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Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Stupid is as stupid does." Mrs. Gump

Have you ever done something really, really stupid and then, done the same, really, really stupid thing again?  I confess, I have.  And I got away with it twice without anybody getting hurt.

As I was recovering from the minor carnage of my repeat effort at stupidity, I thought about Lorraine's mantra of looking at life as an adventure.  This certainly fit the bill.  It also occurred to me that I was blogging out our "adventures" and I had to make the decision of whether to slink away quietly and never share with anyone what happened, or, I could fess up and share it with the world in the hopes they wouldn't do the same stupid thing.  As you can probably surmise, I've opted for the latter.

My first major stupid occurred in 2007 on a trip to MN to pick up our first Icelandic sheep.  That's plural for sheep as we were stopping at two separate farms before returning home with our load of four Icelandics.  First though, a  little fun was to be had on a tour of the Mall of America.

Keep in mind this trip involved towing our 1986 livestock trailer.  The color of the trailer is different shades of rust.  Suffice it to say, we weren't going to impress anybody with this trailer.  But, that's not the point of this story, is it?  The point here is that I dragged a trailer behind our Excursion from Iowa to Minnesota and we're now cruising the Mall of America parking lot for  a place to park.  And, being the efficient guy that I am, I wanted to park as close as possible to the entrance as possible like everybody else.  Not knowing the area at all I found myself driving up a ramp to an elevated parking ramp.  Getting to the top of the ramp though, I realized it was a covered parking garage and that I wasn't going to fit with my big Excursion dragging a big livestock trailer.  I nimbly, if I do say so myself, backed out, got turned around and headed back down the ramp to the parking lot where anybody else dragging a trailer and having at least one little lick of common sense would park.  Feeling pretty proud of myself I moved down the ramp and hit a speed bump a little faster than I should have and, before I could do, well, anything, I realized that I was going faster than my trailer.  The trailer had bounced off the hitch and was now following me down the ramp.  Since the tongue of the trailer was now down on the pavement it was slowing, but certainly not stopping.  And I wasn't steering it anymore either (that's apparently why the laws state that there are to be chains attached from the trailer to the bumper, in case something like this happens so something like this doesn't happen).  I very quickly realized I needed to stop that thing before it got any more out of control.  I swerved in front of the trailer and let it hit the Excursion which I quickly braked to a stop.  Major catastrophe averted.

I got out of the Excursion and walked back to the trailer.  As far as I could tell the only damage was the front end of the trailer pushed in and a nice sized dent on the upper part of the rear quarter panel of the Excursion.  Both were still drivable. 

Now, this trailer is really, really heavy and, try as  I might, I couldn't lift the tongue back onto the hitch.  I asked Dani, my daughter, to help, but the two of us still weren't strong enough.  Then, like a gift from God, a good Samaritan pulled up behind me.  And, God bless him, he not only helped me lift the tongue back onto the hitch, but he also gave me an out for looking incredibly stupid and inept.  He said, "so, looks like somebody must have messed with your locking collar."  Yep, that's it!  It was somebody else's fault that the locking collar wasn't engaged to keep the trailer from falling off the hitch when I hit a bump.  Of course, he assumed that I'd been parked in the mall and that some vermin of a human being intentionally messed with my hitch.  And, of course, I didn't say anything to dissuade him of that belief.  I just grunted an, "I guess," thanked him repeatedly and we both moved on our way.

When I got back into the Excursion I was really rattled.  I was literally shaking from the burst of adrenalin coursing through my veins.  And then I started catastrophizing.  It occurred to me that I'd probably not engaged the locking collar on the hitch when I'd left IA.  I could have hit one of hundreds of bumps along the trip that could have caused the trailer to drop off the hitch.   That included while driving 70 mph on the interstate.  I then had visions of the trailer careening across the median into oncoming traffic.   It also occurred to me that the only way to make that worse would have been for it to happen on the trip home with livestock in the trailer. 

Now, it's possible that someone might have messed with the hitch while we were parked at a restaurant or rest area on the way home, but it's more likely this not too smart farmer had a lot to do with the oversight.  That being realized there on the ramp at Mall of America's parking garage, I promised myself I would check that hitch every time I got into the vehicle for the rest of my life, or as long as I owned the trailer, which ever was shorter.   And I did, until this morning.

This is where it really pains me most.  Having to admit to doing the same stupid thing twice.  

I got up a little earlier than usual this morning to run a couple of lambs over to the Redfield Locker.  We needed some additional inventory for the upcoming Des Moines Downtown Farmer's Market (we'll be there Saturday, October 1st by the way).   Evan (my son) had hooked up the trailer the night before and we'd loaded the two lambs so they'd be ready to go in the morning.  I vividly remember looking at the collar and then checking the connector for the lights since they weren't working.  I wasn't too worried about the lights since I'd be driving in the day time.  In my mind, the locking collar was engaged.

The delivery part of the trip was uneventful other than seeing my neighbor to the west nearly drive off the westbound ramp as he was heading onto I-80.  But he didn't.

After arriving at the locker I unloaded the lambs and gave my instructions for processing.  I jumped into the Excursion and pulled out of the locker's parking area.  I heard an unusual metal on metal bump as I drove out of the lot.  I thought to myself, "self, you should probably check that hitch."  But, self wasn't listening and rationalized, "I know I checked that hitch last night when Evan hooked it up.  It's fine."  Surely that kind of talk is the work of Satan himself because, after another two blocks, I hit a modest bump in the road.  I instinctively looked in the rear view mirror and verbalize in my mind, "Oh $%#T," as I watched the trailer sending up a spray of sparks from the pavement, veer to the left, up over a curb and into Heartland Coop's gravel parking lot.  I cruised parallel to the trailer for about 25 yards, willing it to stop as it headed towards two small, above ground fuel tanks.  I envisioned a fiery blaze as the trailer skidded to a halt a mere three feet from the first tank.  I pulled into the parking lot and, looking around, hoped that nobody had witnessed this embarrassing feat.  If anybody saw it, they weren't coming out to check on me or try to help.  Using the word "fortunately" here is like calling a three legged dog with a broken tail and a bite out of his ear, "Lucky," but I was fortunate nothing was damaged.  No cars, no trucks, no pedestrians and, mercifully, no flaming carnage.  And I was fortunate nobody saw what happened.

I was able to push the trailer away from the tank enough to back to the Excursion to the hitch, but, as was the case at the Mall of America, I wasn't strong enough to lift it.  I figured if anybody had witnessed the event they'd come out to help but, either nobody saw it or, if they did, they weren't willing to help.  Or, worse, they saw it and just stayed inside looking out the windows wondering how a not too smart farmer was going to solve his problem, all well meeting their entertainment quota for the day.

This escapade took place about a block from Redfield Feed.  I was loathe to have to ask for help, but I'm sure Dave at the feed store would if I asked.  The problem was he wasn't open yet and I wasn't sure if he opened in 15 minutes or 45 minutes.  I had to figure this out on my own.

I found my bottle jack for the Excursion.  The problem was, I had to put it about 1/3 of the way back because the jack wouldn't fit under the trailer anywhere closer to the tongue.  I hoped it would raise it enough but wasn't optimistic.  I was right.  I jacked it up as high as I could and put my spare tire under the edge of the trailer on the hitch side of the jack to keep it higher off the ground than it was before I jacked it up.  I then moved the jack to the hitch side of the spare and was able to get the tongue up high enough to pull back the Excursion up and get the ball under the tongue.  After I lowered the tongue onto the ball I engaged the locking collar and checked it twice to make sure it was engaged.  Total time lost, about 20 minutes. 

Now, this has left me wondering just what happened when Evan hooked up the trailer.  I don't know if he actually engaged the locking collar.  I do know that I looked and I saw, or at least I thought I saw, the collar was engaged.  So, is this sort of like those times when you're at an intersection in your car and you look both ways, see that it's clear, only to pull out in front of a motorcycle?  We sometimes see things but, because we're distracted, they don't process the way they should.  I know that I had a habit of checking the hitch regularly, but I didn't this morning, so I guess it's not really a habit.

How stupid is that?

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