A few months back we took an RV trip up into the Northern Arizona back country. We left the travel trailer in camp and headed out for some scouting in the pickup truck. Our travels took us through some beautiful scenery, but getting there? It was a trip up riprap roads filled with bumps and chuckholes, dodging boulders at every turn. Back at camp we opened the truck’s canopy to find a complete mess. That heavy generator was sitting on lighter items, tool boxes were strewn every which way, and our big drawer unit had migrated far away from its spot. Any organization we thought we had was gone.
We’ve found it doesn’t take a back-country trip to bounce stuff around in the back of the truck. Just day-to-day urban and freeway driving causes stuff to shift around, even though we have a rubber mat in the truck bed. What we needed was a system to encourage things to stay put. With a little bit of sketching, some lumber, and a couple of hours, we now have a custom-built bed partition system that keeps things in place—and you can too!
Getting started is a matter of knowing how you want items organized in your truck bed. For us, having things we needed most often at the rear of the truck was a must. Our canopy doesn’t have easily operable side windows, so anything away from the tailgate is a crawl in and get it affair. Hence we keep our generator, toolboxes, and a large drawer unit with parts and supplies all handy at the rear. Farther in the bed we have more drawer units. At the cab end of the truck bed we reserve space for boxed items that we transport with us when traveling. For example, we do a lot of home canning when we travel in areas of the country that have fruit and produce. Boxes of canned goods need to stay put, not float around.
We drew a sketch that showed, with measurements, where everything should stay. Since the generator and drawers tend to “walk around,” we figured that something would have to keep them from sliding side-to-side. At the same time, we wanted to install restraints that weren’t too high, so we could lift things up and over easily. Plus, we wanted to keep an open aisle down the center of the truck bed to be able to get at items toward the cab.
It didn’t take long for us to figure out that the most easily worked with material for keeping things in place would be ordinary 2 x 4s. At the cab end of the truck bed, we ran a 2 x 4 (on edge) the width of the bed. To this “spreader” we wanted to attach two “stringers” that would run the length of the bed, and act as restraints to keep our stuff in place.
We measured the required width for the cab-end spreader, and marked where the two stringers would attach. Rather than nail the stringers on, we laid hold of two Simpson Strong Tie (FB24Z) 2 x 4 fence brackets. We screwed the fence brackets onto the spreader, and then dropped the stringers in place. To hold the stringers in these brackets required blasting a hole through the metal bracket and the in-place 2 x 4. It was much easier working on the drilling outside of the truck bed. Quarter inch bolts with lock washers and nuts made everything secure. The next question about those stringers was how to keep them in place at the tailgate end of the truck?
We could have put another spreader at that end, but we would have lost the ability to easily slide things in and out of the bed. Nor did we relish the idea of having to blast holes through the truck bed to bolt them in place. Looking at the thick rubber truck bed mat gave us an idea.
We could tie stringers down, not through the truck bed itself, but rather, through the rubber mat. Even then, we figured the mat wouldn’t be tough enough to keep the lumber from “rolling” so something else was needed. Finally it hit: At the tailgate end of the truck bed, we laid perforated metal straps between the truck bed and the rubber mat. These straps are available at most hardware stores (right along side the “angle iron” bin), sold typically in four-foot lengths. We nut-and-bolted two straps to cross the distance of the width of the bed right at the end of the rubber mat. We now had a sturdy base to attach the stringer 2 x 4s to, in a way that would keep the lumber right where it needed to be.
But how to attach the 2 x 4 material to the metal strapping? With a little help from our friends at Simpson Strong Ties, we used 2 x 4 face-mount joist hangers (LU 24). We oriented the header flange of the hanger downward, flat to the rubber mat. If you have no mat in your installation, then they’d simply go flat directly against the perforated strapping. The on-edge stringer lays down inside the hanger as shown in the photo.
We next drilled a hole through both the hanger and the 2 x 4 to accommodate a quarter-inch bolt, clamping the 2 x 4 in the hanger, and finishing it off with a lock washer and nut. This is much more easily done by pinching the hanger onto the 2 x 4 with a C-clamp until you’ve finished drilling and bolting.
We had already measured the layout for this so that another short, quarter-inch bolt run through the perforated metal strap and rubber mat (thread end up) that would hold the hanger flange in place. Two holes were drilled per hanger flange (one on each side of the 2 x 4) to attach to the bolts coming up through the mat.
With everything bolted up tight, we reloaded our gear into the truck and hit the road for a few sharp curves and bumps. Success! The only budge we found was that the generator eventually managed to walk a bit more toward the rear of the truck, but the infernal migration was over.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. Visit icanrv.com for more information.