KEYWORDS: trailer, car, ball, hitch, brakes, socket

Have Trailer--Will Travel--Part 20: Trailer Driving

David Berg


—By Father David

1. WELL‚ WE'VE COVERED NEARLY EVERYTHING ABOUT TRAILER LIFE EXCEPT FOR HOW TO DRIVE A TRAILER! If you've already got your trailer & you already know something about hitching up & driving, that's good. But if you're just preparing to buy one or you haven't picked it up yet‚ you're going to have a few things to learn about hitching your wagon to a star!—Ha!

2. LET'S SAY YOU HAVE BOUGHT YOUR TRAILER & you've had your trailer-hitch installed on your car or van along with its electrical connection etc. Let's hope you've got the proper kind of tow vehicle heavy enough & strong enough to pull that size trailer & you're ready to hitch'r up & roll'r away!

3. YOU'LL FIND THERE'S QUITE A KNACK IN BACKING UP TO THE TRAILER HITCH to aim it just right to try to get the ball close to the trailer socket, & usually it would be very convenient to have your wife or someone standing back there to direct you with hand signals. Try to keep them out from between the car & trailer where they could accidentally get crushed. Have them stand on the driver's side where you can see them through the back window or your mirror, & have them motion you with their hands—come on back motions or stop motions or this-way motions or that-way motions, so that you can aim your ball that is on your car as near the socket of the trailer hitch as possible.

4. WITH MOST OF THE LIGHT CAMP TRAILERS we've been discussing, even if you're not able to aim the ball directly under the socket, you can easily move them by hand with a bit of help. With the huge heavy old-fashioned 35 foot trailers, you couldn't budge them if you have four men, even on a dolly wheel! You had to aim your trailer hitch just right underneath the socket to hitch'r up, but even my children learned how to direct me so that I was able to back straight underneath that hitch & get that ball directly under the socket & sock it to it! We'd get it just right so we could lower it right down onto the ball.

5. BUT YOU DON'T NORMALLY HAVE TO DO IT THAT ACCURATELY WITH THESE LIGHTER TRAVEL TRAILERS. They even have handles on the outside of these trailers so you can even push them around by hand—And with your wives' & kids' help & your help, when you've got the car ball pretty close to the trailer hitch socket, you can cut'r off, set your hand brake, go back there to the trailer tongue & release your trailer hand brake (be sure you're not on such a steep hill it starts rolling away!) & grab ahold of the handles &/or tongue of the trailer & move it around until you get that trailer tongue socket right over the car ball.

6. THEN SCREW YOUR DOLLY DOWN (Ha!—You're really screwing'r up—ha!). Turn the little handle & lower the tongue of the trailer so that the trailer socket slips right over the car ball (just like your dolly sets her socket on topa yours!—Ha!—Very sexy!). Be sure that you open the lever that opens the socket (like hers!), & then be sure after it's firmly down on the ball that you close it so that it clamps onto your ball (like his!) & lock it onto the ball after it's lowered down with its full weight on the car. You'll know when it's time to clamp that shut when the car begins to go down with the weight of the trailer & the little dolly is lifted clear off the ground (how sexy!) & all the weight of the tongue of the trailer (like hers) rests right on the ball of the car.—WOW—Let's go!

7. THEN YOU CAN LOCK THE TRAILER TONGUE SOCKET ONTO THE CAR HITCH BALL with the little handle clamp that's on the trailer tongue that locks the socket over the ball so it won't slip off or bounce off.—This is very important! (—Even in making love!—Ha!) Most U.S. trailers have a heavy safety chain too. But most European trailers have nothing but a little tiny cable which you attach to the car so that if the trailer should break away‚ it trips on the trailer brakes & causes the trailer to stop. They leave the dolly wheel on the trailer while travelling so the trailer will roll to a stop on that wheel if it bounces off the car or the trailer hitch comes loose somehow. However, I certainly wouldn't want that to happen, & frankly I don't relish the idea of the trailer breaking loose & wandering off down a hill or across opposing lanes of traffic, no matter how well braked it is!

8. IN THE U.S. NEARLY ALL STATES REQUIRE A HEAVY TRAILER SAFETY CHAIN, a very heavy chain like a tow chain. You loop one end around some place on the trailer tongue where it won't wear out your electric cable or something else. Then you loop the other end around either the bumper of the car or underneath around some part of the car frame or chassis or spring shackle, so that if the trailer hitch should bounce off the car ball, or the trailer hitch should become disconnected somehow‚ the trailer will not wander off from behind the car, no matter how good its brakes are! It will at least follow the car even if it comes off of the trailer hitch & is scraping on the ground, if you have a good stout chain attached. So I would by all means recommend a good stout safety chain! They are required in the States, although I notice that they don't seem to require them in Europe. But they do require the trailer safety brakes in Europe & that's good—you can have both!

9. SO NOW WHEN YOU'VE GOT THE TRAILER SOCKET CLAMPED ONTO THE CAR BALL & LOCKED IN PLACE & YOUR SAFETY CHAIN ON, DON'T FORGET TO PLUG IN YOUR ELECTRICAL CORD from the trailer into the socket on the car hitch‚ so that all your safety lights will work & function properly. Be sure when you're getting your new or used trailer for the first time at the trailer sales place that you have them hitch all this up & make sure your trailer safety & inside lights all function properly‚ & that your trailer socket fits your size car ball. If it doesn't, you will have to change car balls, which is very simple: They just screw one off & the other on. (Ha!) Be sure your car & trailer electrical systems are compatible & work properly with the proper signals & lights & so on‚ & that your lights work inside the trailer even when car lights are all off.

10. DON'T FORGET TO TEST TAIL LIGHTS, RUNNING LIGHTS, STOPS & SIGNALS BEFORE PULLING OUT! After you've hitched up to the trailer & you've connected the electrical connection‚ make sure all these lights are working properly before you pull out. Also make sure that the hand brake on the trailer tongue is released so that the trailer brakes are released & you don't try to pull off with the trailer brakes on!—Or you won't get far!—Maybe a few inches!—Ha!

11. YOU'LL ALSO FIND THAT IF YOU'RE PULLING A TRAILER WITH A CAR, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO HAVE EXTENSION MIRRORS, mirrors that go out very wide on rods on both sides, out to just about as far as the width of your trailer, which not only see behind you but also make it very convenient to know just how wide a space you can go through with your trailer! Because if your mirrors then can't go through‚ neither can your trailer! They have a very clever gadget of big removable mirrors invented now that simply clamp on to the hood or fenders of your car. The foot of each mirror shaft has a clamp which fits onto each edge of hood or fender, one mirror on each side, & there's a cable across between them that you tighten‚ & it keeps the mirrors very securely in place. Then you've got nice big extension mirrors like trucks use sticking out on both sides of your car, far enough out to see both sides of your trailer & even behind cars on both sides.—Usually if you have a wide van, truck or bus pulling your trailer, it already has sufficiently wide mirrors.

12. MOST OF YOUR LIGHT CAMP TRAILERS WILL PULL VERY EASILY IF YOU HAVE A FAIRLY STRONG HEAVY CAR, particularly with at least 9‚ 10, 11, 12, 13 or more horsepower. I wouldn't recommend compacts or minis or even weak little vans of only 7, 8 or 9 horsepower—the little four-cylinder engines aren't all quite able to take it. They might be able to pull you along nicely on the level, but you're going to have quite a strain on steep grades, difficult places, rough roads or soft ground. You are going to find out you just can't make it unless they're very low-geared with an extra low low gear.

13. FOR PULLING THIS SIZE TRAILER YOU REALLY OUGHT TO HAVE AT LEAST A 10, 11‚ 12 OR 13 HP MOTOR. These 7, 8, 9 HPs under favourable conditions on the level & not too steep grades may be able to make it alright if you don't get your trailer loaded too heavy. Otherwise you'd better have a heavier car, van or truck with a heavier & a stronger motor & tougher gears to pull even the medium-size travel trailer that we've been talking about, a camp trailer that weighs not much more than about 1000 kilos loaded, which is 2000 or 2500 pounds—or a ton or so.—And that's a lot of weight!

14. THE SECRET OF TRAILER DRIVING IS DRIVING SLOWLY & VERY PRAYERFULLY & CAREFULLY & CAUTIOUSLY, & PLANNING AHEAD! You cannot stop that kind of a rig on a dime! You have to look maybe a block or two ahead & watch the signal light to see if it's about to turn red, & if there's any possibility it's going to turn red before you reach it, or even yellow, you'd better start slowing down ahead of time so you don't have to slam on your brakes at the last minute & throw everything inside the trailer on the floor‚ break the dishes‚ ram the car in front of you or maybe break off your hitch & a few other catastrophes!

15. LEARN TO DRIVE SLOWLY! Even when you take off, take off slowly in your lowest gear. Don't strain the gears, don't try to drive too fast in low gears or too slow in fast gears. Take off slowly in your lowest gear. Then when you've gotten up to a good speed, the proper limit of that gear, then shift into the next gear & drive up to the limit of the speed of that gear‚ then shift into your next gear & so on. Don't try to skip any gears or shift into too high a gear at too low a speed, because you've got a lot of weight to pull & you need to depend on those lower gears to get it into motion.

16. ONCE IT'S ROLLING AT A REASONABLE DRIVING SPEED, say at 50 to 60 mph or 60 to 80 kph, it usually doesn't take too much power to keep it going, especially on the level. I would say that on the average good open highway that a speed of about 50 to 60 mph or 60 to 80 kilometers is not too much, certainly normally no more than that! You might like to drive your car at 80 or 90 kilometers, but I would say that's a bit risky with all that trailer load on the back!

17. IF ANYTHING HAPPENS‚ THERE'S NO WAY IN THIS WORLD YOU'RE GOING TO BE ABLE TO STOP OR CONTROL ALL THAT WEIGHT SUDDENLY NO MATTER HOW MANY BRAKES YOU'VE GOT! If you get a bad blowout or you hit something on the road or there's some reason you've gotta stop quickly, there's just no way in this world to stop that much weight in a very short distance! So it's better to trailer-travel more slowly.

18. ON YOUR BIG SUPER HIGHWAYS YOU MIGHT REASONABLY HIT IT UP TO 55 or 60 MPH OR 60-80 KPH. But even with our big camper cruiser I seldom ever travelled over 60-65 mph, which is about 75 or 80 km.—And our big one-unit truck camper was much easier to control than a two-unit car & trailer! We had high-powered vacuum brakes & it was built like a truck & able to stop pretty quickly even with all that 5 tons of loaded weight!—And on smaller narrower roads you must go much slower!

19. BUT WITH YOUR TRAILER you'll find out if you don't brake properly or if the brakes don't function properly, the trailer may try to pass you up with all that weight, & jack-knife, especially if it weighs more than the car! It'll just push the car aside & try to keep right on going! This means you jack-knife the whole thing & you can cause an accident which can be very serious, especially if you are carrying gas bottles, etc.!

20. THAT'S WHY I ADVISE YOU TO DRIVE SLOWLY, PRAYERFULLY‚ CAREFULLY, CAUTIOUSLY, PLAN AHEAD & NEVER TAKE ANY CHANCES! Remember you cannot take off fast & you cannot pass fast.—Forget about passing cars with a trailer!—Unless it's a very slow-crawling truck & there's lots & lots of time, room & visibility to pass, just forget about passing! With your big load you cannot get up very much speed, & certainly not a spurt or burst of passing speed! So don't ever try to pass on any kind of a curve or anywhere where you can't see & have time & room to pass for a mile ahead!

21. NORMALLY I WOULDN'T RECOMMEND YOUR TRYING TO PASS ANYTHING! Just stick with the pace of the normal traffic in the slow lane behind the trucks & minis & whatever's necessary, even if they're moving very slow, or if they're moving the least bit too fast to pass very easily & safely. Then just be patient & drive slow & stay there.

22. IF YOU'RE DRIVING BIG TRUCKS & HEAVY VEHICLES YOU NEED PATIENCE! I've learned this over the years. I've driven lots of big trucks, busses & trailers, & one of the main things you need to learn in driving big heavy vehicles, besides lots of caution, you need lots of patience. You can't get in a hurry‚ you can't be impatient, you can't want to pass everybody‚ you can't want to make every signal light. You just take it easy.

23. IF THERE'S ANY POSSIBILITY THAT THE LIGHT'S GOING TO CHANGE BEFORE YOU GET THERE & YOU'RE STILL A BLOCK AWAY, START SLOWING DOWN NOW! Just take it for granted the light's going to change & you're going to have to wait for it. Plan ahead. Remember!: You cannot possibly stop as quick as these other cars, especially in Europe where these Mini cars can stop on a dime! They can go around a corner lickety-split because they're so small & light & have very little inertia even if the momentum is great, & they can spurt off & peel off & pick up & take off so fast that it's unbelievable!

24. MINIS & COMPACTS ARE EXTREMELY MANOEUVRABLE & they're used to driving these little light cars fast which can spurt off & stop quick & turn fast! But you & your big heavy car & trailer or loaded van-camper just cannot dot it! So remember you've just gotta be patient! To drag along behind the slow pokes is better & safer than trying to get up enough steam & distance to pass'm! Time isn't that important—safety is more important! When you're driving along a highway pulling your whole house with you, speed is not the most important thing!

25. SAFETY & CAUTION & SLOW, CAREFUL, PRAYERFUL DRIVING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. You not only have your car & family at stake, but you've also got your whole house & all your household goods & personal effects at stake, everything you own! So take it easy! If you take it easy & stick to the big super highways & main highways where there's lots of room & people can pass you easily & you're not blocking traffic, you're better off.

26. I ADVISE YOU TO PLAN YOUR ROUTE AHEAD METICULOUSLY! Get your map & mark your plans & know exactly where you're going-every turn! I always plan very carefully when I'm driving big vehicles. I get myself a map of the city first & mark how I'm going to get out of it & onto the highway. Then follow that route—have a navigator sitting beside you with a map to help read it & direct you. Ho was good as that—I'd have him sitting there with a map directing me, or Faithy, & tell me which way to go‚ watching the map & signs & telling me which road to take & which sign to follow.

27. THE HIGHWAYS IN THE STATES & EUROPE ARE VERY WELL MARKED WITH HIGHWAY NUMBERS & SIGNS—FOLLOW'M! Once you're out on the open road it's free & away & you don't have so much worries about finding where you're going for awhile. So while on trips & travelling with a trailer I highly recommend that you try to prayerfully plot & mark you course on a map in advance & locate your destination or intended campsite ahead of time from a camping book or list & map of trailer parks & campsites!

28. ON A LONG TRIP, TRY TO FIND PLACES TO PARK ALONG THE ROAD OVERNIGHT WITHOUT GETTING OFF THE EXPRESSWAY except in rest stops or service plazas. Overnight they will let you park almost anywhere in these along the highway. In the united States you cannot stop along the highway shoulder unless you're a disabled vehicle, even on a superhighway. But you can pull into the truck stops, rest stops, gas stops, restaurant stops or service plazas along the way, like the big truckers do, where there's usually lots of room to park.

29. MOST HAVE PLACES WHERE THEY TELL YOU TRUCKS, BUSES & TRAILERS TO PARK, so pull your trailer in along there. It's usually all paved & level & you can pull'r right in & park'r with all the other trucks, busses, trailers & campers. All you have to do is shut'r off & go to bed!—Or go to supper & bed.—No unhitching‚ no jacking up or levelling or anything!

30. IF YOU GET THE SLIGHTEST BIT WEARY OR SLEEPY, even if it's broad daylight, pull into one of these places & take a ten-minute to half-hour nap‚ be refreshed, & go again. Because you do not dare drive a car, much less a trailer or big heavy camper, if you're sleepy or tired or weary! Your reactions are not quick enough, you can't drive safely. You must be rested & refreshed to drive such a big rig! So they have such places for just that purpose all along the superhighways where you can pull off & rest from a few minutes to overnight. If you're going to spend a weekend or a week or a month or camp for awhile,

31. TRY TO PICK CAMPS & PARKS WHICH ARE CLOSE TO THE SUPERHIGHWAYS, so you don't have to wind around tiny narrow mountain & hilly busy roads & city streets with your trailer! One of the best things your can do along that line is to buy yourself a camping book which tells you where all the trailer parks & the camps are, like Sear's book in the States or Michelin's in Europe. They even describe them, their facilities, prices & have maps of how to get there & all the rest. The U.S. & Europe in particular seem to be camp-conscious & travel-trailer-conscious & have a lot of camps & campgrounds & trailer parks.

32. SO GET ONE OF THESE CAMPGROUND BOOKS & STUDY YOUR ROUTE in advance & where the nearby campgrounds are & plan where you're going to be at the end of your day when you're going to want to camp. If it's only overnight of course, you can pull into a mere rest stop. But if you are wanting to set up camp some place for a few days, then I suggest you study & choose a few to look at near the superhighway of your route, because it's not too easy to wander around looking at trailer parks & campsites with a trailer hanging on the back!

33. WHATEVER YOU DO‚ TRY NOT TO EVER GET YOURSELF INTO A CUL–DE-SAC OR DEAD-END that you can't drive forward out of, that you have to back out of! Because that is one of the greatest difficulties of trailer driving—learning how to back a trailer! It is very difficult & technical & frustrating!: You turn the wheel the way you think it oughtta go, & the trailer goes exactly the opposite direction! You have to learn how to turn that wheel to go just the opposite direction from which you want the trailer to go! And you have to learn how to keep it going in a straight line as best you can by very delicately holding onto the wheel & keeping going straight back, & it's almost impossible! If you can even back it straight back‚ much less around corners, you're doing very well! So for God's sake & yours, don't get yourself into a dead-end street or cul-de-sac or a street that is too narrow for two cars to pass, much less you & your trailer!

34. STAY ON THE SUPERHIGHWAYS, THE MAIN HIGHWAYS, & DON'T GET TOO FAR OFF OF THEM! Don't get yourself on some little one-lane, one-way road where nobody can pass‚ where even cars can hardly pass, much less your trailer!—And by all means, don't get yourself into a situation where you have to back out! For example, when you're looking at these campsites or trailer parks, don't pull into the trailer park to take a look with you trailer! You may find you have no way to turn around &/or back out, & you're stuck in a fix! You might even have to detach your trailer, turn your car around, turn the trailer around by hand, & hook up again to pull out!—Park outside & walk in!

35. ESPECIALLY AVOID LITTLE ONE-LANE ROADS where others are trying to get through too! You may have a parade held up a mile long before you get things turned around! Before you're through‚ you may feel like singing the trucker's song: "Give me forty acres & I'll turn this rig around!"—That's about what you need to make a U-turn with a good-sized car & trailer!

36. YOU'RE DOING WELL TO TURN CORNERS & CURVES WITHOUT TRYING TO MAKE ANY "U's" IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HIGHWAY! Don't do that either! Go around the block or try & find some other way around or out. Don't plan on making any sharp turns! Remember, your trailer cannot always turn as sharply as your car. Your car may have a nice short turning radius, which as soon as you get well into it will mean that your back rear car bumper will start making contact with the tongue of the trailer, & if you car's powerful enough & you keep in that sort of a turn, you will have such leverage that it can break the hitch right off the car!

37. SO NEVER MAKE TOO SHARP A TURN! A very sharp turn, almost a right angle with your trailer, so sharp that the rear bumper of your car on that inside side makes contact with the trailer tongue, can seriously damage the trailer tongue or the hitch & quite possibly break it clear off! I've known it to happen!—In fact, I've had it happen to me!—So don't try it!

38. SO DON'T TRY TO MAKE REAL SHARP TURNS, ESPECIALLY SHARP U–ey's! For one thing, it's very dangerous to make U-turns anywhere even with a car, especially on highways, but extremely dangerous with a big rig like a car & trailer! Go around the block, or even if you have to go miles to turn around someplace where there's lots of room & come clear back‚ don't be afraid to do it! It's much easier than having a wreck or wrecking your trailer or hitch, or getting yourself in a tangle where you've gotta block traffic for miles both ways while you unhitch & turn things around by hand!

39. JUST DON'T DO IT! Don't get into dead-end streets or cul-de–sacs where you have to back out, don't make sharp U-turns or sharp turns of any kind! Try to avoid any situation where you have to back up at all if you can help it! Most trailer parks in the U.S. provide trailer spaces where you can just drive in & drive out for overnight parking without unhitching.

40. IN EUROPE, CAMPS ARE VERY SMALL & CROWDED‚ & the most common means of parking your trailer in Europe is to get your trailer somewhere near the spot‚ disconnect, & then have several neighbours help you push it by hand into the tiny spot! So take it from an old trailer driver, these are good tips & you'd better follow'm or you'll be sorry!

41. PULLING YOUR TRAILER UP A STEEP GRADE IS A TRIAL, & I hope you have a car that's powerful enough to do it, with a low enough gear to get it going! Getting stopped for some reason—like by a red light in a city—on a steep grade—that's one of the hair–raising experiences of driving a heavy rig!—Because you may not be able to pull out of it! So try to avoid stopping on steep grades! You may have enough power to keep moving on a steep grade, but to pull out of a dead stop on a steep grade sometimes is impossible with all that weight!

42. I REMEMBER SADLY WHEN I GOT CAUGHT BY A RED LIGHT ON A STEEP GRADE ONE NIGHT IN KNOXVILLE‚ TENNESSEE! I had to back my trailer all the way down the hill & make another run for it to try to make a green light!—Whew! Whadda hair-raiser! So try & avoid these situations if you can, such as getting stuck on a hill or in sand or gravel or loose rock!

43. YOUR CAR MAY HAVE ENOUGH POWER TO PULL YOUR TRAILER along on nice smooth level pavement, but not enough power to pull it up a steep grade from a standstill or out of the same or the gravel or the loose stone, or even out of a small gully or ditch or hole in the ground.

44. ALSO ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR TRAILER'S MUCH WIDER THAN YOUR CAR, so avoid any tight narrow situations if you can. Better to stop your rig & let the other car pass by, than try to squeeze through with him & scrape!

45. ALSO GOING DOWN A STEEP GRADE WITH A TRAILER IS ANOTHER GRAVE DANGER, & you should leave your car in gear under low compression. Take your foot off the gas & lightly apply your brakes. This should lightly apply your trailer brakes too. Try not to apply them too suddenly or severely or too hard.—Going down steep grades with a trailer, you have a tremendous amount of weight behind you which is increased in gravity & actual weight by the down grade, especially when you apply the brakes. A certain amount of extra weight is so added by momentum & incline which may even double your car & trailer weight! So understand the dangers of applying brakes going downhill! Apply them gently & slowly if possible.

46. ALWAYS AVOID ANY SITUATION IN WHICH YOU HAVE TO SUDDENLY APPLY YOUR BRAKES OR STOP QUICKLY WITH A TRAILER! The least damage you can do is throw everything in the trailer on the floor & break a lot of stuff there, or every break or damage the trailer hitch. The worst you can do is jack-knife or flip the trailer over‚ especially into the path of oncoming traffic, & cause a major accident & injuries or even death!

47. SO REMEMBER THAT TRAILER TRAVEL CAN BE WONDERFUL, THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD!—BUT IT CAN ALSO BE THE MOST DANGEROUS!—Especially when actually travelling & driving & pulling your trailer. So avoid quick stops. Just don't make'm, that's all!—Unless there's something unavoidable, a worse emergency ahead that you've got to slam on your brakes for‚ & pray for the best that you won't jack-knife or flip or roll over! So planning ahead & looking far ahead & seeing what's up front & what's happening up front can help to avoid these sudden stops.

48. NOW THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF SUDDEN STOP WHICH YOU MUST AVOID, & that is travelling so close to someone in front of you that you haven't got plenty of room to brake & stop, if they should stop completely suddenly! Never tail-gate! Never travel too few car-lengths behind'm! Not even on a superhighway! Travel a few car-&-trailer–lengths behind'm‚ so you've got oodles of room to slow down to a slow stop!

49. NO SUDDEN QUICK BRAKING, NO SUDDEN QUICK STOPS!—Quick braking may quick break a lot of things! Go slow! Stop slow!—And live longer!—And be happier! GBY!