Building a real life moving castle – the mundane part

A few weeks ago I put up a silly poll on Mastodon;

“Let’s say someone actually builds a walking castle – what will be their biggest challenge?”

The polling alternatives, and the results, were

-The Calcifer drive 8%
-The castlewalk 31%
-The travel door 31%
-Exterior/interior design 31%

While the poll was on a whim, I didn’t pull it out of thin air. I’ve spent a few years armchair planning a walking house for myself, and the following posts are the updated results of the bits and bobs I’ve picked up. It seems I’m not the only one turning the idea over in my mind, since there was a bit of demand for a blog post once I said I might write about it. So I did, and while I kept it as short as possible the text ballooned to five posts covering the different challenges (the mundanes, the calcifer drive, the castlewalk, the travel door, and exterior and interior design).

Let’s start with a recap on the castle itself: Howl’s moving castle in the animated film is a mix of Terry Gilliam, country style houses, and 1930s industry style. It’s a big and heavy thing – my own estimation is that it’s around 12m (39′) long, 7 – 10m (22′ – 32′) wide not counting the legs, and at least 15m (49′) tall. Weight is harder to estimate – if I say it’s 40 metric tonnes I’m underdoing it; it can easily weigh three times as much. Since Howl have access to magic it walks on four legs smoothly, countering the impact of the feet hitting the ground with one angled joint on each one, hidden mechanics where the legs are fastened to the castle, and by flexing the upper castle body. (I’ve put the US trailer for the movie below the text for you to see.)

The poll covers the “fun” challenges of building a moving castle, but I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t mention the mundane ones. When push comes to shove it’s them that actually stalls a project. The first one is obvious – it’s money. Here I pull from my knowledge about the Tiny House movement since tiny houses on wheels are the closest we have to a moving castle irl. They are often touted as inexpensive, but that’s if you compare them to buying an actual house. They still come with a price tag out of reach for a lot of people.

Their cost have increased over the years, partly due to the increase in commissioned houses. And while building a tiny house oneself may seem to lower expenses, renting a workshop isn’t free (unless you have contacts), and taking the time to build it will eat into work for hire and chores like cooking adding the price for takeout to the tab. This will also be a problem for building moving castles, and is mainly where my own project stalls.

There are solutions for this, even if I don’t know how common they are. Setting up Tiny House Maker Spaces would lower the cost for workshops, as would communal building material recycling drives. Something like that actually existed in the beginning, so there is habits to build on.

The second challenge is road and driver’s regulations. If you want to take your house for a longer trip than around a confined soccer ground – and I definitely want that – you have to comply to regulations around vehicle size. As for the height you want to be able to pass under bridges. In the EU the standard height to the “ceiling” of them and in road tunnels is 4.0m (ie 13′). Vehicle width is regulated and going by the rules for a Swedish bus the maximum is 2.55m (8.4′). Its regulated length is 13.5m – 15m if it has a bogie (ie. 44′ and 49′).

We’re landing on a vehicle with a rough maximum size of 2.5*12*3.8m (8’*39′*12′, NB: since I’m calculating for something that needs to get under bridges and through road tunnels I’m rounding the numbers down.). This may sound disappointing compared to the size of Howl’s castle, but it’s a smaller size double decker bus – and those are quite impressive when you stand next to them. Then, for me, there’s another challenge.

I don’t have a driver’s license, and for different reasons it looks like I’ll never get one. This narrows my legal choices considerably. A person with a normal driver’s license (ie körkortsbehörighet B for my Swedish friends) is allowed to drive a normal car, and also heavy equipment with a max speed of 50km/h. I, by timing my birth right, am allowed to drive a vehicle with a maximum motorpower of 1kW, a max speed of 25km/h, with two, three, or four wheels.

To translate these numbers into coherent language: my vehicle needs to be weak and slow, and I’ll probably have to put at least two wheels on it. Without the wheels it may be defined as heavy equipment, which I’m not allowed to drive. A bit of a downer, but that brings us neatly into the baselines we need to for a moving castle, and from which I’m working when I write these posts.

1: it needs to actually walk (ie. not being propped on a wagon with the legs only doing the motion of walking)
2: it needs to have limited or full autonomy (Neither Sophie, Howl, nor Markl is actually driving the castle, and it is ambiguous if it’s a separate character or driven by Calcifer)
3: it needs to have a Ghibli feel to it.

While I’d love for point four to be “it needs a travel door” our technology isn’t there yet. We’re only at the beginning of being able to build one – if it’s possible at all. I will, though, write about what we have in an upcoming post, since I will go through the different poll alternatives and possible solutions to the challenges. This will takes us through as diverse subjects as quantum physics and interior design. In the next post we’ll go through Calcifer – both as an AI and as a power source. See you next Friday!


Official trailer for Howl’s Moving Castle – Crunchyroll Store Australia (YouTube)





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