September 2013 Archives

Go West!

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After packing up the trailer, I wanted to do a bit of slow maneuvering in town before I hit the freeway. While packing I had been careful to keep the center of gravity low, but there's nothing like a real road test. Plus I'd never towed anything quite so tall behind a car so short, and wanted to see how it felt behind the wheel.

With a little luck and some good planning, I'm happy to say that the trailer handled extremely well. During sharp corners there was no tendency to lean. Accelerating and decelerating were smooth. The car was a bit slower to get up to speed, and the brakes were satisfactory to slow down the whole get-up.

I convinced myself it was safe to get on the freeway. Before doing so, however, I stopped off to pick up dinner and snapped this picture:

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Once on the freeway, I set the cruise control for 55mph and left it there. I stopped at every rest area to check the straps and bolts, just in case, but found no problems. The night was clear and winds were calm, so I drove until I was tired and then stopped for the night at a truck parking area.

On Friday, I awoke to a foggy Iowa day:

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I drove through the rolling hills for many hours. As the day progressed, the fog lessened, incrementally revealing more of the green, rolling hills. Traffic was light. I continued to stop at each rest area to check the security of the trailer, but discovered no problems.

By the time I got to Des Moines, the day had really warmed up -- it was in the mid-90's. The roads in that metro area were all ripped up, and most of the driving was directly on concrete rather than asphalt. The grooved and bumpy pavement made for some really noisy driving. I was happy to get to the western edge of town where the construction ended and the asphalt resumed.

It didn't occur to me immediately, but after about five miles I realized that the right axle on the trailer was still making a lot of noise. I assumed it had been masked by driving through all of the construction work, but back on smooth road it was really hard to miss. I stopped at the next rest area and went out to investigate.

The hub on the right axle was extremely hot to the touch. Poking around under the trailer, I discovered that grease had leaked out and had completely coated the inside of the tire's rim. Not good. I called AAA for recommendations of repair shops in the area, and ended up driving very slowly back to Automotive Engineering in Clive, IA.

Matt Lukacs came out to greet me. "Got a plane on there, eh?" he said, giving me a wry smile. He had me pull the trailer to the back of the shop, and they quickly had it inside and the axle disassembled. Matt called me over to take a look:

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Somewhere along the way -- probably long before I bought the trailer -- water had made its way inside of the right axle. (You can see what remained of the puddle in the above photo.) Over time, the water caused the ball bearings to rust. Adding extra weight to the trailer didn't help, and the extra friction in the axle accelerated the process of destroying the bearings. Surprisingly, I stopped driving in time and there was no damage to the axle iself -- the inner bearing absorbed all of the wear. I'm considering myself extremely lucky!

In a few short hours, everything was reassembled. The crew also replaced the bearings on the other side for good measure (very cheap insurance, really):

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Serendipity had brought me to the right shop:

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Matt had earned his private pilot's certificate just a year ago, and had lots of great pictures up on the shop walls. In a meta photo moment, I'm taking a picture of him showing the same pose as he did when he got signed off for his PP-ASEL (you can see him standing next to a Cessna 172). We chatted about flying in Iowa and about my restoration project.

If you're going to break down on the road, towing a half-ton of airplane, you couldn't have asked for a better experience than this. Matt and his crew were very friendly and extremely accommodating. It was great that they were able to fit me in at the last minute on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend, otherwise I'd have been staying in Des Moines until Tuesday. And after all of that, they charged a very reasonable rate for the repairs. Hats off!

So I drove out of Des Moines and back to the rest area just west of town, where six hours earlier I'd discovered the leaking axle. I checked straps, bolts, and axles -- this time, the latter were both cool to the touch. Satisfied that everything was again in good order, I snapped a photo and prepared to get back on the road:

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Iowa drifted by and gave way to Nebraska. The day was extremely hot and muggy, so I spent the whole time with the windows up and the air conditioning on. It finally started to cool off after sunset, at which point I pulled off at a rest stop for a nap. I woke up a few hours later feeling much refreshed.

Back on the freeway again, I started to notice flashes of lightning in the distance. Soon, there was a light fall of rain on the windshield. Things got more and more blustery as I went west. I stopped to check the weather, and it looked like a large storm system was moving in a southeasterly direction through the Great Plains. Given my speed and direction in relation to the storm, I figured my best option was to continue driving in order to avoid the most severe parts of it.

Back on the freeway, I put on the hazard lights and settled in at 40mph. Between the weight of the trailer, rain on the road surface, and wind from the storm, it wasn't really safe to drive any faster. Maintaining a low speed kept everything very solid and under control. The rain and wind continued at the same rate for about three hours, then very suddenly subsided. I drove for an hour after that with the windows down, until I saw stars peeking out from behind the clouds. I followed the sign for the rest area near Kimball NE, pulled into a truck space, reclined the seat, and slept the sleep of the exhausted.

The next day was smooth sailing. The weather was nice, the temperatures weren't overly hot, and I was happy to leave the humidity behind as I climbed into Wyoming. I stopped for coffee and enjoyed the "Big Sky:"

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The pines of eastern Wyoming turned into to the scrub of central Wyoming turned into the rocky outcroppings of western Wyoming:

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And soon I found myself back in Echo Canyon, Utah:

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By Saturday night, I was really looking forward to being home. I drove and drove and drove until force of will was not enough to keep myself awake. The rest area at the edge of the Great Salt Lake Desert looked positively inviting by the time I pulled in.

Sunday I enjoyed the stark, yet compelling landscape of Nevada:

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I stopped in to see a few friends in Reno, NV that afternoon. We had dinner together, and then I settled in for the home stretch. By this time, I was ready to be home, so I didn't stop anywhere to take pictures. I drove straight to the airport and unloaded:

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Home at last.