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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I was so impressed with all the ideas here, I thought I'd post the results of my own project. I'm a photographer and travel frequently, and often in remote areas. A comfortable place to sleep saves my budget and my body.

Traveling with a bunch of gear also makes me worry - whether it's a guitar or a camera, or a laptop that I leave behind while hiking. When I designed my sleeping platform, I thought about how to make it double as a security device. It's true that this won't stop a determined thief, but anybody that wants to get to anything inside is going to have to work pretty hard.

The platform/cage is made of 1/4" hardened steel rod with a frame of 1" square steel tube. It's the same stuff they make warehouse racks out of and heavy store display stands. I welded it together with a hinged rear door that lifts up. When closed, a u-lock keeps things secure. After welding the rack together, I painted it with truck liner paint which works really well.





I fastened the rack to the inside of the vehicle using turnbuckles, and due to the location, can only be loosened while inside the cage. I also made a prop for each side of the rear gate so it could serve as a platform while camping. It works great for cooking and showering. If it's warm out, it works as a nice bed extension. Since the platform is so high, my feet can hang comfortably over the front seats and I can keep the back closed. It's a nice option though.

Here are some shots of the bare cage installed:







With the cage closed and the rear gate down, it turns the Element into a comfy camp sofa.

To maximize space and stability, I made the cage as wide as possible so that it *just* fit inside the vehicle. The rear sides of the cage sat on the spare tire cover, and I knew if I ever had a flat I wouldn't want to have to dig everything out and loosen the cage. Instead, I made a new two-piece cover that opens from the center. The holes are for fingers so you can pull them up easily. Those holes also serve as holders for the "bar" part of the u-lock. I used a piece of 1/4" rubber tubing to form a seal between the two sides, and this also prevents any vibration. For storage, I designed the cage to fit 4 Action Packers. I also installed a middle shelf deep inside the cage to store items I didn't use often. I tied a bit of 1/2" webbing to the rear boxes so they can be retrieved quickly.



Next up was a mattress. I looked at lots of solutions, but found that making one was best. That gave me the option to create something that when installed looked like part of the vehicle and fit perfectly. The top of the mattress lines up exactly with the bottom of the window openings. I purchased some high-grade foam and covered it with black cordura. It looks like it belongs in there.



After playing with the design, I decided that hanging the rear gate was quicker and easier than propping it up from below. Some 1" webbing and snap locks made that easy.



One of the last bits I added was a privacy curtain. The only modification I made to the inside of the vehicle was to make a small hole on each side of the door pillar. I attached a very heavy, but small spring on one side, and stretched 1/16" cable across to the other side. I put grommets into the top edge of the curtain and strung it up. When retracted it sits tight behind the driver's seat, and a velcro strap holds it in place.



The only thing I didn't illustrate here are my window shades. These were made from 1/16" thick poly plastic, lined with 1/4" foil bubble insulation. When in place, they seal all light and the insulation makes a HUGE difference when in places like Death Valley or just staying warm on a cool night.

The last thing I'll mention about this design is due to the height and having a top-hinged rear gate, I can close the gate on the vehicle. This lets the cage door serve as a cooking or washing platform, and nothing gets wet inside. With a 5-gallon water container, it makes a great backcountry shower. Since the rear gate hangs, I can adjust the angle - the slope helps with water pressure. :)



I lived in this rig for almost 6 weeks this summer while I traveled. Although it doesn't look that big inside, two adults can sleep inside very comfortably and securely. When I did need to leave gear in the cage, the u-lock (or two) secured the hatch and everything inside. The back gate also works great as a towel rack or clothes dryer. Keeping the front and sides of the cage open allows for nearly normal air circulation as well. I can remove the cage and mattress by myself in about 5 minutes and there are no modifications to the interior of the vehicle. Putting it back in takes about 30 minutes. And one last thing... I also added a mechanical rear hatch release from the inside, so it's easy to exit the front or the back.



I hope the community find this helpful. I enjoyed making it, and like using it even more.

Link to the photo album: http://s1238.photobucket.com/albums/ff486/Pokeyzilla/
 

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WOW. That is pretty awesome!!

I have on suggestion, you should find some way to secure that rack to the
two locations where the back seats would lock in. The location where you
secured the turnbuckles to is very weak. If you slam on your brakes really
hard, or if for some reason you get into an accident, those will pull right out.
I put some red lines on one of your pics so you can see what I am talking
about. The blue circles are where it looks like you have the turnbuckles, and
those are very weak points. Since the rear seat lock ins are welded into the
body, they wont go anywhere. Just a suggestion to hopefully keep you safer.
 

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how close are you to the ceiling with that?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
There is enough room for me to *almost* get on my hands and knees. There is plenty of room to read or roll over. It's surprising - it doesn't look like there is that much room, but I never feel cramped.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I have one suggestion, you should find some way to secure that rack to the two locations where the back seats would lock in. The location where you secured the turnbuckles to is very weak.
I agree 100%. I haven't found a way to anchor this to the seat mounts... yet, that doesn't impinge in a pretty major way your ability to get things in and out. The sides have cutouts where they go over the rear seatbelt mount. The cage sits over this and can't move forward or backward. I use the turnbuckles to apply downward force / friction and don't have to put much pressure on them to make it lock down pretty tight. Nothing compared to accident forces though. I'll keep working on a solution... thanks.
 

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I use the 4 D rings as primary tiedowns for my platform. They have proven to be strong enough for everyday forces, especially the front/back ones. But I worry about them holding in a roll over.

The seat mounting bars in the floor are strong enough, but hard to use without interfering with cargo. I store a full size spare under my platform, and that is bolted to one of those floor mounts. So at least that heavy item is not going anywhere.

The upper seat mounts (on the side walls) are another secure mount. I've been running a ratchet strap across the top of my platform between those as an extra bit of insurance in the hypothetical roll over scenario. However I have to remove it when setting up camp, since it gets in the way of sleeping. I should rethink that arrangement.

I also rig a cargo divider across the top of the platform, consisting of bungees and storage pockets. This loosely divides the cargo area between stuff in back that I pile to the ceiling, and softer stuff in front, including the dog's cubical. This is another thing to rearrange in camp.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Really nice work. One day I'll learn to weld.. :|
Thanks - this was my first welding project and was something I wanted to learn to do for a long time. I want to weld everything now, and wasn't as hard as I thought. My welds aren't always pretty, but I can make two pieces of metal stick together.
 

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Super cool solution. I love the creativity, and the versatility of having a shelf to do camp kitchen duty.
 

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Fantastic job. Creative, great engineering, and very cleanly executed. Really wanting to copy. Sorry if these are dumb questions, but: (1) what kind of place do you go to buy the grid and the square tube? (2) did you consider using aluminum? I'm a little worried about weight, in my application. (3) any recommendations on how to learn to weld? did you do a community college course, or what?

Many thanks
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I found the metal at a place that buys and sells old warehouse equipment. There is shelf material that is a 4x4 steel grid that is placed on the steel warehouse shelving frames, and that's what I was first interested in. If you cut it right, or can bend it, I think you could avoid having a "frame" at all.

As I dug through stuff, I came across some in-store display racks. These are the free-standing type that you see all around. The nice thing about these is they had the 1" steel tube frame, and were about 20" wide, with that 4" grid already welded inside. A couple of these welded at the corners made up the sides and I had very little joining to do. There was also some standard rack shelving that was 4' wide and perhaps 30-36" deep. I've seen these inside the shelving frames at Home Depot for example.

I did consider using aluminum, but the research started to compound exponentially. :) I went for the most readily available material that was the easiest to work with.

My neighbor taught me to use his wire welder (MiG) in 15 minutes or so. I took my scraps home, and practiced making pieces of metal stick together. My welds weren't pretty at first (but my angle grinder fixed that). By the end of the project I could make a decent-looking weld. I wouldn't want to subject my welds to an inspection by somebody who actually knows how to weld, but they seem to be plenty strong. I bet you could find somebody to teach you, and just rent a welder if you can't find one to borrow.

Aluminum would be a lot lighter, but from what I understand, much harder to weld. I originally wanted to make something that bolted together.

Look into ATV loading racks - they are aluminum, and I'll be you can design something that bolts together. They are pretty heavy-duty though, so maybe what you save in weight is offset by larger material. Nonetheless, I found these after I made mine and they really got me thinking about version 2.

As for weight, the whole rack is probably 85 lbs or so.
 
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