Going to The TDR Nationals
"A Little Preparation"
The announcement of the time and place of the TDR National Event in Columbus Indiana in August set the stage for lots of preparation and planning. What could be more exciting and fun than to drive to Columbus and spend several activity packed days with the great people who make up this terrific group?
Diana and I sat down with our day timers, and after some serious juggling, figured out how to squeeze 5 days out of our schedule to attend and enjoy the event. Once we realized we could really do it, the anticipation and excitement became even more real. I was doubly excited. First, it was hard to imagine five whole days (in a row) just hanging out, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smoke of some of the finest trucks on the road, not to mention the camaraderie and company of some of the friendliest folks on the planet. Secondly, this event afforded us another opportunity to use our motor home, something we truly love to do.
Three years ago we decided to drive our Cummins powered Freightliner / Winnebago and dock her in CERA Land, (the Cummins Employee Recreation Area). I was lucky enough to attend the previous event held here in 1999. Diana's schedule did not allow her to attend 99's meet, so I was traveling solo. During that roundup, I was invited to Jim and Peg Anderson's campsite for dinner, and what a feast it was. Peg whipped up a fabulous meal. We enjoyed a glass or two of some great wine along with some great conversation.
Visiting with the Andersons allowed me the opportunity to see CERA Land for the first time. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many motor homes complimented by a vast array of Turbo Diesel dodge trucks with travel trailers, and slide-in campers nestled in the beautiful surroundings. The sites were surprisingly spacious, some complete with 50-amp power, water and sewer, even campfire rings and picnic tables. CERA Land has all kinds of activities and facilities to help make your stay a pleasant one. It was then and there that I decided that 'next time' Diana and I would be enjoying this facility in our motor home.
If you are one of the many adventuresome Cummins / Dodge owners with a slide in or fifth wheel RV, you know all too well how much preparation that's required to insure a safe and uneventful trip. Diana and I share the motor home preparations, with her taking care of most everything inside, as I handle the vehicle roadworthiness. I thought I had everything under control, but that's not the way this trip worked out.
At the last minute, we decided that we would trailer a vehicle behind the coach so we could motor around Columbus and surrounding areas. That's where it all started. I attempted to hook our Featherlite aluminum car hauler to the coach for the first time. Sounds simple, but the ball mount would not slide into the receiver. I thought that was strange because I had just removed it from my pick up truck. Our trailer is new, and had up to this point had only been towed using our pick up truck. So the first obstacle had to be overcome. I broke out my trusty die grinder, and made some clearance inside the 2-inch receiver for the ball mount.
With that problem solved, I loaded the vehicle onto the trailer and hooked up the trailer's electrical connector. Now for the test and problem number two! No lights of any description. The only working function was the trailer brakes. No problem, I just broke out a meter, and rewired the trailer connector on the coach to match the connector on my pick up. Then I rewired the connector on the trailer to match. Second problem solved!
A quick road test revealed all systems in working order. The only things left for me were to pack my clothes, and toss some food in the refrigerator. The plan was to leave early Wednesday morning with only a quick fuel and breakfast stop before we set sail for CERA Land!
Things went pretty well as we left our home in Douglasville, (just west of Atlanta), and drove north on Interstate 75 through Chattanooga TN where we picked up Interstate 24 west towards Nashville. Still fat and happy, I was driving up Mount Eagle thinking to myself how well that 5.9L Cummins ISB (275hp) was pushing this 36 foot 12 ton box (with 5000 pounds of trailer in tow) up this incredible hill, when the first "gremlin" appeared.
As we drove west / northwest in Tennessee, we encountered a sky darkening with late summer thunderstorms, so on with the headlights. After about an hour, I noticed the marker lights and instrument panel lights beginning to randomly flicker on and off. This continued for about another hour, and then they went off for good. We stopped for some fuel, and a quick stretch, so I could investigate. A quick check of the trailer connector revealed nothing. I unplugged the trailer connector, and the coach lamps seemed to work fine. I made a quick decision to move on without trailer lights, and make repairs when we arrived in Columbus. After all, it was daylight. So we drove on into Kentucky with no lights on the trailer.
The second "gremlin" appeared as we encountered heavy afternoon thunderstorms on Interstate 65 in Kentucky. It was dark as night with minimal visibility in the heaviest showers creating the usual traffic nightmare. There we were with a 36-foot motor home dragging a trailer and not a light anywhere except for headlights. I felt sure that someone would be running into our rear soon. Again we pulled off into a rest area and waited out the latest thunderstorm. With the intense downpours over, I took a circuit tester and went to work on both ends of the trailer connector.
This "gremlin" acted like a circuit breaker, as all the lights would work again after being turned off for 10 to 15 minutes. Of course they seemed fine in the rest area, and my circuit testing revealed nothing wrong. No bare wires, no loose connections, nothing to cause this problem was apparent. So we pushed on with all lights burning brightly for the next 15 minutes or so, only to have mean old Mr. Gremlin rear his ugly head again.
As the day moved into the night, we exited off Interstate 65 at Columbus and traveled east towards CERA Land with only headlights. Driving in unfamiliar territory at night has never been fun, and then add to that the third "gremlin". Yep, you guessed it! The headlights quit! Now Diana is a patient person with years of travel experience, but this was getting crazy.
I could push in the headlight switch, wait awhile, and the lights would come back on for a few seconds. This is how we traveled the rest of the way until we finally reached the entrance to CERA Land. (I won't even go into our little side excursion involving a super narrow one lane bridge and road through a cornfield in total darkness, crawling along with the only light coming from the hazard flashers.) Once secure in the ball field parking lot, we fired up the generator, poured a glass of wine, and then turned in for the night.
We woke up Thursday morning to bright sun and registered at the campground. I maneuvered the motor home into our site, and anchored it there. Once the leveling and hook up was completed, out came the toolbox and the digital voltmeter. If you have any motor home experience, you already know that there are several players involved in the construction of these beasts. In our case, Freightliner makes the chassis complete with the Cummins engine, Allison transmission, and Rockwell differential, linked together by a Spicer / Dana drive shaft. The chassis wiring is also supplied. When the coachbuilder makes the body and interior, they provide their own "House" wiring and plumbing systems. The coachbuilder integrates these two wiring systems. This makes for some interesting schematics
Now it was time to get serious and eliminate the "gremlins" once and for all. Thursday morning I got a lucky break. The lights didn't work at all. I started at the trailer and traced the lack of power for the lights all the way back to the wiring under the dash. Disassembly of the dash revealed a burnt terminal on the headlight switch. That was the cause of the lights going off, but now to find out why the switch had gotten so hot.
Step by step I moved along the wire harness that Freightliner installed when they built the chassis. It was a high quality harness, done well, and all neatly loomed under the instrument panel. Then I found it. In an intermediate wiring harness, a push together multi-plug had a spread connector. This was causing poor contact (high resistance) between the male and female pins inside the connector.
Bingo! Here was the root of the problem.
The high resistance in the connector aggravated by the load of all those
taillights, marker lights, and trailer lights would cause enough heat to make
the female connector lose it's ability to maintain contact with the male center
pin. This acted just like a turn signal flasher or circuit breaker, allowing the
lights to go off. Once the current stopped flowing, the connector cooled, and
contracted around the pin making the connection again. I had located not only
the problem, (the burnt terminal on the headlight switch), but also the root
My luck was changing! They had the correct switch in stock, and some connectors that would work. Back to CERA Land, I pulled the intermediate harness out of the coach, and sat at the picnic table with an adult beverage, a cigar, and fired up my trusty butane soldering iron. A few connectors soldered on and we were back in business. I installed the new headlight switch, hooked up the harness, and we had lights everywhere.
I know I got some strange looks as I hooked up the trailer and connector, put on all the lights including high beams, and then proceeded to sit in a folding chair with a cold drink starring at my motor coach in broad daylight. But in addition to these strange looks, I also received a bunch of kind words of encouragement from several TDR members as they strolled by our site.
The lights worked flawlessly and I was relieved to know that I would have lights for the trip home. The part of my preparation that really paid off, was being sure to pack a tool box with some electrical supplies including soldering iron and heat shrink tubing. It's pretty amazing how a simple connection could cause so much trouble.
Now I was ready to grab some lunch and head off to the remaining TDR activities. The good news here is that the rest of our trip went flawlessly. The TDR event was excellent. Diana and I enjoyed the Cummins plant tour, the drag racing, the Show & Shine competition, and all the great food. I have pictures of Diana going for cold chicken the next day!
In addition to seeing old friends, and making lots of new ones, the highlight of our trip would have to be the auction to raise money for the Cummins project with premature baby ward at the local hospital. If you missed this, you missed out on some real fun, with a tremendous display of generosity by the TDR members and families.
Author extraordinaire. Mr.
White's rear engined truck
Line up of GREAT TRUCKS
I especially enjoyed watching Robert Patton bid on the Bosch camp chairs. (You had to be there)! Diana bid on and bought a really neat "Dremel Tool" kit. I was thinking, "how nice that was for her to buy me this tool", when she informed me that it was for her! Many thanks to the vendors who donated several wonderful items that helped make the auction a success. It seemed like a fitting follow-up to a great day topped off with a fun dinner under the tent.
Saturday evening after the wrap up speeches and presentations, we made our way back to camp, and concluded the evening with some great conversation at Jim & Peg Anderson's site until rain forced us into their neighbor's rig. It was glaringly obvious that all of these folks we having a great time, sharing stories, information, and helpful hints by the truckload.
As we drove home on Sunday morning, Diana and I reflected on a fun time, as we discussed plans to attend the next TDR National Roundup. If you could not attend, you missed an extraordinary gathering of friendly folks sharing a common interest, and enjoying life.
Be sure to attend these events whenever you can. There is so much to learn, share and enjoy, all based around a pick up truck with a rattling monster under the hood. Did I mention that these events are a great place to meet some of the fine writers like Greg Whales and Jim Anderson?
See you at the next event and as always, Happy Motoring!