A Road Ready Trailer

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’ve spent a fair amount of time working on improving a flatbed utility trailer I purchased a few months back. When I last left you, I had new wheel hub/brake assemblies on order, all of the old wiring removed, and the trailer still parked in my driveway. Oh how things have changed.

The weather was starting to make a turn. The days were getting wetter and colder. I knew the last thing I wanted to do was work on the trailer in my driveway in the rain, sleet, and eventually snow. Thankfully the shop space I’m renting for the bus also had room for my trailer. However, at this point, I’d removed all of the lighting and both hubs on the rear axle. So naturally, I improvised. I threw the taillights back on, temporarily rigged up the 4-pin connector to the truck, wrapped the spindles in plastic bags to keep the junk off of them, and brought it a few miles away to the shop.

Good 'nuff
Good ’nuff

At the shop, I started with the wheels.  It seemed like a good place, since I already had two off. The order of operations goes something like this:

  • Mount the brake assembly to the mounting plate
  • Pack the inner and outer bearings
  • Place the inner bearing into the hub
  • Seat the grease seal in over the inner bearing (use a hammer and a block of wood to apply even force across the entire circumference of the seal)
  • Place the wheel hub over the brake assembly
  • Place the outer bearing on the spindle
  • Put the washer on the spindle
  • Put the spindle nut on, and tighten it “tight-ish” with a wrench
  • Back off the nut, and retighten it “finger tight” and throw in the cotter pin
  • Seat the grease/dust cap (again, with a hammer and a block of wood)
  • Take a swig of soda, beer, or whatever else you’re drinking, pat yourself on the back, and go do it 3 more times.

In my case the grease/dust cap was a Bearing Buddy. The concept is pretty simple: It’s a dust cap that also has a grease fitting on it, with a piston behind that maintains a bit of pressure keeping the grease in the hub. You blast grease in, and it fills the void between the cap and the grease seal behind the inner bearing. Once you put in enough grease, it comes shooting out the front. This keeps the bearings/spindle greased, and by keeping that space filled and under pressure, water and other contaminants are kept out.

At the shop, ready to get started.
At the shop, ready to get started.
Fresh hub/brake assembly, ready to be installed.
Fresh hub/brake assembly, ready to be installed.
New bearing, unpacked.
New bearing, unpacked.
New bearing, packed with grease.
New bearing, packed with grease.
Inner bearing placed, and grease seal set.
Inner bearing placed, and grease seal set.
Hub assembly resting on the spindle
Hub assembly resting on the spindle.
Outer bearing, washer, spindle nut, and cotter pin installed.
Outer bearing, washer, spindle nut, and cotter pin installed.
Bearing buddy installed, and fully greased.
Bearing Buddy installed, and fully greased.

All was going well until I tore open the second box from eTrailer and began preparing the second set of hubs/brakes. I noticed that I was missing 1) one lug nut for each of the hubs (four missing lug nuts total) and 2) one of the brake assemblies was missing a mounting bolt.  {Sigh} I called eTrailer and they promptly shipped out replacements. Or at least that’s what they claimed to have sent. I’ll let you be the judge. Now I probably could’ve made it work, but I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the correct bolt.

They're basically the same... right?
They’re basically the same… right?

In the meantime, I kept plugging along and mounted up the third hub/brake since I still had all the parts for that. About midway through that process, I discovered that one of the new nuts I’d purchased while up at Home Depot in Kenai, had a burr on it. I discovered this precisely when that burr managed to completely mangle the threads on one brake assembly mounting bolt. Now I was down two mounting bolts. I couldn’t find anyone in town that sold the right sized replacement, or even a non-press in bolt like the replacement that eTrailer sent me. Even the Dexter dealer in Anchorage didn’t have any. I was left with the prospect of paying $1/ea + $15 shipping to get it up here, or pick them up for $0.57/ea at a Dexter dealer in MN when we traveled back for the holidays. I opted for the latter even though it extended the project.

Hey, those threads are FUBAR.
The bolt I mangled

After finishing up the 3rd hub, I was done with the wheels until I had the replacement bolts. So I switched gears and started working on the electrical tasks. I distinctly recall coming home one night after being at the shop and opining to Mama B that I have a tendency to equate an easy task with a quick task in my brain. There are many, many tasks that are not challenging but are also very time consuming. Wiring up an old trailer falls into that category. It’s not hard by any means, but it inevitably takes longer than you think it will.

The first light went in without any trouble. The next light was when the easy yet time consuming hiccups began. The mounting holes from the old light didn’t line up with the mounting studs from the new light. They were off by 1/8″, which meant I had to grind out one of the holes just enough so the new light would fit. Then I started mounting lights where there were none previously (though they the legally required), during which I kept shearing the heads off of my self-tapping screws. Just more things that take more time.

Old, crimped, non waterproof connections
Old, crimped, non waterproof connections
New, soldered, heat shrunk waterproof connections.
New, soldered, heat shrunk waterproof connections.

The front clearance light just ahead of the left fender was a doozie. It’d been bent previously and there was no way I’d be able to mount the light to it. It was simply too bent and the cheap plastic light would be destroyed as I screwed it into place. My solution was less than elegant, but it worked. I had a spare piece of angle iron and a small vise. The strategy was to clamp the bent metal to my straight piece of steel. By clamping down the vise, and pulling on the scrap steel, I was hoping to bend back this mangled mounting plate. It took some elbow grease, but I finally got it to the point where I could mount the light. It’s not going to win any awards, but this is a trailer after all.

20151108_140240
Before
During
During
After
After

After getting all of the lighting in, I ran new wires back to the brakes. I could not believe how small of gauge wire was run to the brakes when I got it originally. It simply was not sized properly for the size load, or the voltage drop for such a long distance. I ran new 10ga wires which will be great plenty. Lastly, I mounted and wired up a breakaway kit for the brakes. Basically it’s a small 12V battery and a switch that’s being held open by a plastic key. This plastic key is attached to your truck, and comes out with modest force. If the trailer breaks free from the tow vehicle for any reason the plastic key is ripped out, the switch is enabled, and the battery applies constant, full power to the brakes. It’s like an airbag – you hope to never need it, but you’ll sure be glad you have it if you do. (And, it’s required by law.)

About to start cleaning up.
About to start cleaning up.
Lastly, wire up the breakaway kit to apply the brakes if the trailer is disconnected from the truck.
Lastly, wire up the breakaway kit.

And with that, I was done. All new tires (even the spare)! New brakes on all 4 wheels. New LED lights all around. A nice clean junction box up front for easy maintenance. A new, correct voltage battery for my breakaway kit. It pulled like a dream (or as dreamlike as any empty trailer with leaf springs pulls).

Done
Done

I’m looking forward to loading The Beast onto this sucker and heading out for a leisurely stroll up and down the beach. Or hauling a load of building materials when we start building our house next spring!

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