I had to wait a while to publish this one but maybe I just need to get it out…
I like to think I’m a safe person. At least to the point of looking out for others if not always myself. I don’t drive aggressively, I maintain my vehicles, and don’t take big chances on the road. That said, I probably stress my truck and the vardo more than most people would. The truck has spent sixteen years as an archaeologist’s field vehicle and has gone into places I would have never thought I would take it. I have crept into campsites with the vardo that required it to be tipped up to 45 degrees and I was certain it was going to go over. That’s just the nature of the remote western US. I regularly check the tires, wheels, and bolts for damage or looseness. In fact, I recently discovered a sheered-off bolt on my hitch bumper and I can’t even imaging how that happened except possibly during the event I am going to describe here.
This is the driver’s side wheel from the vardo. It is steel, not aluminum. After a nice stay in Flagstaff with friends, we were coming down into the desert on I-40. Approaching Holbrook, I could feel a shimmy in the wagon. As it normally tracks well behind the old F-150, I thought it must just be an effect of the wind. It came and went for a few miles before “whoomp” the trailer jerked and I was able to slow onto the shoulder on a off-ramp. My first thought was that I had a blow-out but I then saw the wheel running down the highway at about 55 mph I was just trying to Jedi mind-control it to not steer into the oncoming lanes. It worked and the road camber took it into the right ditch about a quarter mile down the highway.
After a moment of freakout, I had a look at the situation. A couple of studs were broken from the hub, one was stripped clean as the nut was ripped off and the remaining two were intact. The hub was whittled down and we had coasted in on the leaf spring bolts. Did I mention it was Sunday? In rural Arizona?
I’ll keep the story short. I was prepared to camp. We had water, food, and a place to sleep if need be but I wanted to be on the road. I had a good spare but nothing to bolt it to. I tried to put it on the two remaining bolts to limp into town but they were far too destroyed. As the wheel ripped off the lugs it sheered into the bolts and the nuts were stripped anyway from being pried sideways. I went to town and the only 7 day a week mechanic was on vacation at Lake Havasu. I drove back to Winslow as I figured there would at least be a parts store and maybe even open. If there was nothing there I could trek back to Flagstaff. I’d only end up being a day behind. Wild plans came to mind. I could rent a flatbed trailer and haul the vardo that way.
I brought the hub to the parts store that was open but the nearest hub that fit was in Payson and could be in tomorrow. I could get studs pressed in but nobody would be around until tomorrow. And then the good ol’ boy Samaritan network kicked in. An older man buying parts at the store overheard the conversation and knew a guy who might be around who might be willing to fix it. The parts store kid was skeptical but I was willing. We followed the man to the old part of Winslow to a junk and car filled ancient gas station and talked to a teenager working on a little import car. He said his uncle would be back after lunch. So we waited.
Eventually the uncle (Jerry) came back and showed us his Model A Ford he happened to be working on that day. That’s why he was in. Anyway, he pressed in new lugs, put in new bearings and charged me way too little for the whole process. Jerry was our savior. I hauled the whole thing back to the vardo, reassembled the hub, put on the spare, and away we went into the night.
Drive safe. Check your equipment. Carry tools.