When towel racks tumble, handyman knows the drill


EVERYTHING was wet. Everything was on the floor. And there was a distinct, damp-sock aroma.

I was in the bathroom used by our teen-age sons. It was my seasonal visit. Every four months or so I grab my tools, summon my courage and venture into the moist space known as the boys' bathroom to fix towel racks.

There is not much long-term logic to my labors. I repair the towel racks, yet the towels still seem to take up residence on the floor.

But there is a rhythmic appeal to my work. When Mother Nature changes the seasons, I know it is time to minister to the fallen towel racks in the upstairs bathroom.

Life is hard for towel racks in that bathroom. The racks -- long stainless-steel tubes held by two end brackets -- look like something a gymnast would grab as he hoisted his torso into the air.

I don't think the towel racks are being used in any attempted gymnastics, but they do get manhandled. The room is narrow, and in the rough-and-tumble world of teen-age hygiene, things happen, and towel racks tumble.

The ends of the towel racks are regularly knocked loose from the brackets holding them to the wall. This happens so frequently in our house that we have a downed-rack drill. When a rack falls to pieces, the pieces are stored in the cabinet underneath the sink. There they sit until I make a towel-rack rescue run and put things back together.

I have become quite familiar with the intricacies of these towel racks. They are cleverly designed to do their job -- holding up towels -- without displaying any unsightly screws. They do this by covering up the functional but ugly support structure with gleaming metal end pieces.

By now I can, without thinking about it, run through the three-step approach to towel-rack installation. First, you screw the bare metal support structure into the plastic anchors set in a plasterboard wall. Second, you attach the gleaming towel rack tube to its two shiny metal end pieces, and slide the end pieces over the ugly supports. The supports are notched and grab onto the end pieces.

Finally, you tighten the end pieces down by turning a tiny screw discreetly hidden in the bottom of the fixture.

The towel racks hanging in the bathroom my wife and I use have led quiet lives. But those in the teen-agers' bathroom have suffered many casualties. Over the years I have engaged in many towel-rack rescue missions, each more demanding than the last.

The first time a towel rack went down, I fixed it by simply slipping the end pieces back onto the metal bracket and tightening the hidden screw. The next time a towel rack went down, I changed the screws and plastic anchors holding up the support structure.

The third time a towel rack went down, I performed field surgery, altering the hide-the-screws look of the gleaming metal end pieces. With my power drill I drilled a hole right through those gleaming end pieces, then fastened them to the wall with big new screws.

That approach worked for one downed towel rack, the one on the side of a wooden cabinet. The big screw dug into the wood and held the end piece in a no-nonsense grip.

But when I tried the same approach on another fallen rack, one that was supposed to be attached to a plasterboard wall, the results were not as pleasing.

This towel rack was shifty, even after getting drilled with a longer screw. Eventually, this rack took another tumble.

One day this week I put the rack back on the wall, fastening it with an even longer screw and a fatter plastic anchor.

As I hurried out of the bathroom, a wave of satisfaction washed over me. Not only were all the towel racks on the wall, but all the racks also had towels hanging on them.

It was a golden, all-is-right-with-the-world moment in the world of a towel-rack repair guy. I suspected it wouldn't last.

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