Saturday, January 14, 2012

More Trailering Hijinks

 When we lived on the river in our first house we didn't have much need to trailer our boat, but during the years between river houses we trailered quite a bit. Our second boat was a 1976 19 foot  Tri-Sonic with an outdrive. A co-worker and I had spent the day boating on the Meramec River after working the midnight shift at the brewery, back in 1983 or '84. I will readily admit that copious amounts of Anheuser-Busch products were consumed during the day and we were in fine condition when the boat was loaded onto the trailer for the ride home. As we pulled up to the first traffic signal we came to, a couple of fellas in a car next to us were calling over to us about something or other, and I just smiled and waved like the unsuspecting idiot that I was, thinking, "Boy, people sure are friendly here in my old town of Fenton!"
 As we coasted up to the next light, the same guys were waving their arms frantically, hollering loudly, and otherwise gesticulating in a dramatic fashion. Finally, the lightbulb came on in my brain, albeit dimly, that something with the trailer or boat was amiss. For those not in the know, the outdrive is designed to be raised hydraulically for trailering, and it is essential for this important aspect to be performed as part of the preparation for trailering, or one will find what we did when we hopped out of the truck to check out the rig. Yep. The outdrive was sitting happily in the down position and the lower unit skeg was ground off nearly up to the lower gear case, along with two blades of the prop. I imagine the sparks being produced by the grinding nature of the road asphalt was a sight to see. If anyone reading this wants to point fingers and chastise my actions as being a just reward for "drinking and boating", then you haven't lived enough in my estimation. Learning lifes' lessons is just a series of mistakes, hopefully commiting different ones each time.
 Trailering our next boat, the Cobalt, was uneventful, except for one remarkable incident at a public ramp at Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks with some fella in a bass boat and camo gear. Let's just say he lived, and I lived to tell the tale, if I ever want to.

 After a brief flirtation with our first tournament ski boat, the attraction of traveling to other places and "getting on the hook" led us to another cuddy cabin boat even though we were back living on the Meramec River. The 1987 242 Formula in the picture above is sitting on the second trailer we got for it, on the way to the first of two trips to cruise the east coast of Florida on the ICW in 1988.

  This 24 foot boat was the largest item I had ever towed, but previous experience told me that something was wrong and I didn't believe the trailer was properly matched to the boat. Our 3/4 ton 4 wheeler was up to the task, but a cross wind, or even moderate braking, would send the trailer to swaying violently side to side exponentially.
 As my complaints to the dealer were received skeptically, at least initially, I continued to use the trailer with extreme caution until we could arrive at a resolution. Anyone reading this that is old enough to remember the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz film "The Long Trailer", will appreciate the phrase "Trailer brakes first, trailer brakes first!", as Desi somehow is forced to let Lucy drive the car pulling their camper. Our boat trailer had brakes, but they were of the hydraulic variety, and are activated only when the trailering vehicle has already had brakes applied, and the action of the trailer against the hitch ball in turn applies the "surge brakes".
 We had a weekend trip planned with some friends to the Lake of the Ozarks, and Rosie and I planned on getting a head start on a Friday morning when I had just gotten off of the midnight shift. So that I could get a little nap during the 3 hour drive to the lake, Rosie agreed to drive during the interstate section of the trip. Rosie previously had been well versed in the trailer towing aspects of our Chevy, at least in the forward direction, so I took a calculated risk and climbed into the back of the Suburban for 20 winks. As I was awakened by a swaying motion of the vehicle, I had just jumped to my hands and knees to see us passing a semi and had just shouted the caution to "not slam on the brakes" when Rosie slammed on the brakes, sending us jack knifing into the median and grinding to a sudden halt. Miraculously we hadn't flipped, or sent the boat flying off the trailer, as it was tied down pretty securely, but the left rear quarter panel of the truck was smashed. Much worse, was the condition of the trailer.

Although the channel iron of the trailer was bent up pretty bad, the trailer still looked trailerable, but the wheels wouldn't turn. What had happened was that the extreme braking action had applied the surge brakes and the accident kinked the hydraulic lines, essentially locking the brakes on. I had tools, always have tools, and I cut the hydraulic lines to free up the brakes. We were not too far from the dealership where we bought the boat and trailer, and were still in discussions about the capabilities of our trailer, so I drove the rig straight there.
 I had suspected that the trailer was too short for the load, for one thing, and that the weight was too far forward on the trailer itself, making the tongue weight too great. All a moot point, as the trailer was totaled, but the dealership accepted the responsibility and we avoided an insurance claim. Even though a new trailer was eventually supplied at no cost, I opted for electric trailer brakes on the new one, and even went to the expense of adding load levelers to the trailer too. With electric brakes, a switch is mounted in the cab of the tow vehicle, connected to the tow vehicles brakes, that applies the trailer brakes before the brakes of the tow vehicle are activated, in essence, pulling the trailer straight as you slow down, avoiding a jack knife situation as well as assisting in the braking action.
 Before we sold this Formula, we had taken it on two trips to southern Florida as mentioned, had bought a condo at Lake of the Ozarks to avoid pulling it back and forth from our river home on the Meramec, and had generally dealt with a whole list of problems with the boat as it turned out to be a lemon, built most likely on the last day of production for a closing Thunderbird facility.
 With our minds set on returning to our "roots" on the Meramec River, we sold the condo at the lake and bought a used Ski Nautique from a friend, happily returning to life without a boat payment, and no trailering. I did receive one more lesson in having a spare tire as part of the trailering package. That story is next.

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