Friday, August 30, 2019

Backing Up Signals

Backing up a trailer isn't all that difficult, unless people try to "help"

Staying in RV parks, we see a lot of people melt down at the prospect of having to back up a trailer.  Many parks offer "pull-thru" spaces so that people don't have to go into the dreaded reverse.   But it isn't all that hard to back up a trailer, provided you take your time and watch where you are going.  It is helpful to have an assistant who is properly trained to give you signals.  It isn't helpful to have someone screaming at you at the top of their lungs or giving confusing hand signals (such as "hands in the pockets" which means stop, go left, and go right)

And we see it all the time - wives screaming at their husbands to "turn the wheel the other way!" or some helpful nearby camper who runs over offering to "help you back up" only to make things worse.  If you see someone struggling to back up their trailer, let them work it out themselves - they will figure it out eventually.  Your assistance is often not welcome and often makes things worse.

So how do you back up a trailer?   First, get some cheap walkie-talkies at Walmart or the camper store.   It beats having your spouse scream at you across the campground (much to the amusement of the other campers).  Next, learn how to use them

What do I mean by this?
1.  Figure out a channel not being used by other campers, children, or the campground staff:   Listen for a bit or go on the channel and ask if anyone else is on.   Find a channel not being used. 
2.  Learn to PRESS then talk:   In Push-To-Talk (PTT) telephony, you have to push the "talk" button before talking, or your voice is cutoff.  For some reason, Mark likes to press the "talk" button halfway into a sentence, resulting in garbled messages.   Push, then talk.  Then release!
3.  No monologing, no dead-miking:  This isn't the time to do a running commentary on the backing process or life in general, or the squirrel you just saw.  Similarly, filling in the dead spaces with "um" and "ah" isn't helping.  Give brief comments and then let go of the PTT button - so the driver can communicate back.   Dead-miking, which is just holding the "talk" button down all the time has the same effect - no one else can communicate on the channel.
Once you have the protocol on walkie-talkie use down, what sort of instructions should someone give when you are backing up?   As few as possible.   And there are some pointers:
1.  You are not driving:   You are giving helpful signals - you are not driving the tow vehicle.  Don't tell the driver which way to turn the steering wheel or other directions related to the operation of the motor vehicle. 
2. You are a highway cone:  Your main job is to be a parking pylon and mark the corner the driver is to turn into, and later where the end of the trailer should stop.   Not a lot of comments to make other than "STOP!" if the trailer is about to hit a tree.
3. Direct the ass-end of the trailer only:   When you do give directions, tell the driver which way the "ass-end" of the trailer should go, and when doing so, say, "to YOUR right" or "to YOUR left" - that is, the driver's left and right.  Let the driver figure out how to get the trailer there - don't tell him to turn his steering wheel or pull forward and start over - that is his job.  And remember: "the other way" is not a direction!
Of course, it pays to first have both of you "walk the site" and agree where the trailer should go.   And speaking of highway cones, a small cone or even a leveling block, placed on the ground at each corner where you'd like the trailer to be, can really help in backing up.  Otherwise, it is hard to see, from the cab of the truck, where the trailer is, in relation to its desired position.

So once you have all that, how do you back up a trailer?  Simple, put the truck in reverse.

Oh, steering - you wanted to know about that!  Simple, too.  Put your hand at the bottom of the wheel, and when you want the ass-end of the trailer to go right, push the wheel to the right.  You want the ass-end of the trailer to go left, push the wheel to the left.

That's it.  You need not push further, and in most cases, don't want to.  A trailer diverts quickly from centerline when reversing, so any dramatic inputs cause the trailer to go off-center very, very fast.   And that is why you need to go slowly.  If you reverse quickly, and make a wrong input, you can jack-knife a trailer in short order.

But what about those cowboys who reverse at full throttle and squeeze the trailer into a space in one shot?   Well, some of them are professional truckers.  Others, well, look at the dents on their trailer sometime before you think they are in the towing rodeo - odds are, they are getting lucky half the time, and simply don't care the other half.

Besides, who wants to be that guy?  Take your time, go forward and straighten out if you over-steer - several times, if necessary.   It isn't a contest, you are not be judged or awarded points (unless, of course, you and your spouse engaged in a knock-down drag-out that the whole campground can hear).

Like the parallel parking part of the NYS driver's test (back in the day, anyway) you might lose a point for backing-and-filling a dozen times, but so long as the end result is correct, you still pass.  So don't sweat it.   But make sure you don't have a "helpful" fellow camper screaming at you to "turn your wheel the other way!" or your spouse offering driving instructions, rather than backing instructions.

Once  you get those other folks out of the way, the rest is easy.

UPDATE:  It also pays to chock, then block!