We will probably have a Nuts and Bolts post at some point dealing with meals and cooking in our trailer, but this isn’t it. This Cook’s Tour is something else. We’ll also have a future Nuts and Bolts post dealing with storage issues at some point. I’m not going to go into all of that now, just suffice it to say for now that we wanted some additional storage for our outside equipment.
When we first decided we’d be full-time RVers, and that we’d be getting a fifth-wheel trailer, we knew we’d have a problem with our kayaks. A fifth-wheel requires a special hitch, mounted in the bed of a pick-up truck, directly over the rear axel. This puts the front of the trailer up over the pick-up bed. We would need a rack on top of the cab of the truck to carry our boats, but it wouldn’t be able to extend out behind the cab. I spoke with the Chevy dealer about this when we bought the truck, and he recommended we talk to Cook Truck Equipment, a local Charlotte business where they send their commercial customers for special truck bodies, ladder racks, and such. www.cooktruck.com
I went to Cook, and they built a terrific rack, extending from the front of the pick-up bed to the front bumper of the truck. It was a custom design, made to fit three boats (we have two kayaks and a canoe) with additional room on it to carry things such as a step ladder (an accessory no RVer should be without) and outdoor folding chairs.
Almost every place we go, someone will come up to us and ask about this rack. Everyone comments on what a great idea it is. We’ve even had people pull up alongside of us as we drove along on an interstate taking pictures as they went by!
In a previous post, we told about when we first started out, we had kept Chari’s Suburu, but then decided we could do without it. Since we had purchased a bicycle rack for the back of the car, we’d now need someplace to carry the bikes. There is a receiver hitch on the back of the trailer, but we were using it with a cargo rack I’d bought years ago for a car. I was using it to carry things like our charcoal grill, a trash can, and our portable wastewater container (again, I’ll talk about things like how we get rid of our sewage in a future Nuts and Bolts post). TMI?
The cargo rack only measured about five feet by about twenty inches, and it fit these things just fine. I made some accommodations to fit the bikes, by adding on plywood wings, supported by wood two by fours. This let the bikes fit along with the trash can and Weber Grill, but the wastewater tank had to go elsewhere. So I rigged up a little block and tackle system to carry the tank on the RV ladder. This seemed to work well, but frankly, it looked like hell.
So far, we’ve been staying in parks that provide electrical hook-ups, but this limits us to where we can go. At some point in the future, we’ll be getting a generator, but where we’re going to store and carry it is a problem. It became obvious we were going to need some additional storage space. Another visit to Cook seemed to be in order. As I mentioned, the existing rack fit into a receiver hitch on the back of the trailer. Being five feet long, it tended to wobble a bit, attached only in the middle, and when I added plywood wings to it, making it eight feet long, it wobbled even more. Clearly, a more substantial rack, made to carry a lot more weight would need to be supported by more than just from the center. We decided that we’d ignore the existing center-mounted receiver and have two new receivers welded in place, each roughly two feet to the left or right of center. These would be steel, and a steel support system would be fabricated that would be inserted into these receivers. The actual storage box/rack would be fabricated from aluminum.
We were staying at Badin Lake in the Uwharrie National Forest, about an hour and a half east of Charlotte. I took the opportunity to go to Cook. I spoke with Tom Cook, the owner, and we made arrangements for me to pick up one of his men, Laine, and take him out to Badin the following day. Laine looked at the trailer and what I wanted to carry on the rack, and came up with a solution somewhat different than what I had envisioned, but seemed to make a lot of sense. His idea was a box rather than a flat rack. The box would be eight feet long, the width of the trailer, and would be accessible from both ends with hinged doors. It would be deep enough to accommodate the wastewater tank and things like our outdoor folding tables, kayak paddles, and various other things we’ve got stashed away wherever we can find the space. The top of the box would be a flat surface. We can keep the bicycles on one end, and there would be one-foot tall sides built around whatever space the bikes didn’t take up to make a basket for storing other things, such as the trash can, the grill, and whatever else might fit.
We’d be staying at Badin Lake for about the next week and a half, and from there moving on to Bandit’s Roost at Kerr Scott Reservoir. We’d been to Bandit’s Roost previously, with friends Kathy and Joe, and were meeting up with them again for the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival, but I’ll leave that for Chari to write about. Since Charlotte was an hour-and-a-half drive from Badin, and Bandit’s Roost would be about an hour-and-a-half drive from Charlotte, we thought there would be plenty of time to have things fabricated, and we could stop at Cook to have it all installed while en route.
The “best laid plans”…
I’ve always felt that the real measure of a company, or any kind of service provider, is not whether or not mistakes happen. Mistakes will happen. Companies, as well as their customers (aka ME) are all people and people make mistakes. The real way to judge a company is not if mistakes happen, but what they do when mistakes do happen. In this regard, Cook Truck Equipment stands head and shoulders above most people I’ve done business with.
Somehow, there was a miscommunication, and when we showed up on Thursday, October 4, we found that they were expecting we’d be there on Friday, October 5. We were already checked out of the campground at Badin Lake; our reservations at Bandit’s Roost started Thursday. It made absolutely no sense to drive on up to Wilkesboro, set up for the night, then break down early the next morning, and drive back to Charlotte. Since Tom Cook’s grandfather opened the business in 1921, 91 years ago, they had never had overnight guests! Well, we’d be the first! We backed up the trailer to their shop and camped out in the yard.
Laine was working on the aluminum box, and another employee, Dave, was doing the steel work. Tom (the owner) was back and forth between his own work and helping out Laine and Dave. Dave kept us entertained with stories of the various jobs and projects he’d worked on. Becky, who I suspect wears several hats around the shop came out from time to time to check on the progress and talk. Becky seemed fascinated by the job we were having done. An RVer herself, she knows the problems of storage and thought the box/rack we were having built was terrific. And the more it took shape, so did we.
Chari called a good friend, Liz, to see if she was available for dinner that night. Liz was a bit surprised, since we had just met her for dinner two nights ago, for what we all thought would be the last time for several months. Tom gave us a key to the yard gate, and we went out for a good Mexican meal. It was dark and everyone had gone home for the night when we came back.
Friday morning, since the trailer was right there in front of the shop, Laine and Dave were able to resume work bright and early. Tom lent a hand when he could, and took care of the wiring (the rack would block the existing trailer tail lights, so we’d need additional lights on the rack itself). On Fridays, they close at noon, but Laine, Dave, Tom and Becky stayed until the job was completed by early afternoon. We were thrilled with the result. I had built a wood storage bin on the back of our first travel camper, and had great comments from other campers all over the country. But I’ve never seen anything like this. When Becky saw the finished product, she called it “the bomb” and laughingly told Chari we should put a sign on it:
Too Much Togetherness?
Open Door…… Insert Spouse!
We think, based on the comments we’d gotten about our previous wooden rack, as well as all the positive comments about our kayak rack, that this is going to be a topic of conversation at a lot of campgrounds. We suggested to Tom, and he seems to agree, that RV work might be a good way to expand his business, especially in this bad economy when his normal business is slow. We hope he does, and we’ll do our part by talking him and his shop up wherever we go. It is a real pleasure dealing with a business like Cook. Nice people that really take pride in their work. We’d go back to them and recommend them anytime. Thanks so much!