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‘I decided to make my own’

Wadena woman brought soaking tub to the market

By Stacie Kimball

Rub-a-dub-dub, a bucket list and three tubs. Denise Rousslang of Wadena, a widow in her 70s, had a need and an idea. In 2020, she started her quest to see this idea to completion.

Denise Rousslang of Wadena developed these plastic portable soaking tubs in a variety of colors. In three years, she brought to life an idea she had been thinking of for more than 20 years. Photo by Stacie Kimball

It began on a patio in Corpus Christi, Texas, years ago, when Denise, along with her husband Gary, were searching for a soaking tub. They were looking for a simple, two-person tub that didn’t require chemicals or electricity. They purchased a large tank and enjoyed it on their patio.

Tragically and suddenly, Denise became a widow in 2007. After the loss of her husband, she moved back to her home state of Minnesota. In an effort to downsize, she began searching for a small townhome or apartment in the area but was saddened to discover many of the options she considered did not have bathtubs due to liability reasons in senior-living facilities. Denise thought, “I cannot live without a tub, and I remembered sitting on the patio in Corpus Christi and really wanting the same thing.”

She had watched television programs on people who built tiny homes, seeing ideas and options for bathing tubs, but her efforts to find what she was looking for was to no avail. Denise had visited some southern plantations because of her love of travel and history. She was fascinated with how people lived, particularly in the Civil War and Victorian era. People on plantations did not have running water or sewers, so they bathed in Cowboy tubs and Victorian ladies’ tubs.

“There’s my answer,” she decided, and began searching for these types of tubs online. She found huge, heavy, built-in soaking tubs that were very expensive, and also blow-up tubs that appeared cumbersome and unstable.

“This just did not fit my needs,” she said, “So I decided to make my own.” She wanted a portable, lightweight tub that would also fit in her shower. She set out to create the perfect soaking tub.

Denise Rousslang donated seven of her plastic tubs as therapy tubs to area schools. Menagha High School coach, Kevin Sommers was enthusiastic about Denise’s generosity. Contributed photo

For her own use and research purposes, Denise ordered a Victorian brothel tub from eBay. The dealer was selling a brothel estate in Massachusetts. It was made of tin and weighed only 14 lbs. She used the tub and loved it. Denise would soak in the warm water and scented oils, and it was such a lovely way to relax. She discovered that the last patent for the tub was 1840, thus fueling her desire to create a modern tub that would appeal to people who focused on the minimalist lifestyle. She also wanted to make some improvements to the vintage tub. Although lightweight, the tin would rust, and she believed a fiberglass version would be better.

“I knew this idea was in my head, and I really believe it was God, I totally do,” Denise said. “I didn’t know how to even begin. But He said, ‘This has been on your bucket list for 20 years and you’d better get at it,’ so I said, OK – I’ll try!”

Denise began work on a prototype in a friend’s heated garage early in 2020. She used a huge round trash can to model the tub, but it was too big. She stuffed foam and cardboard inside of it and started molding the fiberglass inside. The prototype was completed in August of that same year. Now it was time to test the prototype. She and the friend filled the tub, he got in it and said, “This is really comfortable! This will work!”

Denise obtained the services of a patent attorney to confirm the availability of portable tubs on the market, and to make sure she wasn’t infringing upon any other products. The attorney did a world search, and although he found soaking tubs, they were heavy and considered permanent placement tubs, much unlike what Denise had envisioned.

With that information, Denise began the process of finding someone to make a mold for a large fiberglass tub, as well as a modern Victorian tub. She worked with a Minnesota molding company to make the two tubs out of fiberglass, and in the molding process some changes were made by hollowing out the seat area of the larger tub to remove unnecessary weight. The large soaking tub has a top diameter of 30 inches, is 29 inches tall, and weighs 40 lbs.

The inside of the larger tubs has a comfortable molded seat. Contributed photo

In testing, it was determined that the water temperature could be maintained for several hours. She explained that in a traditional tub, there is so much surface area for the air to cool, but in her tub, it has only 30 inches, and you are immersed in that water. Less air getting to the water means the temperature can be maintained.

Some sacrifices needed to be made in the process of creating the Victorian tub. The 1840 brothel tub Denise had purchased online and loved so much was used and destroyed in the mold-making process. Denise admitted, “With tears in my eyes, I gave the tub to the factory.” The results were fantastic. The new version of the Victorian tub is 40 x 25 inches and weighs 20 lbs., a bit more than its vintage counterpart, but this version will not rust. It can fit in any shower, only needs five to ten gallons of water, and is very easy to store.

Denise wanted to improve upon the larger tub by making it more durable and portable. She wanted this larger tub to be convenient as a patio or garden tub or any place that didn’t have a bathtub, and plastic was the way to go. Through another mold-making process, a high-impact molded plastic tub was created with the same molded comfort seat. This tub is perfect for RVs and cabins, and can be used as a therapy tub for ice baths too.

To promote her tubs, Denise bought a van, gutted it out, and traveled to seven area schools. She met with coaches and other school officials and donated a tub to be used by young athletes suffering from sports injuries or muscle soreness. The coaches were happy to receive these tubs, and she told them that she chose the color of each tub to match the school’s colors.

One of Denise Rousslang’s tubs is shown in use. The tubs can be used on the patio or garden area. Contributed photo

What gave her the motivation to move forward with this idea and create these portable soaking tubs?

“It was in my head for 20 years, and I thought there must be people like me that would enjoy something like this.” She said it has been a fun adventure. “It’s kind of your baby and you watch it grow,” she said.

She is excited to see people use her soaking tubs, “I would be so happy to see somebody on a patio in the evening taking a sudsy bath and really enjoying it.”

But even more than that, Denise has enjoyed taking her idea and seeing it to completion, and she hopes this will inspire others, no matter their age, to act upon their dreams and ideas.

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