Travels with Gertie travels return

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Improving Gertie: the bathroom

Shower screen

Shower screen

Soon after I bought Gertie, I installed a retractable New Line shower screen, replacing the flapping shower curtain that was always trying to enfold me in its clammy embrace. It works wonderfully and makes the shower stall seem twice as big as it used to. Installation was easy, and the slim (3" x 3" x 66" high) wall-mounted canister is hardly noticeable. The translucent screen slides neatly back into the canister, as a full-length blade wipes off the water to prevent it from ending up inside. It's elegant and functional—well worth the $116 I paid at Camping World.

Con-Tact Frosty I also got rid of the vinyl curtains that covered the bathroom window. To preserve privacy, I covered the windows with textured, translucent Con-Tact plastic film (in the geometric "Frosty" pattern) that was meant for just this purpose. The result is complete privacy with no loss of light...and no flapping curtains or ugly curtain hardware. (I also used small pieces of the same Con-Tact film to ensure privacy in the rear portions of the lounge windows.)

A new floor

Bathroom floor Semi-shag carpeting in the bathroom may have seemed like a groovy idea in the 1980s when Gertie was built, but I found it thoroughly impractical, so one day I ripped out all the old carpeting and removed the scores of staples that held it in place. Underneath, to my surprise, I found a linoleum floor. But it was in poor shape and I didn't like the I covered it with inexpensive parquet-look self-stick vinyl tiles. Then I put a small throw rug on that to keep from getting cold feet.

Bathroom rug

So what was the point of going from one carpet to another? Well, aside from not being shaggy and dark brown, the new rug is removable so I can wash it, unlike the old carpeting.

The new "throw rug" was actually a small bath mat I bought at Wal-Mart—rubber-backed so it wouldn't skid—and cut in half to fit the small bathroom. The cut left loose ends, of course—but knowing that the pile material was synthetic, I just ran a butane lighter along the edge to fuse the pile loops enough that they wouldn't ravel any further. It worked fine...and I have a spare mat left over, in case this one ever wears out.


Bathroom storage

The bathroom had no storage aside from the small medicine cabinet. In the cabinet, I installed a couple of "Grip-Its" (from Wal-Mart's stationery department)—versatile fasteners that can hold small cylindrical objects like Chapstick, pencils or tire gauges. I also mounted a Grip-It on the partition between the street side couch and the stove, and another one on the side of the console nearest the driver to hold a Chapstick (essential for me in dry climates and dry weather).

I also found that it was useful to drop a small permanent magnet (available cheaply from Radio Shack) inside cardboard boxes such as those for Band-Aids; it made them stick to the metal back of the cabinet and thus they were less likely to fall out (into the toilet directly below) when the door was opened. (In addition, I used the Casio labeler to make a label for the upper left corner of the medicine cabinet mirror: "Close toilet before opening cabinet." When the contents of one of these boxes are used up, I simply shake out the magnet and drop it into the replacement box.

Towel shelf

I noticed that there was an unused space above the medicine cabinet, so I added a small wire shelf that I found at Home Depot. This shelf was meant to be stacked, but by turning it upside down I was able to use its flanges as mounting points—four large sheet metal screws hold it in place on the ceiling. It's just large enough to hold spare bath and hand towels—very convenient!

IKEA storage unit

Gertie's previous owners had addressed the lack of bathroom storage by installing a shelf across the shower stall, with one end resting on the sink and the other on a board screwed to the street-side wall. Under the shelf was mounted a small plastic drawer. This all had to be removed (it was Velcroed in place) if you wanted to use the shower. The previous owners had been in the habit of using campground showers or taking sponge baths, so it wasn't a problem for them—in fact, they routinely used the whole shower stall as storage space.

But I wanted to use that shower, and I quickly got tired of removing and replacing the shelf and drawer every morning. So I took these items out and instead installed a fabric storage unit purchased at IKEA on the wall adjacent to the toilet. It's about four feet high, cleverly sewn from heavy nylon with many pouches, pockets and shelves of various sizes. It's out of the way (as much as anything can be in that little bathroom!), doesn't have to be removed when I take a shower, and holds far more stuff than the old shelf and drawer...and all nicely organized. The original unit was six feet high with a two-foot acrylic mirror at its top, but I removed that, folded the excess fabric behind the unit and sewed a seam of heavy-duty thread across the top so it'd stay that way.

The acrylic mirror from the IKEA storage unit didn't go to waste, though. I installed it on the inside of the bathroom door, after covering the door's dark fake-wood insert panel with almond-colored Con-Tact film. The combination of an off-white panel and the mirror help make the small bathroom look larger and brighter.

Showerhead improvements

Speaking of that shower...the water-saving showerhead cutoff valve has always annoyed me. Why the heck did they put it in the back of the showerhead? Why didn't they give it a grippy surface? There you are with soap in your eyes, and you're supposed to reach behind the showerhead, grasp a slippery, round knob and turn it...without even being able to see what you're doing. This is a Really Dumb Design.


So I cut off the last 3" of a plastic tongue depressor (it was a close match to the showerhead's color, and it was the right shape and size) and screwed and glued it to the back of the showerhead to make a nice big lever that you can easily see and operate from the front with a single finger. OK, this has nothing to do with organizing...but what an improvement!

Showerhead glued

I had a new Shurflo "Whisper King" water pump installed last year—the same type Lazy Daze has been using on their early-21st-century models. I love the fact that the new pump is almost longer do I have to put up with jackhammer noises whenever I run water. But the Whisper King's flow rate is lower than the old pump's, making the shower spray a bit anemic.

But I picked up a great tip from "10 Minute Tech: The Book, Volume 2" (highly recommended!): plug half the holes with glue, and the flow from the remaining holes will be much stronger. I tried it first with tape, and it I laid a bead of epoxy around the outer set of holes, and now I have a much more vigorous spray at the same water-saving flow rate. I applied the same trick to the toilet sprayer with similar benefits.


Gertie came with a small plastic wastebasket that lived in the shower stall...well, actually it kind of roamed around the shower stall while I was driving, and often spilled its contents messily. I thought about Velcroing it to the wall, but its tapered shape was wrong, its rim kept it from direct contact, and adhesives don't stick well to polyethylene anyway.

Bathroom wastebasket

So I made a restraining loop from coathanger wire—one of my favorite raw materials—that holds the wastebasket to the wall under the sink. It's easy to bend coathanger wire into any shape you like; the secret is to have two pairs of pliers: one to hold the wire and one to bend it. Needlenose pliers work best, allowing you to make tight little curves. I made a couple of little loops on the ends, just big enough for a wood screw to slip through—those were my mounting holes. Then I made a few right-angle bends to form a big squared-off "U" that the wastebasket could just slip into. I fastened the finished bracket to the bathroom wall with a couple of sheet-metal screws, and voila!

If you click on the small image at left, you'll see a larger picture in which I've "ghosted in" the wire bracket (which is normally invisible, hidden by the wastebasket's rim) so that you can see where it is. Take a look and you'll get the idea. This worked so well that I made a similar bracket to keep the kitchen wastebasket from wandering while underway.

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