Taking that Dream Vintage Trailer on the Road! - Words & Photos Lisa Mora - Vintage Trailer Magazine Editor and "Queen of the Road", Lisa Mora shares her top ten tips for solo women who are new to the vintage RV scene.
So you’ve got your dream vintage trailer and now you’re all set to head out to your first rally. If you have never done anything like this before, chances are you are understandably a bit nervous.
A common just-arrived-at-the-campsite conversation you’ll often hear is about the mishaps or incidents that are unfortunately an inevitability of frequent travels with older trailers, and even more so for those of use with older tow vehicles as well!
I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and have travelled over 25,000 miles across America with my 1953 Hudson Hornet towing a 12-foot 1949 vintage trailer called "Rosie the Riveted" but I will admit that I’ve forgotten each of the steps of the process of hitching up and towing, backing and setting up and unhitching at least once. That’s all it usually takes to never forget again! I love the stories I hear about other women’s experiences setting out on their own for the first time, trailer in tow. It’s easy to laugh about it in hindsight, but it can be quite a terrifying experience for many first timers.
The most common question I get asked by fascinated women whenever I take my trailer to a show and they find out I have travelled there solo (after: "Do you actually sleep in that?") is: "Are you ever afraid?" My answer has always been: "No". I trust my gut instincts, I assume the best in humanity and expect to manifest only that into my life.
If I focused on all the things that could go wrong or the bad things that might happen I might never do what I love doing so much: traveling around the country with my cute little home office behind me. I’d probably never get on a plane or cross the road either. I don’t want to believe that I am any more at risk than a man traveling on his own would be. Having said that; I don’t take stupid risks and I always take necessary pre-travel precautions.
These are my top ten tips for women solo travelers setting out on the road for the first time:
1.Do a thorough Pre-trip check over:
If you are not mechanically minded yourself, always get your tow vehicle checked over by someone who knows what they are doing prior to going out on a long road trip towing a trailer. Get your bearings checked. Make sure all the fluids are up, the tires and brakes are good and the tire pressure has been adjusted to carrying an extra load (all that extra stuff we glamper types lug around with us everywhere we go can weigh a lot!)
Make sure your trailer sits level when hitched to your car. Measure the height from the ground to the top of the tow ball receiver on the trailer when it is 100% level and then get a tow ball hitch that is the same height on your car. If your trailer sits too high at the front or too low, your ability to control the trailer and braking is severely compromised. There should be a straight line all the way along from the A-frame to the car.
Because I’m often very tired when I get back from a big road trip to a rally, I often will clean the trailer BEFORE I go out on the next trip rather than when I get home, but never leave any food inside the trailer, as mice love any excuse to make a nest inside that cozy abode of yours!
2. Prepping the trailer:
Make sure your battery is fully charged and that you have all the necessary set up tools required: an electric cord, a clean water hose, your Porta-Potti, a grey water outlet hose and black water hose and tank if you have a toilet, wheel chocks, a slab or two of timber for unhitching and a bucket (if there is no grey water outlet), your awning and poles, ropes and pegs in an easy to get to position with easy access so you can set up easily upon arrival.
I use my side locker under the rear bed for all these things. Carry an easily accessible torch in the car with you in case of set-ups in the dark.
3. Hooking up:
I think it’s funny that American vintage trailers only have those wind-up posts for unhitching and that everyone has to carry chunks of wood around to support them. In Australia and New Zealand all of the vintage trailers have "Jockey wheels" that attach to the side of the A-frame and a handbrake to the trailer wheels also mounted on the A-frame (so they don’t roll away when parked!).
These are a great help when hooking up on your own too as if you are an inch or two off on either side you can just tug on the A-frame and roll the trailer across without too much effort (if it’s a little one like mine).
I found a version of this type of wheel attachment at Napa that bolts (or can be welded) on to the A-frame and lifts upright into position or horizontally when traveling with a simple crank. I have put one on my "Rosie" and it’s great, although because my car sits very low I still do sometimes have to use the old post to give me the height to allow the wheel to spin down into the upright position.
When traveling, use a piece of wire to strap the handle to maintain it in the horizontal position whilst traveling.
Turn off your Propane! I know some people use it to run their fridges while they drive, but personally I think this is CRAZY! I’ve seen too many roadside RV fires to ever want gas in operation whilst driving.
Get a mechanic to run a wire from your car alternator to the trailer plug and a battery so that your fridge (if you have one) can run on electric instead while driving.
4. Double check everything, every time:
When I was in Australia I created a little acronym to remind me of the process of hitching and unhitching that I’d count off across my knuckles: J.C.H.E. It stood for Jockey wheel, Chains, Handbrake and Electrics. Here in America I don’t have a handbrake on my vintage trailer, so I guess I’ll have to come up with another acronym for myself! Make your own up and be absolutely methodical about the process, EVERY TIME. Try not to let anyone else help you or get chatting to you while you do it the first few times so you really get that step-by-step system in your head.
Make sure the chains are crossed (left side of the A-frame to the right side of the tow ball crossing over to right side of the A-frame to left side of the tow ball) that way if the hitch does happen to jump off the ball the chains will (hopefully) catch it and save it from hitting the road. Use properly rated chain and shackles.
If you don’t have a wire running from your alternator to your battery, unhook one terminal of your battery whilst traveling. Make sure your electric plug is locked in place and make sure you test the indicators and brake lights are working on the trailer before setting off anywhere. Every time.
BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES!
Walk all around the trailer and touch each window and give it a little push to make sure all windows and the roof hatch are super secure before driving. Air getting inside a trailer whist driving can be catastrophic. (See tip #5 below!)
5. Driving whilst towing:
I’ve heard more than one woman talk about this experience as giving them white knuckles at first. Here are a few tips to make the experience a little less stressful:
Take YOUR time. Don’t feel pressured to keep up with anyone else on the road, including those you have opted to travel with. Travel all the way at 55mph if you feel best doing that. I know I do. It’s safer in wind gusts, when being overtaken by huge trucks and when unexpected obstacles appear on the road in front of you. There’s a very valid reason most states make that the legal limit for anyone towing. If the GPS says the trip is going to take 3 hours, allow for 4. Stop often and rest.
Another great tip I received was from a trucker when I found myself stuck in a truck stop with two missing windows that had literally exploded off the side of my trailer whilst I was being overtaken by a big rig on a narrow road. The trucker recommended pulling as far over to the edge of the road as possible when being overtaken by trucks as air pressure can build up inside trailers and the extra pressure when the trucks pass you can be all it takes. "I’ve seen whole trailers explode off their chassis and end up in pieces on the road", he warned me. Sage advice I have adhered to and passed along ever since!
Weight distribution hitches or stabilizer bars are helpful if your trailer has a lot of sway when being overtaken too.
6. Backing Up:
When it comes to backing up, practice makes perfect. Turn off the stereo, wind down both of your car’s front windows, take a moment to breathe and center yourself then just think: "Opposite. Opposite. Opposite". That’s how your trailer’s butt will work; the OPPOSITE of what your car’s butt would do if you steered it without the trailer on!
Again, take your time, if you feel comfortable taking instructions from others you will find there is always a bevvy of willing instructors on hand as soon as you look like you’re struggling a bit with it and most other RV’ers are very understanding because it IS hard!
Try doing it with a long heavy car with no power steering and a very short trailer with very short A-frame like I have to with the Hudson and "Rosie"! Longer trailers are easier to back, believe it or not.
I’m usually a whizz at backing, but I still struggle a lot with my Hudson with its "Armstrong steering" and 12-foot trailer combination! Many a time a well-meaning man has come along seeing me struggling and offered to do it for me. I assure them it is not me that is the problem but the car and trailer, but I will happily "hand over the reins" and let them have a go and watch with glee as they struggle as much as I did!
You will get claps, accolades and pats on the back for getting it right, but seriously, we have all struggled with this one at some point, so you’ll find most other RV’ers are more than kind in assisting if need be and won’t make you feel silly for struggling with it at all.
I was once asked if I carried a gun when traveling on my own. When I replied that I did not I got a great tip that I have used ever since: Carry a can of wasp spray in your car’s cup holder and another in the trailer. It can down a person from thirty feet away apparently.
I haven’t ever needed it, but it’s reassuringly there, kind of like insurance. Meanwhile trust your gut instincts and if something or someone does not feel right, move on.
Speaking of insurance: Get it and make sure its enough to not just replace the vintage trailer you have so painstakingly restored, but all of the special things inside it should the worst befall and it is stolen or completely destroyed. Don’t leave home without it, and AAA maximum coverage with extra RV coverage so your trailer gets full towing services as well.
I also use a little pin lock on my hitch, it’s a deterrent for thieves and also locks the hitch onto the ball whilst traveling. Other locks go up inside the ball when unhitched and then there are wheel locks as well. The more to deter thieves you can utilize the better as our babies are becoming very highly desirable property and become almost as much a part of our families as our pets or children!
Never leave valuables unattended in your trailer and if you do show it at a vintage Trailer open house display be warned that members of the public feel this odd compulsion to open your cupboards even if you put up signs asking them not to, so again, leave any valuables locked away and out of sight.
9. Be organized:
I keep a head torch attached to the driver’s side visor in my car for easy access for those times when you find yourself having to set up in the dark. Just make sure you put it back in its spot after you’re done with it. The same rule applies to everything about tiny trailer living and travelling. Have a place for everything and put everything straight back in its place after use, every time! You’d be surprised how often I ask myself how it is possible to lose something in only ten feet of space!
You’d also be surprised just how efficient you become and can manage to have every thing you need within that tiny space. If it doesn’t get used regularly, get rid of it. A philosophy I have found applies well in other aspects of my life as well!
10. Don’t forget your keys:
This brings me to the next and most important tip: lanyards are good! Always keep your trailer keys on a lanyard and wear it all the time while you are camping, and hang it on the door handle when you go to sleep. We’ve all locked ourselves out at one point and trailers can be very tricky to break into! (which is a good thing!)
Keep a spare set of keys to your trailer in your car and a spare set of car keys in the trailer, just in case.
Please don’t think that being a woman puts you in any more danger than anyone else and let that fear paralyze you. If anything, I have found that being a woman traveling on my own has made people even more kind and helpful and reassuring when I’ve had moments where things didn’t always go to plan.
Be brave, be bold and get out there and explore this beautiful country and hopefully I’ll see you on the road! www.vintagetrailermagazine.com