WHAT WAS THAT SOUND!?Matt
There was a loud pop indicating this was not a normal unhitching. Tensions were already high as we had had a few problems on our drive for the past few hours. So there we were, at the end of an already stressful day and now, to make matters worse, we had a potentially hazardous hitch situation to deal with and we were feeling defeated.
What hitch am I talking about? The Andersen Ultimate Hitch, and despite this story (that was all user error), I love this hitch and still recommend it highly. It's versitile, light weight, and has a great turning radius. If you are looking at hitches, highly consider this one. But don't be stupid like I was because, after over a year of towing, user error got the better of me.
Here's the setting: it was about 5PM and we were in the process of parking for the night at the back of a Bass Pro Shops parking lot in central Florida. We wound up there (instead of somewhere that wasn't a parking lot) as Florida in winter has proved to be a scheduling ... well ... nightmare. After driving to our reservation for the night and discovering while there that it was not going to work out - we scrambled (to no avail) to find somewhere with a last minute opening. Everywhere we called within an hour drive was booked.
With nowhere else to go and darkness creeping in quickly, we wound up the only RV in a parking lot. To further add to it all, I called ahead to see if it was ok to overnight and was told that they "don't allow it, but people always do". But, because I avoid towing at night I decided to risk it. Yet, in spite of it all, we got a good rest that night - a little blessing among the issues.
It started over a week ago with us being stressed while unhitching and changing the way we do things.
Over a week before, we arrived at a campground in Wauchula Florida called Peace River. This is a Thousand Trails campground and we had had a difficult time getting a reservation as availability was limited. This campground has a section without sewer hookups as half of the campground is flooded by the Peace River in the summer (flood plain + sewer = bad!). However, when it's as busy as it is in January/February, you arrive at the park as the low man on the totem pole and have to park in these sewerless sites. Then, if you really want a sewer site, you have to enter a lottery system to change sites when people vacate. A "pack up all your stuff and do an intercampground move" type of thing. It's a bit of a mess. If you stay in the sewerless sites, they give you 1 free honeywagon pump a week to empty your tanks. We were staying over a week and with a family of 8 toilet users, we would need two honeywagons per week to be able to stay put. So - into the lottery we went.
This whole process was a real pain to us and frankly got us out of the rhythm of our normal campground arrival routine. We don't even look at that first night as "counting". I spent lots of time back and forth between the office and our temporary site, going to the lottery, setting up the honeywagon reservation (after finally getting them to tell me that I needed to schedule the wagon because they only pump out 15 RVs a day - so you have to get on the waiting list), waiting till 2PM for them to even check to see if they had the mail that they lost (yep, they lost my important mail and didn't find it till weeks later). Back and forth, back and forth. It was like a lost day
We got lucky and won the lottery the next day (though we got lucky and had a honeywagon pump us out that morning due to a cancellation in the schedule). I was so glad to get a sewer site and to finally feel like I could take a breath from all the chaos of the place. So, we move to our next site and it's a technical back in site with little room on each side to reverse the trailer tires into.
We are always on display
It's a big orange stretch truck. It turns a lot of heads. We also have 7 kids in that truck. We are always on display. And the worst time for that is always when we are backing into a site. The looky loos just LOVE to sit there and stare at you as you fumble your way through getting your angle right for reversing. With the stretch truck the wheel base is particularly long and therefore we have a bad turning radius. Oh how I long for a stretch F450 with rear steer that could reverse into a site like it's nothing.
So we are reversing and I have these two guys watching and before we are even done they come over all excited to talk to me about my truck. BAD TIMING! Don't ever bother an animal while they are eating, and don't ever interrupt someone when they are backing and leveling their trailer! So, we talk for a moment and my rhythm gets out of sync.
Then the mistakes start happening.
We use the Andersen Levels to level us out side to side when the site is uneven - and this site was uneven and sandy. This site was REALLY sandy - so the Andersen's didn't work as perfectly as they normally do. As such, I was concerned that when we put the truck in park on the levels, that the truck would move (while adjusting from drive to park) just enough to undo the leveling. We have always done it that way (put it into park before unhitching), but I decided to try something different to attempt to get especially level. If I hadn't been thrown off my rhythm, I think I would not have made this mistake - but I did.
Tabitha was driving and I told her to just hold down on the brake and not put it in park (we are driven up on the Andersen's) and I would put the landing gear down and raise the RV up with her foot still on the brake. This was dumb as when the RV raised off the hitch, the whole truck lurched forward and *CRACK* - the red funnel for the Andersen Hitch broke (not to be confusing - I use both the Andersen levels and the Andersen hitch - and I still love them all). GREAT! JUST GREAT!
This was the first problem that I had to fix. I got on Andersen's site, submitted some photos and in a few days, I had a replacement red funnel. Good and quick customer service! BUT - the funnel they sent must be a slightly new design where some drill holes were in a slightly different place. I made it work, but what should have taken 20 min, took a couple hours to fix.
This is where the second problem started. In fumbling to replace the funnel with the holes being in the wrong place, I interacted with the pin assembly and unknowingly left the pin in the "in" position instead of the "out" position. Whenever I disconnect, I always leave the pin in the "out" position and then it's in the proper mode for when I hitch back up.
So I got messed up and did it way wrong. When it came time to leave Peace River, we were flustered again. The paperwork told me I had to check out at noon, but I went in the office to check on some mail and was told (at 10:50) that I had to be out at 11. ELEVEN! I had 10 minutes. I should have just taken my time and done things right, but NOOOO, I allowed myself to feel rushed - and that's when I lowered the trailer onto the ball with the pin still in. And I didn't notice what I had done.
I then drove three and a half hours.
The enormity of the problem has me so freaked out even writing it now. Though Florida is flat, I could have been descending down the hill of an overpass, hit a bump, the trailer could have disconnected and then it could have plowed into the back of the truck (and all the people in it). It was a deadly mistake - and I didn't even know I had made it. THREE HOURS+! So scary even thinking about it. Now, one silver lining is that I was well hooked up with chains (though they had a significant amount of slack). So if the trailer had disconnected and went backwards, the chains should have caught it and the emergency brake should have stopped it and hopefully the only result would be a lot of property damage and not people damage. Silver lining - but it doesn't make me feel better.
So - as noted before, one thing lead to another and we were in a Bass Pro Shops parking lot reversing and I was reversing and Tabitha was guiding me. I had my window down and heard something strange and asked her what it was. She said "I don't know, it's coming from the bed of the truck." I got out, looked at the truck and realized the problem as there was a slight variance between how it should look and how it did - and I knew what I had just done.
I nearly lost it!
I realized the danger that we had been in and my ability to cope was toast. I sat down on the curb and caught my breath.
Now for the next "silver lining". The pin and the ball had become almost fused together in a mash up of metal. This meant that the reality is that the trailer was not about to just come off the ball. This is the safety silver lining. Property wise, this was bad as this meant that new parts would need to be ordered and I was in a parking lot.
So I began lifting the RV off of the ball and it didn't come off. Still raising and it didn't come off. Up, up, up. Then …. *BAM*! They disconnected violently, but after which all seemed to be well.
Until I looked at the ball and the pin. The ball was mangled and the pin had warped under the pressure and could no longer slide in and out. Like I said, the sun was going down and now though I was detached, with the pin being warped there was no way to re-attach.
Being 2 time zones ahead of Andersen's offices they were still open. I called them and told them the problem. They were very helpful. I told him my issue and brainstormed and decided that to be able to get going the next morning and have parts delivered to another campground (that turned out to be Lithia Springs). So, I first turned the ball around so the mangled part was about faced which would allow for the pin to properly sit on the not mangled side.
About the pin. It was mangled … but not too much. I went into Bass Pro Shops and bought a $6 fishing hook file. When the sun rose (and it was really cold that morning), I went out and began filing. It wasn't easy and it took a bit but I filed that pin's mangled part just enough that it could slide back and forth in the housing properly.
It worked quite well and we were able to get back on the road, get parts sent (and this time had a new funnel with the proper drilled holes) and replace everything that was broken. We are back to being good, but I learned some very good lessons.
- Don’t go fast, you raise your risk of mistakes
- Don't interrupt others when they are setting up or tearing down. Don't be that guy.
- Flat out ignore anyone that wants to be that guy. Better to be a totally rude jerk than to create a safety issue.
- Have a checklist - and use it!
- Check and double check your hitch - even if you have done it many times (I had done it over and over again for a year+ and still made this stupid mistake).
- Don't change your process unless you have good reason to do so. In other words, if it aint broke, don't fix it.
Stay safe out there - and don't tailgate trailers - for all you know they have issues that they don't even know they are having.