Those of you following my posts on the airhead list or the “Shiny Things” forum on advrider have already heard part of this story…

What could go wrong? it’s the spring of 2009, the economy’s in free fall, and bargains are everywhere as companies are trying to turn metal into money and stay solvent. I wander by Tractor Supply and note a 4 by 8 trailer with no floor marked down from $350 to $300. Check it out on the web- american made, nothin’ fancy, and a bargain price… My guess is they’re trying to unload some unfinished inventory. So I pile in the pickup and head for the nearest TSC. out of stock, but they find a couple at the next TSC store and send me there. TSC folks are most helpful, exchange the first one for the other when I find safety chain busted and help me hook it up. Get it registered and taxed and for twenty bucks give it a 3/4 inch plywood floor. Then I add some sideboards to handle loose cargo… And voila, I’ve given my VW Golf diesel the hauling capacity of a small pickup and it still gets 40 MPG!

There were warning signs- one of the fenders came loose and the manufacturer, Carry-On Trailers, forked out $50 to get it welded back on. I was continually fiddling with the funky lights. But it worked great- with a fifteen inch floor height it was easy to load, and you could barely tell it was back there. When I moved in 2010, it did yeoman duty, making at least a dozen 350 mile roundtrips from old house to new house. I moved five bikes on that trailer, just ride ‘er on, tie ‘er down, and pack smaller stuff alongside the bike. Even did a 400 mile roundtrip to an auction and brought back the $25 Yamaha MX250.

So hoping to haul back  a newfound two wheeler or at least some surplus furniture, I towed the empty trailer with on my annual swamp soiree to Florida after xmas. Found no smashing deals in bikes, and got into a major battle with the landlord over rent increases. So I loaded up the Buell Cyclone I keep down there to haul back to Minnesota with me, not wanting to leave it as a pawn for the landlord to exploit in the dispute. A couple hours before I leave we settle (for now), but the Buell is already on the trailer so I decide to take it home anyway- I’ really rather have something more dirt-capable to explore the Everglades with.

Let’s backtrack a bit to the Naples Airhead Tech Weekend. We’d fixed just about everything that needed fixing on our airheads and probably a few things that didn’t, so we got to BS’n. A retired auto engineer told of his experiences with a trailer that sounded just like mine- 4 by 8 Carry-On trailer sans floor bought from TSC at (what seemed like) bargain price.  Coming down from Michigan to Florida, he had a wheel bearing go… Totally gone. Checked the local auto parts places and the bearings they had wouldn’t fit right, so he pieced it together with just the outer bearing, and with no parts available, limped the rest of the way with frequent checks on the overloaded single bearing. Couldn’t find any parts that fit in Florida either, so he ended up having to replace the whole axle assembly.

So I get about  hundred miles and stop for dinner and make my routine checks of the tires, hubs, etc…. Hot! And way too much play in it too. Pull off the hub and wheel and the inner bearing is in pieces and the race is stuck on the hub. Did manage to find some bearings at the auto parts place next door after a couple tries, but despite persuasion with hammer and chisel, the bearing race won’t budge. Time to seek professional help… So I put it together the best I could and went looking for a shop that could handle the job. Three shops in town, two were closed and the third was just closing and the proprietor said he couldn’t get to it ’til monday… and this is 5 p.m. friday. There’s a bigger town, Lakeland, a few miles north so I decide to nurse it there. I keep the speed way down, max 50 MPH, and check the hub every ten miles or so. It’s hot to the touch, but I can still touch it with bare fingers. Check in at Motel 6 for the night and check out the phone book and web listings of trailer repair places. Got some reccomendations also from the folks at ADV and the Airheads, thanks!

Up early and try the first trailer place- closed up and doesn’t look like they work on anything smaller than a FEMA trailer. Second trailer place is open only for sales. No help at TSC,  even though I bought the damned trailer from them. So I check out the Midas Muffler up the street, as they’re open and not that busy. Either ignorant or really bored, they take on the job. I walk across the street and buy a new hub at TSC while Midas cuts off the stuck race, and by noon they’ve got me rolling again. But Midas admits the hub isnt a perfect fit, and the wheel sticks out a bit further than before. Head north again, and about fifteen miles up the road pull off and check the trailer before I get into the boonies up 471… Ouch! Hotter than ever! I pull the hub off and see the problem- it’s enough wider that to keep it from wobbling around on the threads at the end instead of the shaft you have to slightly overtighten the bearing, which may explain why it ran so hot. I liberally repack the hub with grease and carefully reassemble it. Well, I’m 1650 miles from home in Minnesota and 150 miles from my place in Florida… Which would I rather limp too? Easy choice, and I limp the trailer and it’s Buell cargo back to the swamp, unload, park the trailer, eat, and go to bed early.

I’ve got about $400 into that trailer, what with the floor and sideboards and I replaced the lights with LEDs. Over two days I spent $30 on bearings, $110 on labor at Midas, $50 on the hub from the same manufacturer as the trailer from the same place (TSC) that doesn’t fit, $50 plus tax for an unplanned night’s stay in Lakeland, and a half tank of diesel to get nowhere. Having got less than ten thousand miles of use out of TSC’s “Carry-On”  $300 trailer, I’ve spent $300 repairing it, and it still isn’t fixed- just like my fellow Airhead found, the axle looks to be an oddball of reputedly chinese origin that cannot be repaired and maybe replaced.

I’d expect that kind of crap from Harbor Freight, but not from Tractor Supply. But given that TSC is currently closing out their inventory of american made Red Wing boots in favor of Carhaart chinese crap, is it any surprise they’re trying to pass off a Harbor Freight quality trailer as american made? Next thing you know, TSC will source the whole trailer from China instead of just the important underside bits.

TSC, “Out Here”, we don’t need your crap merchandise- we need quality durable stuff, and american jobs so we can afford to buy it. With cars getting downsized and pickups disappearing, there’s a huge market for a decent durable little trailer that can handle as well and last as long as the little car towing it. I and a lot of other gearheads would gladly pay a thousand or more for such a trailer, but TSC and the other mass marketers have convinced Carry-On and the other trailer makers that we want crap trailers, and the cheaper and thus crappier the better.

Bye-Bye, Tractor Supply… Think I’m gonna surf over to Aluma Trailer’s website.

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