Breaking Bad: Snowmobile Trailer Axle Fails (Dan Gould)
Published on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in News & Updates, Snowmobile Tech, Snowmobile Travel
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Cold weather dominated our sledding excursion, now it was T-shirt time. We had snowmobiled for a few days and were snaking our way down the mountain road in the cab of Scott Sumner’s pickup after the last ride of the season.

The traffic signal at the base of the grade dumped us onto a two-lane highway in Upstate New York that resembled sections of Route 2 in Western Mass. Traffic was light on this Sunday morning and we were comfortable with our bellies full of breakfast. I listened to the turbine spool-up on the Ford diesel as we approached a cruising velocity in the 50 mph range.

On this fine day the turbo’s constant whistle caught my attention. Yes, the sound was mechanically normal, but the repetitive cycling on and off was not. I leaned forward from the passenger seat, putting my ear closer to the dashboard while asking Scott if the cycling turbine was unusual. At that instant the Super Duty skidded to the left, then right and left again. Scott sawed at the steering wheel, making jumbo corrections as 9,000 pounds of truck and trailer tried to depart from the pavement.

We were in maximum stainage mode as the truck screeched into the breakdown lane. The right side went off into the snow. I was convinced that the trailer got hammered from behind, perhaps by some texting lunatic. Exiting the truck proved otherwise. No one was near us, just a few drivers in the distance who had stopped to watch the stunt show.

The road was covered in shrapnel. Some fragments looked familiar. Springs, brake shoes, hubs, wire, and other vital mechanical bits were scattered in a debris field 500 yards long. Hey Scott, isn’t that your axle? Wow, the other one is across the street?

Looking like two lost DPW workers, we wandered back and forth along the two-laner, gather the big pieces and rubbing our foreheads in disbelief. Cars slowed to look. Snowmobilers towing their way home stared. I’m no lip reader but they clearly were saying something other than “wow.” A few stopped and asked if we needed assistance. A new trailer would have been helpful.

Ten or fifteen minutes into “Operation Ruin Your Day.” Scott commented that we might want to take a look inside at the sleds. Considering that the trailer had gone airborne, almost flipping on its side, maybe not. Scott’s sled is blue, mine is yellow. Opening the door, I expected to encounter something like a spilled bag of M&Ms. Instead, what we saw were two perfect machines, lined up at attention and ready for duty. Phew!

A New York state trooper rolled in behind us and in short order a tow arrived. Crouched down on our knees, we peered under the aluminum box as it slid onto the flatbed. We were pleasantly shocked. We expected all sorts of carnage but there were only a few scuffs on the frame. Scott had already decided what color his new trailer was gonna be and now it looked as though a relatively straightforward repair would do. It might take a week but this was the last ride of the season, so who cared?

The ride home was relatively boring. Just what we needed. We analyzed the incident like a couple of NFL commentators at the Super Bowl. Although we couldn’t be certain, we believe the front axle failed first and collected the rear unit as it departed. The turbo boost cycling could have been the truck reacting to something binding in one of the axles, just before it went “kaboom.”

We do know that the left front axle stub snapped in half and the brake assembly completely grenaded, observation that even a cheesy TV detective could deduce. Looking at the photos, some believe the axle stub had a flaw, others feel the wheel bearing seized or something in the brakes blew up. Short of an FAA investigation, we may never know.

The irony of it all is that I had just bought a new four-place trailer but we decided not to take it. With just two sleds to haul, we figured the savings in fuel would be significant. While that may have been true, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting.

This story also appeared in American Snowmobiler

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