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From Texas-sized 2 Tiny House For Three

Ten (+2!) Important Things We Learned While Towing Our Tiny House For The First Time

1)   Wind is NOT your friend, and I’m not talking about the unavoidable resistance your tiny house will face as a solid object hurtling through space at 65+mph. I’m talking about 20-40mph crosswinds rolling off the plains, hills, and dales you’ll traverse while towing your precious home from state to state. Getting hit with winds that strong creates a feeling similar to when your car is about to skid on ice, and it’s just as panic-inducing, I assure you. The best thing I instinctively did when I felt like I was about to lose control of the truck and trailer was to take my foot off the gas, NOT stomp on the brake, and just hold the steering wheel steady as the deceleration balanced things out. That may not be the official best way to deal with a swaying trailer, but it certainly helped keep me from peeing my pants with anxiety about potentially being blown off the road for 12 consecutive hours of driving.

2)   If you’re driving a diesel truck, it is an absolute GURANFRIGGINTEE that the one and only diesel pump at a small gas station in the middle of BFE will be hogged by a gas-fueled vehicle that Isn’t. Even. Getting. Gas. Seriously, this happened three times, the first of which lead me to backing up and then cutting a corner too tightly, dinging the dually’s wheel well on a concrete pylon in front of a fuel pump as I tried to maneuver back around to get to the other side of that single diesel pump. Not worth it, so either skip that station (if you can) for a larger one with more pumps, or learn to curse under your breath while you wait (im)patiently for the hogger to move on. That brings me to…

3)   Even if you think you’ve swung wide enough to orbit the Earth, you WILL graze something with your trailer at some point, be it a curb or a concrete pylon guarding the fuel pumps from n00b towers like you. If you feel or hear a jolt, STOP! Get out (or get your passenger, if you have one, to get out) and look carefully at what you’re butting up against. With a little guidance you should be able to undo whatever oopsie you inadvertently created (like managing to wedge 2 tires between yet another concrete pylon at a fuel pump – yeesh!) by not paying close enough attention to how big your butt, er – I mean your trailer end is provided you didn’t hit another car or, gods forbid, a person. Just remember you now have the length of your truck AND the total length of your trailer (don’t forget the tongue length in that calculation) to maneuver around and over objects (curbs, bushes, pylons, other cars, etc) that you would normally be able to zip around without a second thought.

4)   Also in the realm of diesel fueling issues, do NOT try to fill up a NON-semi truck at a pump designed specifically FOR semi trucks. The pumps spew fuel all over you the second you squeeze the handle because your itty-bitty 30gal tank is not prepared to handle the onslaught from a pump nozzle designed to engorge a 100-150gal professional grade fuel tank in roughly the same time it takes a regular pump to fill a mid-sized sedan’s gas tank. So, unless you want to reek of diesel for the rest of your trip, just don’t do it.

5)   A good rule of thumb for determining how fast you should travel on the highway is this: Take the maximum speed limit and subtract 10mph. Then lop off another 5mph just for good measure, and be prepared to be passed by every Tom, Dick, and Harry that has the cajones to whip around you on those two-lane, no shoulder, bumpier-than-a-teenager’s-acne-riddled-face roads with a semi bearing down on you both from the opposite direction. Bonus points if you’re nice enough to scooch over onto the shoulders that do occasionally apparate to facilitate safer passing and win back a few brownie points with the line of cars that have amassed behind your grandma-speed self.

6)   Don’t forget to think about other low hanging objects in your path besides the obvious trouble spots like overpasses. There were two main roads back to my dad’s house, and I chose the closer of the two forgetting the country road had arched trees overhanging along more than a mile of it. It was also dark when we were driving it, so I never even saw the branch that smacked the peak of the tongue-side of the roof and chipped a good sized chunk of plywood off – I sure felt and heard it though! We even took a scouting trip to Wichita Falls where the TxDOT website had some low bridge clearances listed, but we never even thought about trees being an issue.

7)   If you have the option for 4-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive on your tow vehicle, USE THEM! I can’t tell you what a difference having the 4WD made while towing, especially with the insane winds that were actively trying to knock us off the road. Ours didn’t like going slow (made turning feel like my first car, a 1980 Chevette, which didn’t have power steering), but it was a huge help in stabilizing the truck and trailer at highway speed. Also, if you have a Tow/Haul mode on your truck, definitely use that, too! Just remember to turn it back on each time you restart the truck if yours automatically shuts off each time you power down like ours did. I kept wondering if the truck was trying to crap out on me already until I realized I just needed to turn that back on. HUGE difference in handling!

8)   Another diesel related issue: If your truck requires DEF to run, DON’T RUN OUT! I started to get nervous when I realized our DEF gauge was in the red and we were in the middle of nowhere, and Brandy’s google search that said the engine would lock up and only allow us to drive 5mph if we ran out of it did zilch for improving my anxiety levels. I turned off the exhaust brake (makes the engine do all the work when slowing down to save your brake pads – excellent feature to have if you get a heavy duty truck!) and tried to keep the truck at a steady speed until we could figure out what to do. Thankfully we found out some gas stations sell jugs of the stuff for about $7/gal that you can funnel in, which is better than the stuff that spewed back at the actual “Truck Stop” we’d tried earlier. Also, if you spill DEF while filling up your tank and don’t wipe it off, your truck will have these weird white streaks where crystals have formed from the urea drying. I got worried it would strip the paint, but a baby wipe took it off without issue.

9)   Pack plenty of snacks, go easy on chugging caffeine or water, and keep the fuel tank(s) full. If you’re taking backroads to avoid low bridges you’re likely to go upwards of 50+ miles without any kind of facilities or civilization in general. If you have a full bladder and an empty fuel tank you’ll be S.O.L. if the next town or rest stop is 100 miles away! We got down to 46mi of estimated driving distance in a one horse town in BFE eastern Colorado that literally had ONE fuel pump that, thank the gods, had diesel. If that pump hadn’t been there we’d have been stuck like Chuck, and I’d have been peeing on the side of the road. No bueno!

10)   Concrete roads bad. Asphalt (so long as it hasn’t been patched ten zillion times) good! You will feel Every. Single. Seam. in concrete roads in a truck, and having a trailer behind you only seems to exacerbate that issue. Seriously, I felt like I was in one of these the whole trip, Image and, like using them, the experience failed to whittle inches. It did make every bone and muscle in my back ache the next day though! Truly, the following Ace Ventura clip is a pretty accurate representation of how you’re going to look (or at least feel like you look) while cruising down the smaller, crappier roads across the country in a big truck:


 

**5/17 UPDATE** I just remembered a couple other things that are important to remember, so here they are:

11) The hitch ball you need for your trailer, specifically if you use a Tumbleweed Trailer or buy an Amish Barn Raiser, is 2-5/16″ round like the CURT 30k-lb one we bought. Good luck finding a box-end wrench or crescent wrench big enough to fit around the nut on that thing!! I tried both Home Depot and Lowe’s without any success, but apparently “real” hardware stores should carry either of the aforementioned wrench types (ones Brandy says are superior for this particular job) in large enough sizes. Our nut specifically was 1-7/8″ on the outside, and the largest wrenches I found topped out at 1-1/2″ in the mouth opening. Lamesauce! As such, I bought us a pipe wrench, which did work BUT the teeth can damage the nut over time. Hence the superiority of a smooth-mouthed crescent wrench or a non-adjustable, tight fitting box-end wrench. Also, I should have bought 2 wrenches because of the next issue…

12) If you like us, are going into towing blind – as in, you haven’t seen your trailer in person yet and therefore have no clue how high off the ground the hitch will sit when level as compared to the hitch receiver on your truck – then it’s likely a good idea to buy 2 different ball mounts of varying rise/drops to accommodate the variations of different truck/vehicle bumper heights. We actually bought two different Reese brand Titan Ball Mounts in a 1.5″rise/3″drop and a 3.5″rise/5″drop (remember that you need a Class V hitch, so get ball mounts to fit those), and then we attached the ball to the mount on-site once we’d seen the house up close. DSC_0020The wind was howling and whipping around a 20+/- degree chill at the time, so if we’d all stopped and looked more closely we’d have realized the house wasn’t quite level with the 3″ drop mount in place. The photo to the right makes it pretty obvious, but I was literally jogging around the truck in the wind to take pics before we set out. Once we realized it the next day in Amarillo, though, we didn’t have that second wrench I mentioned needing in #11 to change the ball mount out for the lower one. The house pulled just fine (even with the insane winds mentioned earlier in the post), but it really is best to keep it as level as possible to avoid damaging the trailer or your truck.

IMG_1241

 

See how the gap between the left tire and the wheel well is higher than the gap on the far right? That’s because the tongue end on the left is slightly higher than it should be, which makes the “butt” of the trailer sag just a bit. Not a good thing for long hauls!

 


 

P.S. Valero stations and I did NOT get along on this trip. Every problem we encountered took place at one of their stations, so either I’ve just got some bad juju going on with them or they’re just not great stations for diesel trucks
or anyone pulling a trailer behind them. Just food for thought!

12 comments on “Ten (+2!) Important Things We Learned While Towing Our Tiny House For The First Time

  1. Ian Fregin
    February 1, 2016

    You shouldn’t use your 4wd on dry pavement. Additionally, I believe most 4wd systems aren’t made to be used at highways speed. Good read though… Thanks for sharing your experience along the journey.

    • meg & brandy - TH43
      February 18, 2016

      Yes, I should have specified we use it in inclement weather primarily. I’ve had to drive at highway speeds with it on this winter in Colorado due to poor road conditions and a fear of getting creamed by the I-D-10-Ts that insist on still going 75 with snow and ice on the ground, but that hasn’t been while towing. We would avoid towing in that kind of weather at all costs!

  2. Super good information in this, glad I stumbled upon it. I love happy accidents! http://www.fastfargotowing.com/

  3. Jeff - Tow Truck Owner
    August 29, 2016

    Wow, I loved this article! You guys are quite funny as well. I have done my share of hauling/towing and have to say, I’ve never done a house! A 37 foot camper is one thing, haha but not a house. I totally agree with the whole hogging up the diesel pumps, amazing how almost every fuel station is like that!

    • Meg
      November 23, 2016

      Granted I haven’t towed anything other than our house and a hay trailer through a field when I was 15, I can’t imagine it’s that different. We found ours towed pretty solidly even without the weight distributing hitch that we accidentally bought the wrong size of, so until we are really traveling frequently over long distances we just aren’t too worried about it. It’s a heavy girl, which may have made it easier actually. No side to side swaying, even in the crosswinds. 👍🏻

  4. Bill M
    November 2, 2016

    Have you ever considered using a towing service to move your tiny house? I’d be interested to hear how owning a truck and paying for gas and maintenance compares with using long distance towing. We’ve got a new towing business in SC, and we’re looking at different ways to set ourselves apart from our local competitors. Thanks!

    • Meg
      November 23, 2016

      We have always planned to do some traveling with our house (preferably across the US), so the freedom of owning our own vehicle made more sense for us. The Tiny House Expedition couple use a UHaul to tow theirs, and I’ve heard of a few different services that offer site-to-site towing for those simply moving from one “permanent” parking spot to another. I think it would really just depend on how frequently one wanted to relocate, but reliable towing services for any frequency or distance would certainly be helpful for anyone with a THOW as the likelihood of moving them at least once or twice is very high. 👍🏻

  5. alexhall25
    November 22, 2016

    This is the perfect blog for anyone who wants to know about this topic. The article is nice and it’s pleasant to read. I have known very important things over here. Thank you so much for this post.
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    • Meg
      November 23, 2016

      We’re glad it was informative! We certainly aren’t experts on towing, but we think it’s important to share our experiences for others who’ve never towed before, mistakes and all. 👍🏻

  6. Clay
    February 9, 2017

    Such good information, thank you! My wife and I are currently working on our finances to be able to take some time off and tow a tiny house around the country, documenting our adventures. I run a tow company – http://www.buttetowing.com – but for this type of unique set up, want to see some personal insights so thank you.

  7. Donna Robert
    July 5, 2017

    Your funny..! Enjoyable read

  8. Doug
    August 24, 2017

    Yep! Can’t tell you how many times I’ve grazed things when I thought for sure I have swung my flatbed wide enough to steer clear. I run a towing company out here in Mesa, AZ– http://www.mesatowingcompany.com — and we see our fair share of weird stuff being towed…but tiny houses, it’s not often that you see those. Cool story!

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