Tom Dually 1.5 and 1.6


Tom Dually 1.5

The longest distance between two points.

I can’t blame this one on anybody else.  And, of course it seemed like a reasonable shortcut, at the time.  Here’s the deal.  The whole reason that I’m changing out trailers for Miss Kathleen, at all, is because I think the boat is just too heavy for the one that she has resided upon from Day One.  At best, this is the stuff of hunches.  Little science.  Very little.  And, because she’s a bit on the chunky side, I’ve been resisting the normal method of swapping trailers here at Frankenwerke.

Normally, I just pick a boat up in slings and pull the trailers out and in.  Been doing it for years.

But, my first half-dozen Frankenbots were a lot smaller.  I could put them on and off the birthing cart inside the building.

And, away we went.

Then, we started including standing headroom in our opus’.

So, it took a whole new method of re-horsing the girls.  The first few loadings were a bit shaky.  There were tipped over shop cranes, inchworm evolutions with multiple floor jacks, jack stands, and other approaches.  Usually it worked, but I normally needed help.  And, often that is the one commodity in short supply around here.

I even tried skidding one on the snow.  There are some seasonal limitations to this method.  But, it worked OK.

But, that winch strap was singing a dirge before it was over.

Sooooooooo, I got the engineering types and the assorted hangers on from around this far-flung operation together and we brainstormed.  Some wiseguy said that I had it all backwards.  That, the best way to slip a trailer under a boat is as if you are launching it.  Only, the boat stays put, and the trailer moves.

And, we’ve done it that way a few times now.  So, what’s the problem?  I decided to take a shortcut.  The simplify things.  Save some steps.  In the process, we wasted the work of an entire night shift, by starting all over again, with the day shift.  For some hairball reason, it made sense to launch MK and leave her in the water while we worked on the new and old trailers side by each.

But, now the boat’s in the water in a borrowed slip.

The old trailer has been rendered unserviceable.  The new trailer is a huge question mark as far as being ready to haul a boat out of the water, and come home with it.  If I had simply lifted the boat up and slipped the new trailer under for as many test fittings as I may have wanted, things would have gone much more smoothly.  But, here we are.

MK is spending the night afloat without me.  Tom is sorta put together and will need to test fit by parking truck and trailer at the ramp, and walking a mile or so to get MK.  Then, I have to run the boat over to the ramp, and test.  If good, then, good.  But, if it’s the normal thing, we’ll be playing this game for a few days yet.

And, to really pile salt on the wound, as I as starting into this game of musical chairs, I did witness how the one-percenters of our little fraternity travel.

I have a hunch, that guy doesn’t have to do his own work.  And, speaking of, I’d better get back to it.  Miss Kathleen is counting on me.  Winter’s coming.  She can’t stay where she is.

Tom Dually 1.6

Fish, or cut bait.

Well, I think the entire Frankenwerke crew called in sick today.  Not even Jamie-the-Sea-Dog showed up for the morning staff meeting.  Just me, ‘n Tom.  And, neither one of us were all that enthusiastic, either.

Dithering, is what they call it.  I keep thinking about the current political aphorism gaining currency in some of the more-pointy-headed circles that I traverse.  “When you realize that you’re in a hole; stop digging!”

Then, I start thinking about Chesty Puller.  You know.  When he got his arse surrounded at Chosin Reservoir.  His idea was, it was a good thing. Because he could now attack in all directions.  But, then he had all them jarheads.  I was all by myself today.  And, my command presence needed a bit of a spiffing up, too.  Dithering, I tell ya’.  And, feeling surrounded.

The problem centered on which path to take.  Much like with Yogi Berra’s famous quip, “When you come to a fork in the road, definitely take one.”  My problem was that the “new” trailer wasn’t really ready to recover a boat from the water.  I wasn’t really sure that if I managed to get MK back through the not-yet-shaped supports, she could conceivably tip over while negotiating that damn hill at the ramp.  And, the “old” trailer didn’t have the winch stand, bow chock, or keel guides.  Either way, I figured it was time to bring the boat home and continue with this game of thrones.  Still, I dithered.  Finally, I decided that I would have the best shot with the “old” trailer.  If nothing else, I figured that I could just put the winch stand, keel guides and a few rollers back on and be serviceable for the remainder of the good weather.  So, I figured.  So, we hooked up, and went down that hill.

It woulda’ been a nice day for a boat ride.  But, we had work to do.

Without the guides and stops and such, we kind of landed crooked.  Not too bad.  And, then things started to unravel.  Like, negative tongue weight.  As I crept up that damn hill, I could hear the hitch trying to lift off the ball.  What a creepy feeling that brings.  I figured it was better to keep going, ever soooooo slowly; but keep going.

Then, it was downhill.  I watched the mooring lines that held her on the rollers in the mirrors.  So far, so good.

But, what in the heck was that “klunk…klunk…klunk…?”  The hitch, maybe?  As I backed in, one of the trailer tires just didn’t look right.  Hmnnn…

First glance, I wondered how and why the little hub cap had gone AWOL.  Second glance, the spindle nut wasn’t in the middle of the hole.  Third, well, “Where the hell is the outside bearing race?”  After over 20,000 miles of travelling all over the damn place, the wheel bearing chose to depart the ship within a half-mile of home.  Thank you God!

The starboard side is the one that always seemed a bit warmer to the touch when I would check.  Never hot.  Never squeaking.  Always full of grease.  Just a bit warmer.  But, the fun was only beginning.  That negative tongue pressure is a fancy way of saying that the boat would tip over backward once released from the hitch ball.  Not a good thing for the rudder and the motor and my sense of equanimity.  So, I hooked up a chain fall to the safety chain shackle that has also stood guard for those same 20K miles and started taking a load against the towing eye to slide the hull a foot or two forward.  Ka-thwack!

That shackle failed, and sent the tackle flying.  Things were getting a bit annoying, to say the least.  Now that I look at the results, I am ashamed to admit that I thought this piece of hardware store fluff had any chance of holding anything on behind, had the hitch disconnected (like it could have with that negative tongue pressure, for instance.)

Anyhow, I had to get things balanced to be able to get on with it.  At that point, I didn’t know (still don’t) if the spindle would be serviceable on this, the “old” trailer.  It seemed time for a bit of decisiveness on my part.  I decided to swap trailers right there in the driveway.  Devil take the hindmost!

Did I tell you that the keel wasn’t sitting properly for any rolling around.  Probably partly why the chain parted under moderate pull.  So, the rig had to be backed in and chain falls, slings, crane, jacks, dunnage, wheel chocks, prybars, and such had to be mobilized.  The keel was being mangled on the roller rails.

This piece of the catacombs shows how the bottom has never really gotten painted, or faired, or even inspected regularly.  It’s really noplace anybody old enough to know better should be crawling with a paint brush.  After an hour or so to get rigged, it took about three minutes to shove the boat over 3 inches.  Then it was time to do the end-for-end.  The whole time that starboard wheel was threatening to simply lay over and add to the chaos.  Then, it got scary.

That boat weighs over 3,000 pounds.  The only way I can get one trailer out from under, is to nose-in to the garage door frame where I have a couple steel gussets that can carry chain falls.  Robust enough, but never actually intended for this sort of loading.  Probably OK.  Hope.

I figured I could maybe get Alice in there for part of the pulling and shoving.  But not all.  (I came real close to upending a ceiling-high paint shelf unit with the tractor wheel.  Not more than an extra half inch of maneuvering space, once in there.)  So, another hour to rig and cross fingers and pray.

And, then suddenly, it was game time.

Maneuvering those trailers in and out by hand required periodic assists from the floor jack to work as a sort of “bow thruster” to get those tires to slide sideways—along with 12- to maybe 18-hundred pounds of trailer.  The whole time I was thinking nice thoughts about the Chinese political prisoners who made those Harbor Freight chain falls, and tow straps being pressed into service as a travel-lift.

Alice did her part.  But hydraulic fluid was running past the seals on that little ram whose day job is to lift the snow blade.  Not this un-balanced behemoth.  But, like with Chesty at the Chosin, this was no time for cowardice in the face of the enemy.  Press on, regardless.

After more ooching and mooching, Tom finally crawled under Miss Kathleen.  Neither one looked all so very comfortable with the arrangement.  Nothing fits yet.  Not at all.

At least, I could finally slow to a more normal heart rate.  And sort of begin to figure out what’s next.

I really coulda’ used some of them jarheads.  I’m kinda’ worried about what is gonna’ break tomorrow.  “Tennnnn-hutt!  For’d harch!”

Part 1.0Part 1.1 and 1.2 – Part 1.3 and 1.4 – Part 1.5 and 1.6


  1. I am totally exhausted after reading this episode. And all I have to do today is to remove our unusual 1″ of snow from the driveway in our also unusual 6 degree temp here in East TN. My boat shop is definitely closed until further notice. I can probably remove the snow with my battery powered leaf blower. I guess I have become sissified as I start into my 85th year. The foam trimaran will just have to wait until the temp is reliably above freezing. Bless you in AlmostCanada.

  2. Hi Jim.

    I’m afraid that hole I dug for myself, continued to get deeper and deeper. And, now, three months later, we’re in a race with Spring. Mr. Tom has been waiting patiently. He’s sitting on his beefy axles, in the warm shop, holding Miss Kathleen upright. Alice the Tractor has spent the winter outside. Strumpet the runabout and Punkin’ Seed the plywood sailboat are sitting out the rest of winter, under a crashed shed that will remain smothered in probably tons of ice until May or perhaps June. We’ll have to wait until then to account for survivors. And, Miss Kathleen is still in Recovery, after a couple months of intensive surgery. She’s trying to get used to a completely new, and a couple feet longer, cabin. That cabin will have to come off, again, for a mere 30-foot dash to freedom out from under a too-low garage door.

    Maybe, in a couple months Mr. Tom will get his new brogans back on his feet and we’ll take that road trip I’ve been promising. I know. Promises, promises.

    Take care, and stay warm.

    Three feet of snow, and a warming trend.

  3. Hello,
    Sorry to hear your tale of woe but it was great reading. I hope you can take what I say constructively as while you build great boats you seem to have little mechanical sympathy,(all of my builder mates are the same even after years of my training),so here goes.
    In the photo of the collapsed bearing The first thing I noticed was no anti-seize on the wheel studs! You mentioned bearing getting warm, why did you not pull the wheel and inspect it? When was the grease changed? Was it a Lithium based grease? Start of every Summer I see boats littering the sides of the motorway with collapsed trailer bearings. I have to repair some of them and find out that many have not been serviced for 2-3-4 years!
    Looks like you REALLY need to build a gantry crane, also looks like you have the room for one. Lastly is that carpet I see on a trailers runners? UHMWPE is neater, has negligible friction and does not hold dirt or water.
    Anyway I’m glad you got everything sitting pretty for now and without major mishap and certainly looking forward to your hearing about your ongoing adventures.

  4. Hi Barry:

    The axle, hubs, etc., were new from the factory when I put the boat in service, now two years back. I would have hand packed the races, when I installed the axle. And, I probably used a half-can of lithium grease to do that and fill the cavity. This axle comes with a bored-out grease channel from the end of the spindle (or at least that’s what I remember–as it’s under several feet of snow at the moment). I normally top ’em up from time to time, but can be, as you say, mechanically unsympathetic. Somewhat.

    In this case, I’m leaning toward a simple failure. Certainly, a quarter-turn less on the nut could have been a contributing factor. Or, for that matter, the root cause. Typically, when stopped for gas, etc., I’ll do a walk around and put the back of my hand to tire sidewalls, and hubs. No doubt, long exposure bred complacency in this case. And, I do admit that my trailers get more immersion than the next ten or twenty of them. In two seasons, and probably 20,000 road miles, that trailer was likely launched and recovered more than 500 times. Somewhat prophylactically, when launching in salt water, I’ve had the opportunity to do a quick dip at a freshwater lake along the highway, on the way home. But, you raise an excellent point.

    I’ve never actually changed grease. I suspect the races would need either replacement or a good soaking in kerosene(?) I’m wondering about the grit and filings, that may or may not be present. Back when I was around naval aircraft we had something called a “chips light” to indicate a fouled bearing/lube system. This trailer business is obviously low, low, tech by comparison.

    As far as anti-seize on the lugs. I’ve taken this topic up with the guys at the tire store, and they’ve repeatedly told me that I was over-thinking. On occasion, especially after fighting to get one off, I have asked them to put some engine oil on the threads before torqueing them back. And, that’s what I normally use: 30 weight oil from my oil can. But, another excellent point. I should keep a can (or tube) of the stuff I’m supposed to use with stainless fasteners into aluminum substrate, and often neglect to use. Is that what you are referring to?

    The other failure on my part, in all of this, was to actually overload the original trailer’s axle. The trailer frame that I started with was sort of a homemade affair that may well have been more of a yard trailer than for over the road. It was used to store the boat hull when it was a keelboat. That particular (original) axle was significantly understrength, and developed an oscillation that I at first attributed to wrong tongue weight. When the tongue pressure exceeded 5-600 pounds without change to the oscillation, I went to a 3,500 pound rated axle. Yes, you are correct in assuming the entire trailer frame was insufficient for this new task. Starting with the leaf-springs. And, that’s the genesis of this move to a tandem rig.

    One thing that I always do is go up several tire sizes and load ratings. With other boats and other trailers I have shredded my share of trailer tires–notwithstanding a consistent purchase of for-trailer-service tires only.

    The current trailer (Mr. Tom) is, at the moment, under the boat with the axles sitting down on the floor–actually cradled with four vehicle mover dollies to get sufficient vertical clearance inside my shop for a complete replacement of the cabin. I agree that a gantry crane would be just the ticket. My wife counters with a “simple” fix. “Get rid of those boats, and you don’t need a crane.” My compromise has been to rig lifting points in the roof frame of the pole barn that houses the shop. Sadly, the sheetrocked shop is limited to a 9-foot ceiling, and the overhead garage doors are a non-negotiable 8 feet. So, I bought a humungus rolling shop crane that was originally used for lifting truck engines. It will hold the 3,500 pound boat at one end, and the other in a doorframe-mounted set of chain falls and towing straps. What defeats the gantry crane idea is that this arrangement requires me to nose the boat bow-first and then pull the trailer into the building and swerve it back out other door. This is because the rolling crane is in the way of the trailer wheels otherwise. And the open garage door is blocking the ceiling at the same time. Yeah, I know. Most guys just take it to a real shop with real equipment and tell somebody to “handle it.”

    The new/old trailer has questionable bearings, that I have yet to pry into. I have to pull at least one of the axles apart and investigate a set of empty brake drums. I intend to put brakes on this one, as the GVW is well within the realm of that sort of thing. Dunno if it ever actually had brakes. And, now that I’ve seen the light on how truly catastrophic a bearing failure at high speed could be, I’m wondering if I should just start over on all four corners with hubs and bearings. Which brings me to a question that I have never satisfactorily answered in 30+ years of messing with boat trailers. Bearing Buddys. I’ve had the unsubstantiated suspicion that charging against the zerk in those BB’s forces grease out through the seals, to the detriment of the whole system. I have no real idea how to know how-much-is-too-much. (Until it comes oozing out the back side.) The feedback from a manual grease gun is negligible. So. Do you recommend just pulling the wheel and hand-globbing in the grease, now and then? Or, is this like an oil change in a crankcase?

    Thanks, so much for taking up this topic. Looking forward to what you think.


  5. Hello Dan,
    I’ll start with wheel studs. I use a proper anti-seize like Nicklecoate or Copperslip,(just don’t use anything Copper on Aluminium),and you only need a good wipe every now and then as it tends to stay in place.
    Axles! Boat trailer axles!! So many are not up to the job to start with then they get ‘worked on’ by people who haven’t a clue. You at least know what you are doing. Torn or missing seals are common, grease won’t stay in or water out if the seal is kaput. Grease, one of my pet hates is the idiot who has a tub of grease that gets used for everything. this goes on the floor next to where he is working or lives on a shelf and is never covered.
    I’m in two minds on the Bearing Buddys. They are low pressure and subject to damage on a trailer, they are great with low viscosity grease on stationary plant though so I personally wouldn’t use them on a trailer.
    The best bet is strip once a year, clean, inspect, replace if necessary, repack with appropriate grease and refit. Correct adjustment is vital and too tight is way worse than a little loose. A good seal in back and a well fitting cap in front are musts. If submersing I would be checking every month by a good visual, jack up and spin by hand but I am paranoid after having a few incidents following trailers which have gone haywire a speed.
    Brakes. Bugger drums! More problems waiting to happen, pivots to rust dust to hold water etc. If you can swing it disk brakes,(stainless rotors are available made for boat trailers), good paint over the caliper body and a proper brake hitch. I love braked trailers the safety factor and low stresses make them worth every cent.
    Hope I haven’t ranted too much but as I get asked to fix some real crap I have seen it all, sheared axles are common where the bearing has caught fire and welded to the axle! Safety on the road is paramount. With the gantry I was suggesting something outside of your shed an overhead hoist. Make life real easy going up and down on a trailer.

  6. Barry:

    I have an idea that would be for the good of the order. A collaboration, of sorts. I’ve undertaken this kind of thing, in the past, in the pages of Messing About in Boats; and I think we could do some service, similarly, here. First, a bit of background.

    I have, and likely will continue, to learn most of my mechanical lessons “in the field.” Conversely, I tend to drive the occasional professional I have need for to distraction, with a sustained barrage of questions; so I will know what to do the next time, on my own. I did once leave the highway with a heavy keelboat in tow when a truck wheel spun off the vehicle. Ever since, I have asked the guys in the tire shops around the country questions like, “…what’s the torque? Did your buddy do the double-check?” Or some such. My point, is you simply can’t understand what is going on inside a wheel bearing, unless you, yourself, have squished the grease between the rollers, and checked the spin, etc. At minimum, we all need to actually SEE what these things look like. My proposal.

    Within the next couple weeks (early February, 2018), I’ll be putting my tandem trailer “back together” and through the state patrol salvage vehicle inspection. The trailer is currently serving as a building cart for the boat during a complete re-do. The trailer is sitting on the shop floor, wheels removed. The story about the boat overhaul will likely be published in due course (I send them to Mike & Chuck on a nearly once-a-day basis). But, what I am thinking, it would be very timely here in CONUS to run a new series targeting the actual stuff of putting a boat trailer into service. As you mention, the first trip of the new season is when you see a surge in collapsed bearings, sheared spindles, etc. This would be an as-condensed-as-practical, expository, first person singular, active voice, didactic piece. Lots of pictures. A discussion of tradeoffs, descriptions of choices made, substitutes accepted. And, a record of prices, sources, and the inevitable additional cost items. From this vantage point, I think it would come in at about 4 or 5 installments. I don’t know about the editorial decisions surrounding something of this scale, but perhaps it could run in a letters section, or sidebar. The whole notion, is to be able to have a running discussion, and to be able to add pictures. This particular format doesn’t allow for that.

    If you care to continue with this line of discourse, you would have immediate opportunity to respond in this comments’ section. Of course, as always, my less-overt intention is to generate a healthy discussion about this sort of thing. The more, the merrier. At least, I would hope to lessen the mystery/fear factor. This stuff is not brain surgery. A discovery-learner such as I can get most of it figured out. But somebody else’s lessons-learned are always a huge assistance.

    All the real world variables apply to me. Advancing age, financial limits, winter weather, and a lengthy series of boating events I have every intention of attending in the very near future. I also have a total of six boats on trailers, that “call me dad,” with regular new arrivals. Cost tradeoffs, spare tire sharing, and such, are pretty common.

    The general categories, as they seem relevant, would be:
    a. Axles, bearings, spring hangers, wheel truck placement/balance points
    b. Brakes, and tradeoffs among surge or electric/drum or disc
    c. Tire choices, dedicated tire changing equipment, (stud lube, of course).
    d. Trailer wiring, light choices, simple vs exotic (such as aux battery, charging loops, etc.)
    e. Tongue jacks, coupler choices, etc.
    f. And, a discussion on the vagaries of tongue extensions vs “nesting angles,” and rotations from the horizontal.

    I envision a “just in time for spring,” series. (From a couple of your words, I deduce you are from south of the equator(?) but I fully recognize that “mates,” and “motorways” exist elsewhere.) So.

    Wanna play?



    Diamond Lake, WA, USA, with three feet of snow on the ground, and spring just around the corner. Or, not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.