“ROUGHING IT SMOOTHLY”
My wife Jacquie and I have been camping all 40 years our married life together. We, along with Bonnie & Graham our children, have used every camping method to enjoy the great outdoors. Over those years I have contracted the organization affliction. If there is an easier or more convenient way to camp I will find it, build it or invent it. I drive Jacquie crazy with all my projects, but she always likes the end results. In this and succeeding columns, I will share ideas I have incorporated into our RV. Some are very simple and some can now be purchased commercially, some I’m sure you are already using. I am constantly talking to fellow campers and learning new ideas as well. If you are a hands on camper, you may enjoy the satisfaction of making and designing things for your own RV using some of these suggestions. Most are very inexpensive but can add significantly to your camping pleasure and comfort.
Oh, here is a wee story and credit I must acknowledge about the title. My dad Bill was an organizer and inventor as well. I know my affliction is hereditary. As children, my sister Pam and I loved to camp with mom & dad. We camped for years in a leaky tent, transporting our gear in the trunk of our car, that never had enough storage space. Dad finally took the big step and purchased a 17 foot “Rocket Travel Trailer” in the mid 1960’s. To this day, I remember our inaugural trip. Dad backed the trailer into the campsite and after he put the windup jacks under each corner of the “Rocket”, we were set up. He went and sat back in his lawn chair and proudly announced to all the family, “now that’s what I call…….
“ROUGHING IT SMOOTHLY”
(Click on the picture to enlarge)
Arrival at your campsite
After you have let the road weary and tired family out of the vehicle to stretch their legs, now it’s time to crank up the old stress-o-meter to the max. I mean, the dreaded……BACKING UP THE TRAILER INTO THE CAMP SITE. If you want to test the strength of your relationship with your significant other, get them to direct you as you are backing up into your site. You will get hand signals never seen before and you will respond with words unfit for the ears of children. Just developing the skill to back up accurately can take years to perfect. Here are a few hints that I hope will simplify this task. If you use them regularly you will in short time acquire the skill of a long haul trucker, or at least bring down the needle on the stress-o-meterand save your relationship with the little woman.
1. The hand position to start backing up. One hand is best, 2 hands just gets you confused. Do not put your other hand on the steering wheel until you get the hang of it.
2. From your side rearview mirrors look at the back end of the trailer, if you want the back to go right, swing the bottom if the steering wheel to the right.
3. From your side rearview mirrors look at the back end of the trailer, if you want the back to go left, swing the bottom if the steering wheel to the left.
So to review and condense this information, all you have to do is remember this MANTRA.
Hand on the bottom of the steering wheel, swing hand in the direction I want the back of the trailer to go.
Now for your partner who is guiding you back. Take a few minutes at the start of the season and review what hand signals you will use to communicate. The hand signals will be, go left, go right, pull forward, back up, & stop, and we’re done. The most important thing for the guide or spotter to do is be in constant visual contact with the driver. This requires you to be seen in the drivers side outside rearview mirror at all times when the vehicle is moving. Keep the drivers side mirror in sight. If you can see it, them the driver can see you. Remember verbal communication is not reliable when you are far away or out of sight. If you own an older diesel like I do, it is impossible to hear anyone. You can leave the line of site with the driver to check out the opposite side of the trailer, but do this only when stopped then return to the drivers side to be seen and continue with your directions. The arrows above indicate how you have to continue to move to stay in the drivers line of sight.
Don’t let these instructions overwhelm you or the driver, after a few campsites it will be second nature.
Leveling the Rig side to side
As we know all too well, arriving at the campsite after a long tiring drive can be beyond hectic. The kids are hungry, the dog needs a walk, and your wife _______________, I will let you fill that one in. You probably have a system you use when you arrive at a new campsite. If you don’t, you should because if you can follow the same procedure with each setup, it will speed up the process, make for a safe setup and insure you don’t forget anything. Get the family involved, it’s never too soon to train up the wee ones and they will develop a sense of team work at an early age. Here are the steps I follow to speed up the process so I can get on with the vacation. Before connecting power, water, sanitation, you must make sure the rig is level for the sake of your fridge, bath drainage and sleeping accommodation. Nothing more annoying than standing in a puddle while having a shower, or clinging to the sheets to keep from sliding out of bed.
I have 5 ramps and they can be placed in any combination you want to level the rig. I usually back as far back into the site as I can, place the ramps where I want the wheels to end up and pull forward onto the ramps. Don’t look too closely at my wooden wheel chock in front of the tire, I just overshot my ramp and split it in half. Oh well, another project coming up.
My ramps are made from an old prefinished waterbed frame. They are 1 ¼ inches thick, 6 inches wide and tapered on one end. They vary in length so as to give me a ramp to drive up on when they are stacked. In order to hold the ramps in place on top of each other as I drive onto them, I installed a piece of aluminum angle notched into the bottom of each board.(1) The notched in angle provides a flat surface so they stack tight for stowage (2) and also gives each board a grip into the ground to keep it from sliding as you drive up onto them. Any 2×6 scrap will work just fine for this project. Leveling blocks are also available at your local RV dealer if you are not inclined to make your own. Make sure the wheels are chocked before disconnecting your trailer.
I used some scrap aluminum angle. I cut a dado in the bottom of each ramp so that one leg of the the angle would be flush. This allows the ramps to nest together flush and keeps them together when stored in your rig.. The other leg of the angle projects downward into a saw cut in the top of the board it sits on. This locks the ramps together when stacked so they don’t skid out on you as the tire climbs up on top.
TIP: FLAT TIRE REMOVAL – If you have a tandem axle trailer and ever get a flat tire: you simply loosen the nuts on the flat wheel while it’s on the ground and it won’t rotate. Pull up on your ramps on the good tire. Now the flat is elevated above ground and can be removed without ever touching a jack.
Putting the brakes on.
Some camp sites are especially steep, so for additional peace of mind, I install my wheel brake. I have used this for many years, and now they are available at the RV dealers. It is a simple scissor jack that I welded a bracket to the top that will fit around the wheel. This works very well on the simple fact that if the trailer starts to roll in either direction, the wheels will rotate in opposite directions and lock the jack in place acting as a brake. I will let you think about that for a while so you can grasp the concept. But it works.
Leveling the rig end to end.
A simple bubble level adhered to the trailer tong with silicone gives a quick reference as to the level without having to go over to the side level on your trailer. I use the side level for the final fine tuning.
After leveling side to side and disconnecting the trailer, I start the end to end leveling process by keeping the front of the trailer just slightly lower than the back.
1. Lower or install your rear stabilizer jacks to touch the ground.
2. Crank the rig up just slightly higher than level on the front, lower the front jacks to touch the ground.
3. Now lower the front until the crank foot has no weight, then crank it back up to take a small amount of weight. The trailer is now stable and level. This is something you will need to do a few times to get a feel for how accurate your level indicators are on your trailer.
Speed the setup with powered jacks.
If your rig has crank down stabilizer jacks, you know how long and hot this process can be. Here is a tip you can use without any expense. Most people own a cordless drill, so there you go, you can use it to crank you jacks up or down with little effort on your part. Some jacks need a special bent rod and others need a simple socket that most of us already own. I carry my cordless drill when I travel because I usually find a use for it maintaining any repairs I have to make while away from home.
I took a 12 inch long piece of 3/8 inch round stock, heated it with my torch and made the bend in my vise, and “voila” the tool was ready to use.
In seconds you can be ready to go.
Happy Camping and here’s to…… “ROUGHING IT SMOOTHLY”
View this article page 26, and more articles in RV Times Magazine.