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Down The Interstate Higway: Trailering Across America

Not exactly the Panama Canal, but something of an engineering feat none the less.

Eva can sure make a travel lift look small.

We had always loaded the trailer on a boat ramp before, but dry storage in Florida was less expensive and more convenient than a wet slip.

To cross back to the West Coast to get the truck and trailer we bought this old Volkswagen. It was a great deal from a used car dealer at only two grand as it had been trashed pretty bad by excessive service operations.

Then it tried to eat me. The antitheft system had been improperly disabled, and it locked me in the car. I tore the door panel off, but there was still no mechanical release. I checked for a safety release on the tailgate, but none was visible. Windows are surprisingly difficult to kick out with bare feet.

A piece of acrylic sheet was a quick and easy window replacement, and yes we did have to remove it several more times when the car locked us in.

Fuel mileage for the 1.8 liter turbocharged gasoline engine and torque converter was rather poor under most conditions, but the 29mpg it got at a sustained 80mph cruise was quite impressive really. Even now that the speed limits are up as high as 75mph it is still very difficult to maintain a sustained 80mpg cruise in the thick traffic, most of the time we drove at 65 to 70mph where the VW got a less impressive 31-32mpg. Slowing to 55 to 60 mph locked up in high gear did not yield any better mileage than 33mpg. For more up to date perspective see  The 2015 Volkswagens and Audis.

It seemed like we saw an unusually large number of boats going down the road.

On the empty backhaul we got 16-16.5mpg cruising quite fast at 65 to 75mph, where in the past we had gotten 16.5-17.5mpg towing the empty trailer at 55 to 65mph.

Most Norsea owners who trailer their boats do not ramp launch them, and it really is a whole lot easier to pay a travel lift crew to plop the boat on the trailer.

The two sets of ten inch drum brakes on the trailer can do an enormous amount of stopping, but they do over heat very easily. The shoes are the same as for a first generation Ford Mustang. Stopping a 3,500 pound Mustang from 140mph is sort of analogous to stopping Eva and her trailer from 70mph (See Mustang Analysis). For descending grades the big ventilated front disk brakes on the truck do most of the work, and it is necessary to avoid engaging the trailer brakes at all so that they stay cool for an emergency stopping maneuver.

The stock diesel does not provide much in the way of engine braking having no throttle plate, but higher piston speeds do suck down some power. Descending long grades required the engine speed to be allowed to climb to 3500RPM in second gear, where a substantial amount of resistance was generated.

We had had brake failures galore back in 2005 to 2008 before we learned that it was necessary to actively disengage the surge brakes after they became engaged. Several times stuck surge brakes caused spectacular brake failure complete with flames shooting out from behind a wheel. On this trip across the country we twice had to rebuild part of the brake system, but this time it was due to the failure of two aluminum wheel cylinders that we had put on in 2008. The steel wheel cylinders which had been on since 2005 never gave any trouble even after seven dunkings in salt water followed by six years of storage.

The only tire failure we ever had was the one bias ply tire we had on the trailer. The tire de-laminated after hitting an enormous bump near Bakersfield, but never lost pressure. The pressure was a bit low for a bias ply tire though at only 60psi. We had often run 50psi in the radials with no difficulty, and we once even towed Eva with as little as 35psi in the very old and cracked set of load range B radials that were on the trailer when we bought it.

Trucking traffic on the Interstates seems to go much faster now than it did in the past. Cruising at 62-64mph there was a near constant line of trucks passing us. By increasing the speed to 65-67mph the number of trucks that had to pass us dropped off dramatically. In order to keep up with traffic we drove most of the way in overdrive which allowed a 67mph cruise at 1800RPM. Interestingly the big inline injected engine was much more efficient at 1700-1800RPM with a heavier load than it had been at 2000-2200RPM with a lighter load. Previously we had always gotten 12-12.5mpg cruising at 52 to 58mph in third gear, and if we increased the speed to 62mph in third gear the millage dropped off to as little as 11mpg. In forth gear the fuel millage increased significantly to 13-13.5mpg and seemed to stay constant over a wide range of speeds. It did not seem to matter if we drove 60mph or 67mph the millage stayed right at 13mpg or a bit higher. For more on fuel mileage see Fuel Hogs.

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Images and text copywrite 2014 by Michael Traum