Where did the SMALLisSMART (Container based) HOUSE start?
After Geoffrey Fulton completed his architectural studies, he did what most Australian architectural graduates do, he decided to do the "grand tour"of Europe getting up and close to the old classic buildings of the world!
Before leaving Australia, he ordered and paid for a new Mercedes Benz sedan to be picked up at the Mercedes factory in Sindelfingen, Germany once he arrived in Europe. He also booked a seat on the Indiaman, a bus that traveled from Madras, India to London. To get to Madras, he traveled on the S.S.Canberra from Perth to Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Before leaving home, he had been told that diamonds were cheap in Colombo, so he studied how to tell a good diamond from a rough one with the aim of buying some stones in Colombo then selling them for a profit in Europe. As it turned out, diamonds were not cheap but sapphires were, so he had to learn from the local jewellers how to tell a good sapphire from a cheap one. Over 3 days, he played the jewellers of Bailey Street, one dealer against another until he was satisfied that he could buy well. With a little bag of gems, sapphires, topaz and moonstones in his pocket, he then headed across the island on a local bus, then onto a small ferry to Danuscodi a little town on the beach on the the Indian mainland.
Regretably, the whole town disappeared a few years ago wiped off the earth by a typhoon. From Danuscodi it was a very, very, slow 20 hour train ride to Madras. Imagine.... hot as hell, no air con, no toilets, just wooden seats, locals everywhere inluding lying along the overhead luggage racks. Fortunately the train stopped at little villages every hour or so making a toilet visit to no toilets available. (Indians all wear clothes that allow them to make any place at all a toilet just by squatting!!!
He was amazed to see women running along beside the train to where it stopped so they could collect the hot water that spews out from the engine cylinders as it stops. Guaranteed disease free boiling hot water for the family!
On arrival in Madras he met up with 42 people of all ages and from around the world, all gathered together prior to starting an amazing 1 month bus journey across the Middle East to Europe. It eventually became a 3 month journey!
While on the bus, he continued on his buying spree, purchasing a very old English Enfield rifle at the entrance to the Khyber Pass, an Afghan tribal rug in Kandahar, some ancient seals in Isfahan, and some glass beads in Hebron. (The glass beads became a chandelier he made for the lobby of the Australian headquarters of Mary Kay Cosmetics).
Afghanistan was my favourite country. The Afghans were honourable and very generous. We had got through the Khyber Pass just before sunset as everyone has to, and we stayed at a new "motel". A bed cost was 2 cents a night.... a wooden frame with some ropes loosely interwoven! We enjoyed the daily breakfast of omolettes then climbed into the bus. As it started to roll, Albert detected a damaged front wheel bearing. All out and the dismantling to the stub axle took place. The axle had already become damaged so we started taking turns at trying to clean it up with emery paper. Soon a jeep full of Afghan military came up the road, and pulled up.They got us out from under the front mudguard, and they set to work ... there for about 2 hours till everything was put back together. All they would accept was one packet of cigarettes that they shared between the 8 of them. On the other hand we heard that an American couple had bought a rug at the market in Kandahar and did a runner without paying. The Afghans chased them and killed them. Just out of Kandahar we ran into more trouble. The country was flat desert where the surface is very very fine dust that when wet, becomes the stickiest mud that doesn't allow water to penetrate. So you experience flash floods for very short periods of time. The engine on the Indiaman was a Leyland sub floor mounted engine with an under floor air intake. When the flood started to rise around us, Albert asked the New Zealand co-driver to pull the air intake out from under and hold it inside the door while he continued to drive. You can guess, the intake ended up out the door and in the water. Wrecked the engine. Albert organized for parts to be flown from London by the American military who were building a new highway alongside our primitive road, and he rebuilt the engine himself out in the desert while many of us hitch-hiked on to Quetta, Pakistan where we waited a couple of weeks for the bus to came through and pick us up. It was great to be able to stay in a hotel for that time!
What amazed all of those on the bus was that every house in the town of Yazd located between the Eastern and Western deserts of Iran, had a wind tower on its roof. The towers had large wooden "fan " like structures that directed the afternoon cool breezes down into the houses. Geoffrey adapted this "technology" in the design of an office building in Colac after he returned to Australia. Now the "wind tower" has enabled him to extend the height of a building beyond regulatory height limits. The wind tower is considered by planning and building regulations as a chimney which has no height limit. A stair inside it allows property owners access to their roof decks which otherwise would not be allowed!!!
It's a bit like the regulations in Shiraz, Iran in 1964. Women were not allowed out at night to night clubs etc., but they were allowed to go out to eat. So everyone was out at night socializing while eating ice cream .......... just the right place to open an ice cream bar!
We had one very embarassing experience while traveling through the desert of Iraq. We drove into a desert town... no trees except within residential compounds. There in the mioddle of the town square was a pool, looking like a swimming pool about 4 metres square. The bus didn't have air conditioning and it had been a stinking hot day with everyone onboard smelling very unpleasant. We dashed into the pool, my travel companion Cathy decided to shampoo my hair , then Albert, our driver came over angrilly telling us to get out of the water. Unknown to us, it was the town drinking water "tank". We all had to immediately contribute to the cost of cleaning the tank and having fresh water brought from out of town to refill it! Talking of drinking water, along the road a little further we came upon rows of mounds of sand looking as though people had been mining. The mounds were all in lines heading toward the mountains about 10 miles away. We stopped to investigate and found that each mound was access to a small underground tunnel just big enough for a man to crawl through. Through the tunnel flows cold crystal clear water with the source in the mountains. The tunnel even had fish swimming in it at the openings to the sky, and it extended to the town nearby providing a rainless town with pure water. There were rows of these mounds because over the years a tunnel would cave in and so another one was dug along side. We learnt that many people digging the tunnels lost their lives due to cave-ins.
The bus trip was an amazing and exciting experience, with only one drawback. All of us except our Iranian bus driver and an 80 year old fellow traveler suffered from dysentary. As we traveled every day , there were calls to the driver for a "bushes" stop...... very many times there were no bushes in sight as we traveled across deserts. Some people would just go behind the bus, others would walk a mile for no privacy! Just for fun sometimes the driver would drive off leaving a few girls squatting in the middle of the road, no longer hidden by the bus. You soon learn to accept a lack of privacy like one does in hospital."
When we arrived in Beiruth, we were dead keen to get to a hotel but it was 2 in the morning. Albert performed, he found us a place right on the waterfront. The room I shared with my traveling companion had a large bed. Wow! It wasn't till the mornning that we learnt that Albert had booked us into a brothel that was having a quiet night with few customers!
During what became a 3 month journey (due to the major breakdowns in Afghanistan), Geoffrey had time to work out how he was going to travel around Europe as economically as possible, hopefully without having to take on jobs along the way.
The logical answer was to provide his own accommodation at no daily cost! He designed a collapsable caravan to be fitted on the pack rack on his Mercedes Benz.
By coincidence, a detour on the road in Germany saw the Indiaman bus pull up outside the Mercedes factory where Geoffrey said goodbye to his travel friends and walked into reception , still in his shorts and with his luggage from the trip over his shoulder, to pick up his new car.
He had been invited to visit a German friend of a friend in Australia, and it was while staying in Muenster, the engineer friend helped him build the roof top caravan (his first SMALLisSMART HOUSE) on top of the car. (The 19th century Royal Enfield Khyber rifle I purchased while traveling through the Khyber Pass was exchanged for the assistance given by Otto Dieterle to build the "house"!)
At the same time, he built a rack on the front and the back of the car to which he strapped a minimotorcycle (built by "chopping" a famous French motorized bicycle, a Velosolex) on the front and a Bultaco off-road bike given to him at a motor show by the manufacturer for the publicity they would get from this unique vehicle!! He also took the rear seat out of the car and built in a large trunk to hold his maps, diaries and photo equipment.
It was while staying in Muenster that Geoffrey first met Carla Salomon Kerkering who showed him around her interior architectural school. More than a quarter of a century later, they met again and she joined him in Australia as his partner and now heads the interior architecture side of the design practice.
A month after completing the construction of the roof top "house", Geoffrey was on the road on his grand tour.
To provide some ready cash, Geoffrey needed to sell some stones. To get a true retail value of each, he took each stone to a jeweller and asked for a written quote for what it would cost to purchase a duplicate stone to make a pair of ear rings. He then had the retail value which he then discounted to make the deal attractive and fair for a buyer of each stone. As it turned out, Carla's father bought the biggest and best sapphire as a present for his wife. The ring she had made now has been handed down to Carla! 'It's nice to still have "connection" to this particular stone!'
Every night on the road, Geoffrey spent in a small "house" 10ft X 6 ft (3m X 1.8m). He was able to take a shower using only half a litre of hot water by adapting a fruit spray container and pump. He cooked all his meals either upstairs in the house during poor weather or outside on a table mounted on the rear pack rack of his motorcycle. If it looked like rain, he would pull into a gas station, fill the car with gas then raise the walls and roof of the house
while under cover, then drive off with the house "up". Was it safe in that configuration? The research department of Mercedes Benz put the car in this configuration around their speed test track and it performed perfectly at up to 70 miles an hour. Beyond that speed it would use too much petrol due to wind resistance.
He first headed north to Scandinavia. The Nowegian Steamship Company offered to put his car on the deck of their ship which services the west coast of Norway to up past the Arctic Circle. No charge! After it was unloaded, he headed across the north of Sweden into Finland, then down south to enter Russia at the border town of Viborg.
Those were the Cold War days when not many Westerners visited Russia. He and his rig was a crowd stopper in Leningrad and Moscow, not only for the public but also the secret police who followed him 24 hours a day while in Moscow.
Within 24 hours of his arrival in Russia he was approached by a number of youths wanting to exchange Russian antiques for anything from the West. He hadn't prepared for this dealing opportunity, but he did have a broken Remmington electric shaver which was grabbed by a local in exchange for a 16th century iconic painting (later to be sold in Australia to the Russian Authodox Church for $5,000).
The icon was smuggled out of Russia behind the lining of the door of the car!
After leaving Russia, he then headed south through Scandinavia and back again behind the Iron Curtain this time to visit East Berlin. At the time, visiting East Germany was very difficult and sensative. He visited a family offering them some chocolates and canned fruit, but was asked not to bring them from his car into the house until after dark so that neighbours would not see the gifts! They could be in serious trouble for having contact with someone from the West.
After visiting the countries of the Northern Mediterranean he visited Gibralter where he stocked up his kitchen with English bacon, then crossed into Spain in transit for Morocco via the ferry. At the border his car and the house above were searched thoroughly then a customs officer said to him: "We know you have a pistol..... where is it?" He had bought a 9mm automatic Browning pistol in Gibralter (where there were many shops that just sold weapons) to have as personal security as he traveled across Africa.
When he got to the border between Spain and Gibralter, the customs inspector went over his car with a fine toothed comb, then called him into hi office. He said "I know you have a pistol in the car... where is it?" His answer: "Behind the lining of the door". the order came back "Get it and bring it in here".
He gave it the customs offier who said :"You are lucky you told me that you were in transit to Africa otherwise you would have been arrested and put in prison. You will get it handed back to you at the ferry when you leave Spain." That's what happened.. a customs vehicle with his pistol in it followed him to the ferry terminal where the driver gave it back to him. Obviously the shop in Gibralter had notified the Spanish Customs (probably for a fee).
He hid the pistol again behind the door lining and had no problem getting into Morocco.
Morocco is a very beautiful and amazing country for hand built mud brick multi storey buildings set in remarkable natural and man-made landscapes.
While a complimentary guest of the Club Med at Agadir, he heard of a very special pagent which takes place for 2 days every 4 years at a small desert outpost in Spanish Sahara. At 9pm that night he headed for Tan Tan. At 1am he came across a small "roadhouse", a guy in a tent with a globe hanging over a few products for sale. With no maps or instructions on how to get to Tan Tan, he sought assistance from the guy. It was indicated to leave the bitumen road and head west into the desert and eventually he would reach Tan Tan,
There is a golden rule about navigating deserts. A furrow is usually dug along the track between two locations. When you travel along the track, the surface becomes so bad that you start a new track along side the original one. Then as that track deteriorates, you start another track. Over a very long time there can be a hundred tracks all running parallel to each other and with offshoots to villages on each side of the main track. The very important thing to remember when driving in these conditions is to always remember which side of the original furrow you are driving along and as the track you are on deteriorates, you head back towards the furrow. That way you don't get lost in the desert. It worked!
At 4am, he came across a lone Arab walking along one of the tracks, he picked him up and they continued on reaching Tan Tan at around 7am. The bonnet of the car was covered in sand because the desert is covered in spots of hard and very fine sand, you often drop into unseeable patches of deep sand and hidden rocks. The rack on the front of the car saved the sump but sprayed sand and small rocks up into the air so that they landed on the bonnet!
The pagent was tuly amazing . Tan Tan was nothing but a mausaleum and two small buildings. Many hundreds of Touregs ("blue men" of the desert) had spent many days crossing the Sahara to reach to the pagent of horse racing for one day and a market the next day. Can you believe, he actually saw alarm clocks being sold among Moroccan rugs! Obviously status symbols!! At the end of the second day, everyone wandered off in all directions back into the desert! Most would have no contact with each other for another 4 years when they will meet again at Tan Tan at the next pagent!
Crossing the Sahara was not as difficult as expected but all the tyres on the car burst because of the overload of the car and the very high temperature of the ground surface, Geoffrey had to leave the car, drive to the nearest town on his motorcycle to purchase new tyres then head back to the car.
In three and a half years of traveling with the car, this was the only problem to occur.
He was also very lucky in that because the car was overloaded beyond factory specs, he was offered free service of the car at the top secret experimental and racing department of Mercedes Benz any time he traveled through Germany. Upgrades for future model Mercs were first tested on his car under the supervision of Dr Ulenhaut, head of Mercedes racing division. A true highlight of one visit was to meet Juan Fangio, the world's greatest racing car driver. After completing his racing career, he became the Merc. distributor in Argentina, and he just happened to visit the factory while Geoffrey was there. Another surprise was that surrounding the experimental department at the factory was a "wrecker's yard of every current car from every manufacturer. He learnt that M.B. buy every new model car and test it to destruction then strip to the chasis or shell to see what they can learn from it and put into their cars. No wonder they are good cars!!
Before Geoffrey left Africa at Tunis, he buried the pistol.......... not wanting any more customs problems!
Geoffrey continued his travels through Europe.
"Imagine! I slept on top of the car for 5 months outside the front doors of John Lewis' Department Store in Oxford St. London, and 3 months on the Champs Elysise in Paris. Because the car had Zoll plates on it (indicating it was duty free because it was to leave Germany), it was untraceable so hundreds of parking tickets just became "collectables" for me. I often parked at ports at night because there was always a water tap to be found. In Helsinki, I woke one morning to find the car in the middle of the weekend market. Never mind, the local traders showered me with their produce. Free meals for the day!!
I could go to bed anywhere I could park the car . The only problem with sub-zero temperatures was that when I woke in the morning, I had to light my little stove to heat the house. I had to be ready to wipe the ceiling as the ice particles melted otherwise water would drip onto my bed!
The Daily Express had me standing on the ladder of my house before going to bed outside Claridges Hotel for a front page photo and article. I tried to take to dinner a girl friend that I had traveled across the Middle East with on the following night but I was not welcome at the hotel!
Because such a vehicle had not been seen before, journalists and photographers in every town wanted a photo and an article for their paper. The "price" they had to pay was enough to cover the cost of petrol to get to the next city.
While in London Geoffrey was approached by a young female photo-journalist wanting a photo and story. She had made her own eventful journey around the world and had written a book titled "I never meant to go so far". She and a girlfriend set out from London to hitch-hike to the Med for the summer holiday. They were picked up by a guy in a jeep who turned out to be a smuggler of cigarettes. He used the two beautiful girls as decoys when crossing borders. Anyway, he got caught at the French/German border so the girls left and contiinued to travel. Their journey didn't stop at the Med. They ended up traveling through the Middle East, caught up in civil wars in Egypt and even as far away as Indonesia.
We spent a night together in my apartment on top of the car. In the morning she said, 'Pity my book is already published because I could have added that I am one of the very few girls in the world to be able to say that I made love on top of a car under Marble Arch in London!" She was the only one!! After spending the night with this beautiful girl, I could hardly ask for money for petrol to the next city, but she did introduce me to Picture Point, the photo agency that she worked for in London. I then became a professional photographer sending photos back to London and receiving a monthly commission cheque that provided enough income for me to continually travel the world.
Manufacturers seeing so many articles and photos of the car , started offering Geoffrey free products for the publicity they would get. He was given 3 motorcycles, an inflatable boat, an Electrolux 50 HP outboard motor, the first portable National TV, all his film by Kodak, a movie camera by Bell and Howell, Tupperware for storing everything in, and "Goldfinger" a fibreglass speedboat and trailer. A German food company gave him authority to visit any supermarket and collect as much of their product as he wanted!
While in Paris and staying in the carpark of the Touring Club De France right on the river, he noticed 3 luxury Itallian superyachts (in Paris for the boat show) being packed up ready to head back to Pisa via the French canals. He approached one of the skippers and was invited to join them for the 8 day trip through the canals to Marsailles,to Cannes, Monte Carlo then to the factory at Pisa. A Truly exciting journey..... every day because the speed limit on the canals is only 6 knots, the big Caterpillar diesels wouldn't run so slowly for long periods of time. The ship would fill with fumes, then as soon as we came upon a straight stretch of canal with no other boats in sight, the skipper would open the throttles, the yacht would get up and plane at up to 30 knots to clean out the engines. The side effect was that the large bow waves would surge out and up over the canal banks and often down onto the road that runs along all the canals.... then he would throttle back down to 6 knots. Fortunately the water police never caught us in the canals.
Back at the factory in Pisa, he spent a day seeing how these beautiful monsters were built, then onto a train back to Paris and his car.
His plan was to again visit Russia. This time he was more prepared. He had bought Russian roubles in Gibralter for 12 times their official value. As a result, food and other purchases in Russia cost him one twelfth of the normal price. Every meal he and his hitch-hiker friend had at a restaurant included Beluga caviar at $1 a jar and champagne at $1 a bottle.
Before leaving Russia on the first visit, he checked out what the Russians would pay a high price for...... ball point pens, women's lingerie, and particularly bras. (The cups on Russian bras look like ice cream cones with concentric stiching). So for the second visit he had stowed away a box of 10 cent ball pionts (that sold for $10 each) and a collection of cheap bras that sold for $100 each! All were very good investments! Of course there was the odd bra given away to an attractive visitor he had smuggled into the official camp site he had to stay at every night while in Russia!
During those days (the Cold War) every visitor was under suspiscion and followed and watched 24 hours a day. It became a challenge to find who was following him then try to lose them. Pretty hard with such a recognizable vehicle.Of course in those Cold War communist days, religious activities of any kind were banned. So priceless icons were found in churches which had been ransacked and then used for drying grain on the floors. They were there to be picked up!! Of course the students involved in black market trading collected them to sell to tourists. You could be positive that if you went to a public toilet at a famous theatre like the Bolshoi, you would be approached by a young local asking if you had any jeans or other items that you would sell or exchange! If you did have something, they would ask you to leave the theatre after the night had ended, get in a specific taxi outside the theatre, it would travel around the corner then pick up your new trader friend. They would then drive quite some distance where I would find myself entering a fortified apartment on a top floor of a block of apartments. Very scary the first time but I soon realized that the dealers were very honest and ethical, and very protective of me for their own sake. It was very dangerous for a Russian to be seen talking to a foreigner.
On his 2nd visit, he had acquired a quite large collection of icons and other valuable antiques while in Leningrad. In accordance with the previously Russian Tourism Department approved travel plan, he then set off for Moscow. There were checkpoints about every 50 miles, where an officer would come out from his sentry box, and write down the number plate of the car and what time It passed. The same applied to local Russians who had to have passes to move around the country. They made sure that we didn't deviate from the approved travel route and time frame. In Moscow, we were followed 24 hours and watched even when we slept at the camping ground.... no chance of smuggling some local beautiful night time company into my "apartment" in Moscow!! The opportunity wasn't missed because we met a couple of great girls from Melbourne who were also staying at the camping ground. The secret police didn't care that they stayed overnight with us!
On the way back to Leningrad, I could see that we were being followed, I crossed an intersection where the traffic light turned to red just as I crossed, and a following car crossed on the red proving that in fact we were getting the same treatment as in Moscow. Before going to Moscow, one of my new local business friends said he would have a bejewelled crown for me to look at when I came back to Leningrad and that I should meet him on the evening of my return at a specific restaurant after which he would take me to look at it where I could consider buying it from him.
Knowing I was being followed, I didn't keep the appointment and decided not to make contact again with my friend.... too dangerous.... I didn't want to risk me or him ending up in a Russian Jail. At exactly the time I was there, it was in the local paper that an American tourist had souvenired a little brass bear from his hotel room and as a result ended up convicted of theft and jailed for 12 months! Not a happy thought!
So no more clandestine meetings with locals and no more purchases.
Unfortunately due to a mistake made by the girlfriend of one of the guys I had been dealing with, the secret police were tipped off that there was something to investigate about me. We had another visit to the theatre. After returning to the car she came up to me and asked why I didn't keep the appointment the previous night. She was immedately picked up and taken away!
I had been previously instructed to arrive at the border crossing at Viborg just ahead of a convoy of tourist buses from Finland. With so many people to process, I would be allowed to leave quickly without investigation. It didn't happen, I was instructed to park the car away from the customs post then Keith and I were "parked" in the customs office while phone calls were made and big black official limos turned up with uniformed officers in them. Of course we didn't understand what was being said but we knew there was a problem. The first thing the customs chief said to me was "Ah! Mr Fulton you have visited us again but in disguise!" I had grown a beard!! At the border post, the car and house were near "dismantled' and the collection of icons and Bohemian crystal with the czar's family crest on them was found. I had to stand on the ladder with each piece of art in my hand while they photographed me. Many of the best pieces were not photographed and they ended up in the top of the chief of custom's record player in his office.... for his own benefit".
Geoffrey and Keith "were officially invited to stay" an extra few nights at a military barracks, then were told they could leave Russia...... but without the car. They could leave on the motorcycles.
That was the end of his travels and he returned to Sweden, got married to a Swedish girl he had met on the previous visit to Stockholm, then headed back to Australia on the S.S.Northern Star via the Panama Canal to start his architectural practice and family.
He had proved to himself that you can live comfortably in a very small space if it is very well and creatively designed!
Since those days, he has always thought about the possibility of living in small spaces. He has produced a new refined version of the car-top camper.... with a few more luxuries. Plans are available.
He has produced a design for a very low cost house-boat he plans to build for family travels on the French Canals, and a 2 generation floating mobile "island" for his and his son's family in USA, planned for container based construction on the St John's River in Florida. The "island" will have a swimming pool, vegetable garden with aquaponic fish tanks, and fruit trees.
Geoffrey won a design award for a world cruising family yacht which will fit in a 20 ft container for transport between continents.
Plans for all these projects are also available.
A book about Geoffrey's adventures can't be completed until he returns once more to Russia in the hopes of finding and buying back his 1964 Merc, bringing it home to be restored to become a present for his grandson, Geoffrey (same name and both have the same birth dates!) At 2 years of age, Geoffrey Jnr. is already a Merc fan, like his grandfather and his father Shaun.
Another adventure project in the pipeline for construction is a double decker 6 wheel drive RV for extended road touring around Australia and then the rest of the world. A small drawing desk / office onboard will allow Geoffrey and Carla to continue to design projects for their clients from around the world while they are on their further explorations (thanks to the marvels of the internet).
With all these experiences and more untold, thus became the basis for the SMALLisSMART HOUSE in a 40 ft container, the student / hotel apartment in a 20 ft container, and the DogTrot 3 bedroom house in 2 X 40 ft containers.
The photo above was taken at the kerb in the centre of Hamburg, Germany.
Please forgive the spelling mistakes. There is no Spellcheck on WIX, and I preferred to go sailing than attend English classes at school!