We have all heard “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” which is attributed to Winston Churchill.
In emergency management we turn that around, always learn from every emergency, we do “after action reports” and “improvement plans” for every event, whether a real event or an exercise. If you didn’t learn anything you weren’t trying. A similar concept should apply to preparedness, learn from everything.
I recently made a couple of road trips half way across the country and back, which culminated in a move for a new job (and to be close to the grand kids). I’ve made road trips from the east coast to the west coast and up to Alaska a few times in the past as well.
So, in “honor” of always learning these are some lessons learned and some improvement items.
I bought a 6×14 flat bed trailer (overall 8×18) with dual axles and electric brakes to move with, it was the cheapest option given the fact that I would be making two trips (as I had to attend a class in the area so I combined that with moving half my stuff). Now if you have ever bought a trailer they usually come with the cheap non-radial tires.
#1 REPLACE THE TIRES WITH RADIALS
Trailers come with the cheap non-radial tires. They are supposed to be limited to 55mph or less and are not designed for 1,000+ mile trips. They will heat up quickly and blow or shred. How many trailer have you seen on the side of the road with blown or shredded tires?
#2 BUY A SPARE
Because you don’t want to leave you stuff on the side of the road. Murphy’s Law states that a tire will blow in the middle of nowhere, on a Sunday or late at night when no tire place is open.
#3 BUY A BOTTLE JACK
Get one rated for at least the maximum load weight of the trailer.
#4 BUY A 4-WAY TIRE IRON
The chances of your car’s silly little tire wrench being the same size as the lug nuts on your trailer tire and 1:4 (there are 4 common sizes of lug nuts). Plus a 4-way tire iron is SO much easier to use.
#5 BUY WHEEL CHOCKS
Buy 4 and tie two together with enough rope to allow one chock in front and one behind the wheel. One set for each side.
Now I won’t go into a lot of detail about loading a trailer but the heaviest items should be over the axle or slightly forward of it. The 60/40 rule is 60% of the weight should be in front of the axle, 40% behind. Heavy items go on first, lighter items go on top.
Depending on your trailer and load if you can keep the load so that you can still see out the rear mirror that is best. If you have to go higher, or you are using a box trailer, then you might need extension mirrors. With any trailer have someone stand behind the trailer and “test” to see where you can, and cannot, see them. Know where your blind spots are.
Remember, 80% of other drivers are stupid. They will drive so close behind you that you cannot see them. If you can’t see the side mirrors of what you are behind, then you are in their blind spot.
#6 YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR – BLUE IS NOT THE NEW COOL
Ever notice that post a hurricane or tornado you see blue tarps on roofs. Ever wonder why they are all blue? When blue tarps are about 4mil thick, they will not withstand hurricane force winds (70+mph), but the hurricane has passed. So, why on earth would you think that they will withstand you driving 65+mph along a highway?
NEWS FLASH – they don’t! They will rip to shreds at every point where they flap in the wind, very quickly. Yes, at the end of day 1 on the first trip I had to buy some heavy tarps and cover all the blue tarps that had holes in where they had rubbed against boxes and flapped in the [cough] 55mph wind.
#7 BUY TIE-DOWN RATCHET STRAPS – YOU WILL NEVER HAVE ENOUGH!
Unless you were a trucker in Europe and were taught a truckers-hitch you will not be able to get rope tight enough! (My dad owned a trucking company in England, when in high school I would ride along with some of the drivers or help in the warehouse and learned how to tarp and rope down loads.)
Buy ratchet straps, lots. And when you think you have enough, buy more! I was fortunate in that I already had a bunch, but I ended up buying more. Get the longest ones you can because you want to be able to go over your load and still have enough to tie down. Yes I had to tie several together as they weren’t long enough!
When putting straps on always put the ratchet on the passenger side. Every time you stop do a walk around and test the tension of the strap, and tighten as needed.
As the driver ALWAYS be the person to tighten down the straps.
#8 ADD TIE DOWN ANCHORS
They don’t add many, if any, tie down anchors, after all they want to keep costs down. You can find some very sturdy metal anchor bolts on line for little cost. With a decent drill and some time you can add your own and save yourself a lot of frustration. It will also provide additional points for straps, especially over wheel wells where there is not normally somewhere to anchor. For less than $50 I added 30 anchors points along both sides and the front of the trailer.
#9 ADD LIGHT
This should probably be higher on the list, before you load the trailer. Manufacturers put the minimum required lights on a trailer. NEWS FLASH other drivers do not pay attention, they are only looking at the vehicle immediately in front of them, or their cell phone.
LED lights are cheap, you can find sets of amber and red LED marker lights on the web – yes from China but hey for $20 I was able to add lots of marker lights along the sides.
Trailers don’t come with reverse lights. If you have a 7-blade trailer connector on your vehicle you have reverse. I also added white LED lights along the side and back. Makes it so much easier backing in the dark.
Trailer manufactures do things as cheap as possible, including the connectors. I bought a junction box and re-wired their mess of crimped cables and electrical tape. This then gave me the feed for the reverse lights, which are on the 7-blade connectors.
Oh, if you haven’t backed a trailer before do yourself a favor and take it to a large lot and practice. You will save yourself some embarrassment. I’ve been driving trailers ever since I had a license but every trailer is slightly different. If at all possible use a backer.
Along the same concept drive with headlights on, especially when towing. Be aware that if you have daylight driving lights they usually only turn on front lights, they do not turn on tail lights or lights on a connected trailer. You’ve all seen those idiots driving with just their front headlights on at night, clueless that they can’t be seen from the rear 🙂
This should be obvious. However, if you also use a GPS device go into the settings and select “trailer” or some similar mode. This will (should) prevent you from being sent down a road that is unsuitable for a trailer. The navigation system built into my truck does this automatically if a trailer is connected. Be aware of your route involves toll roads tolls WILL be higher as they are usually based on the number of axles. You should be able to select “avoid toll roads” on any GPS navigation system.
Sometimes you might want to stay off of some interstates. Some have a reputation for frequent accidents or constant construction. The route a mapping program routes may not be the best, remember most will provide a route based on traffic and other data at the time you select it, so might not reflect that it is slower than molasses in an Alaskan winter due to single lane construction! I’ve travelled I-70 east and west between Pennsylvania and out west more times than I care to count. The section through Indiana and Ohio has always been very congested and has always been under construction. Not only that but to get to when I’m usually going in “dumps” me on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which has to rival driving I-70 through Kansas and eastern Colorado for the most boring drive award, with miles and miles and miles of nothing 🙂
The past few times I’ve dropped south after St Louis (when travelling east) to I-64 through Kentucky and then to West Virginia. Much less truck traffic, well traffic in general. The folks in those states seem to only close one lane for construction for about 1/2 mile before the construction, not 5 or 10 miles as I’ve seen on I-70!
Also, plan your route so you are not driving through a major city at rush hour. I try to get the other side of any major city then find a place to stop for the night. I try to get on the road at sunrise and stop before sunset. Driving after dark, after driving all day, is extremely taxing.
#10 USE COMMS CONNECT
No one can help everyone, everywhere, all the time. But, everyone can help someone, sometime!
Knowing there is a network of over 250,000 people out there who could help you when travelling is a huge piece of mind.
You file a “flight plan” and they will monitor your progress, check in on you, give you heads-up on weather or major traffic issues and more.
I had it somewhat easy for them as I have Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) in my ham radio. When enabled they, or anyone else, is able to see where I am at aprs.fi but you do not need ham radio.
#11 ROUTE CHEAT SHEET – TECHNOLOGY FAILS!
Having an inbuilt navigation system in the truck is great, mine gets automatic updates and will even show the current price of gas at gas stations. Having Google maps is good too, I like the colors to indicate traffic issues. Both will tell you which lane to be in, that a turn or route change is coming up, when to turn, and that you have gone the wrong way and how to get back on course 🙂 Car play will integrate your cell phone into your cars system. HOWEVER it can fail, suddenly stop or disconnect and it will do it when you are going through a major city with multiple intersecting interstate highways! (Yes it did!)
You can use 3×5 cards or a sheet of paper but have a cheat sheet which lists your route, especially major intersections. Use large print so your eyes are not trying to quickly change focus from distance (looking where you are going) to reading.
#12 UPDATE YOUR GPS
Before you leave make sure your GPS is up to date. Most now have a receiver for traffic data but traffic construction is always changing. If you are using an app like Google maps they will have live data but make sure you have the traffic layer turned on.
Zoom out the view a bit so you can “see” further ahead. This will usually give you a “heads up” that traffic is slowing, so you are not having to suddenly brake, that is never good with a trailer on.
#13 PLAN YOUR FUEL STOPS
Truck stops, like Pilot, Loves, Travel Centers, etc. are the best place to stop when towing a trailer. They are designed for easy in and out and, if you need parts, usually will have the key items. You will find them along all major highways. If you are travelling off of major highways then you might need to plan fuel stops to allow an extra reserve of fuel. This was the case in my chosen route to I-64, not as much truck traffic, not as many truck stops. Look before you pull in and make sure you have room to get out.
Most highways have signs indicating what services are at exits, and how far from the exit they are. If you can’t see their sign from the highway they might be up to a mile from the exit! If you are using a GPS it will have gas stations in it.
#14 CARRY A 5-GALLON CAN OF FUEL
No matter how well you plan things happen. Gas stations can be closed or without fuel (as is happening now with the lack of truck drivers in some areas). One trip I was cruising along and passed a couple of stations, “Oh I’ve got 50 miles left until empty, I can get a few more miles in.” “Ding – You have 20 miles until you are empty.” “Oh shit, where is the next gas station?” Didn’t have a gas can along on that trip and fortunately I found a gas station. Bad planning on my part, should have stopped sooner. I learnt from the first trip and also added the fuel can.
I’ve come to the conclusion that car manufacturers could save an awful lot of money by making turn signals optional 🙂
When driving you must assume every other drive does not have a clue!
I’ve also come the conclusion that 90% of other drivers don’t know where they are going or how to get there and are following the vehicle in front of them 🙂
Remember High School physics? Isaac Newton? Newton’s Laws of Motion?
Rule 1: an object in motion will tend to stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it.
Rule 2: when a force acts on an object it will cause it to accelerate or decelerate. The formula is force = mass x acceleration. In other words the heavier an object the more force it needed to slow it down, and thus a greater distance is needed to slow it down.
Rule 3: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
At this point I’ll assume that you have had your daily intake of coffee, so follow me here 🙂
60mph = 88 feet per second (a rough “in your head” 1.5 x mph = fps)
With an alert driver paying full attention it takes about 0.7 seconds for you eyes to see a hazard, your brain to interpret it, send the message to your foot to apply brakes. If you are doing the speed limit (we’ll use 60mph) you will have travelled 70 feet BEFORE you even start to brake. The average car is about 12 feet long, so you have travelled 6-8 car lengths BEFORE you begin to brake! So looking at the rear of the car in front of you, when you are less than 2 car lengths from it, means you’ve hit it BEFORE you brake!
#15 5-SECOND RULE
The 2-second rule (i.e., 2 seconds from the car in front) gives you about 176 feet to stop, well about 100 feet after you’ve realized you need to.
Now if you are pulling a trailer, even with electric brakes, it is going to take you a lot longer to stop. When I got my CDL 5-seconds is what I was taught. 5-seconds at 60mph give me 440 feet to stop, assuming some idiot does not cut in front (they will!) to get then few feet closer to their destination! So using the chart above that gives me twice the distance I need, meaning I’m not doing an “emergency stop” and can have a nice smooth controlled braking action. If roads are wet you need almost twice the distance.
#16 SCAN AHEAD
You can increase your chances by looking further ahead down the road, like scan as far as your can. Look for brake lights, merging traffic, etc.
#17 CLEAR THE BAFFLES
You might have heard this term if you have watched any submarine movies. It’s the area behind you that you can’t see if someone is too close. When following tractor-trailers you’ll sometimes see “if you can’t see my mirrors I can’t see you” on the back.
Look behind regularly, make sure someone isn’t in your blind stop. If you are on a curve or bend this is the ideal time to check your side mirrors and see if someone is lurking in your baffles 🙂
#18 CHOOSE YOUR FUEL
Choose what food you eat. Fast food is loaded with carbs. I don’t know about you but carbs make me drowsy. While on the road I ate/drank protein shakes and protein snacks, very little carbs. Because of that I was able to drive 10-12 hours a day, basically sunrise to sunset and some evenings about 3-4 hours after sunset. Because of that I was able to do the 1,700 mile, 24 hour trip in 2 days without feeling drowsy. In the past it’s taken me 3 days because I could only drive 8-10 hours without feeling drowsy.
DO NOT DRIVE DROWSY! If you are tired, can’t keep your eyes open, your driving is very similar to someone who has been drinking. You drift in your lane, you react slower and you are more likely to get into an accident.
FRIENDS – WORDS OF VISDOM
So anyone who owns a truck will tell you, any time someone is moving you will be their best friend. If you own a trailer, more so. If you own both, well you will get invited to all kinds of moving parties 🙂
They say keep your friends close, your enemies closer. Keep your trailer even closer!
I have friends who have trailers and #19 is from a couple of them, and my insurance company 🙂
#19 DON’T LOAN YOUR TRAILER
My friend loaned his out to a friend, it came back damaged. If you have invested money, and quite a bit of money, in a nice trailer you want to take care of it. No one takes care of your property like you do. Sure I’ll help, I’ll bring the truck and trailer, you can load (not going to mess my back up again!) and I’ll drive. Just me nice and cover gas, I don’t even need beer and pizza 🙂
So if you know a friend with a truck or trailer always cover their gas. Get your other friends to help carry the heavy stuff down 3 flights of stairs 🙂 They can have my share of the beer and pizza 🙂
#20 CHECK YOUR INSURANCE
Do not assume your car insurance covers your trailer. It certainly won’t when it’s parked somewhere and I think you will find in most cases your car insurance will not cover damage to your trailer if there is an accident, that includes recovery/towing services. It only cost me about $150 for the year to get full coverage, with roadside assistance and personal injury liability.
So, not my usually preparedness blog, however my point is to learn from every event. How does this make be better prepared? Well I’m better prepared to be able to load and haul 7,000lbs of preps half way across the country with little advanced planning. I have the equipment and everything I need to secure the load. I’m better prepared to help like-minded folks move their stuff, and I do barter 🙂
I’m applying some of the lessons learned to a pop-up camper I now have, so I’m ready to hook up at a moments notice and go off and teach a class or go to a prepper fair somewhere.