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Fitting a Square Trailer in a Round World

Even before I bought my Spartan, I began my education in vintage trailers 101.  To a neophyte like me, virtually everything about old trailer ownership has proved challenging and it has become clear that the modern world doesn’t necessarily appreciate these old relics.  Nor are they understood.

Let’s talk about transporting one of these beasts.  Forgive the cliche, but when it comes to moving one of these around, size matters.  And size means different things to different people.  Consensus is hard to find.  For example, at http://www.goodsamcamping.com there is a chart called “Rules of the Road” that summarizes allowable length/hauling limits by each of the 50 states (yes, for the curious, there is at least 1 Spartan in Hawaii. I found it for sale online, and like almost everything else on the islands, you’ll pay double what you would on the mainland.  But I digress).  According to my good friend Sam, only 16 states allow transporting a trailer over 40 feet.  However, when I checked a similar chart compiled by Triple A (http://www.drivinglaws.aaa.com/trailer-dimensions) I began counting, in alpha order, those states that allowed hauling trailers over 40 feet.  I stopped at 20 and was only half way through the alphabet.  Clearly the laws vary by state and, depending on who you talk to, within each state.  Lesson #1 of vintage trailer ownership.  Do your homework.  Decision-making by the “ready, fire, aim” method (one favored by recovered alcoholics with still undeveloped impulse control) is to be discouraged.

Another aspect of moving a 45′ (including hitch), 8,000 lb. (minus refer, stove and other heavy fixtures) trailer is, “Oh, whadaya mean I can’t hook this up to my Prius?”.  I’m kidding but this is definitely not like buying and trailering a 22′ boat, something I have considerable experience in.  For one, there is the age factor.  Spartan stopped building these trailers in 1961.  You will not find one any younger than 55.  They are all AARP eligible.  With age comes problems.  The vast majority of old trailers have outdated wiring harnesses, shorts in lighting and braking systems and seized brakes largely due to the aforementioned rust factor.  These are solvable problems but take time and a little money.  They are not to be ignored prior to transporting due to factor number two – their tremendous weight.  Basic physics reminds us that momentum = mass(wt.) X velocity(speed).  To ignore this immutable law by mismatching trailer and truck is to invite potential disaster.  Put an 8,000 lb. trailer behind a 1/2 ton “Full Size” pickup and you will have the proverbial tail wagging the dog – not a pretty metaphor at 55 MPH on a busy freeway.  So be conservative.  Before moving your new passion, get or rent or hire more truck than you think you will need ESPECIALLY if there is any doubt about the reliability of the trailer’s braking system.

This important topic of matching truck to trailer is expertly covered by Mark J. Polk of RV Education in North Carolina, http://www.rveducation101.com/articles/TowVehicleTrailer.pdf.  Read and heed.  Thanks Mark!

Having addressed the topic of transporting your new hobby, we now confront the thorny issue of where to put it once it is moved.  This, too, is a subject that deserves a little research in your locality before you buy.  You will quickly learn that you are up against not only size discrimination but age bias.

With regard to size, of the 94 trailer-accessible campgrounds in California (see http://www.parks.ca.gov/rvlength), only 4 have spaces large enough to accommodate a 42 foot trailer.  Or, there are size limitations due to problems concerning maneuverability while trying to get in or out of many campgrounds.  While this is not a big concern of mine, as I will be parking my trailer semi-permanently on private land, it is definitely a consideration for those hoping to see the country in your not-so-portable home.  Do a little research before purchasing any trailer over 32 feet.

The subject of age is even more vexing.  Having placed many phone calls with Santa Rosa area trailer parks, I learned most will not accept a trailer over ten years old.  What! I went online and found a post that bemoaned the paucity of RV parks in the greater Portland area, a seeming bastion of progressive-minded inclusivists (you heard it here first), written by a gentleman who could only find one park that would accept his pristine 1994 Coachman.  This situation, which leaves me no choice but to invoke the “A” word, smacks of Ageism pure and simple.  Most RV parks, where people go and park months on end, are privately owned.  So, owners get to make the rules not only with regard to size but also appearance.  Most park operators don’t want shabby-looking trailers bringing down the desirability of their neighborhoods. But since beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, age has become a proxy for appearance.  It is cut and dried.  Not at all subjective.  Why ten years and not twenty?  Who knows, but like most forms of discrimination it probably has no basis in fact, fairness or rationale.  So, before you buy an old trailer, you best figure out if and where you can take park it short or long-term.

Finally, in addition to size and age, you will (as I did) run into problems if you want to work on your new obsession.  You can forget about RV parks.  If size and appearance hasn’t already disqualified you, fears of noise, dust and debris will.  Even RV and boat storage yards are not likely to accept your application if you plan on working on it, at least in the Santa Rosa area.  I did finally find one yard that would accept a 45′ vintage Spartan for the purposes of renovation, but it was over 20 miles away.  Your best bet is to go on Craigslist and post a classified asking for space to store/work on your trailer or search under “Housing” and click on the “parking/storage” tab. After a few days of looking, I came across a lovely little patch of earth 4 miles from my house, with access to power and a barn to store tools.  It ain’t cheap, so plan on factoring those expenses into your renovation costs (in my case, 18 months x $275 = $4,950).  This will definitely keep me from procrastinating.

Tom: “Just back it through the gate. What’s the big deal?”

LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED!

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