Cracker Ingenuity: Tips from the Trailer Park for the Chronically Broke

Cracker Ingenuity: Tips from the Trailer Park for the Chronically Broke

by P. T. Elliott

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Wondering what to do with all those oil drums in your yard? Does a lack of funds inspire you to race lawnmowers instead of cars, or enter cow-chip-tossing contests instead of bridge tournaments? Ever invite friends over for a fancy dinner only to realize that you're flat broke and fresh out of groceries? Look no further...

P. T. Elliott and E. M. Lowry's


Wondering what to do with all those oil drums in your yard? Does a lack of funds inspire you to race lawnmowers instead of cars, or enter cow-chip-tossing contests instead of bridge tournaments? Ever invite friends over for a fancy dinner only to realize that you're flat broke and fresh out of groceries? Look no further...

P. T. Elliott and E. M. Lowry's Cracker Ingenuity is the ultimate guide to making something out of nothing - a testament to the universal truth that there's more to life than money. Herein you'll find the recipes, instructions, anecdotes, and advice of the masters who have managed not only to get by on hardly a dime, but to have a great time while doing so - from monster truck rallies to state fairs and from high rise trailer parks to four star "troats" (trailer boats).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Couched as a how-to guide for today's belt-tightening times, this book ostensibly celebrates the all-American resourcefulness that has turned used refrigerators into beer keg coolers and old bathtubs into lawn shrines. But practicalities aside, this is, of course, meant to be a satire, taking the idea of "making do with what you have" to ridiculous extremes. Thus readers get tips for turning old televisions into fish tanks, converting broken down pick-up trucks into backyard pools and using Kool-Aid as hair dye. All this is supposed to have readers laughing down their noses at redneck know-how. If only it were that funny. Though the authors obviously have an eye for tackiness, they fail to turn their material into the stuff of a successful mock handbook. There's no evident irony in their suggestions for how to rig your meter to rip off the power company or how not to pass a drug test, nor in their recipes for such trailer trash delicacies as "Velveeta Fudge" or "Tater-Tot Casserole." Like too much of the book, these recipes are only raw material, still waiting to be shaped into jokes. For all their condescension, filmmaker Elliott and English teacher Lowry have achieved the opposite of the "crackers" they ridicule: instead of making something out of nothing, they've made nothing out of something. B&w photos, 20 illus. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Cracker Ingenuity [offers] a collection of the best tips, tricks, and lifestyle enhancements from the trailer park's best and brightest." (Maxim Magazine, 3/01/03)

"This book is highly recommended — it's interesting and informative, without taking chunks out of anyone's dignity." (Java, 3/01/03)

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Cracker Ingenuity

Tips from the Trailer Park for the Chronically Broke

By P. T. Elliott, E. M. Lowry, Mike Rundle

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 P. T. Elliott and E. M. Lowry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7197-7


House and Home

Living "in a pinch" is what this book is all about, and there is no better ally for getting by than your own backyard. This section is dedicated to cracker ingenuity around the home and how, with a little free time and enough raw material, you can build an empire ... or a porch attachment.


"If trailers ever get into mass production, God help us."

— An official of the American Public Welfare Association, 1930s

There is no better place to start talking about cracker genius in the house and home than the home that is not a house — the trailer.

Trailers have been around for almost a century. As early as 1915, people were transforming their cars into houses to ride the open road. The Tourist Camp Body Company of Chicago made the first commercially built trailer in 1921. Trailerites of this era were called "Tin Can Tourists," or "TCTs," because they drove tin cans, ate from tin cans, and left a mess of tin cans behind them. Tin cans aside, by the late twenties, trailers were considered an amazing invention on par with airships and submarines. They were called "modern prairie schooners" at the time, and they spread like brushfire.

Even Mickey Mouse had a trailer. Walt Disney's 1938 classic cartoon, "Mickey's Trailer," showed Mickey riding high in a trailer that underwent a series of ingenious transformations. A bump in the road turned the dining room table into a bathtub; the picket fence and lawn could be reeled in through the back door; and the blue blue sky itself folded neatly up into the chimney — sun, clouds, and all.

Early mobile homes prided themselves on having foldout gadgets that would make yachtsmen turn a jealous green. Many came with foldout king-size beds, full kitchens, porches, and even a foldout cage for the pet that became the symbol of life on the road — the canary.

With all this ground-breaking invention, how did the trailer park get such a crappy reputation? How did trailers come to be associated with the snaggle-toothed, the perverted, and the chronically dispossessed? Like everything else, it boils down to some fact, some fiction, and some vicious PR.

Trailers took a turn from tourist marvel to basic survival when America's fortunes fell between the two world wars. The first permanent trailer parks appeared during the Depression, and people traveling west set up house-car camps all the way to California. In 1935, Roger Ward Babson, dean of the American Financial Advisors who predicted the market crash of 1929, made his second most famous prediction: "Within two decades one out of every two Americans will be living in a trailer." At this time, everyone was stone broke, and trailerites were seen as vagabonds: mooching off permanent communities, conning the local rubes, and skipping town when it was time to pay the bills. The Establishment was less than thrilled when people began to abandon costly public housing to hit the road. Resentment grew as police forces, schools, and hospitals found they couldn't cope with the roving population, and the notion of "trailer trash" was born. Trailerites gained reputations as criminals and carriers of vile diseases like smallpox and typhoid fever. Their reputation grew until, in the forties, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared their mobile villages to be "camps of crime" and "dens of vice and corruption haunted by nomadic prostitutes, hardened criminals, white slavers, and promiscuous college students."

But it hasn't been all thievery and mayhem: In the fifties, a company called Airstream bolstered the trailer image when it came out with a famously good-looking aluminum "land yacht." Even Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez rode through the full trailer experience in the 1954 film The Long Long Trailer. The celebrity-chic of trailers continues today: In 1993, Sean Penn set up shop in a twenty-seven-foot Airstream trailer in Malibu when his house burned down. He decorated the trailer with guns and pictures of Hemingway and Charles Bukowski.


You're not trailer-true unless you're a full-timer, but not everyone has what it takes to live in a double-wide year round. Crafty full-timers have devised ways to deal with everything from claustrophobia to marital strife. ... Do you have what it takes?


Two preliminary questions

How tall are you?

How much do you weigh?

If you're over six-two or two hundred fifty pounds, a word to the wise: Too big is too big. You won't fit. Trailer doors are usually only two feet wide or less (regular doors are two and a half feet), and ceilings aren't anywhere near the room standard, eight feet. And while smaller is better for trailer-sized purposes, beware ... being too tiny can also cut your intimidation-factor advantage with the neighbors.

T.I.T. #1: Flying Solo

Trailer life: Can you hack it by yourself?

1. Your relationships with your landlords:

A. Are generally pretty good. You've never been evicted or moved out of a place because of a personal disagreement with the landlord.

B. Are fair. You've been late on a couple of checks. Got a complaint or two. Maybe an eviction notice, but everything worked out OK.

C. Are not so good. You often get into serious fights with landlords, but you stay put, no matter what.

D. Are not so good for you. You often get into serious fights with landlords and then move, breaking the windows on the way out because you know you'll never get your security deposit back.

E. Are not so good for them. You fight and move out all the time, but you have an attack dog, so you always get your deposit back.

2. You stand in a room, and you can reach the ceiling easily with your hand. You:

A. See it as a convenient place to put Post-it notes.

B. See it as an opportunity for isometric exercises.

C. Feel trapped, cramped, boxed in ... but ignore it.

D. Get out of the room as soon as possible.

E. Don't notice.

3. You find airplane seats to be:

A. Cool because they recline at just the right angle to crush the laptop of the suit sitting behind you.

B. Fine.

C. Uncomfortably narrow but, with a few Wild Turkey sours, tolerable.

D. Unbearable. You would rather drive than fly because the seats are so tight.

E. Screw the seats. You would rather drive than fly because airplanes are cartridges of death, and only people who don't value their lives take them on a regular basis.

4. You can take a crap in a public restroom if:

A. There are strangers in the bathroom, but you're in a stall with the door closed.

B. Only if there's no one in the bathroom.

C. Only if there's no one in the bathroom or it's someone you know well.

D. You don't ever take a crap in public bathrooms. You wait until you get home.

E. Anytime anywhere. You could take a crap on a plate in front of your mom.

5. This most closely reflects your view of fate:

A. Live for now; you could get hit by a truck tomorrow.

B. Preparing for the future is the best way to ensure happiness.

C. No matter what you try to do, the result will always be the same. (Or: There is a divine plan.)

D. It's never too late to change. (Or: I am the master of my destiny.)

E. You get out of life what you put in.

6. If your bedroom can be seen by the neighbors, you:

A. Keep the blinds down at all times.

B. Pull down the blinds always before changing.

C. Leave the blinds open except when having sex.

D. Leave the blinds open all the time.

E. Leave the blinds open and spy on the neighbors. Or, close the blinds and spy on the neighbors.

7. When a telemarketer calls during dinner, you:

A. Listen politely but simmer inside.

B. Hang up.

C. Scream at them, then hang up.

D. Talk to them because you have nothing better to do.

E. Put them on speakerphone, ignore them and let them talk into the void all they want.

8. When going Greyhound, you can sit this close to the commode without feeling sick:

A. Within one row. It's fine.

B. Must be three rows away.

C. Five rows or more.

D. Would take the train instead.

E. Would rather stay home than ride the dog.

9. Your idea of the perfect shower is:

A. Long and hot, with strong water pressure.

B. Short and hot, with strong water pressure.

C. A gentle warm shower.

D. Jump in, jump out. As long as there's water, it's a shower.

E. You prefer a bath.

10. Meeting new people is:

A. A drag.

B. A thrill.

C. Sickening.

D. Not so bad.

E. Not so bad as long as you can leave whenever you want.

11. Cops:

A. Are here to serve and protect. You look to them to keep you safe.

B. Are sometimes a nuisance but make things safer.

C. Don't really do anything except drink coffee and give people tickets.

D. Are pigs. The less you see of them the better.

E. Are your waking nightmare. You are on the lam.

12. How well do you sleep?

A. Like a log. You lie down and you're out until someone shakes you awake.

B. Well. You sleep soundly. You might wake up if there's a loud noise but will fall right back to sleep.

C. Pretty well, but if you're woken up in the middle of the night, it takes a long time to fall back to sleep.

D. Not so well. It takes you a long time to fall asleep, you wake up easily, and then can't get back to sleep.

E. Terribly. You're an insomniac.


Give yourself the number of points you see beside each of your answers.

1. Landlords

A-3 B-4 C-5 D-1 E-2

D, E: Mobile home owners who rent space are the most vulnerable kind of tenants. It's one thing to fight with your landlord and lose your deposit, it's another when you have to take your house with you to leave. It costs over $2,000 to move a double-wide within a 100-mile radius. But with the dog and the lawyer, you're certainly better off.

A: You're probably a pushover. Or a chickenshit. Come on, admit it. How many bottles of Drano do you pour down the hair-clogged tub before you give up and call the landlord?

B, C: You'll be fine.

2. The Ceiling

A-1 B-2 C-4 D-5 E-3

A, B: You have positive ways of looking at a tight situation. The trailer is perfect for you. Though on the isometric front, you may be in danger of breaking some particleboard.

C: The long-suffering, repressed you. You are the kind of person who shouldn't live in a trailer but will insist that you should.

E: Not noticing the roof is fine. But if you are six-two or more, take one point off your score for giving this answer. If you're not a moron already, you will be by the time you finish hitting your head on the trailer doors.

D: Trailers are not for you.

3. Airplane Seats

A-4 B-5 C-3 D-1 E-2

Clearly this defines your need for space and your ability to deal without it. If you chose E, well, who are we to stop you?

4. Public Craps

A-4 B-2 C-3 D-1 E-5

Obviously the less shy the shitter, the better for a trailer. You have the proximity of neighbors, spouses, and the thinness of trailer walls to think about. But shitting on plates is the sign of a true nut. Trailer parks are friendlier to felons than lunatics.

5. Fate

A-5 B-2 C-4 D-3 E-1

To be a good full-timer, you must be a fatalist ... You are twice as likely to die on any given day in a trailer home as a regular one, and:

"In tornados, mobile-home residents die at a rate 22.6 times higher than non–mobile-home residents."


"Mobile-home occupants probably would improve their survival odds in severe storms simply by taking shelter in parked cars."


"Fire deaths in mobile homes occur at twice the rate of deaths in 'stick-built' homes."


6. Privacy

A-1 B-2 C-4 D-5 E-3

Once again, the less shy the better ... but to a point: Spying on the neighbors might get them all riled up — unless they share your peeping Tom fascination, in which case, watch out. They may be inviting you over for dinner sooner than you think.

7. Aggravation

A-1 B-3 C-4 D-2 E-5

We've all had weird neighbors, but it's best to stay on their good side: The guy who looks like an axe murderer may turn out to be your only ally at a true crisis point. Again, you need a healthy balance between excessive hostility and any sign of meekness. And of course, the ability to ignore things, especially noise, is your primary asset.

8. Smell

A-5 B-4 C-3 D-2 E-1

Some trailers have their own septic tanks, which stink. But even in parks where there is a central tank, the toilets clog more easily because of the low water pressure and thin pipes.

9. Hygiene

A-1 B-3 C-4 D-5 E-2

The less hot water and pressure you need, the happier you will be in a trailer. Long, hard, hot showers are hard to come by. You don't get hot water from a twenty-gallon hot-water heater for very long. And, sorry, most standard doublewides don't have bathtubs.

10. Meeting People

A-3 B-5 C-1 D-4 E-2

Think: Neighbors everywhere, people moving in and out, high unemployment, lots of free time, and little money to go anywhere. Everyone's around all the time, so if you can't hack the folk, get out of the park.

11. Cops

A-1 B-2 C-3 D-5 E-4

Police don't patrol trailer parks regularly, unless they are called in. This is good if you're on the lam, bad if you're looking for help before a crime gets committed.

12. Sleep

A-5 B-4 C-2 D-1 E-3

The only thing that's not so hot about sleeping like a log is if your trailer catches fire. Insomniacs tend to fare better than light sleepers in trailer parks because insomniacs are awake anyway, and at least you might find someone to talk to.

If you got:

49–60 Move on in; you are trailer-true.

37–48 You'll be okay.

25–36 Look before you leap; it's going to be a long, hard fall.

12–24 DO NOT live in a trailer unless you have to. And if you have to, be sure to invest in earplugs and get a prescription of Valium.

T.I.T. #2: Doubling Up

In any relationship, compatibility is key, but the confines of a trailer can put the squeeze on even the closest couple. Can you hack it with a spouse? (Must be taken with potential spouse.)

1. You consider yourself:

A. A night owl: You're grumpy in the morning.

B. An early early bird: You get grumpy at night, when you're tired.

C. Moderate: You get up at a reasonable hour and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

2. When you go on a trip, you:

A. Plan ahead. You like to know where you're staying and what you're going to see before you get there.

B. Travel by the seat of your pants. It's no fun unless you don't know what's coming.

C. Would rather stay home.

3. You like to listen to your music:

A. Loud — all rock and roll all the time.

B. Quietly. Music should be a soothing background.

C. A little of both. You're not picky, unless you're trying to go to sleep.

4. You like your house to be:

A. Clean and well organized.

B. Controlled chaos. As long as the dishes are clean and nothing's broken, it's home.

C. You don't care as long as it doesn't stink too much — and you can find the door.

5. You like people to come over:

A. Often. You throw parties and you like gatherings, all the time.

B. Sometimes. You like small groups of people to come over, but you also value your private space.

C. You don't like it. You feel self-conscious when people come over. You'd rather go out.

6. Your TV is:

A. On much of the time. You love watching sports.

B. On much of the time, but you hate watching sports.

C. Off most of time. Having it on too much gets on your nerves.

7. Pets:

A. Pets are the best. Even strays have a home with you.

B. You might have a pet or two. They're okay but any more are welcome only if they're visiting.

C. You're allergic to pets.

8. House Guests:

A. All the ones you like are welcome for as long as they want.

B. They're okay, but short visits are best.

C. You're allergic to house guests.

Solutions: Each of you, add up your score.

1. A-10 B-0 C-5

2. A-5 B-10 C-0

3. A-10 B-0 C-5

4. A-0 B-5 C-10

5. A-10 B-5 C-0

6. A-10 B-5 C-0

7. A-10 B-5 C-0

8. A-10 B-0 C-5


Excerpted from Cracker Ingenuity by P. T. Elliott, E. M. Lowry, Mike Rundle. Copyright © 2003 P. T. Elliott and E. M. Lowry. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

P. T. Elliott is currently surviving the film industry in Los Angeles. She is also the author of 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers Everywhere.

E. M. Lowry, an ex-English teacher, resides in Brooklyn where she regularly channels the soul of her great-great-grandfather who hails from Pine Bluff Arkansas.

P. T. Elliott is currently surviving the film industry in Los Angeles. She is the author of 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers Everywhere and, with E. M. Lowry, Cracker Ingenuity.

E. M. Lowry, an ex-English teacher, resides in Brooklyn where she regularly channels the soul of her great-great-grandfather who hails from Pine Bluff Arkansas.She is the author, with P. T. Elliott, of Cracker Ingenuity.

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