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Waukesha man builds 19th century European travel wagon for 'COVID Therapy Project'

Posted at 7:35 PM, Oct 19, 2020

WAUKESHA — Some people might picked up a new hobby while quarantining, like yoga or baking sourdough bread, but one man in Waukesha has created a 11-feet by 14-feet 19th century Eastern European travel wagon in his driveway.

"I call it my COVID therapy project," James Barany, an art professor at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), said.

It's called a vardo. It's kind of like a wooden camper. Barany started building it back in June as a way to honor his father who died in March.

"After my father passed, I guess it was kind of an enlightenment. I wanted to pay tribute to not only him, but build something that we could escape in as a family," he said.

Barany's father was an avid outdoorsman, so he thought this was an appropriate homage. The vardo is called "The Leander" which is Barany's late father's middle name.

Aside from honoring his father, the vardo is also a tribute to his Eastern European heritage. Barany is Hungarian and Czechoslovakian. This is the same way his ancestors would have traveled.

Barany said he doesn't know how many hours he has worked on it in total, but that is has been a substantial amount of work.

"I’ve been out here eight hours at a time. Fifteen minutes at a time. Whatever I can afford, and it's just slowly erected from the bottom up," he says.

The Leander can sleep about three people and squeeze in a fourth if necessary. If people are just hanging out inside, Barany said around six or seven people can fit inside. There will be a stove inside the vardo too.

Back in the 19th century, vardos were drawn by horses. In the 21st century, it will be pulled by Barany's truck. However, most of the vardo is period-appropriate. He special ordered the hinges and door handles to make it as authentic as possible.

Barany hopes to have the vardo completed by December and be able to take it out with his family on vacations.

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