The trailer went one way and the truck went another way. Our dream of living full time in an RV almost ended in disaster on the very first day. Luckily, nobody was hurt and remarkably neither truck nor trailer suffered any damage.
We bought a somewhat new, 33 foot, 5th wheel trailer, a brand new ¾ ton Ram truck, sold or gave away most of our stuff and moved out of our home. Up to the day we left, we only took the rig to one campground and practiced parking it maybe 4 times. We were ready to go, how hard could it be to go hurling down the road in a rig with a combined weight of 19,000 Lbs.
Our first destination was Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. The trip started out immediately with our first error. In the excitement to get on the road and take video of us leaving, we forgot to shut the hatch on the basement door. Luckily, I spotted it before it got ripped off as I turned out of the driveway.
Rookie mistake #1: We did not make or follow a check list.
The rest of the drive to Hocking Hills went off without a hitch. The fun started once we selected our camping spot. For those who have not been to the Hocking Hills Campground, the park is pretty hilly and there really isn’t a level spot to be found. Being the Newbies that we are, we went for a spot that was clear of trees, relatively flat and most importantly one that was furthest away from other campers to minimize our audience!
I was able to easily back the trailer into the spot with maybe a half a dozen iterations. Not bad for a rookie. The exhilaration of successfully backing into a camping spot was short lived as things went down hill from there.
Before you can level a 5th wheel, you have to remove the truck from under it. Having only parked on a level spot up to this point, I let the front jack extensions all the way out as I did every other time up to this point. A few minutes after hitting the Auto Level button, I noticed the rear jack motors were working way too hard. I then noticed that the wheels of the trailer were being completely lifted off the ground. This is way too much load for these stabilizing jack motors.
Rookie mistake #2: I only worried about side to side level and did not take into consideration that the front of the trailer was much higher than the rear and there was no way the front could be dropped low enough to achieve level. My “smart” leveling system compensated by raising the entire trailer off of the ground. Luckily the motors did not burn out.
Now, in order to adjust the jack extensions, you have to get the weight off of the landing jacks. To do that, you have to hook the truck back up so that it can carry the weight of the trailer. No problem, raise the trailer, hook up the truck, retract the landing jacks, reduce the extension by half, that should work! Lift the trailer off of the truck, move the truck and hit the AutoLevel button again. Wait, the motors are working way too hard again and the rear of the trailer is being lifted off of the ground. I didn’t retract the extensions enough!
It’s starting to get dark and I’m growing impatient. I have to hook the truck up again. Raise the trailer, pull the truck in and latch the pin, adjust the extensions we’re done. Oh wait, the chock is wedged under the wheel from lifting the rear of the trailer. We better get that right. “You pull the chock out when I move forward”. No problem.
As soon as I put the truck in drive and pull forward, the trailer pulls out of the hitch, falls on the jack stands and starts to slide to the right off the leveling blocks. In my panic, I jump out of the truck and run back to see if it will hold. As I run back I realize I left the truck in drive and it is now rolling off across the driveway. Luckily, I was able to jump back in before it got away and luckily, the chock did not come free or the trailer would have been long gone.
Rookie mistake #3: I lost patience, started to rush and didn’t make sure the hitch was latched before driving off. Rookie mistake #4: I panicked when the trailer came loose allowing a 3 ton truck to take off across the campground.
This event bothered me for days. I kept thinking of what could have happened. If the chock would have come free, the trailer would have gone sailing into the woods. If this would have happened the next day, there would have been campers in the path of the truck. Some how, the jack stands withstood the force of the trailer falling and sliding, stopping just short of smashing into the truck box. Unbelievably, there was no damage and thankfully no one was hurt.
As a result of this near miss, we have put together a check list that includes preparing the trailer for travel, connecting to the truck, disconnecting from the truck and a final walk around review before driving off. Two main things I learned is to slow down, relax, take my time and never, ever remove the wheel chocks until I am absolutely sure the trailer is fully locked into the hitch.
So, before you get rid of everything you own, vacate your home and take off in an RV, make sure you practice, practice, practice.