“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
– Albert Einstein

Some months back, when Outdoors by Owner was little more than an idea, we agreed that our new endeavor should be a source of information for all outdoorsmen. It was to be a one stop shop for all the know-how to have a good, safe, and hopefully successful trip–whether that trip was for a few hours or a few months. 

With knowledge as our mandate, we set out by accumulating information from personal experiences, from trusted sources, and from the internet at large. Informational blog posts would be our first method of distilling our findings into informational nuggets. And while we were concocting this idea, it was mentioned on several occasions that our staff should do a post on “how to service a trailer.” 

Well, little did they know that I have some experience in that field.

I was born and raised in the salt marshes of Coastal Georgia. My earliest memories are on a boat, and most of my fondest moments have come on the water. As a kid, my father and his revolving cast of fishing buddies taught me everything they could about the outdoors. By the time I was a teenager, I was pretty self sufficient–I was raised by a generation that expected as much. By the time I could drive, I was expected to prepare the boat for trips, rig everything, and clean up. As the only non-paying member of a fairly grumpy fishing crew, it was the least I could do. I was also the only kid around, since my dad was a little older than most and most of his buddies’ kids were off at college, so all of the “work” fell to me. I secretly enjoyed it.

But one lesson seemed to have escaped my school of hard knocks curriculum: general trailer maintenance. 

Now, a trailer is a pretty simple piece of equipment. In the saltwater, a premium is placed on an aluminum trailer chassis over steel, so it won’t rust. And other than the chassis, the parts on a trailer are generally: the axle(s), tires and wheels, hubs, leaf springs, bunks, a wench, and some rudimentary lighting and wires. Larger boat trailers will have more complex breaking and lighting systems, but let’s not digress.

Each one of these components needs general maintenance. But like Mr. Einstein intimated, my knowledge of these maintenance issues would come after years of experience. 

My dad passed away when I was a freshman in college, leaving me to be the caretaker-in-chief of the boats I had grown up fishing on. Since I was in school hundreds of miles from the coast in Athens, Georgia (Go Dawgs!), we got rid of our larger center console. At that point my prized possession became our fifteen year old War-Eagle jon boat. The heavy gauge aluminum paired with a three cylinder yamaha two-stroke was an indestructible combination. I hauled that boat all over creation and caught and killed more game from that thing than possibly any other boat I’ve ever owned.

But the trailer…

As noted above, my lessons weren’t quite complete, so I would have to round out my education the hard way.  My first lesson would come in the predawn hours of a morning that was meant to be a marshland wild pig hunt. 

For those of you inexperienced in such matters, the hubs of a boat trailer require grease to lubricate the spinning of the tires on the axle. When deprived of sufficient lubrication, the entire hub will “freeze up,” glow red-hot, and eventually cause a tire failure–resulting in a cacophony of grinding sounds and vibrant sparks. All of this is very, very visible and audible when traveling sixty miles an hour down a dark highway, even in a rear-view mirror.

After a brief inspection and a trip to the 24 hour Walmart, we were able to replace the hub, tire and wheel utilizing nothing more than a boat paddle, WD-40, and a flathead screwdriver. We eventually made it into the marsh that day and had an excellent hunt, taking several pigs. That day I also made one of the best shots I’ve ever taken–a clean head shot on a running boar at 50 yards with a scoped .22 Mag.

Lessons learned: Grease your hubs; make sure your lug nuts are properly lubricated; and carry a small tool kit for on-the-fly repairs.

Having experientially discerned the wheel and axle maintenance requirements of a trailer, my next lesson came just a few months later when launching at a particularly bumpy boat ramp on a mission to chase our South Georgia redfish. 

After backing the boat down, the truck began easing forward towards the top of the rocky ramp. The trailer, having been relieved of the weight of the heavy aluminum boat, was now free to show its deficiencies. About midway up the ramp, the tires hit a particularly cavernous hole leading the (new) tires and axle to remain seated while the rusted leaf springs disintegrated and the chassis continued on with the truck.  If you’ve never experienced such a thing, it takes a second for your brain to register that your entire trailer has just detached from itself–it’s a bit shocking.  Of course, after examining the damage, we couldn’t be bothered to stop the fishing trip (the boat was already in the water), so we left the pieces in the truck and had a good day on the water.

Lessons Learned: Leaf Springs are not indestructible and need to be changed when they show more than surface rust.

Supplemental Lesson: If your chassis ever detaches from the axle, a rope and some well placed lashings can get you a couple miles (very slowly) to the house.

With those lessons learned and supplemented by a couple of police warnings for defective trailer lights, my education was complete. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, or if it was a product of experience or simply maturity, but these days I won’t even hook the trailer up without checking the tires, hubs, springs, and lights. 

And one final lesson: If you’re going to learn things the hard way, be prepared to hear about it for a long, long time. To this day, whenever I am planning a trip with my buddies who were there for the fateful maintenance lessons, one of them will surely chime in with a half-joking and sarcastic, “Don’t forget to service your trailer!”

Feel free to check out our pre-trip Checklist for more trailer and safety tips!

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