Unlike mountain climbing, arc welding, and the martial arts of old Asia, trailering is one of those manly pursuits that I actually find myself doing from time to time. Yet, I have to confess that I kind of hate it. Think less of me if you must, but there’s just something about dragging a couple three tons of loaded car trailer that never ceases to remind me of when I was seven and standing for the first time on the high board of the municipal swimming pool with a crowd of jeering bullies waiting for the fatal belly flop I knew was my fate. Every time I don’t kill or embarrass myself mightily, I breathe a sigh of relief and think, never again.
However, when you own as many cars as I do, the possibility of earning money with them is deeply attractive. So when I answered the call to supply rolling stock to a popular TV show filming in Brooklyn and Queens the other week, I knew I’d again be a hauling man. Professional flatbedding was my first choice, even if it would dent profitability, but in the end the carriers I’d booked all bailed at the last minute owing to heavy snow—they were busy filling delayed orders that preceded mine. Time to fire up the 1968 International Travelall four-by-four. I’d used it to tow several times without incident. Thus, I had nothing to fear but fear itself. Which is pretty frightening.
This was the week when the so-called Polar Vortex hit the U.S.A. Nothing was certain or normal with the New York weather, as snow and blistering cold slugged it out with eerie warm winds and unseasonable highs. Wild climatic swings meant random interludes involving snow, slush, rain, sunshine, black ice, regular ice, fog, and slime. In other words, perfect trailering weather for a forty-six-year-old truck with manual drum brakes, a defroster that hardly works, and a right-rear passenger door that suddenly refused to properly close.
When I arrived at U-Haul at 7 a.m., the trailer we’d reserved was buried in snow. I helped dig it out along with my son Ike, a novice tow-man who forgot his gloves. Then we learned that ice wanted to form on the Travelall’s windshield, despite its wipers’ and defroster’s best efforts. I was in for my ultimate trailering trial.
As if to prove it, we hit an epic traffic jam on the Major Deegan Expressway on the first of three runs. Wouldn’t you know, a pilot had managed to safely ditch his dying Piper Cherokee on the northbound side of the highway, meaning our southbound rig had a front and center seat for the rubbernecking event of the century. We almost ran out of gas sitting in traffic, but that seemed a petty matter the next morning, when a rough-idling Corvette we’d borrowed for the show started sliding sideways down a hill as we attempted to get it to the bottom for loading.
To its credit, the Travelall ran like a champ, even when the mercury approached zero. Its 304-cubic-inch V-8 started every time, with enough grunt to pull down your house and the most remarkable 16,000-mile, 1982 Camaro Z/28 that I recently acquired. It’s a beaut and snagged a starring role, so imagine my concern when I learned that the International’s brakes aren’t up to much when it’s subfreezing outside and you first use them while pulling a trailer. I missed a stop sign by about twenty feet. The stoppers got markedly better with use, but the jitters sailed ever onward.
The next morning, an eight-wheeled truck-and-trailer drift along the frozen roadway approaching the tolls to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge marked a personal first for me. Then, after we dropped off the last car and set off for Yonkers to lose the trailer, we found ourselves stuck behind a disabled livery car on Steinway Street in Queens. As I attempted to back up, I encountered not only my own substandard trailer-reversing skills, but also a heart-stopping onslaught of grinding gear noises.
The failure of the clutch’s hydraulic actuation system was a fitting end to our ordeal. But we made it home. I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t allow as how we felt, for one joyous, exhausted moment, like manly men. Nevertheless, in the future, I’m sticking to the ancient Oriental art of tempura.