“Can a tow truck handle us?” was one of the first questions I had had before we even set out to live on the road. Traditional methods of towing, with the car propped up on an angle and dragged along neutral would absolutely not work as the camper would certainly drag along the ground. Having “0” experience in the big rig world, I knew that in theory there must be tow trucks out their capable of managing us, I just had not seen one in action.
On October 9th, my curiosity was satisfied. That morning, I had noticed a new humming sound coming from the engine as we left Boise, but everything seemed to be running fine, and it was soon forgotten as we got on the road. Over the next couple of hours, we passed through desert-like landscape before arriving at our next destination city, Twin Falls, Idaho. Soon after we pulled off the highway and refueled, the engine started making a much more noticeable thumping sound. Having spied a Les Schwab Tire, Cay pulled a U-Turn and we stopped to see if they might be able to diagnose the strange sound. Shortly after parking at Les Schwab, our truck died. We were very lucky that of all the places to go out, the truck made it to Twin Falls and didn’t give-out in the middle of the desert.
Not specializing in engine work, the mechanics at Les Schwab couldn’t help us directly but were nice enough to come out to the parking area to give it a look & listen. They speculated that it had something to do with the alternator and suggested a local mechanic that they trusted with their own vehicles.
Now came the fun part of finding a tow truck that could take our truck & camper, all together, in one piece. I called for a tow using our AAA plan and found out that we had the wrong policy for an “RV” vehicle. Our policy covered our truck, but not the camper on top. So lesson 1 of the day, if you are driving anything that may be construed as a “recreational vehicle” you need the “premier” AAA package. I placed a call to AAA headquarters to purchase an immediate policy upgrade, and with the sorted, we were back in business and in the queue to report our issue and find a tow. About 2 ½ hours later, our tow truck arrived.
Brian, our tow truck driver, backed his trailer to the front of our truck and then lowered a ramp off the bed of his tow. The process to load our rig involved pulling the truck onto the inclined ramp with cables as Cay steered it into place, but the cringe-worthy part was when the inclined ramp needed to mechanically straighten and lift the entire rig onto the bed of the tow truck.
Lesson 2 of the day, was that our rig doesn’t have enough clearance in the back to manage the angle necessary to lift it up to a tow truck- at least not the tow truck Brian had. We have a Lance 1130 model, which is one of the longer Lance models, at just over 11 feet in length, and hangs low off the back of our long bed truck. I don’t think this would be such an issue for shorter truck campers that stop flush with the end of the truck bed.
In the process of lifting our rig onto the tow, the back of the camper scraped and bottomed out, and the exhaust pipe for our generator got a bit smashed. Fortunately, the exhaust pipe is encased in a metal support cage, which prevented the pipe from being totally flattened into a pancake. Disconnecting the back step helped to give better clearance, but we only realized this after scraping it badly. In the end, the entire rig just barely fit onto the bed of the tow, but it did make it on, with some battle scars.
The next fun part was getting the rig off the tow truck when we arrived at the mechanic’s parking lot. The bed of the tow was re-positioned back down to 45 a degree angle, creating a ramp to the ground. Ultimately, the angle just didn’t give enough clearance for our rig, and the camper completely bottomed out, again, on the back-end as it reached the pavement. Essentially, the back of the camper was resting on the cement, causing it to scrape, before the back wheels were able to clear the tow ramp. We were stuck, and any movement forward or backward caused more scraping to the underbelly of the camper.
Seeing that the angle wasn’t going to work, we collectively decided that a more aggressive approach was in order. We needed to find a way to bring the angle of the truck down so that the back of the camper wasn’t resting on the pavement. The only way we figured this would happen, is if the tow truck drove forward, forcing our truck to naturally roll back down at a more gradual incline. With the cables now completely disconnected, Cay got into the driver’s seat to manage the truck breaks as Brian drove forward with his tow truck, physically dragging the ramp out from under our truck. This method worked to reduce the incline angle of our truck. Using gravity, the truck rolled backwards. I stood near the rear of the truck to guide it into a parking spot, shouting-out when to let it roll in neutral so as to coast into place and when to brake. With some finesse, the truck was finally rolled into place for the night, with only some scratching to the underbelly at the back of the camper. All things considered, we felt it was a pretty successful first-pass at a tow truck experience.
Lesson 3 of the day, we found out from Brian, that we had been turned down by every other tow truck within a 30-mile radius of Twin Falls. I had no idea that tow trucks could voluntarily refuse aid. Luckily for us, Brian heard about our rig and “challenge accepted” came to our rescue. We were clearly one of the bigger “fish” he had caught, as he took pictures to commemorate the moment.
By the time we arrived at the mechanic, it was past 9:00 pm, so we settled into the camper to stay in the parking lot for the night and our truck was seen first thing in the morning. The problem with the Ford 350 truck was, in fact, a bad alternator, which came to $449.08 for inspection, parts, and labor (no extra charge for a night of boondocking!). Knowing now how back-heavy the camper rests on the truck, in the future, we plan to modify the suspension and add air bags to the truck to help raise the camper and provide better clearance. Breakdowns happen, and it proved to be a useful learning experience with both AAA policies and in how to go about towing our rig.