Shed Boys of PT:  Then and Now

Posted 11/15/23


Decades ago, when PT was a seen as a quirky, off-the-beaten-track destination, there was a group of bohemian locals known as the Shed Boys.

Young, often talented in the trades, and …

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 Shed Boys of PT:  Then and Now



Decades ago, when PT was a seen as a quirky, off-the-beaten-track destination, there was a group of bohemian locals known as the Shed Boys.

Young, often talented in the trades, and more concerned with the quality of life than the accumulation of wealth, the Shed Boys (and Shed Girls) lived a nonconformist, day-to-day existence. They adopted minimalist lifestyles, proudly making their homes in boats, RVs, and, of course, sheds, which were often located in the backyards of properties throughout the city.

While many of these abodes regularly came without the modern-day accoutrements that many of us consider essential (electricity, running water, a toilet hooked up to the city’s sewer system), a barter arrangement developed within the community whereby the necessities, be it food, or access to a shower, were readily exchanged for handyman services on a local’s home.

In short, the Shed Boys-of-old represented a devil-may-care form of subsistence that was easily integrated into Port Townsend’s isolated, sometimes unconventional, small-town setting.

Joe Breskin was a member of that original community. Describing the times as a ‘utopia,’ he lived in his Airstream trailer in Slot 246 at Point Hudson. He described his neighbors as an eclectic crowd, often artists, shipbuilders, and writers. And thanks to the affordable price of Slot 246 (just $225 per month) he was able to split his time between his passions: boat building, kayaking and biking.

He became an environmental activist within the PT community, and later turned his love for boat building and computers into companies: Seven Seas Boatworks and Seven Seas Audio.

“It was a great community,” he recently said. “Everyone had a garden. And nobody locked their doors.”

Joe believes that it was the very visible, almost romantic, charm of the Shed Boys that was the source of the community’s demise.

In the early 2000’s, word of Port Townsend’s beauty and quixotic atmosphere caught the attention of newspapers, magazines, and even a national radio syndicate. The increased awareness of this paradise drew thousands of tourists each summer, and attracted the eye of investors.

Soon after, Joe reflects, small, affordable homes were snatched up with interest-only loans, and then flipped time-and-time again, when the rising valuations offered a tidy profit.

The Shed Boy culture soon faded because, as Joe put it, “Artistic explosions require affordable rent.” 

While Joe believes the Shed Boys of his youth no longer exist, a chat with “G,” a modern-day Shed Girl, suggests the culture still endures. Like their predecessors, present-day Shed Folks are in many ways the backbone of our community. They’re boat builders who work at the marina, baristas who roast and brew our favorite coffees, grocery store workers who stock the shelves, and restaurant workers who diligently attend to the lunchtime needs of locals and tourists alike.

Unlike Joe’s brethren, today’s Shed Boys are a quiet group that do their best to stay off the county’s radar. Some reside in dirt-based dwellings made from reclaimed materials. Others call truck bed campers and RVs “home.”

They make use of the city’s public and private resources to shower and frequently couch surf with friends so that they can tap into the city’s electrical grid to charge a battery.

G herself has lived this life for months at a time. Driving around the county in her van, she found a campground that provided water and an electrical hookup for only $25 per night. It was a bit of a “find,” according to G, and for that reason, she won’t reveal the location of the site.

But she shared that the campground addressed a critical need at that time in her life: if she limited her van-camping to just four days a week, her lodging costs were kept within her budget of $400 per month.

And that simple requirement reveals the biggest difference between the Shed Folk-of-old and the Shed Folk of today. While Joe’s companions embraced the lifestyle out of choice, G’s day-to-day routines have been adopted out of necessity.

Expanding on the harsh realities of finding an affordable rental in Port Townsend, she pulls out her phone and opens a website that provides information on the available properties in and around the city. Predominantly one- and two-bedroom apartments, nearly all of the dwellings cost $1,500 per month or more.

If you are working at, for instance, McDonalds, or a grocery store, and are making $15/hour, that means that two-thirds of your monthly income (before taxes) goes to rent.

There are other options. G points out a single room rental in a larger house that costs only $1,000. But many of these opportunities are not as attractive as one might imagine. As G flips through the listings, she points out that many are seasonal, only providing housing for the four to five months during the winter lull of the town’s tourist season.

“After that,” she explains, “the owners convert the properties into AirBNBs, and the people who work in town have to move out and search for a new place to live.”

Like Joe, G doesn’t have any ideas on how to solve today’s Shed Folk housing crisis. But thankfully, she’s found a solution for herself. She and her significant other have identified a piece of land. It’s tucked away, off the beaten path, and they’ve purchased a used freight container that they are slowly converting into a permanent home.

The two continue to work full-time jobs, and G doesn’t know when their new residence will be completed. But in the meanwhile, the two of them are living in G’s van, supplemented with electricity and water from a neighbor.

“In some regards, I’m not really a Shed Girl anymore,” she says.

When asked why, she responds in a tone that is filled with emotion that is tinted with a sense of guilt.

“Well,” she says. “When I come home, I have heat.”