Time came for our first assignment to come to an end. Friends were made, but it was time to move along. We were preparing to head to sunny Florida for the winter. Our next assignment? Daytona Beach! However, my contract did not end until the middle of September. My sister was starting a college course in Florida, and we had committed to watch her youngest child while she attended class since we would be within a driveable distance from her. The catch? Her class started in late August….a full two weeks before my contract in Ohio ended. So, Heather and the two kids loaded up the minivan and headed south ahead of me. It took them two days with an overnight at a hotel just south of Atlanta, GA. Their trip was uneventful and they arrived in Clearwater, FL at my sister’s house to find eager cousins ready to visit and play with the kids who they had not seen in over a year.
Then it came time for me to make the journey south. I had the truck, a Chevy 2500 (non-HD) 6.0L gasoline tow vehicle and the 32′ fifth wheel. This would be the truck’s maiden voyage with the trailer since towing it to Mansfield almost a year prior. The trailer was now fully loaded and had my motorcycle strapped down in the back of the RV. It was heavy….around 14,000 pounds of trailer. Needless to say that it was a bit (or more) over the approved towing limits of the truck. But I had no fear, the suspension had handled it well and we had moved it empty before without any issues, so we should be fine, right?
I hitched up the RV and pulled out of the campground. I was on the road! Everything was going well, I had made it from New Paris through Dayton and was approaching Cincinnati. I started experiencing slower traffic and ended up in rush hour traffic in Cincinnati. My engine started to heat up a bit with all the stop-and-go, but well within the acceptable limits. I made it across the I-71/I-75 bridge over the Ohio river and found a long uphill pull that proved to be too much for my transmission. While the engine and suspension were up to the task, the transmission became the weak link in the system. Half way up the hill my transmission temp shot up over 300 degrees (210 degrees is normal) and the transmission went into limp mode, with a maximum speed of 10 MPH. I am sure I annoyed many drivers as I made it across 3 lanes of traffic to the side of the road and assessed my situation. Had I destroyed the truck? I let the truck idle for about 30 minutes to allow the transmission fluid to circulate and cool. I put the truck back in gear and to my relief I started rolling up the hill again. While my temperatures were still high, I was rolling southbound! It took less than an hour to determine that I could get my truck up to about 3,000 rpms before it would kick back into limp mode. I learned to feather the gas peddle between 2,000 rpms where my truck started rolling and 3,000 rpms where my truck started limping. Obviously my speed was now limited and I while progress was slow, I was still moving. I made it through Kentucky and was now facing the Tennessee smokey mountains. Let’s just say the following hours were extremely stressful, slow, and many miles were driven in the break-down lane to the right of the solid white line. I drove through the entire night, not necessarily because I wasn’t tired, but because I was so angry that I was unable to sleep. By morning Heather was urging me to stop and sleep as I had been driving for many stressful hours. I was able to get 2 hours of sleep in a freeway rest stop before I was back on the road.
Finally I made it across the Florida-Georgia line. I had made it to Florida! I had not, however, made it to my destination. I kept trucking, but the margin of usable tachometer was narrowing. I was now down to about 600 rpm instead of the original 1,000 rpm margin, which severely limited my speed and was now going into limp mode when I tried to cross a simple overpass for roadways that crossed under the freeway. It was now mid-afternoon, and I had been driving for 20 of the past 24 hours.I had had enough!! Heather had called around and had found a towing company that didn’t charge an exorbitant amount of money, and I took them up on their offer to make it the last 100 miles to the campground. The heavy duty tow truck, capable of pulling semi-trucks, arrived and hooked up the truck. After the drive shaft had been disconnected we started off down the interstate with what resembled a small train. A large tow truck…towing my truck…towing the RV. We arrived at the campground in Flagler Beach, FL shortly before dark and I was pleased to find that my site was a pull-through site which meant the tow truck could pull the whole rig through my site and drop the truck and trailer right where it would need to sit.
The next test was to determine if I had destroyed the transmission or whether, once unloaded, my truck would function as normal. The moment of truth had come, and HALLELUJAH! The truck functioned perfectly after being unhooked from the heavy RV. My driving was not done yet however. I traversed I-4 for 3 more hours to my sister’s house in Clearwater, arriving shortly before midnight. Needless to say I was dead! I slept for about 10 hours that night, but I had officially arrived.