Camping is fun but there’s always some element of surprise. On our most recent trip, the surprise came when we were setting up, and I suddenly found an important part of the trailer buried in the dirt.
The tongue jack is an important part of any trailer. It is basically a pipe that runs vertically that provides support to the front of the trailer after it’s disconnected, and it can be moved up or down so that the trailer sits level. A high level overview of the procedure is that you lower your tongue jack onto a piece of wood that sits on the ground, which then disconnects the trailer from the tow vehicle by pushing the ball upward.
This has worked flawlessly every single time…except just recently.
I had the trailer in position, had the wood on the ground, had the tongue jack on the wood and was raising the trailer. For some reason the ball wasn’t coming out of the socket, so I did what I’ve done a few other times, and put a little weight on the back of the car. This typically pushes the ball down enough to pop it loose…which it did this time except that for some reason a lot more force went into it than normal.
The ball popped loose, the car bounced a few inches forward…and the trailer bounced a few inches backward. I stood there and watched as the tongue jack slid right off the wood and backward a few inches.
Here’s how it went from here:
Minute 1: Check for any injury – My wife was in the trailer and she rushed out to let me know that everything had just moved. I saw she was fine, and looked over to make sure my kids were over on the other side of the campsite still playing. Nobody was hurt.
Minute 2: Prevent any further damage – The trailer moved, but it wasn’t supposed to move because we have wheel locks, which go between the wheels to lock them in position. My wife and I went over and found that it had popped loose. I normally tighten them pretty tight but must not have gone far enough. Luckily the camper was sitting on fairly level ground, so it hadn’t rolled back. Still, I put the locks back on and ratcheted them as tight as I could.
Minute 3-5: Assess the situation – The tongue jack had slipped into the dirt and was about halfway into the dirt. The good news was the camper was level, but the bad news is that I had no way to lift it back up. The weight of the entire front of the unit was now buried in sand.
Minutes 7-10: Stare at the stupid thing and mutter that I have no idea what to do next.
Minute 11-15: Talk to my wife about options – If worse came to worse, we would have to call AAA, with whom we have roadside assistance.
Minute 16: Start thinking about a jack – I realized that no matter what, a jack would be needed to lift the car up. I realized that there was one somewhere in the car for changing flat tires.
Minute 20: Consult the owners manual – Discovered that the jack in our car is located under one of the seats
Minutes 21-24: Remove car seat and get out the jack. Cool.
Minute 25-27: Talk to father-in-law – My father-in-law happened to call and see how things were doing. He must have a sense that things weren’t going well. My wife explained what had happened. She passed the phone to me and we started talking through it. He started giving me some advice but the phone call disconnected.
Minutes 28-30: Start using the jack – I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to go but I setup the jack (under a piece of wood) and started lifting things up. I nervously looked and realized that the ball and the receiver were still about 8 inches apart, even with the trailer jacked up.
Minute 31: Remember the concept of load transfer – I looked at how things were setup and realized that the jack was now holding the weight. In theory, this meant that I could now unwind the tongue jack as it was no longer holding the weight into the ground. Sure enough I was now able to start raising up the tongue jack.
Minute 32: Nervously hope I had enough room – I now knew that the goal was to raise the tongue jack all the way so that I could hopefully get another piece of wood underneath it, which would allow me to raise it back up on supported ground. The issue would be if it would go up high enough.
Minute 33: Celebrate – The jack did go up high enough. As I slid the piece of wood underneath, I yelled “Got it!” just as my wife was taking another call from my father-in-law.
Minutes 34-45: Get everything set back up – After all that, I had to hook back up to the car, remove the wheel locks, pull the trailer back up so that it was on the leveling board, lower it back down, re-lock the wheels, and disconnect again. This time, it disconnected without bouncing off (though I did put another piece of wood in front just in case.
Afterward: Give thanks and troubleshoot – After all was said and done, I started realizing that things could have been worse. Had we been parked on a hill, the camper would have likely rolled. We were parked about five feet away from our power pedestal. Having it roll down would have sucked and could have injured myself or my wife. Of course, we usually only book ‘level’ campsites. I also realized that if we’d been on muddy or softer ground, my technique wouldn’t have worked, and I’ve had needed a tow truck to lift us out.
I also started thinking about why it had happened and came up with a few reasons. First, I hadn’t lubed the ball in several trips. Normally, I keep some sort of lubricant on the ball, but when it was all said and done, I noticed it was pretty dry. I will make sure to check the lubrication before every trip, not just once in a while. I also noted that I had probably not tightened the wheel locks enough, and that I also should have a set on either side. As it is now, I only have one lock.
Just like with anything type of ‘accident’, things could have been worse. However by keeping calm, logically working through the steps, and through the grace of God, things worked out, and it didn’t even cost us an extra hour.