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Improving Gertie: the cab

Another assist handle

Cab assist handle

One of the many small but thoughtful touches Lazy Daze built into Gertie was an "assist handle" above the edge of the overcab bed. This makes it easy to get out of bed and come down the ladder forward, instead of having to do it backward and fumble awkwardly for the rungs with your feet. I liked it so much that I added a second assist handle inside the cab itself. Mounted in the center of the cab's ceiling, this handle gives me something to grab onto when I hoist myself out of the driver's seat to go back in the coach. I got the second assist handle directly from Lazy Daze—I just called them up and asked whether they had it as a separate item, found out what it cost (under ten bucks) and then mailed them a check. (They don't take credit cards.)

Seatback organizer

Along similar lines, for about twelve dollars at Target I purchased a multi-pouched storage unit that fastens to the back of my passenger's seat. The organizer is tan and black and has many pouches—most of them made of mesh so you can see the contents—along with loops for a pen, an umbrella and so on. I use it to store things like my cell phone, my CD player, my CB handy-talkie and their accessories. Originally it was intended to attach with straps around the seat, but they didn't fit my seats (which are new, by the way—I replaced Gertie's old, sagging seats with Eurotec seats from Camping World), so I used large-sized snaps to attach it to the seat's frame. Seatback organizer I felt through the padding on the back of the seat until I located a metal frame tube going across the upper back; then I drilled holes right through the padding into the tube. A couple of sheet-metal screws attached heavy-duty male snaps to the seatback. They look as if the seat was built with them in place...and they mate with female snaps I inserted in the top of the organizer. The bottom of the organizer is held by laces looped under the seat frame and pulled tight, as in the original.

Because I travel solo most of the time, I took advantage of the passenger seat's ability to swivel: I turned the seat 90° so that the storage pouches are readily accessible from the driver's seat. It's mighty convenient having everything at my fingertips this way!

But here's an even niftier idea: I heard that another solo RVer substituted a storage chest for her passenger seat! Since the seats are only held in place by four bolts underneath (which is why I was able to replace Gertie's myself without much trouble), it was easy for this woman to have a storage unit built that matched the bolt-holes in the cab's seat rails, and just bolt it in place. Great idea!

A Jotto Desk for the navicomputer

I was so pleased with the Jotto Desk in the rear lounge that I bought a second, more sophisticated one (model 5167, $150) for the front of the coach. This Jotto desk has a horizontal arm with several joints (wrist and elbow, you might say) that permit extremely flexible positioning. Quick-release locking levers make it easy to reposition any joint. Front Jotto Desk I mounted it to the floor between the front seats—right next to the passenger's seat, but not so close as to interfere with it. As you can see from the photo, I can still turn the seat sideways so that I have easy access to the seatback organizer on its back. Traveling solo as I generally do, this is very convenient and practical.

From that location, the front Jotto Desk puts my Mac PowerBook computer right at my elbow. Connected to my Garmin GPS receiver, the PowerBook runs DeLorme's Street Atlas USA software and constantly plots my exact position as I drive. Since I have the world's worst sense of direction, this is a dream come true! The PowerBook is an old one that I had stopped using when I replaced it with a newer, much more powerful model...but it's more than adequate for this purpose, and indeed this is all it does now: it's a dedicated "navicomputer."

These Jotto desks aren't inexpensive, but they are very well engineered and built—and they offer a degree of flexibility that homebrew solutions (and I've seen some good ones) just can't match. For me, they were money well spent.

Rear-view video

Gertie has full-sized double (plano plus parabolic) trucker's mirrors on each side. There's also an inside rear-view mirror, and I added a stick-on plastic fresnel lens (a wide-angle lens) to the rear window to make it easier to use the inside mirror. But even with all these mirrors, parking is not always straightforward (or straight backward, as the case may be). When parallel parking Gertie, it's nearly impossible to accurately gauge the distance to the vehicle behind me—it might be one foot or it might be three. More than once I've tapped bumpers...very embarrassing!

RVing suppliers like Camping World will sell you backup video systems designed to help. There are just a couple of problems with them: 1) they cost close to a thousand dollars, and 2) they are too big to fit comfortably in a small cab like Gertie's. The sky-high prices especially offended me, because I knew how inexpensively video cameras and monitors could be purchased. So I decided to make my own rear-view video system, and just to make it sound official, I named it "RetroVision." It ended up costing me well under $200 to build...you can read all about it on the RetroVision page.

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