I am confident that when my readers scanned the title of this piece, they were titilated just a bit to think that I was going to write about artful diplomacy, or cutting and running as the case may be. At the risk of disappointing a few folks, I will offer my apologies on the front end as I really don’t know much about that kind of backing down. I am referring to the fine art of backing a trailer, whether it be a bass boat trailer, u-haul trailer or a 20′ gooseneck, stock trailer. If you are in need of a little humor in your life, head out to a busy boat ramp on one of our pristine lakes. Bring a lawn chair, your beverage of choice, a snack or two and settle in a comfortable distance from the ramp and prepare to guffaw with gusto!
To be sure, the ability to back anything tied to the back of your conveyance of choice is an acquired skill. The thought of parallel parking causes a good number of folks who can drive reasonably well going straight ahead to break out in hives, sweat profusely on cold days, and utter unimaginable oaths as they struggle to beach their vehicle. Put a trailer behind that vehicle and you introduce panic and irregular heartbeat to the equation, with a good chance the operator will leave permanent grip marks on the smooth Corinthian leather steering wheel.
Although vexing, it can be entertaining to watch a display of non-skill in backing when this exercise is interfering with the normal flow of traffic in any number of locations, generally in front of furniture stores, home and garden stores, and campgrounds. It is not funny and hilarious at the same time to watch an amateur RV owner back over picnic tables, fire rings, water standards and electrical boxes as they attempt to guide their unit into an allotted space in one of the many campgrounds that do not have drive through spaces. It is also interesting to watch the folks relegated to standing behind the trailer, usually out of the line of sight of the operator, waiving frantically with signals that would confuse any practical person. Many fun filled weekends at the campground begin with a rather icy exchange between the operator and the guide in which the operator asks the guide what in the devil they mean with the cross armed, pointing in two different directions signal while screaming stop at the same time. Cue the lawn chairs and cool drinks as you prepare to be entertained.
Once, back in the 70’s, I found myself with an hour to spare waiting for my fishing partner to pick me up at a busy ramp on Truman Lake. I am confident that I hurt myself laughing at the spectacle that unfolded in front of me when a station wagon full of folks from a distinctly metropolitan environment arrived at the ramp towing a brand new pontoon boat ready for an afternoon on the water. After a considerable, rather uncoordinated spectacle of loading rods, coolers, and obviously new fishing tackle, the show began. I did not have a lawn chair, didn’t need one really as I ended up on my knees laughing as hard as I ever have at this show. The crowd climbed onto the pontoon boat in the parking lot, donned the big orange life vests that were dutifully sold to them to be in “compliance with the law” and assumed their seating positions only after considerable haggling. The boat owner assumed the Captain’s chair and gave the command to “back her in” to, presumably, his wife who had never backed anything in her life. This particular ramp is approximately 40′ wide and the appointed operator needing every foot of it, succeeding in jack-knifing the rig at least two times as she negotiated the 100′ or so to the water. By now, another boat or two had arrived with the intention of launching, however; they too, simply parked to watch the show. After burning a half tank of fuel in the station wagon, the transom finally found water and the operator confidently eased it into the lake. By it, I mean the boat, trailer and fully half of the station wagon! Mind you the boat was still winched tight to the front of the trailer and the transom chains were still affixed to the rear of the boat! The Captain, after considerable effort, finally succeeded in firing up the outboard, a 60HP as I recall, promptly threw it into reverse and attempted to back the rig off the trailer…….of course, it was going nowhere, as it was still tied to the trailer. After a number of commands to back it in deeper, pull it out shallower, all the while with the little 60 screaming in reverse, it occurred to the Captain the boat was not going to leave the trailer. They pulled out, and the operator and Captain began the inspection to ascertain why the boat would not float. To their credit, they finally found their missed checklist items and got the rig into the lake. I was dehydrated from laughing so hard, as were the folks who had come to launch their boats, but became entranced with the spectacle before them. The operator managed to pull the trailer up into the parking lot and was spared the indignity of backing out of a parking slot by a similarly dehydrated fisherman who suggested she simply pull the rig parallel to the lot on the grass. After all of this, the Captain managed to get the pontoon close enough to the courtesy dock to permit the operator to jump aboard, saved by the efforts of another passenger who grabbed her as she was about to experience Truman Lake firsthand. I distinctly recall the operator telling the Captain, in terms that were easily understood, that he had better figure out a way to drive the boat and back the trailer at the same time, as she was never backing a trailer again. Great situational reasoning.
I am fortunate. I married a little lady who can back a 30′ wheat drill into a 32′ space, and a boat down like a pro. She was tutored by a screaming, maniacal father who caused you to really want to handle equipment well. My fishing partners are all above average backing artists, with one or two who would qualify as masters. I enjoy backing but enjoy Captaining the boat more, especially around crowded ramps. Sharon also knows how to position herself and give signals that do not resemble Egyptian hieroglyphics. As we embark on our RV adventures this summer, I intend to work hard to avoid being the talk of the campgrounds we enter. I see some quality time in a mall parking lot, becoming acquainted with the dynamics of our new rig.
Backing down….only experience can make the difference between a dry mouth and a silly grin……..