Stopped because we can’t stop

Once in a while things don’t go according to plan.  Fate has decreed that today will serve as a demonstration of that principle.

We spent the last two days packing for an 11-day trip to southern California.  Eleanor hustled mightily to get all her stuff ready for the Airstream; she’s got big culinary plans in addition to the usual challenges of packing up a household and child.  I was busy too, packing, testing, filling, tweaking … Around 2 p.m., while Eleanor was making her finishing touches, I pulled the trailer forward a few feet and found that we had no brakes.  The disc brake actuator (a hydraulic pump) had failed.

I knew at that moment we were probably screwed, because we’ve had a long history of problems with brake actuators.  The unit was made by Actibrake, a company that has since disappeared, and whose legacy is hundreds of brake actuators that are known to suffer sudden failure.  This is our third Actibrake, and we have it only because when the prior two failed they were replaced under warranty.  For the past three years I have considered preemptively replacing this one to avoid a possible inconvenience, but since a replacement unit would cost $600-700 and this one was functioning properly, I let it go.  And so, it died in our carport without even a whimper to warn us.

But to be sure, I ran through the usual checks.  I added a little brake fluid, since it seemed low.  I cleaned the main ground for the trailer with a Scotchbrite pad.  I checked the 30 amp fuse that protects the unit, and all of the other fuses too.  With Super Terry on the phone, I verified power was going to the unit and that the ground was good.  I power-cycled it by disconnecting the battery. I even banged on it a little.  Nothing.  Dead dead deadsky.

So I told Eleanor, “We’re not going today,” which was no surprise to her by then, and I got on the phone to see if anyone in Tucson had a replacement unit.  At 3:30 pm on a Saturday, New Year’s Eve to boot, I didn’t expect much but I did get one RV parts store that was willing to order in a Dexter or Carlisle replacement actuator on Monday.  So the very best I can hope for it is to get one on Tuesday.  If I install it myself and all goes well, we could be on the road Tuesday night or Wednesday.

I think the fact that I made reservations for this trip is karmically jinxing us.  We don’t usually make reservations, and often when we do, we come to regret it and pay lots of cancellation fees.  That’s going to be the case for this trip.

Super Terry pointed out that we have a “backup” trailer, our 1968 Caravel.  So I picked up the Caravel from its parking spot and delivered it alongside the disabled Safari, and we started figuring out how to fit at least some of 30 feet worth of stuff into 17 feet.  It’s not easy.  The Caravel is a weekender.  The refrigerator is 1/3 the size of the Safari’s.  Storage is extremely limited.  It’s so small that when one person stands up to do anything (cook, make a bed, get something out of storage) everyone else has to sit down.

In 2004 we took the Caravel to the WBCCI International Rally in Lansing, MI.  That trip was 17 days, our record for length of time in that little trailer.  But Emma was a tyke then, taking up hardly any room, and it was summer so we were outside most of the time.  (In the photo, that’s Emma at age 4 pretending to be asleep.  Don’t be fooled—she never slept.)

Things are quite different now.  Emma is over five feet tall, she travels with an immense collection of books and stuffed animals, and we have the added complication that she has a nasty cold at the moment.

Plus, I just blogged about how cold it gets in the desert in the winter, and how sunset comes crashing down early.  I’m envisioning ten long nights in a tiny trailer with a sick kid …

But what can we do?  If we wait until the new brake actuator arrives, we might be on the road Wednesday.  That would cause a huge ripple that would eliminate much of the plan we’ve carefully laid out over the past few weeks.  And still something might go wrong that could cause a further delay.  Taking the Caravel is the best option we have to salvage at least some of the plan.

So we’re re-engineering everything.  About a quarter of the stuff we were bringing along is now staying home (but the Dutch oven is still coming!)  The Mercedes will now serve as our outside storage, loaded up with all the things that won’t fit in the Caravel.  (I don’t normally like to carry a lot of stuff in the car when towing the Safari because of weight limits, but the Caravel puts very little weight on the car so we are free to pack it full.)  Some plans that required big refrigeration are getting scotched, other plans are being modified.  We worked on this until about 7 p.m., but we need a lot more time to get it all figured out.

If we can figure it all out by tomorrow afternoon, we’ll get on the road and just miss our first night in the campground.  If we need more time to pack or if Emma needs more time to get over the worst of her cold, we might leave Monday instead.  All we can do is be flexible.

So tonight Eleanor broke out the cheese fondue that she had planned for our New Year’s celebration on the road, and I’m making popcorn for the movie we’ll watch.  It’s an enforced “staycation” tonight.  Not the New Year’s Eve we had planned, but a memorable one nonetheless.


  1. says

    How much better that you can troubleshoot it yourself, even if it really sucks to know what’s the problem? And it did crash at the 2nd best time, just before you started instead of just after you returned.

    We hope your trip, although delayed, comes through for you two. We’re looking forward to hearing how you work out the shoehorning into the caravelle and about your repair/replacement on the brakes actuator.

    Jim and Debbie

  2. Terry says

    Speaking as someone that this has happened to, I would rather the actuator failed in the driveway, rather than coming up on a red light at a busy intersection at the bottom of a steep hill.