Working Holiday – Shuttle Bay Options for Discovery

Memorial day weekend. I know, I should be out with the rest of you on vacation, putting Discovery through her paces yet again. Instead, I’m prepping for our longest trip.

As mentioned, this isn’t about being on perpetual vacation. (True, that’s part of the draw.) But every step of the way from adopting a nomadic lifestyle to learning how to keep Discovery up to starfleet regulations has been work.

Our latest task involves adding a shuttle.

There are several options for exploring on away missions. Some motorhome owners focus on foot power, dangling bicycles from a rack at the rear. Motorcycles or even golf carts on trailers aren’t unheard of either. For those with a a hefty budget, there are coaches which come with an entire hidden bay for a car.

Traditionally, it’s common to just tow your own car. (We even once saw a motorhome towing a jeep which was in turn towing a boat…) And you’ve got a couple options for towing: you can either flat tow or you can buy a tow dolly.

Flat towing is the preferable method for a number of reasons. Hitched directly to the back of a motorhome with all four wheels of the towed vehicle on the ground, there is no extra set of wheels to maintain. With an added trailer, you also have something else to stow when in storage or at a campsite.

I’ve also been told a motorhome with a flat towed vehicle maneuvers much easier than a tow dolly. As long your rear axle clears any obstacles, the towed vehicle will too. With a dolly, you have more play in the hitch due to the longer trailer neck and thus less control.

Despite these factors, we went the least favorable route.

Our main decision involved my wife’s car. Her 2012 Mazda 3 has been garage kept since we bought it. Aside from a few minor dings, it’s in great shape and, most importantly, paid for.

Modern automatics simply can’t be flat towed. (There are some exceptions-check with your owner’s manual for the final say-but Mazdas aren’t one of them.) This has to do with the transmission and the need for a pump to continually lubricate the moving parts. Such pumps can be installed aftermarket but this sounded like more of a hassle than necessary. So to avoid buying a new car or extensive modifications, we decided on the tow dolly.

We picked up the dolly from Camping World in a crated box which barely fit in the bed of my truck. Weighing in somewhere near 700 pounds, shipping would’ve cost hundreds of dollars. Alternately, we could’ve waited “a couple weeks” (I have to air quote this for Camping World suffers from similar RV Time Contiuum temporal loss issues…) and paid to have it assembled.

We went for IKEA mode.

Throughout this process I had intended to take pictures and, ambitiously, even considered a video. What I ended up with was one very drab photo which is probably for the best. (I’m not sure our antics overlayed with a sustained censor BLEEEEEEEEEEP would’ve been all that useful.)

Hats off to the guys and gals out there who manage to film these kinds of projects for YouTube and the like. Between making sure each step was followed, each bolt torqued to the right pressure, and every suggestion from the studio audience given fair consideration (I did say we had a family gathering in full swing…), I didn’t think once about setting up for the perfect shot.

This is not a one person job. If you brave this route, make sure you have a friend or three. Or, like me, choose to start your project right when family are visiting for the extended holiday weekend (thanks fam!)

We had plenty of little hiccups. Most involved unclear instructions and my lack of preparation. Apparently my socket collection wasn’t quite up to snuff.

Our biggest challenge came early on when, after the brake drums had been attached to the frame, we tried to move the partially assembled trailer to make room to mount the tires. We quickly received an impromptu lesson in physics which would’ve certainly caused Spock to raise an eyebrow.

As my Dad and I lifted and the whole axle/deck support bar, the weighted tongue mount immediately swiveled away from us and flipped upside down in our hands. With us straining to keep the thing aloft, those heavy brake drums on either end of an already hefty hunk of steel like some comically giant free weight bar, my son couldn’t wrestle the tongue back in the proper direction.

He did however offer a suggestion. Ironically (this might be a pun, I’ll never tell) we put my dusty weight bench to use as we propped one end up long enough to flip the whole thing back over.

All in all, the assembly wasn’t that difficult. A few times we had to swap out bolts or nuts we’d put in the wrong location (thank you poorly worded directions with thumbnail size photos), but after several hours sweating in the garage we had a fully assembled tow dolly. We were now free to explore the vast reaches outside our motorhome’s orbit.

Of course, then we noticed our single car garage doors weren’t quite made to fit a car-carrying trailer…

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