Where else in the world would the fickle finger of fate point to for an automotive safety challenge?
Of course, when you’re creeping down the nail biting turns of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you’ve never driven Highway 1 along the California coast in the Big Sur area the dramatic cliffs and vistas can be hard to imagine. Often rocky walls on one side with sheer drops on the other, not only is it breathtakingly beautiful, it’s breathtaking period!
Kind of like the loss of breath you may suffer on Disney’s Tower of Terror or free falling from an airplane. I’d show you a picture but I couldn’t pry my fingers from the edge of my seat to take any.
Imagine our dismay when we made one of our frequent stops and discovered that the cap had come off one of our trailer tire hub things and apparently we had lost our entire ball bearing assemblies. These little thingies are really really important. They are what keep your axle turning smoothly and guess what happens without them?…
Well, leave it to say, things get really hot and really sketchy, really fast! The heat coming from this (before he took it off) was enough to first burn his finger and then scorch a piece of paper he held up to it. It wasn’t clear how bad the situation was until he actually took off the tire and pulled all this mess off.
It was all initially quite perplexing to determine just what we were looking at and just how bad the situation might be. The next thing he did was to take the other side off so we could compare and the two looked almost nothing alike. It appeared that not only had the heat melted part of the axle away but it had also melted part of the parts onto itself but it was really hard to tell for sure.
We decided to call it a day (this was on Sunday the 13th), spend the night in the turnout and deal with it in the morning. When we got up today we gathered the whole mess up including all the damaged pieces and parts, the hub they used to fit into (it’s the piece with the bolts sticking out of it where you screw your lug nuts on), all the matching stuff that was how it should be from the other side, took a couple of pictures and abandoned our trailer.
We headed off towards Monterey 25 miles North of us. We had some, albeit slim, hopes that we could just buy a whole new assembly from a parts store but a phone conversation with a local business led us to a wonderful wonderful place, Monterey Radiator, Trailer and Automotive repair. There we met our newest friend and hero, Steve Ward, owner and just an all around super guy. (I so wish I would have gotten a pic of his face!)
Steve looked at our mess, looked at our pics, sold us some new bearings, taught us how to pack them with grease and how to, hopefully, get the whole mess back on. He was dubious about our success and recommended we take along plenty of cleaning supplies with us like a wire brush (which we had), steel wool (which we had) and to be prepared to use some serious knuckle grease to try and get the axle to a point where the new parts would fit on it. We talked for quite a bit about what it was going to take the fix the mess if we were unsuccessful and it involved towing and a new axle, at least $600 in misery. More than our little trailer, hand made many years ago by my stepdad, was worth in the first place.
Nothing to do now but go for it. So we made the drive back and were not really very surprised to find our humble little trailer/power station (solar panels and battery bank)/creation station (art supplies and tools) exactly as we had left it.
Right out of the gate, we learned it wasn’t going to be as easy as clean it up stick it back together. The new bearings weren’t even beginning to fit on, not even a smidgeon.
So now what?!
Ryan’s idea was to pull out the angle grinder, take advantage of our “off the grid” power and just grind off whatever was in the way. Being the dental hygienist, I have the rotary grinding tool experience so I gave it a go.
Yikes. So many sparks. So little certainty. So hard to tell what was what. Scary Scary
Time to call our friend Steve. He encouraged me to go for it explaining that he didn’t want to coach me wrong but really the most important thing was just being able to get the thing together. To get the bearings to be able to slide back on, the hub all in place and the whole thing secured with the nut and the carter pin.
So I DID! GRIND GRIND GRIND SPARK SPARK SPARK GRIND GRIND GRIND SPARK SPARK SPARK
Initially extremely intimidated, as I went along I got bolder and was so excited when it became increasingly easier to tell what was melted stuck on parts and what was axle that was supposed to be there. lol
After about 20 minutes of removing metal, I got a “not supposed to be there” piece off. The bearings still would not slide on but after another 20 minutes or so of gradually and methodically grinding away I got the stupid thing to slide on.
YAY! Talk about a feeling of accomplishment!
So our story ends well. For the price of some bearings and some grease, about $25 all together, we fixed it ourselves and got ‘er back on the road. For good measure we stopped back in to see our friend Steve to make sure we really did have it fixed. Yep. Another crazy day of adventure. We’ll probably be taking it easy for a little bit to get over all of this excitement.
Note: We did get all this checked and greased before we left but now we know that “you won’t need to have this done again for another 5-10 years” is not always the case. Steve couldn’t tell us why the thing came apart but we feel good knowing how to check it and regrease the things ourselves should it need it again.