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Arizona March 2000 Previous


After uneventful flights from Newark to Phoenix and then from Phoenix to Tucson, I met Judie at the airport. I had been worried that I wouldn't recognize her, but she spotted me loitering near a Pitts Special biplane that was suspended from the ceiling, and we went off to find Gary, who had been driving around waiting for us (because it was too hard to find a parking place). We headed back to Sierra Vista, about an hour's drive away. They introduced me to Gertie...and it was love at first sight: I felt very comfortable right away.


When I arrived, Gertie was parked next to their 40' Teton fifth wheel rig,"Tessie," because Gary had been working on the rig in preparation for my arrival. We moved Gertie to a parking space in a transient area of the park and Gary spent about an hour showing me how to hook up to shore power, water and sewer. I took "notes" with my new Olympus digital recorder, and later that night transcribed them in a text file called "Gertie tips."

About Gertie

Gertie felt comfortable from the first. Of course I've been staring at her photos and floorplan for months, so maybe I should not be surprised that I felt so "at home" when I walked in the door. But photos are not the same thing as reality, so I was prepared to be surprised by...oh, this or that. Nope. Everything was as I expected it, and it all felt right.

OK, there were a few minor surprises. The overcab sleeping area has less headroom than I had envisioned (18" above the bedclothes). Not a problem; it just meant I had to learn how to get into bed from the ladder without bumping my head or shoulders on the ceiling. Getting out of bed felt a bit insecure until I noticed that there was a strategically positioned handle in the ceiling above the ladder. After that I had no difficulty.


I wonder how well my cat Marie will cope with this ladder. She has never had to climb or—more to the point—descend stairs in her 14 years, and she's used to sleeping with me. I'm pretty confident she won't have much trouble getting up the ladder, but I'm much less sure she will be able to get down these steep steps. Oh, well—there's plenty of space on the couches for her to sleep, and they are close enough that she can still feel she is keeping an eye on me.

Another surprise—a welcome one—was the copious storage packed into this small rig. I counted twenty separate storage spaces, plus the refrigerator, totaling 110 cubic feet. (If you're curious, they are enumerated in detail on the Gertie page.) Altogether it's an amazing amount of space for a compact 22' rig. Everything I have so far accumulated for Gertie will probably fit in a third of that space. Judie and Gary have a remarkable variety and quantity of belongings stored there now.

One minor thing I had trouble getting used to, oddly enough, was the door. To begin with, the door opens outward. That means I walk up the steps, put my key in the lock, start to open the door...and then have to back down the steps again to let it swing past me. And that's where the second problem comes in: there's no door closer. None of these RVs seem to have them. Instead, if you let go of the door it swings open a full 180° and latches itself w-i-d-e open against the exterior wall of the rig.

So when I walk up the steps with an armload of groceries...and then back down as the door swings toward me...and then back up the steps with the groceries...the door quickly swings all the way open so that I can't catch it, and latches open. I have to go up the steps and inside, put the groceries down, and then walk back down the steps and outside in order to grab the door handle, wrench it loose from the latching clip and swing it closed behind me while backing up the steps again. Very awkward! I understand why the door opens outward (interior space constraints), but I can't understand why there isn't a door closer. Who wants their door to default to a wide-open position? House doors don't do that. Car doors don't that. Why RVs? There must be a reason, but I haven't figured it out yet.


Gertie's interior decor is more to my liking than that of any of the RVs I saw at the show on Thursday—no floral prints! The paneling is a medium brown woodgrain (although given my druthers, I could do without the imitation distress and saw marks overprinted on the grain) and the curtains and valances are an attractive honey-brown midwale corduroy. Cabinet and drawer handles are baroque fake-bronze castings—in the long run I'll probably replace those with simple white porcelain knobs.

The rug is a honey brown with a high-low pile pattern that hides scuff marks. Unlike most modern RVs, which have vinyl flooring in the kitchen area, Gertie's rug runs right up to the sink and stove. I'll have to be careful about food spills, but then I very rarely spill anything in my kitchen at home. (Idea: use an office-style vinyl chair mat, cut to shape, to cover the area in font of the sink and stove. Easy to wipe clean, and its underside cleats will help it stay put.)

There's a little bit of bamboo-patterned wallpaper in the kitchen area and a parchment-and-beige floral pattern on one bathroom wall. Fortunately, both are unobtrusive designs.

With respect to power, the current arrangement is three DC outlets and a duplex AC outlet in the streetside (left) rear corner. The outlets are unfortunately placed at eye level, so that dangling cords are inevitable. (It was probably easier to wire them that way, since the wraparound upper storage cabinets allow for easy access to the space above the outlets.) There's an eye-level duplex AC outlet above the inverter, just inside the entrance—the small microwave oven that sits atop the inverter cabinet plugs into that—and another one above the kitchen counter, handy for appliances. There's also an external AC outlet behind the refrigerator access door on the outside of the rig.

At this moment all the outlets in the rear are filled: the three DC outlets are powering the CD player, the cell phone and this computer, while the two AC outlets are powering the amplified speakers and the AA battery charger (vital for photography!). The charger will run on DC, and in the long run I'll be doing that—but in any case it's obvious that more outlets are needed. I'd like to add DC and AC outlets on the curb side, and if possible, relocate them down to the rear shelf to eliminate the dangling cord problem.

Lighting is plentiful, which really makes me happy. There are dual-18"-tube fluorescent fixtures over the head of the bed, in the entranceway, above the kitchen sink and above the table. In addition, there are 8" square incandescent fixtures above the toilet, above the shower (yes, two in the one little bathroom) and above the kitchen area. Then there are two airline-style incandescent fixtures, one above each couch. Each of these has a two-bulb diffused light plus two aimable spotlights.

Roof vents

In addition to the lights, there are plentiful windows (all double-pane glass with a heat-repelling bronze tint), plus vents that also serve as skylights. Right now I'm writing by the light coming through the vent above the table, and it's just great. There are four vents altogether: a huge 26" x 26" one above the bed, which can be completely opened for stargazing or for use as an emergency escape hatch; a 12" square vent in the bathroom, with a Fan-Tastic exhaust fan (right above the shower, where it does the most good); another Fan-Tastic-equipped ceiling vent in the kitchen area (the stove hood is also vented, by the way); and a third 12" square vent without fan above the table.

The two Fan-Tastic fans are very effective and relatively quiet, and all vents but the escape hatch have Maxxair hoods, allowing them to be fully opened even in the rain. Another nice thing: the vent hoods are translucent and the fans are transparent, so these vents make very effective skylights, letting in lots of soft, even light.

There's also a "swamp" (evaporative) cooler in the ceiling forward of the table vent. The cooler, which normally pulls in air, can also serve as an exhaust fan. This is quite effective (and very economical) in the dry Arizona air, but I will need to add a Coleman air conditioner for camping east of the Mississippi. Evaporative cooling just won't work in humid air.

Judie and Gary say that I should be able to install an A/C unit without removing the swamp cooler. Their peripatetic RV repairman can do the job for me when I go out there this fall to pick up Gertie. They know and trust him, so this way is a lot safer than letting some Camping World mechanic mess with Gertie's roof and possibly cause a leak.



After I got settled in Gertie, I walked back to Judie and Gary's rig—whose full name is "Tessie the Two-Ton Teton"—for dinner. Tessie is a 40-foot fifth wheel with loads of space compared to Gertie. Gary and Judie use it as a full-time "home base" residence, and take trips in Gertie. Two slide-out rooms (bedroom and dinette) add even more floor space. I'm leery of slideouts in general—they add weight and mechanical complexity and reduce structural integrity—but in this case, where the rig is sitting in one place 99% of the time, they make lots of sense. (But I'm still glad Gertie doesn't have any.)

Judie served a delicious dinner—the first of many—and we sat around talking afterward until it was time for bed. Well, bedtime for me and for Judie. Gary goes to work when the rest of us are going to sleep. It's all part of the crazy schedule that his current project (now almost finished) has imposed on him.

It had been a long day. As I crawled up into the sleeping area over Gertie's cab and snuggled under the sleeping bag in the suddenly chilly night air, I could hardly believe that I was finally here.