Vacation Experiences

Gus Armstrong

 

WHEN THE TAIL WAGS THE DOG

 

            Have you ever had that uneasy feeling that something is about to be real serious trouble?

            While on a recent trip from Vancouver Island to Kingston, ON,  towing our 24 foot wilderness trailer with our Dodge/Cummins ¾ ton pickup truck things began promising a disaster as we countered a stiff cross-wind and lumpy highways. Normally the rig behaves very well in strong crosswinds, aided by my load equalizer/anti-sway hitch arrangement.

            As is my custom we took the rig for a pre-trip dry run up Island for a couple of nights to ensure all was ready for the long haul to Ontario.  The brakes on the trailer were a bit erratic at first but seemed to settle down once used a bit, but during one of my routine walk-around checks the right rear tire had suffered circumferential tread separation, so on with the spare. As some of  the tires were originals (1992) we ended up with new tires all around save for the best of the old as a spare.

            As we ventured across the prairies the north wind, as it gradually increased, seemed to have  an unaccustomed effect on our ability to keep the rig in our lane and once just to keep it between the ditches. We slowed down and limped into Swift Current, SK to take on fuel and let the adrenaline settle out of our system. Discretion dictated we find a place to refuel and  park until the wind died down.

            On the walk around following the fueling operation, I noticed that the right hand side idler/bogie arm between the front and rear spring ends was cocked up to a nearly vertical position rather than being horizontal.  A Ha you say, that would be the cause of his problem!  With visions of an under-arched/broken spring, worn bushings, etc we crept to a nearby Apex Tire Auto shop to have it investigated further. The mechanic looked at the arm and then got on his little “scooter” and had a good look underneath.  With a quiet little chuckle of disbelief he pointed out “the problem” – the right rear spring was no longer attached to the trailer frame via the rear shackle - the spring end had been “floating” on the frame and had polished about four inches of the contacted surface.  The two plates that supported the bolt/bushing of the rear end of the rear spring had fractured their welds to the frame, some considerable time before, as the weld interfaces were well corroded.  Apex, after a little welding exercise, sent us on our way. By now we were only too ready to call it quits for the day and let the wind die down.

            We merrily continued on our way with little wind to contend with, but the trailer still did not tow as well as it used to the previous year. During our stay in Kingston a friend pointed out to me that cam idler arm on the left hand side of the hitch arrangement had quite a healthy bend in it. With the aid of his 25 ton press system it was duly straightened back to near normal and appropriate adjustments to the hitch system made.  Well now you are about to say that it too was another contributing factor to the trailer misbehaving!. However it was still apparent that we had only solved part of the problem when we hit the trail homeward bound again.

            During the refueling walk-around check in Medicine Hat on the return trip, I noticed a white ring around the inside running surface of the left forward tire – in fact there were sharp little wires sticking out proud to prick my exploring hand. We limped into the KAL-TIRE facility and were solemnly advised that this new (5,000km) tire had had its last run and that the tire damage was due to a bent axle – no warranty sir. In response to my question as to where we could get a trailer axle straightened on a Saturday afternoon in Medicine Hat, I was told that everything shut down at noon. When the manager asked which way we were heading, we explained we were on our way for a couple of days in Sylvan Lake, AB.  With little further ado he was on the phone and had us an appointment with KAL-TIRE in nearby Red Deer, AB for early Tuesday morning. We then put a new tire on as spare and sacrificed the tired spare to the bent axle.

            On Tuesday morning we presented the rig at 0730 hrs and were on our way by 0930 hrs. From time to time I watched the procedure used to do the job and was most impressed with the precision instruments/equipment and methodology the operator used to correct the bent axle – all for a very worthwhile $160. It was hard to believe what a difference it made to the trailer’s behaviour on the remainder of the trip. Towing it again became a pleasure rather than a challenge.

            By now you all have guessed that I must have jack-knifed the rig at some time. With hind-sight I even know when – it was while backing the trailer into the slot I park it in beside my house at the end of the previous year’s summer travels – there was a particularly loud unexplained bang while we were maneuvering it in off the street – with the load equalizer/anti-sway bars still attached.

            If this sounds only too familiar to you, count your blessings – if its news to you, profit from my experience and always listen to that little voice that says something isn’t right.  Even a retired Mechanical Engineer missed the various symptoms of a disaster in the making wherein the tail is wagging the dog!

 

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whughes@whughes.ca