Posts tagged "Home Improvement"

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Source: Truck eternally from Clker, Egg from Clipart Kid, BandAid also coincidentally from Clipart Kid, and various cracks from CanStockPhoto

Once upon a time there was an ugly truck.

He was a lonely soul, a poor mess of rust and twisted metal, left to idle all alone. While certainly a sad state of affairs, it hadn't always been this way for him. In his youth as a rental truck, he'd helped families move every which way. Later, he became a work truck, the lifeblood of an independent carpenter. As fulfilling as his past had been, it had also left its fair share of chips and dents and scrapes and scratches, which he wore like badges of honor.

In his present life (though one could hardly call it "living"*), home was a used-car dealership along the side of a small expressway in Fremont, California. With his mangled bumpers, duct-taped roof, graffiti'd paneling, and rusted roll-up doors, he was hidden far away at the back, but not far enough to mute the mocking jeers of the newer trucks at the front. With their lower mileage, more recent model years, gleaming, uncracked paint jobs, and complete lack of leaks, they were much more appealing and were quickly swept off to their new exciting lives. After a while, the ugly truck had lost all hope that he would ever have a purpose in life again, and he resigned himself to decay in silence.

Then one day, a boy appeared at the dealership, nervous and apprehensive. He looked lost and out of place as he ambled around the parking lot, passing diffident, fleeting glances at each of the trucks. Eventually his ambling brought him to the back of the lot, where the ugly truck had been half-halfheartedly watching, not wanting to get raise his dejected spirits for nothing. But it wasn't for nothing! The boy looked hopefully at the ugly truck, his eyes full of future plans. As they drove around the dealership for the first time, the ugly truck knew that things were going to be alright.

[The End]

[...or the beginning, depending on how you want to look at it]


Poorly shoehorned children's stories aside, the truck has been an important part of my life ever since that fateful day, nearly two years ago. Neither of us has metamorphosed into a beautiful swan by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd like to think that we're both improving as time goes on, with each passing project. Not that improving was particularly hard, I mean, look how low the bar was set:

Our sorry protagonist, the ugly truckling.

I only dredge up the truck's roots to highlight how far it's come. I'd previously alluded to some of the work I wanted to have done, and I'm happy to report I just got it back from the shop, shiny and freshly improved.

Truck 2.0

When I first talked to the body shop, I asked them for quotes on a whole gamut of repairs and improvements, ranging from replacing and resealing the entire floor to swapping out the roll-up backdoor for some swing doors. Independently, I researched how much these repairs should cost, and kept a spreadsheet of the maximum price I was willing to pay for each individual unit of truck work. The quote I got back was more than twice the cost of the entire truck, and then some ($21,600!). While the raw magnitude of the price tag was initially shocking to me, it actually wasn't outrageous given the laundry list of improvements I had asked for. I simply said no to each thing that was out of my budget and quickly crossed them off my wishlist. For the remaining, in-budget items, I gave them the proverbial green light. In the end, I ended up having the top radius and corner caps replaced, getting a new driver's side fender, and getting an inner door installed.

No More Leaks

Shiny new top radius and smooth, uninterrupted fiberglass.

By far the biggest problem I had with the truck was the leaks. Not "leaks" in the White House sense of the word, I don't think I have any truck secrets to hide. Rather, "leaks" as in, if I did nothing about it, I would wake up in a dank truck swamp after a rainy night. The increasingly obnoxious and unsightly hacks I had put in place to mitigate the issue weren't going to work forever, it was just a plain ole fact that I needed something more permanent. So I had the cracked, scratched, and dented fixings around the perimeter of the truck-top replaced, figuring that the damage there was causing the leaks. I also had all-new clearance lights installed in the front and back, for good measure.

The good news is that the truck-top was indeed the problem. The bad news is that there is still the slightest of leaks. Like, a multi-hour downpour last week only resulted in a few drops. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not I want to bring it back in and have it looked at, or if I should just throw marine sealant at it until it gives up.

Shiny New Headlight

Driver's side headlight, good as new.

I swear, that is an actual, real-life picture of my truck, though I hardly recognize it myself. The fender is all new, as is the headlight and the header panel assembly that everything slots into. You may (or may not) remember that it was damaged early on by some unexplained phenomenon.

Something I realized way after the fact: the headlight may have actually been dislodged earlier than I noticed, maybe even before I bought the truck. My tentative hypothesis is that it just got worse and more noticeable over time, the more I drove it. This is pretty believable because I'm extremely unobservant. And looking at some of my old, grainy, potato-quality photos I could find of the truck, it looks like the headlight may have already been knocked out of its mount. In any case, it's a 1,000% improvement: shiny, new, correctly attached, and forbidden from coming into contact with anything ever again.

Super Stealth Mode

My new gateway to and from Narnia.

This was probably the least practical piece of work I had done, but also my favorite. Ever since I first got the truck, I've always had to think very carefully about where I park it. I only had one entrance/exit, and it was a giant, gaping square void at the back of the truck. If I parked facing a busy area, it meant my comings and goings were laid bare for all to see, which is awkward when I need to grab something from The Box™ in the middle of the day when I'm out and/or about.

But "awkwardness" and "social stigma" aren't things I've historically been concerned about. Arguably more importantly, my singular door meant that I couldn't lock the back gate while I was in the truck, so anyone could come in…while I was sleeping (and at my most vulnerable). This was never actually an issue, except for one time, when my friends "broke in" at midnight on my birthday with beer and cheesecake. And if being force-fed Smirnoff in a hazy half-slumber is the worst thing to come out of my willy-nilly approach to security, I think I'm doing alright.

Cheesecake and beer aside, I eventually wised up and implemented a simple, somewhat secure solution, suggested to me by a few readers. The solution was this: Once the door is in a mostly-down position, clamp vice grips over each of the roll-up door tracks. This way, the rollers will get caught on the vice grips if someone attempted to open it. With enough force, someone could probably still open the door, but they'd make a real racket in the process. It might not be a coincidence that I started doing this right after some strange happenings in my neck of the woods asphalt.

But vice grips and surprise cheesecake are both things of the past, because one of the new truck improvements was an interior door leading from the driver's compartment into my pleasantly prismic pigsty. When I told the body shop I wanted an interior door installed, I was expecting a simple sliding door or something on a hinge. What I got was way more interesting, and hilariously over-engineered. As I understand it, they had this really nice roll-up door sitting around not doing anything, and they were like, "Yeah sure, that'll do". So they measured and cut and welded and eventually this functional Franken-door came into being. They didn't charge me for the door (which they said was worth $2,000+), so I certainly wasn't complaining.

I've been using the door for a few weeks now, and I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying it. It's taken some getting used to though; it must weigh nearly 50 pounds and doesn't have a conventional garage door torsion spring, so it's kind of unwieldy to work with. I've figured out an awkward little dance to close the door behind me when I get out in the morning, but there's still definitely room for improvement. The big benefits are that I can keep the back gate locked shut all the time, park in whatever orientation I damn well want, and come and go whenever I damn well please. Very liberating indeed.

What's the Damage?

Moving on, it's clear I had a good chunk of work done. And as it turns out, people and labor and truck parts and stuff don't come cheap. In total, the repairs cost me a healthy ~$3,800.

Brandon, that's an obscene amount of money! And in my humble opinion, you're an idiot.

It's definitely not a small sum of money, but hear me out: I know that I plan on selling the truck eventually, even if I don't know when. Since it's already fairly old (2006) and I don't drive it a lot, it's not going to depreciate much further, as long as I keep it in decent shape. Letting the wood rot from the leaks, or the headlight fall out completely wouldn't exactly be "keeping it in decent shape". Plus, since I plan on selling it as a super-secret-stealth-hardcore-camper-truck-type-thing, improvements like the interior door make a lot of sense. So the benefit is two-fold: I get to take advantage of all the improvements now, and they make the truck more valuable in the long run. But even if the repairs and improvements didn't add any value to the truck whatsoever, $3,800 isn't that expensive when you phrase it as "two months rent".

And another question, where did you stay when the repairs were being done? Did you just roam the streets?

First question: Alaska!

Second question: No.

A sunset along the Seward Highway, and the top of Mount Alyeska.

Both images were carefully selected to highlight how philosophical and mysterious I am.

In total, the truck spent like a week and a half in the body shop. Luckily, this happened to somewhat coincide with a trip my friends and I were taking to Alaska. So I drove the truck to the body shop, caught a ride 10 minutes to the airport, and off I went. When I got back from Alaska, I spent a few days at my non-truck-homed girlfriend's place.

Why the Ugly Truck?

Reading over the allegory of the Ugly Truckling, there's a question that naturally leaps to mind: why didn't I pick a more reasonable vehicle, like an RV, or even just one of the newer, nicer trucks?

I've touched on some of this in the past, but I didn't want an RV because I was worried that would be too comfortable and I would forget why I was even doing this in the first place: because the world outside my four walls is infinitely more interesting, and that's where I want to spend my time. I didn't pick a newer, shinier truck because I liked (and still like) the idea of a fixer-upper. I wanted to be able to rip apart the interior without worrying I was doing damage, and attempt little repairs on my own. Thus far, I think it's been a pretty solid learning opportunity.

I certainly had a few ulterior motives too. Older trucks are naturally cheaper, and like I mentioned above, they also leave less room to depreciate. Less logically, a silly anecdote from my childhood might explain why I gravitated to the Ugly Truckling:

When I was little, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house. She had this set of ceramic-handled silverware, and from looking at them, you could tell they'd been around since The War. Which war it was, nobody knew for sure. But anyway, a bunch of the spoons had chips in their ceramic handles, and I was always careful to avoid those ones. One day, my grandmother caught me carefully picking my spoon and asked me what I was doing. When I explained that some of the spoons were broken, this is what she said to me:


"Broken spoons need love too."


And it's stuck with me ever since.


*Partly because it was a sad excuse for an existence, and partly because trucks are inanimate objects and don't "live" in the way that humans and other animate organisms do.

Source: My new sunroof (flanked by my new insulation)…in all its weird, truckly glory.

Truthfully, I've been doing a pretty awful job at keeping you guys updated with what I'm actually doing, truckwise. The last time I even showed off the interior in all its shanty glory was almost a year ago. In the intervening interval since my last Home Improvement update, I've completed a few fairly large truck projects. By "large", I don't mean anything that requires any real technical competence, but certainly larger than fixing the hole or doing arts and crafts.

Insulation

Hold up, didn't you spend a whole post talking about how you didn't need to insulate the truck? What gives?

Okay okay, you caught me. I know I said it didn't make sense to insulate the truck, because it wouldn't be effective and I can just bundle up when I need to, but curiosity got the better of me after the idea was planted in my head. You might remember that I fixed the hole in the truck after receiving wonderfully detailed instructions by a pseudonymous Nancy (still from PK Safety). Well, as it turns out, Nancy also had some well-formulated ideas on how I could insulate the truck. After a modest amount of research, I decided, "What the hell, let's give it a go," and on nothing more than a whim, I started tearing apart the walls.

The wood slats I pulled off the walls, and some of the screws I had to coerce out to get the slats off.

The next step was to line the walls with insulation — Nancy suggested 3/4" rigid EPS foam sheathing. From there, the process is measure, cut, foam seal around the edges, and tape into place. Given that I had to cut about seven 2' x 7' rectangles for each of the two sides, it should have taken a few hours if I was even remotely competent with this type of stuff. But no, instead of a casual few hours of finagling the new fixtures into place, installing insulation became a four month, on-again-off-again affair that kept my truck looking like a war zone for the duration.

How could this have possibly taken you four months?

Naturally, it wasn't four months of constant work, I was only working on it on weekends for the most part, and even then, some weekends I couldn't convince myself I wanted to work on it for more than half an hour or so. The biggest deterrent/problem I encountered was a lack of space. While I have way more than enough (arguably too much) space for simply living and existing, that ceases to be true when I'm trying to cut 4' by 8' sheets of insulation and move around my bed and dresser to access different parts of the wall. So I had to work in sections, e.g. move everything to the back right corner to work on the front left. It basically felt like a giant game of this:

I spent several months playing a life-size version of Unblock Me.

How much space an individual panel takes up when I lay it down to cut it. You'll notice there isn't a ton of room left to maneuver.

Another hysterical complication (which the borderline-prophetic Nancy had warned me about), is that every time you cut into these foam panels with a switchblade, you leave a trail of little styrofoam beads in its wake. So with each and every slice, all ~46 of them, the truck would essentially become a giant snow globe, and even the gentlest of breezes would spin a snowstorm into existence. Not wanting to litter the outside world with these onslaughts of artificial dandruff, I put a plank of wood across the entrance and swept the tiny nuisances away into a trash bag after every few cuts.

What it felt like being in the truck for those four months. I was basically Homeless Snow White™*.

The Final Result

When all was said and done, it didn't look all that bad. I mean sure, it looks like I live in a hobo's spaceship with the shiny tinfoil coating, but at this point we're all painfully aware of how little I care about aesthetics.

I'm intentionally only showing you the right wall, because I did the left wall first and it looks significantly more shoddy. Also, notice the far more appropriate/less disastrous usage of "Great Stuff" expanding foam this time around.

I haven't actually noticed if the truck retains heat any better (or worse) since adding the insulation, it hasn't been cold (or hot) enough to tell. In any case, it was certainly a learning experience, and a great exercise in what I can do with the truck if I'm feeling particularly bored inspired.

Skylight!

Yeah yeah, I know it's technically called a "sunroof", but this is my home and I'll call it whatever I gosh-darn/damn-well please. Anyway, way back when I first got the truck, I mentioned the possibility of getting a skylight. Cutting gaping holes in the truck is well-outside my truck-modification comfort zone though, so I opted to bring in the professionals over at Happy Vans, who did the wonderful job pictured at the top. I've noticed far better air circulation/ventilation over the past few weeks, and it's nice waking up to a truck-full of sunshine on the weekends. The eventual goal is to cut a door between the cab and the back, so that I can actually lock the rear gate at night instead of keeping it cracked open and "locked" with vice grips. Happy Vans will probably be the ones doing that particular project as well.

The only modification I made was attaching some metal screen door mesh with a few neodymium magnets, to keep pests out.

Bike Rack (Redux)

This post is already long enough, and I've already spoken on what goes into building a truck-bike-rack, so here's a not-so-pretty picture of the reassembled bike rack:

Also pictured: the power drill that I bought after getting tired of driving screws into sheet metal and various other obstinate materials with a screwdriver.

*Or Elsa, if you're more about that Frozen life.

Source: My arsenal of Home Depot supplies used to wage war against certain truck deficiencies.

It's been long enough.

I took my sweet time getting around to actually doing it, and then almost another month on top of that to start writing this post about it, but we're here now.* And that's what really matters, right?

So anyway, you might remember "The Hole" from that time that birds always insisted on pecking at it, or that other time that I MacGyver'd a drainage solution to avoid waking up in a truck-shaped rainwater swimming pool. Looking back, I had every intention of paying another human being money to fix this particular problem. That all changed once I received an email from Nancy (over at PK Safety), who, like BoscoBob before her, knows way more about fixing my problems than I do.

Nancy was kind enough to give me step-by-step directions on how to apply a sturdy smattering of fiberglass mat/resin to the tragically maligned hole, directions she curated and perfected from her experience fixing/consistently-being-in-close-proximity-to boats. "If this treatment is good enough for boats, which have to withstand waves and constant interaction with salt water," I thought to myself in a conveniently blog post-ready format, "it's sure as hell good enough for protecting my truck from a few gentle raindrops."

The Plan

As you can see from the picture above, this wasn't a small undertaking. Quite the opposite, this was hands down the largest truck improvement project I've attempted thus far. And as a person who's never considered themselves "handy", "useful with tools", "remotely adroit at anything that requires common sense", or "likely to survive attempted usage of industrial chemicals", this was sure to be a demanding (and educational) experience. With Nancy's instructions in hand, I biked off to, you guessed it, Home Depot, a company so integral to my truckly lifestyle that I should probably double down and buy stock in it. On my short list of things to buy:

  • Acetone. As it turns out, acetone is useful for more than just pyromaniac teenagers (guilty) and removing nail polish. It does a solid job of cleaning/preparing surfaces before putting other chemicals on them. It was especially useful for my needs because there were clearly failed attempts by previous owners to fix The Hole, as was evident from the strange rubbery white residue surrounding it, which I'm guessing is Flex Seal.
  • Face masks. Preferably get the type that save you from losing a couple IQ points to the chemical cocktail you're about to whip up.
  • Drop Cloth. Because I've never been particularly capable of coloring inside the lines, and I don't have a burning desire to cover my walls and floor in a nearly-impossible-to-remove epoxy.
  • Great Stuff® - Window & Door Sealant. To completely misuse and make the walls look like they're giving birth to some cross between Alien and the Stay Puft dude. Check out the picture below to see just how I thoroughly I screwed up. Note: It is literally called Great Stuff®, my opinion isn't quite as enthusiastic.
  • Fiberglass resin. To go with the Fiberglass hardener.
  • Fiberglass hardener. To go with the Fiberglass resin.
  • Fiberglass cloth. If the resin and hardener are the marshmallows and chocolate in a bad food analogy, the cloth is the graham crackers that hold the whole sticky metaphoric S'more situation together.
  • Painter's tape. I think the intended purpose is to mark off the area you're working on, but I completely skipped that step.
  • Empty, clean Chobani® Greek yogurt cups. For mixing epoxy. I used the low fat plain-flavored variety, but I've heard that strawberry works well too.
  • Paint brushes. For gooping up and dabbing the epoxy onto the fiberglass cloth.
  • Several types of gloves. Because while super-gluing your fingers together is undoubtedly unpleasant, I imagine epoxying your fingers together is at least two circles of Hell deeper.
  • Water. Stay hydrated out there, kids.

Nancy's list of Hole-fixing ingredients also included things like "sand paper" and "primer" and "rollers", which I dutifully ignored because it looked like their collective purpose was to make everything look prim and proper, which isn't of any particular interest to the dude who lives in a borderline leprotic van still covered in several-year-old graffiti.

Getting It Done

I had everything I needed to do this thing, I just had to put the rubber to the (literal?) road. I woke up early on a beautiful and crisp Saturday morning, drove to a nice remote area, and threw open the back gate, both for ventilation and sunlight.

The view from my work site.

The first step was to survey the area and plan out how I was going to handle it. There was a chunk of fiberglass missing on the right edge, and there were a bunch of cracks that extended about a foot beyond that. I had bought more than enough to do the whole area over, so I put some acetone on a paper towel and cleaned down everything extending a few inches beyond the cracks. The idea is that the acetone removes anything that would prevent a good bond from forming.

Yup, definitely a hole.

One last piece of setup: I tossed the disposable drop cloth out below the soon-to-be affected area, and taped it to the wall with the painter's tape. Before whipping out the rest of my meth lab essentials, I threw on a pair of gloves and one of the face masks.

Casting sideward glances to intimidate and confuse The Hole is also a recommended, but optional, step. *insert a good Bane impression here*

Anything more than very basic instructions leave me befuddled and deterred, so I was grateful that the fiberglass resin and hardener had simple ratios to mix together: a certain number of drops of hardener per cup of resin. The trick is that you only have 10-15 minutes of time to spread the mixture once you mix them, then they harden up and become a sad unusable cement. That's why I had been binging on Chobanis®, I needed multiple cups for multiple small batches. So I poured a small quantity of the molasses-like resin into my plastic measuring cup, and then counted out the corresponding number of hardener drops into one of my re-purposed yogurt cups. After pouring the two components into the same container, I frantically looked around for the stirring sticks I had completely forgotten to purchase. Luckily, the wood chips on the ground just outside the truck made for great improvised stirring sticks. From there, it was just a matter of painting a thin layer of epoxy, ripping a piece of fiberglass cloth off, dabbing it all down with a little more epoxy, and then repeating the whole process again, layer after layer. I put down around 20 pieces of the fiberglass cloth in total over the course of my three batches of epoxy, with each piece roughly half the size of a sheet of paper.

The end result (before drying). It doesn't actually look any better in this picture, but I can assure you that it's all one solid piece now.

To finish up, I threw all the leftover, unsalvageable, half-used ingredients onto the drop cloth, which I then rolled into a little ball and tossed into a giant garbage container belonging to a nearby construction site. I then left the truck-patch to cure (and vent some of the brain-cell-killing chemicals away) for the rest of the day, opting to go on a nice long bike ride and coding from a cafe a few towns over.

Is It Holding Up?

If you go back and look at my first two Home Improvement projects, you'll see that I did a terrifically shoddy job on them and had to immediately turn around and repair them. Luckily, that doesn't seem to be the case this time around. Nancy's instructions worked wonderfully, and the bond still appears sturdy as ever. One pretty big issue is that I didn't totally fix my leaking problem. I still have a pretty consistent drip from the metal area to the top right of where The Hole was, and I have to do a bit more research as to where it's coming from before El NiƱo turns my truck terrarium into an aquatic abode.

The Great "Great Stuff®" Unprovement Project

The idea behind Great Stuff® is pretty simple. You shake the can, you spray it into the cracks, it expands a bit, and it provides a little extra insulation. I thought this would be a great addition to the area around The (now defunct) Hole, and just the back of the truck in general, which is a bit drafty. But I forgot to take into account how bad my basic motor skills are, and how much the stuff expands, and I kind of just coated seemingly random bits of the truck in it. It legitimately looks like Shrek had a vicious cold and was sneezing huge mucus-y webs of lumpy sadness everywhere.

A collage of my ceaseless stupidity.

The icing on the cake is that the only way to remove the stuff, per the instructions, is "mechanically". Meaning I have to physically rip this stuff free from everything that I've attached it to if I want to redo it properly, which I'd like to do at some point. Like I said before, if nothing else, this project was very, very educational. And while I don't know when any of this information will ever come in handy again, it's certainly helping me towards (wrongly?) believing I can undertake larger and more ambitious projects in the future and maybe have them not fail entirely/spectacularly. I guess we'll see.

*I was really waiting until I had finished adding the functionality to put multiple pictures in a post, which as you can tell, totally exists now.

Desiccant.

I really enjoy the way that word sounds. It's like a discount version of decadent, except that it hasn't been soiled by rampant overuse in chocolate commercials. I was curious as to its etymology which, as you'll see above, isn't nearly as exciting as I'd hoped. I had never even heard of the word until a reader, known only to me as "BoscoBob", brought it up in an email.

Bob

Let me tell you a little bit about Bob (which he will henceforth be called for brevity), not that I know much about him anyway. Bob also spent quite a bit of time living in a vehicle, five times as much as I have as of this writing in fact. In my eyes, this makes Bob a Wise Truck Elder™. So when Bob came to me with advice, I took notes. Diligent notes.* His advice was this: it's going to get cold out, and human beings do a lot of breathing and sweating. If you can't control that moisture, every eligible surface in the truck will be covered in mold, which is undoubtedly going to make you an unhappy camper.

Luckily for me, as Bob noted, there exists a magical technology that requires neither fire nor electricity to operate, and yet its mere presence can suck the moisture clear out of the air and trap it within, like a genie in a lamp. Bob was talking about desiccants.

The Prophecy

And sure enough, Wise Truck Elder Bob was right. As we creep further and further into Fall, unwaveringly towards Winter, I've found that my mornings are becoming increasingly…moist. Every non-porous surface: ceilings, walls, and even my phone** and battery pack, are uniformly damp, almost like the morning dew on a grassy field. Except this field is me and everything I own. It's gross to think of it as though everything is coated in my own sweat and breath though, it's more like when your windshield fogs up on a cold day. The air in the truck is warmer (because of me) and more moist (yes, also because of me), and this warm, moist air meets up with the cold metal of the truck and subsequently condenses. I mean I'm not a meteorologist or anything, but that's my understanding of it.

So I did what any self-respecting truck person who doesn't like bathing in their own breath would do, and I went to Home Depot, where they sell industrial-sized tubs of this stuff:

DampRid®, which I can only assume is concentrated cat litter

I got a 64 oz tub, which is supposed to be enough for a space far larger than my 128 ft2 truck, but I like to live by the credo "Better Safe Than Sorry" when it's convenient to me. The process for getting it setup was pretty complicated though, and took longer than I'd have liked. I'll painstakingly detail the steps out here, but be warned, it's a pretty arduous process and I wouldn't recommend someone begins it unless they have a substantial amount of time on their hands to see it through:

  1. Take off the lid.

Yeah okay I lied, that's all you have to do. Seems suspiciously simple, I know, but it definitely did fulfill its end of the bargain. The area around my bed was much drier the morning after opening it; my phone and battery pack weren't in any danger of short-circuiting either. The tub of re-branded cat litter DampRid® says it'll last six months, which isn't bad at all for a $10 investment. I suspect it'll have a shorter shelf life because the truck isn't an entirely closed system, but I'll need a bit of empirical evidence before I can say for sure. In the mean time, I'll enjoy being left high and dry thanks to the definitely excellent existence of the desiccant.

*I didn't actually take any notes. This was an email, after all.

**My phone is waterproof, so this isn't as concerning as one would thing. Still definitely not ideal though, thus the desiccants.

Source: Snipped straps and super glue, combined with a little (accidentally) dramatic and gloomy lighting

It's been a while (six months almost to the day) since I did my last big Home Improvement post, and I think it's about high time we changed that. Not only because a lack of Home Improvement posts signals stagnancy on the front of truck-progress, but also because there is much to be improved upon truck-wise, and I should be more proactive and motivated to work on it. This, as is likely evident from the title, is just a "Mini" Home Improvement project, but there are two fairly large ones that I've yet to write about, so expect those soon eventually.

Meeting Michael…'s

In a shocking turn of events, a home improvement project didn't land me at Home Depot. Instead, I found myself ambling around the aisles of Michael's, a fairly ubiquitous craft chain store. I'd place Michael's pretty far down on the list of places I'd expect to find myself at, right there with "an apartment showcase", "grad school", and "a Homeowner's Association meeting". And yet there I was, shopping for leather wristbands and Super Glue like a pre-K camp counselor.

This strange shift in shopping proclivities came about as I attempted to solve a problem that has been plaguing me since before I moved in. I detailed it at the end of this post, but as a refresher, my problem was thus: I have a house on wheels that I drive sometimes, how do I properly secure dresser drawers so I'm not launching them (and pretty much everything I own) across the truck every time I take a turn too hard? My initial solution, Velcro, had failed spectacularly (and very audibly from the driver's compartment). As a stopgap solution so that I could, you know, drive, I wrapped the corners of the drawers in painter's tape, the only reasonable adhesive I had available. Naturally, this had a few problems of its own, like how it's annoying to un-peel and re-peel tape every time I want to grab a pair of socks, or how the heat during the day means that the tape loses adhesion pretty quickly and I have to reapply it, etc, etc. I got a few suggestions from strangers on the Internet readers on using childproof drawer locks and a few other ideas, but they didn't seem quite robust enough for my use case.

Leather and Bondageing Glue

Eventually (read: two weeks ago), I had a bout of divine inspiration during which I realized that some combination of buttons and snaps would suit this situation well. The aforementioned trip to Michael's happened, and then I applied the following process to save my dresser drawers from my dubious driving abilities:

  1. Remove the ineffective Velcro squares from the drawers by wedging your fingernail under them and peeling them off. Make sure to break or otherwise bend at least three fingernails in the process.
  2. Cut the male end off of the leather straps into little squares.
  3. Cut the female end of the strap to 3 (ish) inches.
  4. Measure the vertical midpoint of the drawers and mark them with a pen.
  5. Measure out where the longer straps should be glued down and mark those with a pen too.
  6. Glue those little square suckers down to the rolling-drawer-handle-part with some super glue.
  7. DO NOT GLUE YOUR FINGERS TOGETHER.
  8. DON'T GLUE YOUR FINGERS TO THE LEATHER EITHER.
  9. You glued your fingers together, didn't you?
  10. Use the acetone you bought for a different home improvement project to unstick your thoroughly bonded fingers.
  11. Apply glue to the last inch and a half of the longer straps, leaving room so that the snappy end can move around a little bit.
  12. Definitely don't immediately test it out, wait like 8 hours (at least) for the glue to fully cure.

Boom. Successful strappage.

How well does it work?

It works really well…when I remember to snap them shut. On more than one (read: three) occasions, I totally forgot to snap them into place before driving off, which, as it turns out, makes them Totally Ineffective™. But when I do remember to use them, they work swimmingly. Super glue fares especially well when the force is parallel to the surface, I just have to be careful to not tear the leather straps off like a Band-Aid® when I unsnap them. Overall, it took about hour to do all the measuring/cutting/gluing, which isn't bad in the slightest, especially when it means driving around is less like throwing my belongings in a tumble dryer.

Source: The new rack. Ignore how dungeon-esque this picture looks, I swear it's not nearly this creepy in person.

It's been a while since my last Home Improvement post, which is bad because it means I'm not improving the truck. And trust me, the truck certainly does have areas for improvement. Anyway, I mentioned that I got a new bike recently. This was great but, like every time I get something new, it posed an issue.

The Situation

I'm now in possession of a large, 50 pound hunk of metal and rubber, which I have to store somewhere. It makes sense to keep it with me, because:

  1. It's a $3,000+ piece of equipment
  2. For some reason bikes in the Bay Area are especially prone to being stolen
  3. It just seems silly to keep it anywhere else. If I have to go get it every time I want to use it, doesn't that defeat the purpose? Seriously, who wants to pregame their bike ride with a half-mile walk.Certainly not me

So I made the pretty easy decision to keep the bike safe and sound in the truck when I'm using it. That's all well and good and whatnot, but what happens when I need to drive somewhere? The bike won't stay standing on its own, especially not with my abrupt and punctuated driving style. I'm not just going to lay it down, tie some rope around it, and hope for the best. It has all sorts of fancy parts (derailleur, electric motor, torque sensor, lights, disc brakes, etc), and leaving it to rattle around in the back sounds like a great way to totally and needlessly ruin it. My general strategy for having nice things is to not break them, and I'm going to try my darnedest to keep it up.

Planning It Out

So I did some preliminary research. I'm in the unique position of having to choose between a home bike rack and a car bike rack. In either case, I knew I needed something pretty heavy duty to accommodate the weight of this bike in all of its electric, motored glory. I quickly realized a home rack wouldn't work out well, because those racks aren't expecting a ton of movement, so they don't bother with any shock-resistance, which could potentially warp the frame of the bike or toss it off the rack if I went over a bump hard enough. After a bit of searching, I decided on a Truck Bed Bike Rack. I figured that the box is basically a giant truck bed, and I could probably finagle the clamps on properly…somehow. Plus, the bike being upright but on the ground means that I don't have to worry about it falling, like I would for a ceiling mount or some other fancy wall mount. I placed my order, waited a few days for it to come in, then it was time to get my hands dirty, proverbially speaking.*

Now if you've looked at my past "Home Improvement" posts, there's a pretty consistent theme: I inevitably get something horribly wrong and make my life unnecessarily difficult due to my thorough lack of understanding about how the physical world works. I'm a software engineer: I move electrons and pixels, not wood and metal. Per usual, my problem was that I didn't properly do my research. I was hoping I'd be able to clamp the wooden slats along the sides of the truck in the same way they'd clamp onto the edge of a truck bed. Well, I should have done less hoping, and more measuring, because the wooden slats were ever-so slightly too tall to properly clamp onto, and ever-so slightly too close to the truck wall for the thickness of the clamp.

Screwing Stuff Together

Discouraged, but far from ready to admit defeat, I paced around the back of the truck, at the time parked in a random parking lot. After a short eternity, I realized I could unscrew the wooden slat, place the back half of the clamp against the wall, and then pin it into place by screwing the slat back in. The clamp still didn't fit around the wood correctly, but I figured if I tightened it really, really, really well, I could dig the metal clamp straight into the wood, and hopefully that would be stable enough to keep the bike in place. I executed my new plan, gave a couple tugs on the connecting rod as a test (which elicited a cacophony of creaks), and then put the bike into place, wrapping the clamp around the seatpost.

The end result? So far, good. I drove about a mile with the bike secured in the back and it appeared to survive unscathed, no implosions or loss of life. I'm not yet confident enough to claim that a particularly sharp turn won't just rip the wood slat out of the wall and send the bike crashing to the ground, but I've got my fingers crossed.

*The truck is actually pretty clean, I sweep it at least once a week.

Look at that stupid thing. With its silly little drawers and its wooden frame. Pfft.

In reality, it's just a simple four drawer dresser from Ikea, which I definitely needed because I've been living out of a suitcase my mother lent me, and I need to return it eventually. This project was my first two-day project, and in total took me about six hours to complete. Nothing went horribly wrong per se, it's just that Ikea is Satan incarnate, as it turns out. As you can probably tell from my demeanor, I've never assembled anything from Ikea before, but I figured for something as simple as a dresser, it couldn't be that bad.

Wrong.

The Purchase

Before I even made it into the store, I had to maneuver my unwieldy box truck through the massive fields of tightly packed parking lots. After two unsuccessful laps around, I opted to park across the street. This would turn out to be a Grave MistakeTM. Once I finished my box truck slalom session and parked, I found that "Ikea" is Swedish for "Labyrinth". Okay, so maybe not literally, but it really might as well be. I went in knowing exactly what I wanted, and if I had been more well-versed in the art of Ikea, I might have headed straight to the "Self Serve" section of the store. But alas, I'm new to this whole process, and found myself waist-deep in screaming toddlers and strollers as I waded my way through the "Showroom" section of the store. Despite moving at nearly a jogging pace for the entire time I was in the store, it still took me about 15 minutes to make it through all of the twists and turns of the Showroom. I'm not sure if that is a testament to how slowly I jog, or just how massive Ikea stores are. Once I made it to the Self Serve area, I loaded up my un-assembled dresser onto my cart, checked out, and wheeled it down to the parking lot. This part of the process would have been the smoothest, if I hadn't parked across the street. As soon as I wheeled my cart outside the store, the wheels locked up, and unceremoniously tossed my box to the ground. Tragic. Huffing and puffing, I carried the large, awkward, hundred pound box the quarter mile across multiple major intersections back to where I had parked. Sweating profusely, I unlocked the back and tossed the package in.

Bringing it to Life

Day 1

As I spend more time with the truck, I realize more and more that people really have better things to do than worry about what the crazy box truck guy is doing. As a result, I had no problem ripping open boxes and hammering things together in the back of the truck, parked in the middle of a Nordstrom's parking lot at 7 PM on a Saturday.

This is the part where I realize that assembling the dresser is literally a 24 step process, with 10 different types of screws, nails, and bolts, and nothing but pictures to serve as instructions. I do my best, and make it as far as getting the frame together before I realize that the height of the dresser doesn't line up with the wooden railings, and I have no way of securing it. Exhausted, and mildly discouraged, I wrap some rope around it to hold it in place, and head home for the night.

Day 2

After sleeping on my predicament from the previous day, I came up with a solution. Can you guess where it took me? That's right, right back to Home Depot. I measured out the space between the two wooden railings, the same space that lined up with the dresser's mounting bracket. I went into Home Depot, had some wood cut, and picked up a few brackets. Twenty screws, four brackets, and two planks of wood later, I had jury-rigged my own mount to attach the dresser to. I spent the rest of my time in the Home Depot parking lot assembling the draws, securing everything, and unpacking the suitcase.

The End Result

The final product is pictured above, and though I'm happy with the result, I can't help but have a bit of disdain for the thing because of the amount of raw effort that it took to get here. I added one final touch, which was securing the draws closed with adhesive Velcro strips, because I don't want to dump all of my belongings on the ground every time I take a sharp turn.

The place is starting to come together. It's clean, organized, and has everything I need. I'm ready for the long haul.

My first two Home Improvement Projects weren't exactly the highest caliber works of craftsmanship. For example, putting more than two or three articles of clothing on the clothes rack caused it to bend, shake, and warp, and the rope around the bed came undone approximately once a day. So my third Home Improvement Project was setting right what I had previously done so, so wrongly. And it's the weekend, which means that after my workout and shower, the sky was the limit as far as errand-running was concerned.

Back to Home Depot

Home Depot is a recurring theme/location of these posts, and I'd be pretty lost without it. I recently found out that Home Depot will cut 2x4s for you to whatever length you want, which I thought was pretty sweet because it means that I don't have to buy a circular saw. So I used my handy dandy tape measure (also previously purchased at Home Depot), and took a few measurements.

Reinforced Clothes Rack

I cut some 2x4s to be the length of the gap between the pre-installed wooden railings. Learning from my mistakes, I purchased some wood screws this time around, which made the whole process far less painful. I measured out the distance between the 2x4s, again learning from my previous errors. Then I re-secured the hanger mounts and screwed everything back down. The end result is pictured above, this time with a fully loaded rack of clothes, including my heavy jackets and sweatshirts. I have much more faith in this refined, sturdier clothes rack, and I'm starting to get comfortable with do-it-yourself projects.

Bed "Frame"

So I didn't quite build a bed frame per se, but I did cut a 2x4 to the width of the box, and then secure it with some angle brackets. This will keep the box spring in place, and I doubt the mattress would be able to overcome the static friction keeping it on top of the box spring. In other words, I ditched the rope, and I'm pretty confident this will work just as well, without the inconvenience of a having a length of rope running through the middle of the box.

What Next?

The box is starting to come together! My next project is going to be some carpeting, a little bit for aesthetics, but mainly for noise reduction and for keeping things from moving around. I also purchased a dresser from Ikea, but I'm only half way through putting that beast together, and it will definitely get its own post when it's done.

With the bed out of the way, I was ready to try bigger and better things. The next thing on my list was a place to hang my dress shirts and pants. In a real-world setting, this would be called a "clothes rack". So I took another trip down to Home Depot, which is quickly becoming the most important place in my life, and I picked up some screws, a screwdriver, some clothes hangers, two mounting brackets, and a 6 foot long wooden rod. If I had done everything correctly, here is how the process should have gone:

  1. Screw in mounting brackets, approximately 6 feet apart.
  2. Place wooden rod on brackets, screw into place.
  3. Place hangers on wooden rod.

So right off the bat, I realized I bought the wrong screws. How did I realize this, you ask? Well for one, they were clearly marked "Sheet Metal Screws", and I was working with wood. I quickly learned that the difference between the two is the threading, which is far more dense on sheet metal screws and makes it really hard to put them in, especially without a drill. So after 15 minutes of painfully torquing one of these screws into the wooden railings of the box truck, I was sufficiently satisfied with how far into the wall it was. I put the mounting bracket on over it, tightened it a few more turns, and moved onto the next one.

That doesn't sound all that bad, right? Well that's because I haven't adequately set the scene for you. It's a beautiful, sunny 75 degree day in Santa Clara, and I'm in the back of a nearly ventilated box truck, trying with all my might to fit square pegs (sheet metal screws) into round holes (wood). So anyway, I exhaustingly put up the second mounting bracket (without measuring because that would be reasonable and take all of the fun out of it), only to find out that I've placed the two mounting brackets 6 feet and 1 inch apart, meaning that the wooden rod for hanging the clothes won't rest on the brackets. Tragic. Repeat the bracket mounting process, but now 6 inches over.

Throw in a couple extra screws, because a little over-engineering can't hurt, and the end result is pictured above. How well will it work? Who knows! Only time will tell, but in the mean time, I'm fairly pleased, and ready to take on some even more ambitious home improvement projects as I refine my newly-pioneered form of crazy.

One important part of this whole process is turning the back of a truck into a livable, comfortable space. I have a number of plans and ideas on how to do that, and I'm going to chronicle my attempts at turning them into realities in this "Home Improvement" series. This one is a super basic one, but hey, baby steps. If I plan on living in this thing, I'll need a place to sleep, naturally. So I wandered over to Craigslist, found the sketchiest new mattress and box spring set I could find, and placed an order. Notice the word "new", that's super important, because I'm not in the mood for a case of bed bugs or crabs or whatever else you can catch from a used mattress.

Anyway, all I actually did to make this a reality was the following:

  1. Pick up the bed.
  2. Remove the plastic from the bed.
  3. Find desired location for bed.
  4. Place bed in desired location.
  5. Make bed.
  6. Tie it down with the rope that I mentioned in a previous post.

Voila! I now have a bed.


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