Ryan Perritt started a Gypsy wagon business in Eaton Rapids in 2016. He builds these colorful wagons both for decorative use and for actual camping, using house construction standards. The workshop for this business, Bateman Gypsy Wagons, is located on his family’s Centennial Farm on Barnes Road in Aurelius Township.
What is a gypsy wagon? Also known as a vardo, it is a traditional horse-drawn wagon used by British Romani people as their home. Online sources say that, “the British Romani tradition of the vardo is seen as a high cultural point of both artistic design and a masterpiece of woodcrafters art.”
As an exchange student in the 1990s, Perritt saw Gypsy wagons in Europe. Those colorful images stayed in his mind. In 2004 he graduated from the Michigan Institute of Aeronautics and later started a flooring company. A perfectionist, he also did fine carpentry and cabinetry, which he learned as a child from his grandfather Strong Bateman, a 1949 graduate of Eaton Rapids High School. Perritt named the business in honor of his grandfather.
The first wagon he built was designed without blueprints. He based it on aircraft design and from photos. His friends in Great Britain sent him photos and paint chips to help him in the wagon decoration, and online videos helped him in the construction. His goal is to give the wagons the true characteristics of a gypsy wagon, with Old World charm, quality, and historical flavor.
The average wagon takes over four months to build, and range in price from $18,000 to $24,000, based on amenities.
He currently is constructing two versions of the wagons. There is a smaller one, about ¼ scale, that is mostly for garden decoration, or perhaps for a child’s playhouse. But the larger wagons can actually be used for year-round camping and come complete with heating, cooling, and appliances. The wagon is 12-foot long, with an overhang making it closer to 14 feet and is carried on a tandem axle trailer.
“Never in my adult life have I seen people so giddy and happy as when they see these wagons. They climb into them and heap praise,” said Perritt.
Perritt is assisted in the construction of the wagons by Jack Dykstra and Kim Harris.
“I’ve been living and breathing this for years; finally, everything is falling into place,” said Perritt.
You can contact Perritt through his website, batemangypsywagonco.com or on Facebook.