Lived through our first trip

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Nov 14, 2005
Cordova, TN
We just completed our first trip in our new 5th wheel - Americ-Camp F299RLS.  We decided to go somewhere nearby in case we had some problems and that turned out to have been a good decision.  After we got set up in our space at Meeman Shelby Forest State Park just outside of Memphis, TN we were unable to get either the furnace or the water heater to come on.  After reading the instruction manuals for these several times, and becoming very frustrated, I finally gave up and called the dealer where the unit was purchased.  This was on Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving, and almost everyone there had gone home for the day, but we managed to get their finance officer before she left.  After we described our problem to her, she called one of their technicians at home, and he drove out to where we were camped and helped us through the problems.  How is that for customer service?  It turned out that the batteries in the remote control for the furnace were so weak that it couldn't send a signal to the thermostat to turn the furnace on - simple enough to fix.  The water heater bypass valve had been left open when we picked it up at the dealer, and closing that fixed the problem there.  I mostly stood around feeling pretty stupid about how easy the solutions were.  Everything else worked beautifully on our new trailer.

I do have a question about backing up with the thing.  A great many years ago, while in college, I had a job as a house painter and had to drag a small 8 foot utility trailer around behind my truck.  I had no trouble backing that trailer into pretty much any space that was required, so when we got the 5th wheel I was not anticipating any problems backing it either.  Boy, was I wrong!  It seems like there is a long delay between my turning the wheel on the truck and there being a noticable change of direction in the trailer while backing.  This led to two problems.  At first I had not pulled forward far enough so that the back end of the trailer would begin to turn in time to enter the parking space.  After I finally got that part right the second problem would crop up.  When it would look like I needed to straighten the trailer for alignment with the parking space, I would turn the steering wheel the other way to straighten, but it would take another 5-8 feet for the trailer to respond and I was too near the edge.  It took me about 10 tries to finally get the thing backed in and straightened properly.  Is this something that is just going to take a lot of practice, or am I making it much harder than it needs to be?  Is there some trick to this that I'm not aware of?  I'm considering getting some traffic cones to set up in a deserted parking lot somewhere and just practicing over and over.
I'm impressed with the service you received the day after thanksgiving.  Glad they were accommodating and came out to where you were to help out.  Sounds like you had a good time though.

Yes in regards to the backing up issue practice will help.  It is a good idea to put up the cones you mentioned in a nice quite parking lot.  I'm sure you will get proficient at backing up.

Thanks for the report.
Wow Jack, that is VERY impressive dealer service.

Any chance you can share the name and location of the dealer?  We hear so much about who the lousy ones are it would be nice for a change to hear who the good guys are.  :D
Is this something that is just going to take a lot of practice, or am I making it much harder than it needs to be? ?Is there some trick to this that I'm not aware of? ?I'm considering getting some traffic cones to set up in a deserted parking lot somewhere and just practicing over and over.

Well yeah, practice will do it. ? You have to remember that in backing a trailer, you are pushing on a wheel barrow with long handles, to come up with a simile. ? It is going to take a while for the steering wheel movements at the drivers seat to translate into movements at the rear of the trailer. ?Backing a trailer is much like docking a boat. ? You make a turn , let the trailer follow the turn, and then correct the course again.  There is more than a little experience involved in timing the corrections.

Two tricks may help. ? First of all work on the idea that you, and any person directing you, are planning and directing movements of the rear of the trailer. ? Secondly, you move the bottom of the steering wheel in the direction that you want the rear to go.

Learn to use your mirrors, and adjust the mirrors as you go to keep critical locations, like say a site post, in view. ? ?Station a person directing you on the outside of your turn. ?Your mirrors keep the inside of the turn in view. ?You are blind on the outside.

Don't be afraid to dump a failed backing, pull out, reset and try again. ? No sense in throwing? good time after a bad cut. ? ;)
A fifth wheel takes much longer to respond than a trailer hitched at the bumper.  That's because of the geometry of the hitch placement.  When you turn the front wheels of the truck, it actually pivots around the rear axle.  A fifth wheel hitch is almost over the rear axle of the truck, so the hitch pin doesn't move very far when you turn the front wheels. A trailer hitched at the bmper is several feet behind the rear axle and is essentially being moved with a long lever that multiplies the effect.

The trick in backing a fifth wheel is to make very exaggerated movements initially, until the trailer begins to turn. Then quickly reduce the amount of turn and shortly thereafter begin to "follow" the trailer by turning the truck the same way the trailer is now heading.  You will need to position yourself so there is room for the front of the truck to make the initial exaggerated turn needed to get the trailer headed where you want.

The slow response of the fifth wheel is both a strenth and a weakness. It keeps the rig stable when heading down the road but can be a real nuisance when backing into a site from a narrow road.

You'll get the hang of it after awhile - just keep your cool.  And don't be afraid to stop, pull forward to straighten out and then restart the whole process.  It's usually easier to start over than to make corrections after you have misjudged.

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