-or- How NOT to Move Cross Country
By Richard A. Fleetwood – May 2001
PROLOGUE: This document was written in the middle of a family move from Alabama to Wyoming, a move we made on our own, using our own vehicles and labor. It was hard. Really hard. And scary. Writing about helped to deal with the problems a bit better. At least we finished what we started with most of what we left Alabama with. Read it and cringe.
October 17, 2000
The title of this story … The move from Hell.
As I am writing this, we (my entire family and I, and my best friend Dave, are sitting in a motel room in a little town in northeastern New Mexico, having been here a couple of days…waiting. Waiting some more. And a little more. We are tired, a little irritable, worn out, and quite frazzled. But we are alive. We are STILL in the midst of a move from Alabama to Wyoming. If all works out as planned at THIS moment, we should be pulling into the driveway in Lander, Wyoming this time tomorrow.
Like that song from the age of the groovy 60s and 70s, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
All we wanted to do was simply move our family and our few, valued possessions on a trailer, and in the bed of a pickup truck, from Birmingham, Alabama to Lander, Wyoming, in a few enjoyable, if cramped and crowded, days, visiting our relatives and friends in Tyler and Plano, Texas. We’d then hit the road, and get to our new home in relative peace and quiet, tired and exhausted, but safe.
Well, what can I say. It has been anything but. A small list of happenings SO FAR? Get your popcorn…
>After three weeks on the road, instead of the two originally planned, I arrive home friday afternoon, 20 minutes after the power company has just shut off the electricity….3 days early. We head to town to buy a Coleman lantern and a couple of propane canisters to finish packing the house. We also buy 10 sheets of plywood, straps, and a very big tarp, as I am going to build a 16 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot box on our 44 foot flatbed trailer, to fill up with most of our belongings.
>It takes us four days, not two as I planned, to load everything we are moving, while cleaning out the house we have just finished renting. As we are loading our 1987 Chevy Full size wagon onto the back of the 44 foot flatbed trailer we are using for this trip ( the same trailer I use in hauling Campers and RVs in my new job), the timing chain goes south, and the engine dies… we wind up winching the car up the ramps onto the trailer BY HAND. Not a good sign of things to come….very foreboding if you ask me.
>Six hours later…A strap breaks when the old, worn tarp blows out 20 miles down the highway after midnite. Lost is my wife’s suitcase with literally ALL her clothes. 3 hours of searching the ditches and medians with flashlights and floodlites on foot and from the truck, turned up two small bags of clothes, but no suitcase. We think someone coming down the highway sees it and stops to pick it up. (sigh)
>Later that morning…Rest stop in Louisiana….let our four dogs and one cat out of their pen for some sunshine, fresh air, and food. Dogs do ok. Cat bolts for the woods and is never seen again. At this point I have been up 24 hours already, having driven all night to get THIS far. We are still four hours from Tyler.
>Get to Tyler, Texas OK, but have real fun pulling a 44 foot trailer thru winding, twisting, two lane backcountry roads, with all kinds of oil rig trucks inches off my tail since I’m trying to drive a very heavy trailer safely on unknown roads. Arrive at friends house and have to turn the 22 foot long truck and 44 foot long trailer around in a small neighborhood cul-de-sac to park the right direction in their yard.
>The Next Day…Get to Plano, Texas, where I spent most of my youth, and my mom and some family still live, as well as Dave’s Dad and Brothers. This is the town where Dave and Annie and I grew up, met in Junior High School, and graduated together from Plano Senior High School. We meet at the strip mall half a block from my mom’s house and haul the dead station wagon from my trailer to his empty 30 foot dovetail, which he has after delivering an RV to the Oklahoma City state fair, before coming to Plano. He is driving his brand new week- old Ford 650 Super Duty Crew Cab truck. It is great looking, and I am impressed.
>We drive both trucks and trailers to my in-laws house on the other side of town where we are going to drop the trailers for 2 days while we visit everyone. While unhooking the trailer from my truck, my youngest son Kenny (13) and my daughter Laurie (17) are horseing around in the in-laws front yard. Laurie pushes Kenny in rough and tumble fun, and he falls backward, catching his fall backwards, and breaking his right forearm in the process. I get to do first aid with my trusty Army first aid kit, part of my Civil Air Patrol SAR package in the back of my truck. Get his arm immobilized in a sling, and travel to Plano General Hospital and get him taken care of, and very quickly I might add. Very impressed by the Hospital’s set up ( I spent many weeks there in 1975 after a drunk tried to kill me on my motorcycle at age 15). We are in and out in less than an hour and a half.
>Friday Nite, Dave, me, Dave’s brother Steve, and my son Kenny go to Texas Motor Speedway to watch the Nascar Truck Races, the O’Reilly 300. Get there 30 minutes late, and while walking under the bleachers towards our seats, there is a nasty accident right in front of where we are going to sit, 35 rows up from the front, directly across from the pits, and one of the two drivers is injured critically. He dies the next morning. Sad…very sad.
>Saturday morning…We do some load shifting on my trailer, to move some weight backwards on the trailer to balance out the fact the car is no longer on THIS trailer…takes a few hours. We also find that one tire on EACH of the trailers is showing a little steel belt from wear, so we remove and replace these by hand. During one of these, I sprain two fingers on my right hand, while trying to loosen stubborn lug nuts with a four way wrench, three hands and a few kicks, and my hand smashes up into the bottom of the trailer deck when one of the nuts finally breaks loose. Ouch.
>Later that same day…we are loaded, gassed up, and have finished all hugs and kisses, and all goodbyes. Hit the road, and since Plano has grown from 50,000 when we lived there, to 200,000, we get lost in a new subdivision because one of our roads we remembered has been rerouted. Bummer. >Even later that same day…about 2 hours or so. We are westbound on State Highway 380 from Denton, Texas towards Decater. Some roadwork in the area. We stop to fix a loose tarp on my trailer. A highway patrolman pulls someone over 200 feet behind us in a small mobile home park. Wierd. >Five minutes later….on the road again. Cross a narrow work area with both sides of the road lined with concrete road barriers, as work is being done on new bridge railings, so there is no shoulder on either side. The lanes are ten feet wide. No problem with the first one. A mile down the road is another bridge. Semi truck is traveling much faster than the 45 mph construction zone speed limit, and crosses the bridge with his left front wheel ON the yellow line, just as Dave’s Ford 650 Super Duty Crew Cab truck is passing the other direction. I am 75 feet back behind him, and see the truck miss the rear of the trailer by 6 inches. I grab the CB and yell to Dave, “Dang…he ALMOST hit you!!”.
It takes about 10 seconds for a reply. “HE DID!!” We immediately pull over past the bridge, and get out and see what has happened. The semi never slows down, and disappears into the night. The semi’s mirror has smashed into Dave’s truck’s driver side mirror, pulling half of the mirror assembly out of the door frame, shattering the glass mirror, and pitting the paint on both the driver front and rear doors from the mirror glass shooting out like shotgun pellets after being hit. Dave is pissed, Annie in the front seat is ok, and son Robert in the backseat is in shock, unresponsive from terror of almost dying. Dave immediately dials 911 on his PCS phone, and I grab the CB and get the attention of another semi passing the same direction, asking him to see if he can get any identifying info on the truck a mile or so ahead of him. He says he’ll try. No luck. Patrolman we saw earlier pulls up 5 minutes later. Without the other truck stopping, and without any identifying info on that truck, we are left without recourse.
In Texas, in a MV/MV collision, if one doesn’t stop, the other automatically is assumed to have some responsibility for the collision. The officer recommends we don’t file a report, as it will only go on Dave’s driving record, raising insurance premiums. The bad guy gets away since we don’t have any other option. We pull over at the first truck stop and switch the passenger side mirror over to the driver side so Dave has the view he needs on the more important side of the truck. In Wichita Falls, Texas, we find an exact replacement for the broken mirror, and get it fixed up in heavy rain, as thunderstorms are moving in. We head off into the night with a goal of reaching Amarillo and getting a motel for a few hours sleep. Enjoy a fantastic light show from the storm front for a few hours that evening as we are heading west. Arrive at 4:30am.
>After a few hours of fitful sleep with me in my truck, and everyone else in the motel (everything we own is in the truck and on the trailer, and I am NOT getting far away from either), we head north on 287, turning westerly on 87 thru northeastern New Mexico, where we started this little story above. Late afternoon, passing thru Raton, NM, we turn north on I-25. We pull over into a picnic area to water the dogs and check the straps, and Dave does a walkaround both vehicles and trailers, checking the right rear wheels of my truck because of a bad tire recently replaced. He sees that all lugs are there, and all looks well.
>Up to this point in the story, its all been minor, irritatingly simple, fairly painless (except to Kenny and his broken arm) “stuff”. Up to this point, that is.
>We’ve been on I-25 for about two miles now. All is well. Driving into the bottom range of the Rockies, a beautiful sunset setting over the mountains, Mount Baldie off in the distance, near where the Boy Scouts have their Camp Philmont every so often. Speedometer is just hitting 65 and I am about to set the cruise control. THUMP. I wonder what the heck that is. WHUMP!. In microseconds, I am on the CB yelling to Dave, “BLOWOUT”. I think the problem is the trailer. SLAM-BANG-CRASH!!!! The truck (a 2000 model Dodge extended cab, four door, four wheel drive dually, with Cummins Turbo Charged Diesel engine, and 100 gallon auxiliary tank) feels like it has hit a land mine. It drops the right rear corner down several inches, and I see first one, then TWO tires bouncing behind us on the interstate. In the driver side external mirror I see a wheel flipping in the highway behind us, superimposed in front of two cars side by side coming to a very quick emergency stop under the bridge we have just passed under. I still think the trouble is with the trailer. In the passenger side outside rear view mirror I see sparks….LOTS of sparks.
I slam on the brakes with all my might and feel the pedal pulsating under my right foot as the Anti-Lock Braking System does its job, and the entire truck and trailer is somehow staying upright, straight, and heading in the right direction. I take the truck and trailer to the shoulder, as it’s slowing as best it can, with three corners of rubber and one of steel. The trailer brakes do their job well, too. We come to a stop off the road, on the shoulder, all in one piece, as one of the two tires comes rolling at 40 miles an hour across the median, two lanes of oncoming traffic lanes, which thanks to God are empty, and into the bushes where it comes to a quick stop about 50 feet past where we are now sitting. Dave has pulled over a quarter mile ahead.
I am out of the truck, engine still running, flashers and headlights on, and walk around the front of the truck, still expecting to see one side of the trailer smoking and missing tires. I don’t get more than six feet. The passenger side Dually fender extension is destroyed. BIG pieces are missing. I see why fairly quickly….both REAR right side wheels are gone. Way gone. The break drum is resting on the pavement, worn flat deep into the drum, as it stopped turning when I jumped on the brakes, and acted like an ice skate when trying to get off the highway. I am in shock, and awe.
Five of the eight lugs which the lug nuts screw onto to hold the wheels on are now gone, broken off deep past the surface of the brake drum. The other three lugs are bent, and the nuts are missing. A passing driver who was directly behind us pulling a fifth wheel trailer, has walked up, checking to see if we are ok. Yes, again, thanks to God. No one is hurt, no property damage other then the truck, no problems other than a broke truck. Another passing driver has called 911 to report a truck on fire ( our drum caused quite a huge shower of sparks, it seems).
As I am coming to terms with this situation, my son Robert has walked back several hundred feet and retrieved one of the tires. I grab my leather gloves and cross the highway to get the other tire, and roll it back to the other side of the road laying it near where it was recently attached. I hear sirens way off in the distance. Robert and I start walking back up the shoulder of the interstate, looking for fender parts, missing studs, and anything that SHOULD be part of the truck. We find most of the fender, and nothing else. As we get to bridge, a policeman passes, then a fire truck, and an ambulance. Finding nothing more we walk back to the truck. I tell the policeman what’s wrong, and that there is no fire, only broken wheels. He calls in, and the fire truck/ambulance leave. A few minutes later TWO wreckers show up. So starts the visit of a lifetime to Raton, New Mexico.
>The truck only needs replacement of the brake drum and studs, and of course the dually fender extension. The wheels and tires are ok. No cuts, no worn lug holes in the wheels, no brake shoe assembly damage. Amazing. The brake backing plate is worn flat on the bottom, but is usuable without any work. The replacement parts must be ordered directly from Detroit, as aftermarket parts for this new model are not stocked locally yet, and we ask for express shipment. They have come in sometime today. The truck will be ready first thing in the morning. And we will hit the road again to cross the entire state of Colorado, and half of Wyoming by dinnertime. We will have spent three days in this motel, with two rooms, and a bill of $300 for the motel, and unknown costs yet for the wreckers and the repair parts and labor. Final cost probably in the $1200, to $1500 range, including insurance deductible. More Ouch.
>Why did it happen? We think we know. Over two weeks ago, leaving South California (Lancaster, near Edwards AFB) we were checking the load of campers, and doing a truck inspection, as we have always done, in Mojave 30 miles north of Lancaster. We found one of the rubber pads that makes up the tread on the all terrain tires on the truck, on the outer tire of the right set of duallies, had come off, leaving belt showing beneath. A truck tire repair shop is a few hundred yards up the road from where we are in a truck parking area. We head over there to have them mount the spare and buy a used tire to replace the spare. We wait two hours for them to get to the truck. They swap tires. We think that they know what they are doing. Well, not now. We think that the reason for the loss of the tires at 65 miles an hour while pulling a heavy trailer is due to the fact that they overtorqued the lugnuts when they remounted the wheels on that corner of the truck. They normally deal with semis at this shop, including NON tire items. We think they didn’t reset their impact wrenches to a lower torque setting. We THINK. We have all the lugs that are broken, and the ones that are bent. The broken ones show stress fractures that were there BEFORE the freshly shorn off new shiney metal of a RECENT fracture when the wheels came off. We will turn them over to insurance to let THEM deal with the place. I am thinking qiute hard of contacting local media in the area when we head back down there NEXT week to do another cross country run of campers out of Lancaster. The fact that I and my children could have DIED when the tires came off is very high in my mind right now, as it was right then. It will always be foremost in my mind everytime I shift into high gear in the future….loaded or not. I intend to let other people know what has happened as widely as possible, whenever it comes to tire shops and new or used tires. I want others to be ready just in case they ever have this happen to them.
You will probably read this a week or more after it is written. All the above is absolutely and completely true. Pictures of the truck and damage are forthcoming. I hope, at least for now, that this my LAST move for a VERY, VERY long time. I think you’ll understand that feeling a little bit.
I expect problems on the road in the future, as my job will put me on the road everyday for a long time to come. I know that I may very have similar problems in the future, but expect to come upon other drivers that have suffered similar accidents, with worse results and probable injuries. I will stop and help any and all I can, and thank those that stopped to help me, including the public safety folks. The police officer was exceedingly helpful, and I was very impressed by his overall assistance. The wrecker drivers also were as thoughtful and helpful as they could be, and kept my truck and its load locked up in their garage, safe from pilferage from strangers, instead of outside in a fenced in area.
In the future, I intend to continue the same goals I have been following in the past few years, and will return the favors even more, that these strangers have shown my family and I these past few days. Maybe this report will help you consider doing the same, if you’re ever given the chance.
We finished the trip and arrived in Lander, Wyoming that same nite, very late. No more problems. Final repair cost of the damage to the truck was over $2700. Motel and food was over $300, and other incidentals. Gee whillickers, what a trip. So started our “Big Adventure” to the west.
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