Mansion on Wheels by Alan Farnham
Got a hankering to look down on hoi polloi RVs? Get an Anderson Mobile Estate. The idea came to him at 3 o'clock in the morning, says Ronald Anderson, Hollywood's trailersmith-to-the-stars. He'd been pondering how best to build a supremely roomy trailer--one with enough headroom to accommodate 6-foot-2 Will Smith and Smith's 7-foot bodyguard. He sketched it out on paper: a monstrous 22-wheel tractor trailer. Like other travel trailers, it pops out its sides for added room. But the pièce de résistance of Anderson's design--the feature that he later patented--is a second story nested inside the first.
Push a button and the upper floor emerges, extruded by computer-controlled electric motors in 30 seconds. "It's like a giant Transformer," says Anderson, referring to the children's toy. This toy, the Anderson Mobile Estate, costs $1.8 million, weighs 40 tons, is 75 feet long and contains 1,200 square feet of living space.
By comparison, the much-ballyhooed bus that football commentator John Madden lives in between games has only 325 square feet, says Anderson. He should know; for 20 years he has been in the customized bus business, making land yachts for the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Hugh Hefner.
Fitted out with a panoply of communications gear, an Anderson Estate allows its occupant to do business anywhere. "That's what my clients want," says Anderson, "a tool that lets them be fully engaged when they're away from home."
In 2000 Anderson sold his prototype, called Aspen, to Will Smith. Then, a year ago Smith traded up to Babygirl, whose first floor contains a recording studio. The star used it to produce an L.A. television show from Vancouver, B.C. The first floor also has three plasma-screen TVs, two all-granite bathrooms and a full-service 14-foot-tall kitchen equipped with marble floors, clerestory windows, Sub-Zero fridge and matched-grain Italian cherrywood cabinetry (see photos: www.andersonmobileestates.com
Upstairs there's a bedroom with a king-size bed, a sitting area that accommodates 30, a children's play area and two more plasma-screen TVs (one 50 inches, the other 65 inches). There's a satellite uplink. When the wind outside exceeds 15 miles an hour, an anemometer tells the awnings to fold up.
Security is tight. On one Estate a thumbprint scanner controls access to the bedroom. Should an unauthorized party enter the trailer when the owner is away, the security system dials his cell phone and transmits an image of the intruder.
The most sophisticated technology is concealed in the engineering of the trailer shell itself. At highway speeds Babygirl flexes. Torque twists all eight nested walls. Unless the right balance is struck between flexibility and rigidity, veneers can crack, cabinets pop off. "Millimeters make a difference in my business," says Anderson. Worst of all, the inner and outer shells can get out of alignment, so that when the upper floor starts to rise, it binds against the lower.
After much frustration and $4 million of development, Anderson eventually teamed up with metallurgist and stress analyst Gerald Clancy, an engineer whose prime attribute, according to Anderson, "was that he'd never built a trailer." Starting from a clean slate, Clancy achieved "mechanical perfection." Veneers no longer pop. But human error can still make setup and takedown ticklish. Furnishings on the second floor, for example, are positioned so they don't get squished when the roof comes down. An upstairs dividing wall folds in half. But leave a metal candlestick standing upright by mistake and it will impale the roof.
With every Estate client, Anderson's objective is the same: "I want to trigger that part of their brain that says, ‘I'm home.'" To that end he visits customers' residences, borrowing homey details. For Will Smith's Aspen, he included chessboards, cowhide pillows and African masks. Says Anderson, "I know I've succeeded if a client touches his face in the first five minutes." He brings both hands to his cheeks in an "Oh, my!" gesture.
One-upmanship, as much as homesickness, draws would-be owners. On a shoot with several stars and several trailers, two-story talent stands out. "You're up there looking down," explains Anderson's associate Gary Ballen. "Guys in one-story trailers ask themselves, Why is he up there and I'm not?"
In the four years since Anderson began making Estates, he's changed his focus from selling to renting. "Two years ago we bought back every unit we could, so that now I own four of the six." He did that, he says, so he can make sure Estates are being properly maintained. "I'm too much of a control freak to do otherwise."
Here's the deal he offers: A customer pays nothing up front. In exchange for his commitment to rent an Estate for six months a year ($227,000) for five years, he can design his own, provided the cost doesn't exceed $1.8 million. Anderson then is free to rent the trailer to other customers the rest of the year.
Robert De Niro and Vin Diesel currently have Estates under construction. Diesel's, scheduled for delivery in May, has a sunroof whose technology comes from DaimlerChrysler's Maybach: At the touch of a switch, it goes from clear to opaque, or to any transparency in between.
Australian entrepreneur Steve Outtrim, owner of touch-screen technology company Majitek, thinks the potential audience for Estates extends well beyond actors. "Lawyers, politicians, business leaders--they all have to be offsite from time to time. It makes sense for them to have the same comfort and privacy as they'd have at home." He's negotiating with Anderson for an Estate of his own. "For myself, I'd use it for travel and vacation. I could have it sent on ahead into the Outback. Then I'd land next to it in my King Air. Rather than have to dig a hole in the ground to do my business, I'd have a small luxury apartment."