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Old 11-28-2014, 05:58 PM   #1
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AIRSTREAM NEWBIES listen up... toughest learning curve

There are one... or more... toughest tasks to learn as a new Airstream owner.

My first experience at towing was at the age of 7, maybe 8 years old. My 5 year old brother in a red wagon being pulled by a rope tethered to my tricycle. It was my apprenticeship to my first Airstream in 2006. This first attempt did not work out very well and the "braking system" was still primitive and lacking. I am much, much older and not the wiser for it today.

Now looking back at my last eight years of towing A trailer, there is a check list of the most difficult to the easiest skills required to be a competent Tow Vehicle "Operator" attached to a... Trailer, any trailer. Those of you with a John Deere riding mower and pulling a trailer full of mulch and garden tools can be the best training a Newbie Airstream Owner can practice in their yard or driveway.

My first mile pulling an Airstream from the dealership was full of doubt and not knowing... what to expect. Especially when I made a wrong turn, before the highway in Denver, and found myself in a crowded parking lot for an apartment complex. This was within five minutes of watching the Service Representative waving... goodbye... Newbie. Be safe. If the sweat was not enough, getting into an immediate skill deprivation with a trailer does cloud the pride of ownership to... WHY? But, I managed to get out, find the second right turn onto I-470 South.

My number one by the greatest margin is.... BACKING UP A TRAILER into the parking space at the RV parking lot. Had I the John Deere riding lawn mower and utility trailer to practice backing up, I would have had a clue how. How to back up, looking into the side mirror and getting the "hang of it". The riding lawn mower with utility trailer is even more difficult to master. One mistake and you are jackknifed at 90 degrees... plus some. Pull ahead, back up. Pull ahead... repeat until you figure it out. Well, I did it with a 23 foot trailer, which remarkably is EASIER to back up than the riding mower practice course. Much easier.

So... I put backing up MY number one most difficult for a Newbie to learn.

(1) Backing up
(2) Entering a gasoline station... wisely to get IN and to get OUT
(3) Learning that going UP a dip is easier than going DOWN into a dip in the road.

What advice can you give to any Newbie towing a trailer? How did you master this difficulty? Did you have some way to practice, BEFORE pulling an expensive shiny aluminum fuselage made in Jackson Center, Ohio.

This is dedicated to Ted and Kathy in Littleton, Colorado with their FIRST AIRSTREAM, but also their first experience going from Point A to Point B with his wife and my wife riding in the back seat talking non stop AND Ted driving me, riding shot gun... wide eyed and bushy tailed on THEIR maiden voyage into heavy Denver, Colorado traffic. Ted did a wonderful job. The ladies enjoyed their swapping... some kind of information, while Ted was getting first hand everything you would want to know and what to watch out for.... look out!

This little story is for them to remember their maiden voyage and also how my wife and I felt on our first wrong turn and many more to follow over the years. Now as seasoned Airstreamers, we have brought another couple on line and on their way to help the next Newbies on their maiden voyages.

Our "wrong turns" today have a totally different name. It is called... BOONDOCKING. When Ted and Kathy are ready... we will be there to help them on their way to getting lost, as well.

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Old 11-28-2014, 06:51 PM   #2
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Peoria , Arizona
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Nice topic Ray

I cant speak to owning an airstream yet, but i can speak to towing. I towed thousands of miles of horses to horse shows =) and a suggestion for training your brain how to intuitively turn the wheel in the right direction. If you are new to towing and backing up you do have to train your brain to do this.

Backing up there are 2 methods and you have to use the one that makes the most sense to your brain.

1) only move when looking in mirrors ( turn and look over your shoulder for safety reasons but dont put pedal to the metal as your brain is thinking in reverse when you use mirrors)

2) Look over your shoulder when backing up. Here again use the mirror for safety but dont move while looking in mirror

My point is initially when learning to back, use one method or the other to start till your brain goes on automatic. Eventually it wont matter and to start pick one.

Turning, don't be afraid to swing wider than you need. Before a right turn, swing slightly left (if there isn't a car in the lane) so you don't run over the curb. No one says you always have to stay inside the lines =)

Anyone ever had a flat hitting a curb? *raises hand sheepisly*

Last suggestion: when towing dont be afraid to take your time, who cares if other people are honking, don't let their impatience get you in an unsafe position.

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Old 11-28-2014, 07:08 PM   #3
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Exactly. You are the command pilot, and in charge. The rest of the world needs to understand that you will move when you are ready and in a safe manner based on you view of the situation. Rule one is think first, then act cautiously. Be prepared to stop and think more if need be.

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Old 11-28-2014, 07:27 PM   #4
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I did one of those apartment turns early on and it was dead end! Had to back all the way out. It took me forever to learn, but I did, by myself in a lot with a small cooler placed where I needed to have my back end of the trailer to be. I cried a lot in frustration, but managed. In our home I am the backer upper. My husband does not quite understand that when
I turn the wheel in the other direction, it does take a little time for the trailer to get the message and start the turn. I used to get really nervous, but was much better this year, and although not perfect, I get to the cooler everytime.
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Old 11-28-2014, 07:46 PM   #5
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The key to backing up with the side mirrors is to turn toward the side that shows too much trailer. Top of the wheel to the left if too much trailer shows in the left mirror, and vice versa.
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Old 11-28-2014, 07:57 PM   #6
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I know this is not a worst backing place thread, but I do have to relate that once I was going to a state park, and when I got there, the gate was closed and locked, and there was absolutely no way to turn around provided (and no indication that the park was closed for the season either). It was almost dark. It was half a mile in. I had to back up half a mile.

I was one mad and frustrated puppy when I got out of that one.
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:19 PM   #7
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OMG, I can't imagine backing half a mile. We're getting better, though I don't want to jinx it by sounding overconfident. DW drives when we're backing up, while I run around the rig sizing things up and suggesting which way to turn the wheel. When I back up, well, let's just say it's better if I don't. I'm decent at working the angles from the outside, and we can generally get properly parked in a single try, but from the driver's seat I'm pretty hopeless.

One thing we've learned so far is to avoid turning too sharply when backing up. Easy does it wins the day. Dramatic twists and turns of the wheel are a bad idea, resulting in multiple over-corrections and general sadness.

Another is that using the bottom of the steering wheel to decide which way to send the rear end of the trailer works only when the TT/TV are straight. Otherwise this is an over-simplification. When the TT/TV are at an angle to each other, the focus has to be on opening or tightening that angle and the resulting position of the trailer vs. magically moving the rear of the trailer in one direction or the other by turning the wheel in the proper direction.

We've also learned to appreciate and utilize "the scoop," every chance we get. Without the scoop, it would be a lot more difficult to back into a spot. Long Long Honeymoon | #Loloho » Blog Archive » VIDEO: The Secret to Backing Up an RV

That said, we're still in the very early stages of learning to back up with relaxed precision and no drama. Someday we'll get there.
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Old 11-28-2014, 09:42 PM   #8
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It does take a lot of practice and patience...I'm still learning.

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Old 11-28-2014, 10:36 PM   #9
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Another suggestion for complete newcomers to hauling any kind of a trailer (like we were,) besides just taking your time, is not being too embarrassed to ask for assistance. Pull-through sites are easy, but a tight reverse into a back-in site (like most of the ones in National Parks) is challenging. Typically "She" hops out of the vehicle at the back-in campsite and guides the driver, while "He" backs up the trailer.

This is all very well, but it can be a severe strain on one's relationship.

She: "Go left! Go left!"

He: "I am turning left!"

She: "Your other left!"

He: "How far back can I go?"

She: "Do you see that tree?"

He: "What tree? [snap, crunch] "@#$%^&*!!"

She: "If you're going to be so rude to me, I'm leaving. Park it yourself."

Campgrounds are often full of older guys who have been RVing and backing up Large Trailer-Type Conveyances practically forever. You can make any one of them feel like a hero just by asking him to help you back in your trailer, while She takes the dog for a relaxing walk or phones home. These guys are happy to feel useful. Any embarrassment felt by the driver is more than compensated by the savings on marriage counseling fees.
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Old 11-28-2014, 10:56 PM   #10
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AIRSTREAM NEWBIES listen up... toughest learning curve

Put one hand on the bottom of the wheel and move your hand in the direction you want the trailer to move.

This is a simple exercise that makes backing a trailer not quite so counterintuitive.

The longest back out I ever had to do was a bit over two miles down a curvy country road with a 75' combination. I didn't have a spotter.

A person can find a way to do stuff like this when they really don't have a choice...

Growing up on a farm makes backing easier as an adult.

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The fact that I am opinionated does not presuppose that I am wrong......

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Old 11-29-2014, 03:20 AM   #11
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Good advice so far....bottom of wheel in direction one wants the rear of the trailer to move....but as the angle of TV to trailer becomes more acute, this gets to a point where one may be forced to pull forward and open the angle before continuing in a reverse direction.

And, the key element in successful backing..... SLOWLY, YUP SLOWLY, AND JUST LIKE LOCATION, LOC....... ONE MORE TIME....back up your trailer....SLOWLY!

Ms Tommie Lauer
Greensboro, NC
2015 Serenity 30 RB / 2008 Dodge Cummins 4 X 4
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Happy trails and Good Luck
Ms Tommie Fantine Lauer, Greensboro, NC
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Old 11-29-2014, 05:35 AM   #12
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All of the advice above regarding towing is good. Here are some additional thoughts, most of them safety cautions.

1) Do a complete walk around of both the trailer and tow vehicle before you climb into the driver seat, before you leave in the morning and at every stop. Look at the tires, the tow chains, breakaway switch and all connections between the trailer and the tow vehicle. Look over the hitch, make sure the awnings on the trailer are secure. Look underneath to make sure nothing is dragging. Look at the windows, skylights and fans to make sure they are secure from the inside. Refrigerator door closed? Water pump off? Sink drain open? If the pump runs while you are on the highway you want the water going in gray tank, not out of the sink and onto the floor! Are your stabilizers and tongue jack raised? Rock guards secure? Door step up? A checklist helps.
2) Make sure you check the tire pressure before you start towing for the day. A tire pressure monitor system is a big help during the day. A pistol style laser temperature gauge is also helpful for checking the temperature of your tires and wheel hubs when you stop. Proper tire pressure is critical for safe towing and a pressure check may save you from changing a tire on the road. A hot wheel hub likely means you have a bad wheel bearing. Check the torque of your wheel lugs when you start your trip, at 30 miles, at 100 miles and then every few days. They do loosen and come off!!!
3) Have your partner stand at the back of the trailer and verify all of the lights work -- turn signals, brakes, emergency flashers, running lights.
4) As you pull forward slowly for the first time each day make sure the trailer brakes work by activating them with the brake controller in your tow vehicle. Trailer brakes not working? Don't travel until they are fixed.
5) On the highway look far ahead in the lane in front of you. Steer to the middle of the lane at a point 200 feet or so in the distance. Looking at the road immediately in front of the hood of the tow vehicle causes you to continuously make minute corrections to the steering which is tiring. Looking farther ahead helps you anticipate trouble and results in your steering corrections being more gradual. Remember stopping distance for a trailer and tow vehicle is much greater than a tow vehicle alone so you need to be looking ahead and anticipating what vehicles ahead of you are going to be doing so you will have time to react. Finally, when you have no shoulder on the right because there is a concrete construction barrier on the edge of the lane and an 18 wheeler is passing you on the left, steering to the center of the lane some distance ahead will keep your focus off the fact the side of your trailer is 2-3 inches from the barrier and forward focus will make sure you don't hit the barrier! My first tow with the Airstream was through a construction area on the Jersey turnpike. I learned fast.
6) Building on #5, keep several car lengths between you and the vehicle ahead. Even being cautious, and allowing plenty of space, I've had to go to the shoulder when the traffic ahead suddenly stops. Plenty of space between you and the vehicle ahead gives you options and reaction time if something happens ahead. If you are tailgating, there are no options in an emergency stop situation. Many times I've come to the top of a hill and found the traffic stopped in front of me, particularly on overpasses in urban areas.
7) Keep your speed down. It will feel uncomfortable driving at 55-60 mph in the right lane of a highway with cars and trucks flying by at 70+ mph until you have your first emergency stop or quick move to avoid road debris. From that point on you'll be comfortable driving at a slower speed than traffic. Plus your pocketbook will appreciate the better gas mileage. Above 60 mph fuel mileage begins to drop significantly with each additional mph on the speedometer.
8) Exit safely and if you can't, keep going and circle back. There will be situations where you are in the left lane and can't get over in time to make the exit due to vehicles on your right. Don't hit the brakes and stop in traffic. Keep going, don't sweat, and circle back at the next exit.
9) Stop and rest frequently. Exercise your legs, use the facilities, and definitely walk around and inspect the rig. Go back to the trailer and take a 30 minute power nap if you feel fatigued. Towing is tiring and safe towing demands an alert driver. We make a point of driving no more than 1 1/2 hours without a stop.
10) If road debris suddenly appears from under a car or truck ahead of you it is better to plow through it and risk damaging the underside of your vehicle than making a quick turn on the steering wheel to avoid it. A sharp and sudden jerk of the steering wheel can put the trailer into a sway condition which could result in a tragic accident. Better to puncture a tire or dent something on the underside of the vehicle than end up out of control and flipping in the rig in what could be a deadly accident. This is another reason to leave plenty of open space between you and the vehicle ahead.
11) Use the turn signal! It will help the drivers behind you understand what you need to do. While there are some jerks on the highway who delight in preventing you from changing lanes, most drivers seem to understand you have a difficult rig to maneuver and will hold back to let your execute a lane change. However, unless you signal they can't know what you are trying to accomplish.
12) Start looking for fuel when the gauge reaches the half way point, particularly if you are driving a diesel truck and in a rural area you don't know. Not every exit ahead has a fuel stop and not every gas station has sufficient room to handle a 40-50 foot rig. Better to stop and pay 5 cents more per gallon than to get that feeling in your stomach when your instrument panel says you have fuel for 50 miles and the road looks like it will go on forever. The "Next Exit" book can be invaluable for determining if there is a station ahead that will accommodate large rigs, not to mention what dining choices may be available.

Did I mention safety first when towing?
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Old 11-29-2014, 09:45 AM   #13
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Lots to store away into the "knoggin"

Florida 55 has covered the spectrum. Now for the "off the spectrum"...

Make sure your hitch and ball are compatible. A U-Haul truck ball is smaller than the standard Airstream hitch. We met a woman in West Wendover, Nevada who attached the NEW 16' Bambi to the U-Haul 28 foot moving truck's ball. The Bambi came loose from the truck's ball. Were it not for the chains and the breakaway switch engaging there could have been more to worry about. The electric jack was bent and needed to be replaced in Salt Lake City.

The same couple then hit a "road gator". Usually from an 18 wheeler's trailer when a tire separates. They were driving from Chicago to California... and this would be about 2/3rds of the way.

Road Gators & Ball Diameters are important!

Have someone check that your tail lights are working on the trailer before leaving. If they are not... it means you also have NO BRAKES activating. Someone forgot to plug into the tow vehicle... and you will drag the plug down the highway until the first gasoline stop to discover you had no tail lights or brakes on the trailer.

Check to make sure you are connected... Trailer to Tow Vehicle.

The cutting board cover over your sink. Remove it when moving and lay it on the bed spread or couch. It WILL come alive once the trailer and tow vehicle begin to move!

Secure anything that can come loose within the trailer by rope or sitting on a stable surface.

Soda or Beer in the refrigerator. Remove cans from the door shelves. You can break the end connections with too much weight. BEER... when beer is shaken...the cap CAN and WILL make a big stinking mess in the interior of the refrigerator. Of course... that could have NEVER happened to me. Never. Well, once.

Watch the heavy items on the refrigerator door shelving. DO NOT HAUL BEER IN GLASS BOTTLES IN THE REFRIGERATOR. Yes, it might be cold beer, but it might be running out of the bottom of the refrigerator and flavor all of your other cold food.

The Floor of the Shower makes great storage for Watermelons and anything else you want to keep cool. We have spare sleeping bags to sit onto the shower floor and put heavy melons, fruit or anything else you want to keep cool on a trip. The sleeping bag(s) or furniture mats for movers work great. The temperature will stay pretty close to the temperature at the time you are leaving the camp ground.

So much to learn by trial and error. We all learned the hard way.

Check the air pressure in your SPARE TIRE. Makes little sense when you have a flat tire on the trailer and your spare is flat from not checking its air pressure.
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:05 AM   #14
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WOW, fantastic advise, Guys and Gals.

I have only one thing to add. (You're all surprised, aren't you. )

No matter how frustrated you might be, remember to have fun. Enjoy these moments. You will laugh about the worst of them for many years.

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