NASA called the fully assembled Saturn V rocket, complete with an Apollo capsule on top, the “full stack.” Yesterday, I assembled my own “full stack” for the first time — Smokey II and the trailer. This is how I’ll normally be going down the road, and it was time to put it to the test. In a way, I had my own version of Apollo 4, the first test flight of the complete Saturn V rocket. Ironically, I also saw that Apollo 4 test capsule on my way to Florida.
Although Apollo 4 was unmanned, and my test flight wasn’t, I traveled without an important payload I usually carry: my motorcycle. Hitching up the trailer for the first time wasn’t just a test, or just for fun. A local friend needed some help clearing stuff out of a storage unit that belonged to her husband who recently passed away. She was afraid that some of it would be moldy because it was put away wet, so the trailer would be a good place to transport it to a dumpster without soiling the inside of anybody’s car. I won’t dive deeper into the details of this project because they’re rather personal and private to her during a difficult time, and it’s not my story to tell.
What I can write about is my first experience towing the trailer with the new van. It worked so much better than I expected. I honestly didn’t notice having two fewer cylinders than the old van. The 3.5 V6 is peppy, and even more powerful than the old van’s 5.4 V8. It is down on torque. There’s no replacement for displacement, except for turbos, but I avoided those for better reliability. The 10-speed transmission made up for the smaller engine’s lack of grunt, especially when I selected tow-haul mode. It was definitely a bit more sluggish than usual in normal mode, but selecting tow-haul woke it up, and it worked beautifully. It shifted gears frequently, but with 10 of them to choose from it might as well pick the best one it can at any time. I could maintain highway speeds with ease, though I ended up setting the cruise control (which works great!) to 65 in a 70 zone because the trailer swayed gently from side to side at anything faster. I figure this is because it was lacking the usual 500 pounds of motorcycle inside to balance the weight out a bit better. It was probably a little bit too front-heavy running “empty.” But 65 is a perfectly reasonable towing speed anyway, and still faster than I usually go when I’m avoiding highways as I prefer to do. The van had plenty of pep to tow faster than that, but I didn’t. I’ll be interested to see how it handles hills, though, which don’t really exist in Florida.
Unlike my E250, the Transit didn’t even seem to feel the trailer behind it. While I could feel every creek and rattle in the old van, and used that to get a feel for how the trailer was doing, I genuinely didn’t know what was going on back there unless I looked in the side mirrors. It tows that well. Its maximum capacity may be lower than the E250, but when I’m only towing about 2,000 pounds anyway, and even less without the motorcycle inside, capacity doesn’t really matter.
Another great benefit of the Transit was backing up to hitch up the trailer. I don’t like the small screen for the backup camera, but I could make out the tow ball and line myself up rather well with the trailer. A screen doesn’t give a good sense of distance, but the backup sensors do, with the beeping becoming faster until it’s a solid tone, at which point it’s time to stop. It took a few tries the first time, but it was already easier than doing it with my old van. I imagine that with practice I’ll be able to get it in one or two tries at most.
It’s the beginning of the end of my stay in Florida. I’m moved out of the old van and living comfortably in the new one. Today I transplanted the half-dead AGM battery from the trailer into the old van and rewired the trailer’s electrical system to plug into my Jackery 240. This was my original plan before I upgraded the old van’s house batteries, so there’s no real loss here. It puts the Jackery to good use, and I can always take it out of the trailer to use it elsewhere.
I also reinstalled the 10-amp charger, which I upgraded to a 20-amp one last fall, back into the old van. (The 20-amp charger lives on in Smokey II.) So it has house power again for lights and outlets, and the single half-dead AGM battery will be fine for its Florida retirement home with the help of the 10-amp shore power hookup. I’ll be delivering it there sometime this week, at which point I will reveal its fate.
Once that’s done, I’ll be free to get back on the road whenever. There’s another thing or two I want to do before leaving Florida, but I’ll have time to do them now that phase 1 of the Smokey II build is complete. I’m already starting to plan my slow trip north to New England.