Our stay in Philadelphia was short but we had reservations at Liberty Harbor in Jersey City for our NYC visit so we had to move on. We were all packed up and were just raising the front end of Ava with the landing gear to get her hitched up to the Beast when Caden stopped and said, “Uh….Papa….its making that weird sound again”. The weird sound he was referring to was first heard all the way back in Fort Davis TX when we’d sheared a pin off the shaft that runs to the follow leg of the landing gear. I opened the hatch to check the pins and found them in tact. But to be safe I decided to crank Ava up by hand again. I had only made a couple of revolutions with the crank when CLUNK…Ava’s right leg gives out and the whole camper drops several inches on that side. Caden assessed the situation correctly, “hmmmm, that doesn’t seem good”.
Brielle was thrilled that she got more time to play with her friends Naomi and Kaylin. Steph told the office we might be late checking out and started calling RV service shops. The boys and I kick into MacGyver mode to figure this thing out. We decide to get the jack for the truck and see if we can jack up the right side of the trailer. We are able to get her jacked up so at least the jack is sharing the load with the left landing gear leg and since Steph was not finding ANYONE who could do a mobile repair we decide to see if we can’t get hitched up with our makeshift system.
Dacen puts the X-Chocks back in the rig tires to ensure we don’t move forward or backward and I found a few concrete blocks around the campground to put under Ava’s right side in case the jack failed. One boy ran the jack, I cranked Ava’s good leg and the other boy supervised while monitoring the side-to-side level and our height relative to the hitch in the truck.
We eventually inch our way up to a height we think will work, we slowly back in and the wonderful site of the hitch lever closing as the jaws grab the king pin allows me to sigh a bit of relief.
Steph is able to get ahold of an RV tech who is booked about a month out but is willing to help me diagnose the problem over the phone. The motor still worked, the gears still turned, and it was still driving the follower leg. So, unfortunately, the guy figured it was something down inside the leg and the entire leg would need to be replaced. Camping World was able to locate the entire assembly with motor and everything for $500 but it would take a while for it to arrive. I google searched and found a guy with a very similar model 5th wheel who seemed to have the exact same problem and was able to procure and replace the leg himself. I decide that I could probably do the same and in the mean time can get by with a more substantial jack and safety blocks.
We ate a quick lunch so we could get on the road and hopefully make it to NYC before the evening rush hour traffic. We stop at the truck stop right down the road from the campground to (a) get donuts at Dunkin Donuts and (b) get a bottle jack for Ava. I was disappointed to find out that (a) DD did not have a Dutch Crumb donut and (b) the truck stop did not have bottle jacks. I found an Advanced Auto that carried several sizes (of bottle jacks, not Dutch Crumbs) and that the guy on the phone thought I could maneuver the 5th wheel into and out of their parking lot. On our way, Steph locates a lumber yard less than a mile from Advanced Auto that will sell us a board that I can cut up to use as blocks under Ava. We are able to score both the jack ($50 12 ton bottle jack) and the board ($5, 2x6x8 pressure treated board). The lumber yard guy tried to talk me into going back down the street we came in on to a truss manufacture shop where “they will give you all kinds of free scrap.” But I just wanted to keep moving.
We finally get on the highway toward NYC and are on a toll road that we have no clue how much it will cost. We are gathering up all the cash we have and when we hit the toll booth in Jersey City find out that we have enough (but holy smokes, you pay a LOT of money for the punishment of driving on really poor condition roads). As we navigate through Jersey City Steph and I both spot a sign that warns of a 12’6″ clearance ahead. We are 12’9″. The RV park had told me that there should be no problems but we pulled over and called to make sure we were on the best route to the RV park and that we’d be ok on height. They assured us we’d be fine….and we were! I was never so happy to pay $105/night to camp in a big concrete parking lot than I was at that moment…to be nearly done with our harrowing start to the day and the stressful drive in the big city.
We get checked in, find our site and get backed in. Its now time to see if our backup plan will work. Our first try fails as we run out of height on the bottle jack. But with a couple boards under it we are able to get Ava up on her one good leg and her stump leg and disconnect the beast. The site we have is barely big enough to fit Ava so Steph goes to ask where we can park the truck. In the mean time, I get out the circular saw to start cutting up our $5 board into pieces we can stack up under Ava’s frame as a fail-safe for the jack (at 12 tons though that jack can lift the entire trailer…but I was concerned about the jack slowly lowering without us knowing and putting too much strain on the one good leg). Steph comes back with the stellar news that we have to pay $20/day for a spot to park the truck…and I just about flip!
I have to pause here to tell you the story from Caden and Steph’s perspective that they are to share with me later that night. When Steph came back and told Caden about the parking charge and they looked on as I chopped up wood with my circular saw, Caden recalls the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark dons the hockey mask and fires up the chain saw to cut down the tree in their front yard as a replacement Christmas tree. Ellen says “I don’t know whats gotten into your father.” “I’ll go talk to him Mom,” Rusty assures his mom. “Hey, Dad, I’ve been thinking…” [Clark revs up the chain saw] “….good talk Dad, good talk.”
I was very clear when I made our reservation about the size of our rig and that it was a fifth wheel pulled by a truck….I also sucked up the additional $15 per night I was being charged because it was a holiday weekend (Military Appreciation Day was Saturday)…so there is no way I’m paying another $20/day to park my truck. Other sites at the campground are plenty big enough to accommodate our set up but these are all occupied. I decide to go have a word with the folks at the office myself. Steph tells the security guard to “please forgive my husband if he gets a bit angry, it has not been a super stellar day”. Well, the manager of the park is in the office and he immediately takes control of the situation and assures me that they will find a place for the truck. He is super nice and walks out to our spot with me and is surprised to find me in spot C12, “that’s supposed to be for rigs 35′ and shorter.” Back at the office he has them pull up the reservation which shows me at 38 foot and he tells the girls in the office to make a note to get that fixed as that should not have happened. Now, a 35 footer is going to only leave room for a 6′ tow vehicle, so good luck! I am thankful that the system put me in there as that was supposedly the last spot available when I made the reservation (the campground was completely full during our stay). The manager gave me a parking pass for the parking lot right by the campground and showed me the pedestrian gate to allow us easier access to the vehicle. Major kudos to this fella…he did a great job with customer service!
Back at the trailer I take some measurements on Ava’s legs and find the replacement at eTrailer just like the loveyourrv.com guy said. I was able to get 3 day shipping to a UPS store just a couple miles from our campground where we have reservations near Boston.
As we sat down to dinner I declared that “this day the Wachs kicked some ass!!” It was a trying day, but we all kept our cool, stayed positive, worked together to get ourselves out of our predicament and find a backup solution that would enable us to carry on with our travels. I remembered the little chat Dacen and I had the previous night about how things can (and will) go wrong and it’s how you persevere that matters. And when you come out the other side, it feels amazing! It was a tough day, but an amazing day for the Wachs! We wrapped the day up with a short walk along the docks by the RV park enjoying the golden hour lighting up the buildings of Manhattan.
Epilogue – When I was in about 4th grade (I think) our family made the long drive from Colorado to my Aunt and Uncle’s house near Sarasota FL during spring break. A freak snow storm landed my sister in a minor car accident on her way home from college. A lost snow plow driver plowed the private roads at our house which enabled us to get on the road with our 2WD Chevy Malibu which my dad had just installed a new engine. We drove day and night through snow all the way to TX then torrential rain and tornadoes along the gulf. But, it seemed, something was very wrong with the car. I could tell my dad was concerned, but as a kid, I had no doubt that we were going to make it to Florida and back home…in my mind I just knew, my dad’s got this thing under control. The car survived the drive and got us back home where the guys who installed the engine had forgotten to tell my dad that they had installed an engine that required unleaded fuel NOT the leaded fuel it originally took and that we were feeding it for several thousand miles. Apparently, an unleaded engine CAN run on leaded fuel…at least for awhile!
I’m now mostly grown up. And since we’ve had some vehicle and camper issues of our own I think I got a taste of what my dad was feeling during that trip (and probably others like it). Lying in bed trying to diagnose and solve the problem and at the same time coming up with a plan B and plan C to make sure your family is taken care of.
So, thanks Dad, for making my childhood worry free. And thanks for showing me how it’s done so I can pass the gift on to my own kids. I love you!