during their fun night “away,” so, the following summer, they began driving further and further from home, in Connecticut, New Jersey and Maine, choosing campsites for their natural beauty. Those experiences have taught lessons and built confidence. Jon recently experimented with “boondocking”—camping without water or electrical hookups and relying instead on water tanks and batteries—and has begun fielding questions from folks looking to rehab their own RVs.

As for the Reeds themselves, with the weather warming and the days stretching, the main question now is, “Where are we going next?”

Written by Heather Jessen. Images 1 and 5, featuring Jon, Sarah and Henry Reed, photographed by Heather Jessen. Images 2-4 and 6 provided courtesy of the Reed family.

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