A ( broken ) hitch in our plans on the Yukon Highway 1


Prior to crossing the border into Canada, we spent a couple of weeks preparing for our Alaskan/Canadian adventure in Great Falls, MT. One of our tasks was to add a spare tire to our RV, which did not come with one from the factory. This is pretty common with modern RV’s.
I think it’s pretty well expected that RVer’s will just have a roadside assistance program and call for help when a flat tire occurs. We did this once when we had a flat tire in Mississippi and it was not the best experience. Despite having the tire fail just off I-10, it took nearly 5 hours to get a repair vehicle to the truck stop where we were parked. The tire cost was $680 ( about $300 over normal retail ) and didn’t match the rest of our tires.
Based on that experience, as well as tales and advice from the multiple guidebooks and websites we were reading about driving in the far North, we thought it would be wise to try to carry a spare tire/wheel combo and the tools to change it myself if the need arose. Since our RV doesn’t even have a place to put a spare, we went looking for a solution to that as well.

After searching online, we found the Roadmaster hitch mounted spare tire carrier.

Roadmaster Spare Tire Carrier

 

This fits in our existing 2″ hitch receiver and allows us to easily carry the spare tire. When you need the spare tire, you just remove a bolt that secures the vertical bar with the tire on it and it swings fairly easily ( The tire and wheel weight about 125 lb. ) to the ground where you can unbolt and roll the tire away.

The tow bar to pull our Jeep behind the RV would then insert into the Spare Tire Carrier, which wouldn’t reduce the towing capacity enough that towing the car would be over the RV’s rating. As a bonus, we could put the bikes and rack on the RV spare tire, getting them off the Jeep, which was a real pain when we wanted access to stuff stored in the back of the jeep. We had also found that the bikes would get pretty dirty when we took the Jeep off road.

The hitch receiver on the RV was rated for 5000lb of towing capacity and 500lb of tongue weight, so I added it up to see if we’d exceed that with all this crap piled on the back of the RV. The Spare tire carrier weighs about 65lb, the spare tire/wheel is about 125lb, the tow bar for the Jeep is about 35lb and the bikes and the rack are about 50lb. That’s about 275lb, well under the 500 lb limit of the RV hitch receiver. All should be well, though it seemed to flex a little, we’re within our weight rating, right?

We loaded it all up, sold the old bike rack on Craigslist and headed it for Alaska. The roads were quite smooth through Alberta, but began to get significantly rougher as we got into the Yukon and eventually to the Alcan Highway. There would be smooth sections, but every few miles there would be a frost heave, usually marked with orange cones or flags. We probably drove through 20 or 30 miles of serious road construction as well. Still, none of it was really much worse than some roads we’ve been on in the lower 48.

As we neared Whitehorse, YT, we noticed that the spare tire carrier had sagged a little. A closer inspection showed that the flanges where the receiver bolts to the RV had begun to bend, changing the angle of the receiver and allowing everything connected to it to sag.

Bent flanges holding the receiver to the RV

Bent flanges holding the receiver to the RV

It looked secure, if a little droopy, but we didn’t have far to go, so we continued on to Whitehorse where we understood there to be folks with heavy duty tools that could help us with our problem.

Pioneer Park in Whitehorse had a guy on site with a pretty complete repair shot ( they have a small fleet of tour buses ) who was willing to take a look at the hitch for me. He straightened the flanges, moved the hitch up to the top of the frame rails and added a backing plate above the flanges to try to prevent any further flexing. We also upgraded the grade 5 bolts holding the receiver to the RV with grade 8 bolts, which are much stronger.

Satisfied that we had strengthened everything sufficiently, we loaded back up and headed up the Yukon highway about 330 miles to Dawson City. The Yukon highway was probably a little worse than the Alcan had been up to Whitehorse. It was still not really bad, but the frost heaves were more frequent and perhaps a little higher. About 120 miles from Dawson City, in Pelly Crossing, we stopped for a break at a gas station and notice that the spare tire carrier had sagged again, further than it had prior to the “repair” in Whitehorse.

The whole shebang drooping off the back of the RV.

The whole shebang drooping off the back of the RV.

A quick crawl underneath the back of the RV confirmed that the damage was much worse this time. Despite our fix attempt, the flanges had continued to bend and were now pulling away from the main tube of the receiver, breaking the weld that joined them.

Weld failures - I'm glad we caught this before they completely failed.

Weld failures – I’m glad we caught this before they completely failed.

We disconnected the Jeep and unloaded everything off the back of the RV. The spare tire fit in the back seat of the Jeep with just an inch to spare as it went through the door, secured by the rear seat belt.  The tow bar went in there too.  The bikes went back on the Jeep’s spare tire. The new spare tire carrier stayed on the RV since we didn’t have anywhere else to put it, but the weight on the RV receiver was down to just 65lb or so and if it failed, only the tire carrier would fall off, rather than losing the whole Jeep. We felt pretty sure this wouldn’t happen since the receiver had most of its welding intact, it was still quite solid under the reduced weight.

So, from this point on we drove separately, Eric in the RV, Jeanette generally following behind in the Jeep. It was another 540 Miles to Fairbanks, through Dawson City, up and over the unpaved Top of the World highway and then on through Chicken and Tok. Driving separately makes for long days, but we did it, getting to Fairbanks in time for the Solstice celebrations despite the extra driving time. We stayed in touch with our walkie talkies.

In Fairbanks, after some quality time spent socializing with our other full timing friends, we looked for someone to fix our problem, hopefully for the last time.

I started by calling Hidden Hitch, the maker of the failed receiver. It turns out that Hidden Hitch part# 64-6206 was built for just our model of RV for the manufacturer. It was unavailable ( not that I would have wanted one ) and there was no direct replacement. The best they could do was sell me a generic replacement meant to fit almost any RV. I looked at it online and was not impressed with the construction. Like the broken one, it only bolted on in a few places and looked like it would still be subject to torque from the weight of the spare tire and carrier. We went looking for other, better constructed custom options.

After a few calls, we go connected with Bulletproof Trailers, who were eager to help and were willing to build a hitch that would not fail us, welded to the frame in four places and built from square tube steel. According to their owner, “God himself won’t be able to bend this”.  After a look under the RV and formulating a plan, they got us in the next day for what was expected to be a full day of fabrication of a brand new hitch.

The pulled off the old, busted hitch receiver, starting over from scratch. Their expert welder fabbed up a really solid receiver that’s welded into the frame in four places and gusseted just forward of the receiver socket. They worked with me, trying to make it strong and look good, fitting the height to match up with our jeep. I was really pleased with their work. It wasn’t cheap, but it was exactly what was promised ( both quality and price ) and really well done. The even strengthened the mudflap installation while they were down there. I would definitely return to have them do any work on my RV or trailer hitches, though I don’t think I’ll ever need it for this one…

The new Hitch Receiver.

The new Hitch Receiver.

We got everything mounted back up and headed out of Bulletproof Trailers, towing the Jeep again. The flex that we could feel before was gone. We’ve traveled anther 1300 miles since having the new hitch installed and everything is staying in place.

 


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One thought on “A ( broken ) hitch in our plans on the Yukon Highway

  • Diane

    Wow! I’m glad you didn’t lose your Jeep!!! Also glad you were able to get that fixed quickly and with such great craftsmanship! Though I’m not sure I’d bet on the “God himself” part, I hope it’s the last worry you have with your hitch! It looks like impressive quality work even in the pictures. Love you both! Enjoy!!