Grandpa Jim, & Others,
I looked at the pictures and following are my thoughts about the cause of the fire. I notice from one picture that the fire appears to be near the back of the truck and almost looks as if it was on the ground. How could that be? Possibly spilled gas, but also reminds me of what used to be a fairly common experience in long haul trucking.
I put myself through college, in part, driving long haul trucking when not in classes. Fires that looked like the one pictured were not uncommon on the road in those days (the early 1960's). They usually started with overheated brakes that caught the tires on fire. Hot rubber tires burned readily and burned very hot.
Obviously, I do not know, but it could well have been overheated brakes that caught a rear tire on fire. For some years, pickups had drum breaks rear and discs on the front. The discs lost heat more readily than the drums. If the trailer brakes were not properly adjusted, or the brake control was set correctly, and if the pickup is one of the smaller, lighter ones, like a 1500 or F150, it could readily put too much strain and heat on the rear drum brakes, or a dragging brake can do the same thing. Once that rather large iron drum brake overheated, the heat might spread to the tire, especially in the summer. Tires are already warm from the road in Louisana in the summer and add a concentrated heat source like an overheated brake drum and tire fires can result.
I once came off Lookout Mountain into Chattanooga, Tenn. on the old US highway with a very heavy load. It was a warm summer night, the grade was steep and I had ridden the brakes too hard on the trailer so everything was hot. I ran through most of Chattanooga nearly 4:00AM, dragging a heavy trailer with two burning rear duels and no place to stop my long heavy load. Once I got through town, I pulled over at the first opportunity and tried to put out the fire before it caught the load on fire. Of course, I could not but did save the load. Memorable experience for a 19 year old.
I never tow with a small tow vehicle and I am always careful about my brakes and wheel bearings before each trip. Always. Just one accident spoils everything -- if you survive. I always check our weight and balance before each trip. Ask my wife how many times she had to get out of the truck to make sure I had the wheels aligned exactly right on the scales. Oregon has free scales for the log trucks and the nearest is about 5 miles from our home base. After college I flew for years and as a pilot, you learn the real meaning of weight and balance in small planes and how not paying attention can cost you your life. Particularly with the Beechcraft Bonanza -- run out of elevator and you cannot pull out of the dive before you hit the ground rather suddenly. Killed a good friend of mine. Same thing when towing, just to a lesser degree.
Once, one tow vehicle ago, my truck of choice was a Freightliner, business class FL 60. I towed a Kountry Star (not 5th wheel but conventional trailer) 35 feet long and heavier than a dead preacher. The engine was a Cat 3126 with a Fuller autoshift transmission. On the truck, I had a custom 17 foot steel flatbed built. Down the road we went with a Misubishi Montero Sport on the flatbed and the Kountry Star behind. Had rear duals of 22.5 and air brakes all around on the truck. The truck and trailer were usually full of water, tools and miscellaneous stuff that made life on the road comfortable.
I had brakes enough for 80,000 pounds but only grossed out at just over 45,000 to 47,000 overall. I could stop on the steepest grades or even make panic stops in traffic if I did not mind spilling the trailer's contents all over the floor. Thanks to the big air brakes and lots of rubber on the road, I never was scared and that is worth a lot. If you have never driven with air brakes it is hard to emphasize how superior they are to hydraulic brakes. We had it all but picked up a relative to live with us and she could not get in and out of the truck -- too high off the ground for someone in their 80's.
Moved to a Monaco Executive 45' with a Cummins ISX and over 1,600 ft/# of torque. Tow a 20' flatbed trailer with a GMC 2500 Duramax diesel and Allison tranny on deck or a 2013 Chevy Silverado crew cab diesel. We gross between 68,000 to 70,000 and measure just over 68 feet (never been stopped in any state with maximum length of 65' yet). I ordered a manual Jake brake and can take the steepest grades at 55 MPH plus up and down at the same speed.
I have discovered it is relatively easy to move a load -- but stopping it was entirely a different matter. In the case of stops, I either want air brakes and lots of rubber on the road, or a trailer that does not outweigh the truck by more than 4 or 5,000 pounds. We have in excess of 200,000 miles on some pretty bad roads, as well as the good roads, and never had a rig that let me down. But, I always was careful of how much weight I had behind me and what kind of equipment I had in front.
I could have towed the Kountry Star with a half ton truck but could not have stopped it where I felt comfortable. Trailer brakes are notariously inadequate for the loads they carry. As any knowledgeable trucker. Small trucks can break a large load loose and move it -- but, can they stop it? Tractors can move remarkably heavy loads with small engines but they do it slowly and stopping is not an issue.
Once a few years ago, I came off a steep grade with the Freightliner at the wide spot in the road named "Brother's" in Oregon. I was running with a friend who had a Chevy Kodiak and a trailer similar to our Kountry Star. We were discussing lunch when a Dodge one ton single rear wheels with a triple axle 5th wheel behind coasted to a stop. The wife got out and actually kissed the ground. The husband walked up to us and asked where we got our trucks and stated an intent to get one as soon as possible. You could smell his Dodge over 50 feet away -- it was that hot. It was summer and the heat waves from shimmering off the rear wheel wells and the hood. They were nice people and the wife later said she had never been so scared in her life before. The truck and trailer were new and it was their first trip. The wife said it might be their last.
RV'ing should be about enjoyment and not fear. Or, so it seems to me.
Quote: You are entitled to your own opinion -- but, you are not entitled to your own facts.