Super Terry vs. the devious brakes

We were all set to hit the road this morning.  Eleanor even commented on the fact that we had everyone ready, and the trailer all packed up, an hour before we had expected to leave.  The plan was to tow the trailer up to Julian (elev. 4000) and then down to the town of Campo, right on the border with Mexico.  Our friends Daisy and Don are there, volunteering at the San Diego Railroad Museum.  They promised us a train ride and dinner tonight.  Eleanor was bringing a Julian apple pie for dessert.

All of those plans are in the past tense now, because we’ve had an equipment failure.  I hitched up the trailer, including connecting the 7-way trailer plug, and  about five minutes later, the disc brake actuator spontaneously went on.

Normally, the only way the actuator could go on without the truck brakes being activated first would be if the emergency breakaway switch was activated or shorted.  I cycled the breakaway several times (pulling the pin in and out), but it had no effect.  I pulled the 7-way plug out to ensure that the truck’s brake controller wasn’t sending a false signal — no result.  I quickly tossed everything out of my bedroom closet to check the wiring in the region of the brake actuator, and it all looked good.  I wiggled wires.  Nothing.

With the actuator running full on, we had three problems.  (1) The trailer would not go anywhere.  The disc brakes are locked full on, which means we’d have about as much chance of towing it as we would trying to tow a beached whale.  (2) The actuator pump would probably eventually overheat or burn out.  (3)  The power draw of the unit (about 20 amps DC) would quickly drain our batteries.  We solved the third problem by plugging the Airstream into the campsite power again.

Finally, with no other choices, I got out the wire cutters and began snipping wires.  It was like trying to defuse a bomb.  Cut the right wire, and the problem ends.  Cut the wrong wire and you’re just wasting time.   Eleanor stood by to assist.  “Headlamp!”  “Check!”   “Hand me the cutters!”  First I cut the breakaway controller wire to verify it wasn’t shorted out.  That had no result, so I went into the closet again and cut the blue wire running to the actuator. The blue wire carries the signal from the truck’s brake controller.  I figured we might have a bad 7-way plug, but snipping the blue wire also had no result.  Then I cut the 12-gauge black wire (12vDC +) and finally the actuator shut off.

So the immediate problem is solved, but of course we have no brakes.  Towing up the Banner Grade to Julian is clearly out of the question.  We are in Borrego Springs, CA, a town with no RV services and very little else.  The nearest real service is 50 miles away in Brawley, or 70 miles away in Coachella (Palm Springs area).

If we were really in a pinch I’d probably tow up to Coachella since the road is mostly flat and not particularly crowded.  But we have an ace in the hole, or rather, an ace mechanic.  We have “Super Terry,” who is working up in Corona, CA at Inland RV.  Super Terry (formerly just known as Terry, but I needed to differentiate him from Tucson Terry)  has — miracle of miracles — a brand new Kodiak disc brake actuator sitting on the shelf.

He is now and forever known as Super Terry because upon hearing of our plight, he immediately volunteered to drive  the 109 miles from Corona down to us with a truck loaded with tools and equipment, and replace the brake controller right here.  Now that’s a friend.

We are due to leave the state park today at noon.  We could ask for an extension, but part of the work will be to bleed the brakes, and I doubt the park rangers would find that an acceptable practice.  So we are going to tow the Airstream about five miles over to a boondocking site known as “Pegleg” and do the work there.

As with all of our on-the-road disasters, we will make the best of it.  So let’s count our blessings:  We’ll get another night in the lovely desert.  We’ll get to have our friend Terry over for lunch, and dinner, and breakfast (he’ll be staying the night for sure).  We are going to get a very convenient repair to what could have been a thorny problem.  And, out of sheer pity perhaps, Bill has given me a gift of Jake Shimabukuro’s album “Gently Weeps.”  So we’ve got new music to enjoy tonight while we boondock under the stars.

I’ll post an update after we get the work done.

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