Desert vacation

It is 2010 and good things lie ahead.

dsc_3944.jpgChristmas was a quiet success in our household.  Since we are thousands of miles from our extended family, we used Internet technology on Christmas morning to videoconference with my parents and brother while we opened gifts.  I thought it would seem strange to have the family on a laptop screen, perched atop a box in the living room but it was surprisingly like having them there with us.  This may become a Christmas tradition in homes across America, replacing the horror of holiday air travel for many.

Just two days after Christmas, we took off to California for some desert camping.  Almost every trip I take is a working trip, but once in a while I like to try to avoid work and just do the stuff that normal people do in a campground, and the hope was that this quiet week between Christmas and New Year’s Day would allow that.

On the way we stopped in Yuma to visit with Barb & Joe of MobileInternetSatellite. A couple of years ago I bought a used Hughes satellite Internet system from my friends Brian and Leigh, who had recently completed two years of full-timing.  The price was right and I thought I might use it for an extended trip into Mexico.  But that was before the Mexican Drug War ramped up.  We found other things to do and the satellite dish gathered dust in our storage closet.  With the smaller Mercedes as tow vehicle, carting around the satellite dish became less practical and I decided to try to sell it through Barb & Joe.

Unfortunately, satellite dishes are being replaced by cellular aircards, which for most people provide faster, cheaper, and highly portable Internet.  The only folks who need satellite are those who spend lots of time parked beyond the reach of cellular networks and commercial wifi hotspots.   So selling a dish is pretty tough these days, even one that comes complete with all the accessories.

Now that we are out in the desert, we are experiencing the sort of quiet and vigorous life we have come to like.  There are hikes up palm canyons by day, and the soft sounds of birds each morning (Gambel’s Quail and hummingbirds in particular).  In the evening there is the smell of tamarisk wood fires.  (Since tamarisk is an unwanted invasive species, cutting it down is often encouraged.)

It’s a little cool once the sun slips behind the mountains at about 4 p.m., but shortly after sunset we have the compensation of a startlingly large and brilliant full moon rising.  People in the campground are wrapping up in warm clothes and spending the night outside regardless of the temperature, which as been bottoming out in the 40s.With clear skies most of the time, nights have been bright enough that we don’t need a flashlight to walk around.  When there were clouds on Wednesday, they just added to the drama of the surrounding mountains.

Little desert-related surprises come to those who watch,  like the tarantula that wandered by our campsite yesterday.  (Eleanor got some video of that.)  So we are making no plans and letting each day come.  Most importantly, I’m not getting any business phone calls and virtually no emails of importance, so the computer is off except for an hour in the morning.

I have been getting more of the “how does that car tow that big Airstream” comments this week than usual.  Everyone seems to be shocked when they see the Mercedes parked in front of the Airstream.  I’ll answer questions for anyone who is really interested, but most people just boggle at the sight and then wander off.  I don’t think they really care to learn the details; they’d rather just enjoy the novelty of it.

The one big frustration of the week has been, once again, a tire failure on the Airstream.  One of the older tires (date code August 2008) is showing a worn spot, approximately round and rather uneven, that suggests yet another internal steel belt has broken.  It will need replacement shortly.

Broken belt in ST tire

Well, that’s the final straw.  I have not been able to wear out a set of tires since 2006, because they keep failing internally.  We replaced two in September for the same reason, and many others over the past few years.   We’ve been using the factory-recommended Goodyear Marathons (designated “ST” for Special Trailer use, load range D) as well as similar tires by Carlisle, Trailer King, and TowMax.  We have had, frankly, a completely unacceptable experience, with multiple failures over the past three years.  It’s 2010 and time to try something different.

I didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. We have eliminated as many possible causes of tire failure as possible. We tow at 65 MH or less, we’ve weighed the trailer, we balance the tires and also use Centramatic wheel balancers.  We use a tire pressure monitoring system to ensure proper inflation at all times.  We’ve aligned the axles of the trailer annually, most recently in September.  I inspect the tires at every fuel stop.  Still, the treads keep suffering rapid tire wear in localized spots.

I’m going to toss all the tires and try a different tire design (not an ST) very soon.  Right now I’m gathering consensus from some respected experts, and comparing various alternatives.  Some people swear by Load Range E tires, others use LT (Light Truck) tires, and some say that bias-ply designs are the answer.  Some think a particular brand makes the difference.  What I find interesting is that so many people have trouble with ST tires that are supposedly designed for trailer use, and yet have more luck with tires that aren’t specifically designed for trailers. As one experienced Airstream dealer said to me this week, “ST just means it’s a tire that isn’t good enough for passenger use!”

I’ll report further on the tires we choose, and our experience with them, a bit later.  With a little effort and a little luck, I won’t be talking about tires much in 2010 … I hope.


  1. Angie says

    Hello Rich, Eleanor, & Emma!!

    We just wanted to say hello and wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2010!

    We are in Central Texas – Hill Country (Canyon Lake area). We will be here until March and then are heading back North again for some RV repairs in Indiana.

    Glad to see you are taking time away from work and just enjoying each other and the nature around you. :)

    Happy & Safe travels!

    Angie, Jason, Cyber, & Remy

  2. Doug Rowbottom says

    Hello Rich, Some free advise that I got from Andy Thompson of Can-Am on tires. He told me that I should use LT radials 700/15 on my single axle 67 Safari. I put on Sumitomo 700/15R in 2003 and have put on over 50,000 miles and they still look good. I’m not going to change them for some cheap Chinese junk and will be the test for how long a tire will last on a trailer. Not afraid to get the speed up on the interstates either.

    Remember free is what it’s worth.

    Good luck with your desision.


  3. says

    I also got some advice from Andy and others. Their advice will play a large role in what I ultimately do. I’m camped near a fellow who has been running bias-ply LTs on his 1965 Safari for ten years with no problems. My concern there is that my trailer is heavier, longer, and dual axle. Will his experience be relevant to mine? As they say, “Your mileage may vary.”

    I’ll report the choice of replacement tires next week.

  4. says

    On bias ply tires:

    I’m happy with the performance of my pair during our limited travels. When I was at Area63 Productions this fall, however, I mentioned how underwhelmed I was with our gas mileage during the drive out – especially in the flat sections where I’d thought we’d do better than 15 MPG’s or so.

    For what it’s worth, Uwe said that after moving dozens trailers in and out of his shop over the past few years (via hand-cart & small forklift) he thinks bias ply tires roll with a bit more resistance than radial, even on the smooth concrete shop floor. Thus, in his opinion I might have less efficiency due to the bias ply. An unscientific conclusion with all the other factors that could come into play (axle, tread wear, PSI amount, etc) but perhaps another element to investigate.

  5. says


    A very good A/S friend of ours installed 16″ rims so he could run Michelin hiway rib tires on his 2005 Classic 31. He doesn’t tow as many miles as you or I, but is much happier with his new setup.

    We switched last year from Good year Marathons five years success (ending with a separated tread on one tire).

    We bought, through a tire distributor in Georgia, a set of Triangles from China. They have higher ply ratings without as many plies. Will have to see how this works out — we keep a close eye on them, like you, with tire pressure monitor.

    Good luck,


  6. Tom says

    I’m amused by folks referring to a 7-passenger Mercedes GL SUV as a small car. I guess some folks consider anything less than a 3/4-ton truck to be “small” for towing…

    Also on the advice of Andy T, I’m using Michelin LTXs on my Argosy Minuet. Too many companies consider trailer tires to be their product lines’ bottom feeders.