The Tail Waggin' the Dog!

Trip Start Jul 22, 2009
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Flag of United States  , Texas
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Learning our lessons or forgetting to do our homework.

Leaving Albuquerque there was a lot of uphill. From 1400 metres to 2100. I figured, since I was past the continental divide that the road would be, more or less, all downhill. I was wrong, but the truck kept on truckin', though with a little more difficulty.

The posted speed limit in New Mexico is 75 mph or 120 kph. There's no way I would pull a trailer that fast down the highway. But some do and I saw the results of that. Coming down into one valley you could see off in the distance that traffic had slowed down considerably. Traffic slows and then stops. It took at least a half hour to get back up this hill. On the downhill side we see the accident. There's an SUV on it's roof all smashed up. They must have lost control coming down the steep hill.

Traffic gets back up to cruising speed and I'm following a semi when it makes a quick lane change. Then I see it. A flat bed tow truck is carrying a smashed up travel trailer. I know where that came from!

People don't seem to realize what happens when you are towing a trailer that's heavier then the tow vehicle and you start going downhill. The trailer starts pushing you. If the trailer is unstable due to the high speed or wind and you hit your brakes there's a pretty good chance the trailer is going to jackknife.

Wind is always on my mind when I'm towing the car hauler. A 28ft flat wall has a lot of wind resistance. At that length, if the back of the trailer sways 2 inches, the front of my truck probably  sways 3. There's a 2 inch pivot point at the back of the truck called a trailer hitch ball. In high winds whenever a semi truck passes me I feel the turbulence.

Leaving Los Angeles I was on the freeway when a gust of wind pushed the trailer and it started swaying out of control. Like a pendulum, the momentum can get worse until the point you can't recover. In a panic I could have hit my brakes, which would have made it worse. Somehow, without thinking, I manually turned on the trailer brakes with the controller that's in the truck. The trailer stopped swaying.

I knew to do that because I've read the operating instructions and done my research on trailer towing. Unfortunately many people do not do their homework and are unprepared.

I've also seen many vehicles stopped along the highway or, like yesterday, in a restaurant parking lot, with car trouble. Why do people leave on journeys without being prepared?

During my offroad training course someone asked me what I was doing as I walked around my motorcycle at the end of the day. I was inspecting it. It's a habit I've gotten into. I walk around my truck, trailer, car, or motorcycle to see if anything looks "wrong". Truck drivers, airplane and helicopter pilots and I'm sure many other people do that every single time they get into their vehicles. You may notice something minor, but one day it could be a matter of life and death.

I never saw an ambulance at that accident scene today. By the time I passed they had already loaded up the trailer and were cleaning up the scene. Was this one of those times when a little bit of homework might have saved a life or two? Who knows what really happened. Maybe they were chatting on a cell phone or one of the kids did something in the back seat to distract the driver. But I've done enough trailer hauling to know what the most likely cause was, speed and the improper use of braking. Experience counts.

...back in the saddle again.....


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