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Driving to Texas [Dec. 1st, 2010|04:55 pm]
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J and P and I sat down and had a family discussion about where to go next, and we decided to go ahead and make the long trip from Kentucky to the southern tip of Texas, so that P could see a friend of his who had moved away after high school. It would let us tour Texas, too, but we’d be driving every few days in order to make it down there and back again for Thanksgiving in PA.

We made the first long drive on Saturday: about 470 miles to West Memphis, AR. Instead of following the Google maps recommendation to take interstate 40, which is fast but dull, we opted to cross Kentucky on the parkways again, actually coming into Arkansas well north of Memphis then dropping due south on 55. It proved to be a very nice route which avoided the Memphis freeways almost entirely. J had insisted on this campground, Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park, on the banks of the Mississippi. I was leery, between the webpage which linked to the Memphis river flood gauge: “A sustained rise over 31 feet on the Memphis gauge will close Tom Sawyer's for as long as the river is out of its banks…” and the refineries we drove through to get to the location. Once we turned off of the industrial road, though, we entered a band of forest which almost completely shielded the campground from sight of the refineries (though not smell, alas.) And the campground itself was very nice, with long gravel pads with a good amount of grass and small trees between them.

We got in a little before sunset. We’ve had some less than stellar moments coming into campgrounds after dark, so our driving days are circumscribed by the daylight hours. It means we can go a lot farther on summer days. In fall and winter we have to watch our times carefully, planning trips to arrive before sunset, preferable with enough time to get settled before dark. The sun was just turning the western sky gold and purple by the time we were all set up. A little sign at the campground office mentioned their new tree house restaurant serving BBQ on the weekends. P opted to cook for himself but J and I were intrigued, so we walked over in the gloaming. We went up a narrow, winding ramp to a small kitchen-with-deck which was literally a tree house. There were tables and tree stump seating on the deck and a tiny screened kitchen with a counter to order at inside the structure. The BBQ shredded pork was very tasty and it was fun picnicking in the boughs of a tree.

The next day, we found the laundry room similarly situated on the second floor of the bathhouse, accessed by a wooden stair outside. They weren’t kidding about the flooding; all of the more vulnerable electrical appliances were located at second floor level. We spent an easy day catching up on chores and drove into Memphis for a movie that evening. The next day we were back on the road, headed for Nashville, AR, primarily because it was the right distance for a convenient stop along the route.

I was driving; just past Little Rock, AR there was a tremendous BANG, and I looked back to see we’d blown a trailer tire on the driver’s side. We got over to the shoulder of the busy freeway as quickly as possible, but not before the shredding tire had torn away part of the metal side wall of the fifth wheel. We were in a bad spot; the gravel shoulder sloped away steeply on the right and there wasn’t really room to get over far enough to safely change a tire on the left with the traffic whizzing past. J got out to check on the situation, and as he negotiated the slope the gravel gave way under his feet. He caught himself but banged his hand hard against the side of the rig, severely dislocating his finger. He forced it back into place and carried on regardless. After looking things over we decided our best bet was to slowly drive the rig ahead about a hundred feet to a flatter section of the shoulder, where we could cross the grass verge and the frontage road and get into a church parking lot. We did that, but the sharp angle of the road and the church driveway wrecked the rear stabilizer in the process, bending it right over. Those are not expensive and not hard to replace, and as J said at the time, it’s much better to have to replace a stabilizer than to risk a person changing a tire on the highway.

We got a good look at the damage there in the parking lot. The plastic fender was busted up, the metal radius trim torn away and crumpled, and one of the supports under the rig was bent sideways from the force of the blowout. P changed the tire and we borrowed a pair of tin snips from the auto dealer next door to trim away the worst of the mangled metal, then used some utility tape to secure the remaining piece in place.

Thankfully we weren’t going too much further that day, and it was with a collective sigh of relief that we arrived at our campground for the night. This was the Nashville City Park, which boasts cheap RV sites next to their sports fields. We pulled in at about 5:30, which turned out to be just the right time. It was after hours so there was no one in the office, and we couldn’t quite tell where the RV sites were intended to be. Power posts were scattered more or less at random among tall pine trees, with nothing resembling an actual delineated site. Analyzing faint tire marks and the placement of the power posts, we made our best guess and parked the rig. We had just finished setting up and started cooking dinner when people began to arrive for peewee sports practice, parking higgledy-piggledy all around the rig. If we’d arrived any later we wouldn’t have been able to get into a site at all. It was still a nice place to spend a night or two, and very quiet once the mini-footballers were gone for the evening.

The next morning we called around to get prices on new tires. I drove to Texarkana with the trailer spare and got it swapped out at Discount Tire. We had used them before when we needed a new tire and they’ve been great with both price and service. It was also an opportunity to check the store out and see if we could get the rig into the parking area. We could, so the next day we got up bright and early, hitched up and drove back to Texarkana, where we had the remaining older tires replaced. The service folks did a great job and listened to us when we told them not to jack the trailer up by the axle, using the frame properly instead. So now the rig has all new tires on the wheels and an older spare that will need to be replaced at some point. We are hoping to get on a schedule of replacing truck and trailer tires so we don’t need to do them all at once again.

Tires, apparently, are designed to roll (go figure.) One of the disadvantages of tires on trailers is that they don’t roll as much as they should. On a passenger car or truck, the regular spinning of the wheel as you are driving helps protective compounds in the rubber to migrate to the outer surface of the tire, keeping it, well, protected for the life of the tread. So we replace tires when the tread wears out. On a trailer, the tire doesn’t rotate enough to keep the protectants evenly dispersed. The result is that the tire can wear out well before the tread is worn enough to warrant replacement. We knew our tires were aging and should be replaced. We were just hoping to get one more half year out of them.