The $350 Vintage Railcar That Became a Tiny House for Two

Hannah Leigh Doss takes her tiny space on an epic journey

big little spaces journey the tiny house

The Spruce / @journeythetinyhouse

Like many tiny home dwellers, Hannah Leigh Doss was moved to go small for financial reasons. After college graduation in 2011, she moved often and usually to places where she didn’t know anyone. That led to some experiences she would rather not repeat, and those led to her tiny story. 

Meet the Expert

Hannah Leigh Doss is a writer and illustrator who named her former railcar turned home “Journey.” That is a most appropriate name for a 232-square-foot space that has traveled across the country. She is writing a series of children’s books based on her adventures with Journey, with the first two available now.

Hannah Doss and her dog, Banjo.

@journeythetinyhouse / Instagram

The Origin: Had Enough of Roomies

High housing costs forced Doss to look for a roommate each time she found a new town in which to hang her hat. “After several awful roommates, and sharing walls in apartments with people almost just as bad, I decided I had had enough,” Doss says. “I wanted my own walls, and I wanted something that I could afford by myself. A tiny house was the answer.”

She found her new home in an unusual place: a railroad surplus auction. Doss had the winning bid, a whopping $350. Along with her parents, Doss spent three month reshaping the former railcar into a home that fit her needs and reflected her style, using secondhand, reinvented or donated parts as often as she could. “I now have a 29-foot-by-8-foot tiny house that I have lived in for five years and that cost me about $9,000,” she says. Doss figures she and her parents put in about $10,000 worth of labor on the project. 

Journey before
Journey before renovations.

@journeythetinyhouse / Instagram

Fighting RV Park Rules for Space to Rest

Her home, which she has appropriately named “Journey,” is made to be hauled behind a truck, but she often has trouble finding a spot to call home. “When you go to an RV park and say you have a tiny house, a lot of the employees just reply ‘We don’t take tiny houses,’” Doss says “A lot of RV Parks are also 55+ communities or your rig must be 10 years or newer. The shell of my trailer is from the ‘80s, although it has been completely refurbished, and I still get a 'No' based on its age. Basically, it’s way more complicated than it should be.

Journey after
Living space after renovations.

@journeythetinyhouse / Instagram

Small Space Set Her Free

Moving from a more typical dwelling into a tiny home means making some choices about what will stay and what has to go. That process can be difficult for many, but for Doss, the other side of the purge brought new peace. “My possessions no longer own me,” she says.”Getting rid of so many things that I thought I treasured was hard in the beginning, but I really don’t miss a thing that I had to part with.” In fact, this new pared-down way of living has even made getting gifts a bit stressful for her. “I’d much rather have experiences than material items.”

Interior shot

@journeythetinyhouse / Instagram

Time to Move On?

Doss is pondering moving from her current California back to Tennessee, but the high cost of moving and prospect of earning some money for a new adventure have her considering selling Journey. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she is done with the tiny life. “It’ll cost me about $2,000 in gas to move Journey back. Or I could sell her at California prices and then rebuild something back home for another $12,000 or so,” she says. “Seems like a business no-brainer if I can keep my sentimental attachments out of it.”

Rapid-Fire Questions

Favorite area of your home: I love how roomy my shower is and how I’ve learned to make the five-gallon water heater feel like a forever shower.

Something you had to get rid of to live here: Five Jeep loads full of antiques.

Biggest monthly expense: Currently, heat in the winter. Putting in a mini-split and wrapping a skirt of insulation around my tiny have helped a lot with heating and the expenses that come with it. Tahoe is a cold, cold place! I also sleep with a heated blanket on, because my mattress is about two inches off the freezing floor.

Most challenging spot to keep organized: The kitchen. I cook or make three meals almost every day. I have to hand-wash my dishes (my least favorite chore ever). The kitchen table also makes a great spot to drop things when you walk in or put the laundry that needs to be folded. It’s always a little bit of a disaster, but only takes a few minutes for it to look good again.

Favorite appliance that makes tiny-home living easier: I love my used apartment-sized washer and dryer that I got for $150 off Craigslist. I’d die if I had to go to a laundromat every time I had to do laundry. I also love my little convection oven. I bake in it all the time.