Trailer Brakes (and other adventures in welding) Part 1
August 26, 2016
When I bought the Wicked Tiny House shell, it didn't have brakes, which I knew. What I didn't know, was how much of a pain in the butt it was going to be to put brakes on it. The trailer sits on two 6,000 pound re-purposed mobile home axles. The previous owner did replace the bearings, but he did not take the time to install brakes. This style of mobile home axle originally came with non-serviceable brakes, and although the original brakes had previously been removed, the brake mounting brackets were still in place. I spent hours trying to find brakes to mount to the existing brackets with no luck. Time to figure out Plan B.
On Ebay I found someone who fabricates mounting brackets to put on mobile home axles that allow the installation of standard drum brakes. I bought four of the mounting brackets, and then bought one pair of brakes (only one pair, so that if they didn't fit, I would only be stuck with one pair). Once all the parts arrived, I enlisted my buddy Mark to spend a day helping me weld everything together.
Task one was to torch off the existing mounting brackets. Next, we ground the torched areas down so the new brackets would slide on the axle. Then we welded the new brackets on, installed the brakes, soldered the power cables, and tested them out. Success!
During the five mile trip home, everything seemed good, and the brakes were working fine. As I'm backing the tiny house into the driveway, there is a HUGE boom. I'm thinking I hit something, so I get out, and see that I blew one of the trailer tires. And the tire is smoking and I can feel heat coming off the tire from a few feet away. I quickly turn on the hose and wet the tire and wheel hub down. The hub is sizzling hot and turning the water to steam as fast as I can wet it down. I was lucky that water was close by. Disaster averted.
After getting everything cooled down, I start jacking up the tiny house so I can take the blown tire off. As I get the house right about where I need it, I notice that it is starting to move. I quickly jump back as the front (trailer hitch end) of the trailer crashes to the ground. I'm obviously shocked, and wondering what kind of damage I've done. After I quick look, I don't discover any obvious damage. Tiny House Durability Test #1 - 18" Drop to Pavement - PASSED!
Next up, determine the cause of the drop. I figured out that as I was jacking the house up, the jack wheels dug into the pavement. So, instead of the jack rolling forward as the tiny house got lifted up, the jack was pulling the house sideways. That small amount of sideways movement at the middle of the trailer was magnified at the front of the trailer and was enough to rip the front trailer jack off the trailer frame, causing the whole thing to come crashing down. Upon further investigation, I found that the trailer jack had been welded to the trailer frame with only four small tack welds!!!!!! The previous owner was obviously having a lazy day when he put the trailer jack on!
After getting the front of the trailer jacked back up and put on blocks, I returned to the blown tire, jacked up the middle of the trailer, and removed the wheel. It turned out that the backing plate for one of the wheels was not aligned perfectly, and caused the brakes to rub, generating tons of excess heat, which weakened the tire. Taking tight turns with the trailer (like when backing into the driveway) causes a lot of stress on the sidewalls of the tire, and with all that excess heat, the tire couldn't handle it and BOOOOOOM.
Proceed to the next post for brake installation Part 2: We Do It Right, Because We Do It Twice!!!