Story by Randy Grathen
If you've ever owned a boat or travel trailer you'll understand.
Laurie and I have been around boats since we were kids. Our parents owned several and we owned boats too. When I retired from the Air Force, we left California and took our 24’ twin log pontoon with a 40hp motor with us. It had a full set of canvas and screens making it basically a 24ft tent. It had a queen sleeper, porta-potty and propane BBQ grill. It was our floating campsite. We even used it in a campground a couple of times. Lean a ladder against a pontoon and climb in. Eventually we moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, MO. The first time out on the lake we watched a pontoon go racing by, pulling a slalom skier! WHAT?!? We had never seen a tri-toon before, much less one with hundreds of horsepower hanging on the stern.
Several years later we replaced our putt-putt pontoon with a 27-foot tri-toon and a 115Hp four-stroke. We forgot what it cost to outfit a new boat. We had the boat and trailer, but now we needed life jackets of assorted sizes, anchors and ropes, ice chest, beach towels, pool noodles, spare fuel tank, boat cover, spare tire, etc. you know the drill.
Over the years the boats on the lake got bigger and faster. The owners becoming more arrogant and careless, throwing up huge wakes as they went roaring by. We finally decided to get off the water. Now Laurie decided she wanted to try her hand at camping. In a travel trailer. I thought outfitting a boat was expensive!
Our very first camping trip took us 750 miles to a high mountain campground, 9,000 ft. above sea level outside of Colorado Springs. We replaced my 2001 GMC diesel with a 2008 Chevy 2500HD diesel to pull our new trailer. We had the truck inspected bumper to bumper before starting our trip. Everything checked out ok. But it had never pulled a travel trailer and we quickly learned things our mechanic could never have found.
Starting out on a Saturday we would meet our “forever friends” from our Air Force days on Monday. They drove in from California. Halfway through Kansas, at 70 mph, fighting a headwind, the truck suddenly began to slow of its own accord. Pushing on the accelerator did nothing as it continued to decelerate to a steady 50mph. We pulled onto the shoulder and shut off the truck. We were in the middle of nowhere on a weekend. Thank God for cell phones and Google. Laurie located the nearest town with a garage. I restarted the truck and continued west, at 70 mph. Hmmm. Problem solved? Nope! Once again it dropped back down to 50 mph and refused to go faster.
We finally made it to the gas station with a garage which was closed. Searching the web Laurie found a shop that was open in a town further down the road – much further. The cost of getting towed would have been several hundred dollars. We described the problem to the mechanic who told us it was going into “Limp Mode.” It was starving for fuel. Our diesel has a priming pump mounted on the fuel filter housing. He told me to pump it up until the plunger wouldn’t pump anymore, then start the truck. I did, then hit the ignition. Nothing happened. Because of all the extra electrical stuff connected to the truck, electric brakes, lights, etc., the alternator couldn’t keep up. Even with dual batteries it wouldn’t start. Standing there with the hood up it wasn't long for a guy wearing a cowboy hat and driving a pickup realized we needed help. He jumped started the truck.
We turned off everything electrical that we didn’t need, drove 70mph until we hit limp mode, pulled over, pumped the primer, then pressed on. Afraid to shut off the truck, we got to our campground, dropped the travel trailer, and drove twenty miles back the way we came to the garage. They replaced the alternator, the fuel filter and a short rubber hose that had gone soft as it heated up. With the fuel pump pulling extra hard because of the load, the hose would partially collapse restricting the fuel flow. Eventually the fuel level got low enough that the truck went into limp mode. We lost about 6 hours but we made it to our first destination that night.
Next stop, the campground in Colorado. We arrived in Colorado Springs and stopped for lunch. We pulled back on to the road going down a long hill. I started braking to stop at a red light at the intersection when suddenly the steering wheel started shaking violently back and forth, and the front of the truck began to shimmy.
Before we made it to the intersection, I saw a big wide driveway to my right, so I turned in only to discover we were in a Wal Mart parking lot right in front of their garage. What are the odds? I thought the lug nuts may have loosened on one of the front tires. Everything checked out ok, but the mechanic retorqued all the lug nuts just to be sure. They said there was a Pep Boys garage just one mile down the road. Our next stop.
We limped into the parking lot. At the front desk they told me they were booked up but would try to squeeze me in. Our vehicle was the last one in and they worked past closing to replace my right front brake rotor. It was warped due to overheating because of the extra weight of the trailer.
We were just blocks away from getting off the main road and onto a winding two-lane mountain highway headed to the campground. We would be driving up and down steep grades and winding curves with no place to pull over and very few chances to turn around if we had to go back. There were no garages where we were going.
Things could have ended so differently if God had not been watching over us. Limp mode on a mountain highway may have been an inconvenience but that brake rotor could have gotten us killed. Instead, all it cost us was a little extra time and some money.
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