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Al and I are thrilled that you have found your way to our blog. We hope you enjoy reading our journal and viewing our photographs of the natural wonder of our United States of America. Let's hit the road together!
Homer, Alaska

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Why Fort St. John??

 June 2-11, 2022

So why did we backtrack 90 miles from Pink Mountain to Fort St. John instead of continuing our slow, merry way north on the Alaska Highway? Herein lies a sad tale; but then, you all would expect nothing less from us, would you?

Departing from Dawson Creek midmorning on June 1, we only had about 140 miles to go. It was an uneventful journey north, up and down several short grades, down one not-so-gentle grade of 10 percent -- reminiscent of our harrowing drive towing the rig up and over Teton Pass back in 2015. Pink Mountain is the halfway point between Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson, the next major - and I use that word very loosely - town along the Alaska Highway. I think for the sake of brevity I'll refer to the Alaska Highway as "AH" from here on out. As it's a pretty remote area, I fully expected to be out of any cell signal range, but was quite pleasantly surprised that due to a recently installed cell tower in the campground, my AT&T was working wonderfully! This turned into an exceeding good thing as we were very soon to discover.

Being so early in the season, the campsites had no water or sewer operating, just electricity. So we headed over to the water/dump station to dump the waste tanks and fill up with fresh water. We don't like to travel with fully loaded water tanks, especially on up and down roads and the price of fuel. We just carry a few gallons to use the toilet if needed. As Al went to the side of the trailer to open up the control panel, he noticed a crack in the outer skin of the front of the trailer. He also noticed the molding along the edge was pulling downwards. In his succinct words to me after pulling into our campsite, " You need to come and look at this. We have a serious problem." These are not words you want to hear!

As you all can imagine, we were really at a loss for several moments. The only thing we could think of was that something had broken inside, welds or whatever. My mind immediately flashed to the issues our friends Linda and Howard Payne of RV-Dreams had with their fiver a few years ago. There's definitely an element of shock that takes place, and it takes a while for your brain to unscramble, come out of panic mode, and try to figure out what to do. 

First, deciding it was not safe to tow was probably the easiest step. But then we had to find a place that we could get it to that might have a reasonable chance of being able to deal with the issue. And realize that we are really not close to any large, urban area at all! Here is where the helpfulness of having cell service came in extremely helpful as we were able to jump on the internet and start researching. Do we look north, in the direction we are ultimately headed, to Fort Nelson? Do we backtrack to Dawson Creek, Fort St. John? So we started in Fort Nelson. Found a place that does RV work and called them. Nope, can't handle it. They do not have any certified welders. Gave us names of welding companies. There are quite a few as the area is all oil and pipeline workers. The places we called did not answer their phone, so we left messages, which, I might add, we never had a single call returned to us.

Then we turned to Dawson Creek. Didn't see anything there, but did find a place in Fort St. John. Called them, and stated the problem as we thought it may be, and they said sure, we can deal with it. We just have to get it to them. So that's the next problem. These folks recommended someone, but when we called them they were very hesitant about the prospect. You see, it can't be towed normally; otherwise, we'd be able to do it ourselves. It needed to go on a flatbed. So after thinking and reading a bit more, we decided first thing in the morning we would call our roadside assistance through Good Sam.

Now, I know a lot of people don't like them and diss them something terrible; but the three times in the last 12 years that we've needed assistance, they've come through. And this time is no different. We called, told the gentleman our situation and what was needed, and he was back on the line in about 15 minutes with a semi and a flatbed lined up for us. It wouldn't be coming for about 6 hours, but, hey, I was just happy that someone was coming!

So by about 6 p.m. we were down at Fort St. John, had the rig dropped off at the repair shop, and we moved into what would be our home for the next week or so at Pomeroy Inn and Suites. I booked this as the rooms have full kitchens because we would need to move our food into the refrigerator and we wouldn't have to eat out. And we've been very happy with it. It's clean and tidy, quiet, with free breakfast every morning, free dinner on Wednesdays, and free laundry!

So first thing in the morning, Al headed over to the repair shop to see what was going on. They had told us it would be midweek before they could deal with it but would take a look at it to see what would need to be done. He was gone quite a while. Long story short, they couldn't do it. They thought it was just a welding problem and weren't going to be able to deal with taking it apart and putting it together. They called another place that did RV repair, but they couldn't do it, or didn't want to anyway. At this point, he was feeling back to square one and we were possibly going to have to get it back to Grande Prairie or possibly even Edmonton. Then he remembered as we came into town, our tow-truck driver, Sam - who was excellent! took great care with getting the rig on the flatbed, making sure it didn't scrape anywhere - pointed out an RV repair shop and said it was fairly new but he's heard they do excellent work. So Al drove down there and talked with them. They were pretty confident they could repair it, and, based on what Al saw going on in the shop, he said it definitely looked like they were capable. So Saturday the two owners came up to the lot of the first shop and took a look at it and said to bring it on by Monday morning. They were going to finish up the work on a rig they had in one of the bays and pull us right in, take off the outer skin of the front and see exactly what we're dealing with and how long it's going to take. Awesome. Now we just have to tow it about 3 miles, slowly, on flat roads. We can do this.

Monday morning came and the ride over was uneventful, thank goodness! We backed it into the bay, and the one gentleman that we would be dealing with from that point on and who did the bulk of the work said to come on back after lunch. He would have it taken apart and would be able to see what happened and decide the best course of action. The pictures that follow will show what all happened.

So once the skin that is on the front of the trailer was removed, we started to look for the damage. When you are looking at the front of the trailer right where it makes the bend from the part that hangs over the truck when it's hooked to the hitch, there is a beam that goes from side to side. On that beam, the main frame forms the front of the trailer and also connects to the kingpin. I call it the neck of the trailer. Right where these all come together it looks like the welds have broken. But upon closer inspection, the beam that goes side to side is actually tearing. The same is happening on the other side also. So, instead of having a welding repair, we now have to replace the beam.

This is a picture of the passenger-side damage.

A picture of the front of the trailer with the "skin" removed. At the very top of the opening, you can see the beam that was damaged. 

The driver's side damage.

So after assessing the damage a plan was made. The bad news first. We have to get access to all of the welds and steel. That means everything in the front compartment must be removed. The floor in the bedroom has to come up. Then the old beam must be cut out and replaced and then the whole thing has to be put back together again. No small job. The good news is that the front cap does not have to be removed as all of the frame and kingpin have no damage.  As he was telling me this, I was trying to figure out my next move. Do we sit here for the weeks that it's going to take? Should we rent a trailer and continue on with our trip and we will pick our rig up on the way back? So I asked how long he thought it would take. And the answer surprised me. He said he should have it ready by the end of the week. 5 days, not what I was expecting. He said that he wanted to help out his neighbors to the south and I thanked him for helping me out. 

The work begins.

By day 2, he had the old beam cut out and the new one in place ready for welding. When I went to check on their progress, he handed me a piece of the damaged beam. He told me to look at the thickness of the steel. As you can see it's very thin, about 1/8 of an inch. He feels that it's not nearly strong enough for what it needs to do. He also suspects that the beam was put in by mistake as all of the other beams in the camper are 1/4 inch thick. Why would all the others be 1/4 inch and a beam that is under considerable stress is only 1/8 inch. A question that I will ask Grand Design. 

So the beam has been replaced with a 1/4 inch thick steel. 

Not only did they replace the beam with a thicker, stronger one, they placed several additional reinforcing pieces, gussets, I think they're called, to help strengthen things overall. They replaced the plywood flooring in the bedroom, screwing it down rather than nailing it down as it had been, and also placed additional supports underneath in between the framing. Now the floor even feels better when we walk on it.

After 50 hours, 5 10-hour days, our home is back together and better than new. We're even sporting a shiny diamond-plate base in the front now. It was the easiest and nicest-looking option of fixing the crack in the skin. It also offers protection from rock and gravel spray as well. Best of all, upon lowering the pin into the hitch, everything stayed where it's supposed to! It's filthy dirty, but no washing allowed until all the silicone has time to set up and cure on all the seams. 

As final thoughts, this was a totally unexpected bump in our plans. We knew things would not go perfectly seamless; they never do! But this was actually a huge issue, both the damage to the rig and the fact of where we were when it happened. I have nothing but words of praise for how well Good Sam took care of getting us the suitable equipment for the tow. The tow company, Eisenkrein Services, and their driver, Sam, were exceptional in keeping in touch with us on the ETA, and took great care to secure our rig safely and with no damage to anything. 
Lastly, huge thanks to the whole crew at Golden Value RV in Fort St. John, British Columbia. They were slammed with work, but were still so very kind and accommodating to slip us in and basically work nonstop for the week to get us back on the road and continue our plans. I don't feel lucky in that the broken beam occurred, but I really do feel incredibly lucky to have it happen here and found such an amazing place willing to get it done for us.

And with that, tomorrow we should be back to our regular scheduled programming! We hope to catch up with our friends Dan and Jonell on Tuesday and continue on to Alaska. 


  1. Glad to hear it worked out in the end. I wonder if you have some sort of claim against the manufacturer for putting the wrong size beam in there?

  2. Wow! A huge problem and a timely fix... I'm glad it worked out for you.

  3. Keep that 1/8 inch piece as evidence. Unbelievable on the manufacturers part. Leave it to a good welder to reinforce and for the old girl right. Good luck on the rest of your trip.

  4. wow!! I think your Grand Design is better than new. Good luck on the rest of your tiip. See you at the Ridge

  5. Wow! So sorry you had this issue - and at such a remote location! How that all worked out the way it did was amazing! So happy you guys are back on your way - and not too bad a delay considering! I was thinking to myself you haven’t hit the bad roads yet - so had Al not noticed - it could have been a lot worse! Been loving your updates so far so keep them coming!

  6. WOW! Totally unlucky and lucky all at the same time. So glad to hear your both safe and able to work with a reputable and caring company. Our best wishes for a safe rest of your journey.

    1. Mike and Anne Crum

    2. At least you had capable people to help with your dilemma. God speed, good health and no more major problems as you wend your way.

  7. Thank Goodness for wonderful helpful people❤️

  8. As everyone said you were lucky to have reputable companies to help you out and that you found it before the roughest part of the road.
    It might be worth your while to complain to the manufacturer. A partial refund would even make it worth your while. Don't forget to include the motel costs.
    Be Safe and Enjoy the rest of your adventure.

    It's about time.