They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When I’m driving down that road, it seems I’m usually towing a boat. It’s a nice day. The cooler is iced. The tube is inflated. The worms are wiggling. The vehicle is scented with sunscreen, my co-pilot has on her favorite shades and is smiling, the kids are not sulking, and we are off to the lake. Our prospects are promising, and the road ahead is indeed paved with the intentions to have a good day.
What could go wrong? Trailer trouble, that’s what. In my nautical lifetime, I have suffered more aggravation and had more close calls with the trailer than with the actual boat. I have diagnosed bad wiring roadside with a flashlight in my teeth. I have replaced a wheel bearing in a Fleet Farm parking lot. I once hit a frost heave so high and so sharp that both transom tie-down straps actually snapped in two.
Then there was the time I was rolling down a freeway in Georgia, glanced in the sideview mirror, and noticed smoke billowing off one of four trailer tires supporting a Wellcraft runabout. Dang. My companions and I, in the midst of a 2,500-mile road-trip story for this publication, were prepared (for once) with a spare, a jack and a lug wrench. When the sun rose the next day, we were in Bat Cave, North Carolina, and that’s where one of us noticed the tire we installed yesterday was worn to the cords. Closer inspection revealed that this wheel was out of line with the trailer. And then the lightbulb went off: While trying to maneuver in a congested filling station the day before, I had wedged the trailer against the curbing of a pump island, and it was now obvious I had managed to bend the spindle. Doh!
At the time, services were limited in Bat Cave. The owner of a small gas station said he couldn’t help us, but he was sure the Ledbetter brothers could fix it. “Just go down the road about 4 miles to the white church and take a right, and you’ll see their salvage yard a little farther,” he said. “Shop on left, house on the right.”
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The shop was a big wooden shed, and when we pulled in, Don Ledbetter was in the yard busily converting a school bus into a stock-car transporter, and his brother Wyatt was across the road, cultivating corn on a Farmall tractor. Did I mention that the editor had dressed us like a race team—in matching red jumpsuits—for this magazine assignment? We were quite a sight.
If you are imagining Gomer and Goober, you are dead wrong. These men had skills. The trailer was up, the wheel was off, and the torch came out. A 4-foot pipe provided the leverage to bend the red-hot spindle, and a level and a length of white string was used to gauge alignment. They had things corrected in 15 minutes and refused to take any payment. I think they found us rather amusing. That day, we were lucky to encounter two good Samaritans on the road to hell. Ever since, I will do anything to avoid backing a trailer, unless it’s down a ramp to the water.