After the conclusion of the beet harvest, I stick around Leistikow Campground in Grafton, ND for a couple more days to catch up on household chores, buy food and service Bertha. By Tuesday the 17th I’m ready to get back on the road!
Oct 17, Tuesday
It feels like a night-driving kind of day. I’m not sure why, 99% of the time that I’m towing it’s in daylight – just makes everything easier when you’re in an unfamiliar area with a trailer – but today I feel like waiting and leaving in the evening.
So I do.
I hitch up Cas after an early dinner, and pull out of the campground as the sun stands balanced on the horizon. The sky is clear and the wind is calm, good driving conditions. By the time I get on highway 81 heading south out of town, it’s already getting dark. Full beet piles stand illuminated at regular intervals along 81 and later along I29 – it looks like the rest of the sites in the area have finished as well.
The drive is unremarkable, until I’m about fifteen minutes outside of Fargo. Traffic is light on a week day this late at night, but a few semis are on the road. One flashes his brights as he comes up behind me, then honks his horn as he passes.
If you’ve never had this happen to you before, this is a pretty universal signal that something is wrong. My stomach drops. Bertha is running well and nothing seems amiss from my end, but you can’t see everything from the driver’s seat. I’m getting ready to pull over when red and blue lights come on behind me.
Here we go.
When the cop comes up to my window, I ask him what’s wrong and he informs me that my trailer brake and running lights are out. Yep, that’d be a problem.
While he’s checking my license, registration, and insurance, I ponder on what the issue could be. I checked the lights before I left as usual and they were working, so something happened between then and now. My turn signals/emergency lights and electric brakes are still working, so my first thought goes to my 7-pin connector. I’m not positive, but I seem to recall the brake and running lights are controlled by one pin, and I noticed recently that one of the pins on my connector had some buildup on it.
It takes the cop a long time to run my information. As the wait drags on, Bertha gets my attention with a sonorous ‘ding!’.
A light has come on on the control panel. A light that has only come on one other time during my time driving her. A light I fear.
The ‘check gauges’ light. The last time this light came on, I’d blown a headgasket up in Leadville, Colorado, and it ended up being a 2 week delay and several-thousand dollar repair.
Sure enough, my engine is overheating.
My first though is “this isn’t fair”. After all, I went ahead and had both headgaskets worked on when the first one failed to avoid a repeat performance. But immediately after thinking that I realize this can’t be the same problem. The engine was running at normal temperature the whole time I was driving, and only started creeping up as I was idling waiting for the police officer to run my info.
I immediately turn off Bertha, then start pondering this new problem. I just had Bertha serviced at a shop in town the day before, and haven’t done any driving of note since then, so my first thought is that it has something to do with that.
In the meantime, the police officer is back with a ticket for $20 for unsafe driving. I tell him I’ll stop in Fargo for the night (which I was planning to do anyway) and get the lights fixed as soon as I can, and he tells me to keep my emergency lights on tonight until then so that people can see the trailer.
I don’t tell him about my new engine problem. Given the behavior, I’m betting on it just being a problem while idling, and until I can test this theory, there’s no point calling anyone for help.
I turn Bertha back on, and the engine is back at a normal temp. I slowly pull back onto I29, my emergency lights flashing merrily. What a night.
My eyes stay fixed to the engine temp gauge like a hawk, but the needle remains where it normally is while driving. Less than fifteen minutes later, I’m parked at a Flying J just off of the interstate on the south end of town. I leave Bertha idling for a bit, and sure enough, the engine starts to overheat again.
Okay, troubleshooting time! Not how I anticipated my first night back on the road, but you never get to choose these things. If you haven’t seen it, I wrote an article a while back about what to do when your rig breaks down after the headgasket fiasco, I’m almost a pro at this after this many years of full-timing. Don’t get me wrong, having plans go awry is never fun, but the good news is the more you deal with issues like this, the easier it gets. I put my game face on.
After consulting the mighty internet, I figure out which pin controls the brake and running lights on a 7-pin connector, and sure enough it’s the one with the blue residue on it. I grab some rubbing alcohol and a small brush and scrub at the pin vigorously, then plug the trailer back in, the lights are working! But I jostle the connector around and they flicker on and off. So at least I know where the issue is, and can find a RV supply store to get a new 7-pin connector. It won’t be too pricey to fix.
The internet also tells me that when an engine overheats at idle, it’s usually a fan, fan belt, or coolant issue. I open the hood of the truck and immediately spot a dipstick sitting on top of the fan compartment. Hmmm, that’s mighty suspicious. I look through my truck’s owners manual and guess what – it’s the coolant dipstick. The fan and fan belt I notice are running normally.
I check the coolant with the dipstick and guess what – it’s a little low. The cap was on the reservoir and I see no fluids collecting under Bertha, so I hypothesize that the service tech did not put enough in. How the heck does that happen? I can only conclude that they got distracted, left the dipstick out, closed the hood, and never got back to it. I carry spare antifreeze with me in the truck, so my cost to fix the problem is $3 for a funnel to pour it in. I end up calling the shop the next morning, but I won’t get into that. The problem is indeed fixed.
Oct 18, Wednesday
Bertha is idling normally, there’s still no leaking fluid under the engine, all is well. I’ve called a RV shop in Sioux Falls that carries the 7-pin connector and can install it for me today, so I have a destination set. On the way, I stop in Madison, SD – my place of domicile – to pick up my mail in person from My Dakota Address, my mail forwarding company. Terri’s been handling my mail since I hit the road in 2012 and I’ve been very happy with the service.
Schaap’s RV Traveland is staffed by good people. I appreciate that they don’t make me unhitch to fix the connector, the service is timely, and unlike the shop in Grafton that shall go unnamed, they treat their customers right. I say the last because after leaving with my shiny new 7-pin connector just before they close for the evening, I discover that under very specific conditions, the trailer will come unplugged from the truck due to what they did with the cord – which is almost as big a problem as not having brake and running lights.
So I leave a message, and spend the night at a Cracker Barrel in Sioux Falls while I wait to go back in in the morning so they can fix this new problem. This was the night I wrote my last blog post about flexibility.
Oct 19 and 20, Thursday and Friday
Right away in the morning, the service manager at Schaap’s personally looks over Cas and Bertha with me, and with some messing around, we ensure that Cas won’t be coming unplugged while I’m driving, problem solved!
Some followers might wonder at my urge to drive after dark Tuesday night when I rarely ever do, given what happened. Did my intuition lead me astray, or would things have been even worse if I’d had those same problems during the day? There’s no way to know for sure, and I’m not the kind of person to overthink it. It happened the way it happened, and in the grand scheme of things this is just one more little bump in the road – a pretty minor footnote in the saga that is life.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, traveling.
Using my two favorite resources for finding free camping, freecampsites.net and campendium.com, I locate a city park in the small town of Vermillion, SD, right near the border with Nebraska that offers free camping with electric for up to two nights. Hard to pass up a deal like that!
Long-time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve found free camping with electric in a small town, it pays to get away from the interstate sometimes. And this little park is pretty cute. Bonus, it’s close to Walmart for groceries and has water spigots and a dump station on-site. I spend most of Friday hanging around camp writing and editing videos, it’s great to have a day to decompress after the truck and trailer issues, and by Saturday I’m feeling refreshed and ready to go! Next stop: a state park in the middle of Nebraska. (Yes, I have a specific reason for heading this direction, and will probably get to that next post!)