22 July 2011

Early this morning, with a day’s worth of travel plans ahead of us, we woke to find our F-150’s battery completely dead. It wasn’t a huge surprise, honestly, since we’d left our parking lights on all through the night. See, we’d boondocked along Main Street in Cambria, California, and it seemed prudent to increase our visibility on the narrow shoulder by leaving some lights on. While this probably wouldn’t have been a problem for the truck alone, the Airstream adds a dozen or so extra running lights to the truck’s reasonable four. This proved to be fatal; when I climbed into the truck, there were no dings, or lights, or automatic running boards: just the dull click of some gear without enough power to turn itself.

My first thought was to flag down some policeman for a jump start, or walk to the nearby gas station to ask for help. I’m sure we also have some sort of roadside assistance program, either through our auto insurance, or one of the many travel-related clubs we belong to. But it was just past 6 a.m., traffic was light, and in my limited experience with roadside assistance, I know you’re looking at a two or three hour ordeal, between the waiting and the subsequent paperwork. Besides, my conscience (and pride) demand that I look to outside help in only the most dire situation, or when I’d otherwise have to leave my family in vulnerable conditions.

Fortunately, there was a clear solution to our problem this morning. First, you should know that our trailer is equipped with two deep cycle 12-volt batteries, not too dissimilar to the truck’s own starting battery. While the Airstream’s deep cycle batteries are designed to be discharged more slowly and “deeply”, they can safely & easily provide enough amperage to, for example, crank the motor in a 1/2 ton pickup. Here’s how we got back on the road in under a half hour:

First, I disconnected the leads from the truck’s discharged battery, leaving it in its place. I then connected the leads to the terminals on one of the batteries borrowed from the Airstream’s own battery bank. With this new, fresh source of power the truck started up readily. Then, with the truck still running, I reversed the first step, returning the leads back to the discharged battery. From here, the truck’s alternator did all the dirty work, easily recharging the battery as it’s wont to do. By the time we made it to Hearst Castle, about 6 miles up the road, the truck was starting on its own, and we’ve had no further problems the rest of the day.

It’s easy to panic when things start to go wrong, but we’re learning that, when we take our home with us everywhere we go, we’re prepared to solve almost any problem that should arise. When that (inevitably) proves not to be true, we’ll dig up our insurance policy and give Roadside Assistance a chance. And while we wait, we’ll catch a movie, or maybe a nap, in the Airstream.