Breakdown! The Time our Tongue Broke from the Frame

The tongue coming from the left where it meets one of the
two frames under the trailer. The piece of metal welded to
connect the tongue and frame is what broke. 

Along with several other members of our RVing extended family, we camped at Warren Dunes State Park for the Fourth of July weekend (great place; highly recommended).

The trip out there was only supposed to be about three hours, but an unexpected and expensive breakdown added another two-and-a-half hours to the trip.

My parents had started out about 30 minutes ahead of us. We stayed in contact with them so they could tell us about construction (near Ida, and then Dundee, and then Ann Arbor, and ... well a lot of places along the way). Just outside Marshall, they pulled into a highway rest stop. We stopped there, too, only about five minutes later.

I stepped out of the TrailBlazer, hugged mom and dad, turned back to check out our rig and immediately saw we had a serious problem.

The tongue was at such an angle that it was obvious it had broken free of the trailer frame.

Similar to the first photo, an identical piece of metal broke
connecting the tongue to the second frame 
on the other side
of the camper. 
I laid down on the pavement to take a better look under the camper and, sure enough, the foot-long piece of metal that was welded between the tongue and the frame had cracked and broken. Inspecting where the other side of the tongue meets the other frame piece under the camper revealed an identical break.

My first thought was, "Crap" (in so many words).

My immediate second thought was how lucky we were that it didn't come completely detatched while we were traveling on the highway. That would have been disastorous.

Near as I can tell, the tongue was still barely attached to the camper because it was still welded to a cross-piece at the front that connected the two frame pieces running down either side. 

How long we traveled like this, I don't know for certain. But we did hit construction soon after we got on the highway, and it was soon after that when my son asked why we were bouncing. I blindly answered that it was called "chucking" and as soon as we could get back up to a normal speed -- about 60-65 mph for us when we're towing the camper -- and on smooth pavement it would go away.

The foklift had a 14,000-pound capacity, so my 3,500-pound
camper was not a problem.
Maybe that was when the tongue broke? I really don't know. There was nothing obvious. No loud crack, no noticeable drop to the camper, no sign that slapped me in the face and said, "Pull over idiot. You have a problem."

But, about 100 miles later, as we were stopped at the highway rest stop, it was all too evident we had a major problem with our 15-year-old camper.

Here's what I did:
Step 1 - Diagnose the problem. (Already did that. The metal broke.)
Step 2 - Determine how it can be fixed. (It needs a new piece of metal welded from the tongue onto each frame.)
Step 3 - Determine whether you can fix it. (No dummy. You don't have any welding equipment with you.)
Step 4 - You can't fix it? Then find someone who can.

So I pulled out my iPhone and did an Internet seach for welders near Marshall, Michigan. Several popped up, but the one I ended up calling was K&S Welding & Fabrication in Albion. Why did I pick them? For no other reason than they were the closest to me.

The camper fit through the door with inches to spare.
I called them up and talked to Jim, the owner. He asked if I could bring it to the shop and I said I thought I could. I made it 100 miles in its current condition, I was reasonably sure I could drive it another three or four miles to his shop.

So, with my parents following us, we drove one mile to the next exit, then another few miles to K&S.

Jim and his nephew, Austin, took an initial inspection and came to the same conclusion I had, so they needed to get my camper into their shop to fix it. They moved a horse trailer they had been working on in their huge steel building/workshop. They also moved out of the way the biggest John Deere combine I had ever seen. 

With Austin directing him, Jim maneuvered his forklift so one fork was between my tandem axles and the other was under the center of the camper. The forks were long enough to extend under both trailer frames. Four piles of rigid padding were stacked between the forks and the frame, which allowed the forklift to lift the camper without the forks pushing in between the tires.

Several welds and new pieces of metal later and the repair
was completed.
Yes, I was worried the forklift could lift it. Yes, I was worried the camper would fall off the forks. But Jim said the forklift had a 14,000-pound capacity. My camper was only about 3,500 pounds. And they only lifted it a few feet before they tested it for balance. And by testing it I meant Austin -- a big strong kid -- tried to rock it up and down. It was plenty stable.

So Jim drove it into his shop and lifted it about six feet into the air. The two then removed the stablizer jacks that were in the way and removed the broken pieces, remarking how the manufacturer should have done more welds. They cleaned up what was left, moved the tongue back into proper position and welded the tongue back to the frame in both places. Austin fashioned two new foot-long pieces of metal -- much thicker than what had broken -- gave them a bend to match the angle needed and welded those into place, too.

After that, Jim brought it out of the barn, set it down and we hitched back up and were on our way.

It took them about two hours. They charged me $250. Yes, it was expensive. I could have done it myself for next to nothing.

But you know what, I long before had decided I wasn't going to let this setback get me in a foul mood. It could have been so much worse, and I don't mean the time or the money. We were lucky it wasn't a full-blown disaster out on the highway.

So we said our thanks and goodbyes, and then made it to Warren Dunes State Park and had an absolutely terrific Fourth of July vacation (as you can see in my video above).