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  • Writer's pictureErik Howes

Squally the Trolley Ep.1

The future basecamp of Stay Wild's World Headquarters is in the heat of its tear down, and with a few days of rain in the forecast, temporarily stopping work - it's time for an introduction, along with a status update.

With that said... "All aboard!"

Let's start with a brief introduction

The name is Squally-

1994 GMC P3500 chassis with a Big Larry 7.4l gas engine

Big round tail light that says 'STOP'

Working bell

Three windshield wipers... Yup.

...That's most of the essential technical stuff

*So what IS this thing and what did it DO....?*

It's been 6 months since I handed over a small piece of paper and in exchanged received 10,000 lbs of metal and a significant amount of rotted wood. After years of neglect and water leaks, Squally (the trolley) sat lonely in a commercial heavy equipment trading yard begging for someone to come and rescue them.

Some online research and phone calls, I've been able to piece together a reasonably good story of WHAT this silly looking box on wheels got used for...

Most of its life was spent servicing the Cape May - Lewes Ferry in New Jersey / Deleware - after a CarFax report, I see it bounced around from side to side every couple years. An internet search revealed hundreds of pictures from its years of service... Pictures of spooky haunted hayrides, breakfast rides with Santa and Mrs. Claus, historical downtown tours, Coast Gaurd Bootcamp shuttles and fashion photos are all over the internet.

*So HOW did YOU get this thing..?*

When I saw Squally for the first time, I fell in love. It was hands down the most unique vehicle I had ever seen in my life. It has charm, it has grit, it has style, and it has a story.

The price was listed at $28,000 when I saw the ad on Craigslist. My friend sent it to me AS A JOKE, and as I would to any joke- laughed. A few weeks later the ad was reposted, but this time for $18,000. How could that be? I sent an email to the seller, my interest was peaked, and I wanted to take a look at this thing. But the asking price was still WAY out of my budget by OVER DOUBLE.

The trolley was at an equipment trader - NOBODY knew anything about it. They got it as part of a larger deal, and it was just sitting around- they wanted it gone. It was somewhat frustrating to have someone show you what could be your most significant investment, project, and commitment to date - and be of no help. They just opened the door and watched me poke, pry and crawl around.

*So who manufactured this?" - "no idea.*

*What does it have for an engine?" - "no idea."

*Where did it come from" - "no idea."

*How much will you take for it" - "no idea, but ill ask the boss."


I should have known when the owner reported multiple bus companies coming to inspect the trolley, all of which walked away from- that I was about to get into a much bigger project than anticipated. But I was stoked and knew this was the perfect platform for my camper conversion.

*After meeting with a few banks to see about taking out a loan and eventually selling my soul- I took it home for $11,000. *

It sure was fun having seats to drive around 21 of your friends comfortably.. and you can bet I packed as many of my ski bum friends into the back as I could for some late night drives around town! A part of me wishes I enjoyed that phase more than I did. But I didn't get the trolley to give out tours. I got it to create an art studio and a home to live! So the seats came out pretty darn fast. Solid oak, with genuine gum, stuck to the undersides. For sale, $120 each if anyone is interested.


Immediately after getting the trolley, I left for Red Rocks, NV before making my way to Joshua Tree, CA on assignment to take pictures of an acro yoga and rock climbing retreat. I didn't come back for over a month..

Staying out it California put me behind schedule on getting the trolley livable for the winter season, and there was already a TON of snow in New Hampshire! As a ski photographer, and 18" of white fluffy stuff in the forecast, I threw together the quickest conversion one could imagine. A cheap kerosene heater from Home Depot, a folding table, and a bed I stole from my parent's house. Boom.

Trolley conversion Phase 1.

*It was terrible.*

* Self-reflection.... Yet so much fun...*

Although the skiing was EPIC, the living was the worst. Seriously. Kerosene heat + sub-zero temps + late night makeout sessions with the ski bunny staying with you + snowy ski gear + 60 glass windows = the worst case of freezing condensation you can imagine.

Every morning I would scrape THE INSIDE of the trolley windows and accumulate around 3 modest snowball-sized heaps of frost into a bowl and toss it out the window. Hilarious. Yet, not a sustainable way to live. So I drove south back to the workshop to build Phase 2.

Did I mention the trolley doesn't have any heat? Ya. It was COLD.

Picture taken after driving a drafty trolley 4 hours on the highway in a snowstorm, thank goodness for loud electronic music to keep the blood flowing, otherwise, I'd have gone entirely hypothermic-

*So where are you at NOW..?

It's been 3 months of deconstruction. Early morning, late nights. Where has the time gone? What month is it? How did I get here? Yikes. I think this project is making me crazy.

Initially, I only wanted to fix walls that were affected by water leaks. Easy enough, Right? Wrong. The damage was unimaginably worse.

The rear windows are removable - when it was beautiful and sunny, 6 bolts would quickly remove the entire window structure to reveal a giant view hole - "YAY, LETS GO FOR A TROLLEY RIDE!" But the foam gasket that sealed that gaping hole got as dry as an old kitchen sponge and water would leak right in with every rainstorm.

After removing the window brackets, I found all the wood had decomposed to an unrecognizable state. Mushrooms of some sorta were growing behind it and there was mold everywhere. Pictures show damage better than words.

As I made progress on taking the walls apart, evaluating the damage (Which turned out to be EVERYTHING) I notice the floor was spongy... I crawl underneath, and it appears to be metal. How can that be?

*Deep sigh..*

*It was not metal...*

The floor was fiberglass. Above that, wood, and that - had become rotted as well. Spongy, water saturated, and moldy as can be. So it all came up. Which, involved a painstaking estimated 50+ hours of human-powered effort to remove every screw (there was over 300) filled with glue or rust, that needed to get removed.

At this point, I am down to the frame. The sub skeletal structure of the trolly body is welded to the frame, so I can't take it apart anymore... I think I finally removed all the rotting wood! Besides the ceiling, there are only a few pieces of wood left: the dash, and the instrument panel.

*Ha... Haha...*

*Crazy eyes, hands shaking, lots of sweat and bloody knuckles."

It should be mostly forward-ish progress from here.

With any project of this size - estimating total cost is almost impossible, and staying within budget is even harder. But to help fund the project I created a Squally the Trolley sticker! If you enjoy following, and want to have a piece of Squally art - Buy one or two .. or more! All the proceeds go to funding the creation of Stay Wild's future World Headquarters; Squally!

Stickers can be ordered HERE

Additional pictures can be found on Instagram @SquallyTheTrolley

But alas, the rain seems to be lifting- and there is much work to be done.

More updates to come- Subscribe to be notified!

*Link to subscribe is on the bottom the this page*

'Stay Wild'


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