A very different kind of Journey….

These past few weeks have been quite the ride.  We’ve been up, down, we’ve been angry, happy and in the end felt incredibly blessed.  So many good people stepped forward to help us.  We can’t begin to Thank you all enough!

This is our story of a massive pin box failure….This is a REALLY LONG STORY…but there are pictures! LOL!

We pulled out of Morgan Hill California and headed over to Vacaville California….a mere 100 miles away.  Understand, we had no signs of trouble.  We always do a walk around, a light check, and a pull test before we pull out onto the road.  Everything was fine…or so it seemed.

We pulled into the Vineyard Rv park in Vacaville in the early afternoon of May 9th.  As we were rounding a corner to make our way to our site, we heard a very loud “POP”.  Bill stopped immediately and we both jumped out to see what had happened.  We both assumed we had hit something, but everything seemed fine.  I did comment that the fifth wheel seemed to be setting very low on the truck, but Bill didn’t think it was anything to worry about at that time.  We went on to locate our site and back into position.  No more noise….everything seemed OK.

Once we pulled the fifth wheel off the truck, you could see that the pin box was tilted at an angle….NOT a good thing!  Bill decided that tomorrow we would pull down the sheet metal under the nose so we could fully inspect the pin box and the support frame around it.

What we saw the next day…..sent chills through us both…….


In this photo, you can see that the pin box has “dropped” in the back.


The metal joist behind the pin box had actually torn on both sides of the pin box.


For the most part, the welds had held…it actually tore the metal.

The really scary part….the main support joist at the front of the rig had completely broken in two!  That was probably the loud ‘pop’ that we heard earlier.  We also found that every cross member between the front and back joist had also torn away from the frame.  All of this, pushed the pin box up into the trailer.  That is why the fifth wheel was sitting lower on the truck.  Of course, once the support of the truck was removed the pin box sagged downward.

I think at that moment, we were both in shock.  We knew we were so very blessed to still be alive.  We were pulling through the mountains that day.  If that pin box had given way while we were on the road, I don’t think either of us would be here to tell the story and who knows how many other people could have been hurt or worse.

Once we recovered from the ‘shock’ of it all….what to do…we couldn’t move it till it was somehow repaired.  At that point, we were not sure if it even could be repaired.  Our world was crushed.  This was our only home and we were far away from people and friends who could help us.  My husband and I decided we would contact Ron Green of Recreational Specialties in Elkhart Indiana.  We consider Ron more then just our ‘repair guru”, we have built a great friendship over the years.  One of trust and respect….he and his crew do outstanding work and always at a fair price.  I sent an email out to Ron with the photos.  He called within a few minutes…..Ron said his “jaw dropped”….he just couldn’t believe the damage he was seeing.  Ron immediately put us at ease, letting us know that it was repairable and that he would make some phone calls on our behalf and get us some help.  He put in a call to the frame manufacturer (Lippert) and Forest River who made our fifth wheel and soon after….we received a call from Michael Locke.  Before I go on….I want to state that our fifth wheel is about 9 yrs old, the warranty on the frame is 2 years.   A lot of folks here in the park, many of whom are welders and one of whom is actually trained in crash investigations,  felt that this pin box failure never should have never happened.  More then one of the welders stated they had never seen anything like that before and all of them with fifth wheels went back to their units, wondering if their pin box was secure.  We had hoped that either Lippert or Forest River would step up to the plate and cover at least some of the cost of repairs.  We had a lot of good people going to bat for us behind the scenes, but in the end the cost was ours.  Lippert said they would really like to have helped us out with the cost, but it would put them at a liability risk.  Gee….ya think!  Seems this has happened to some other folks.  To be fair, it appeared that Lippert had constructed the frame to Forest River Specifications and as I stated earlier the welds had held…it was the metal itself that gave way.  I would also like to state that Lippert did put us in touch with a welder….one who had worked for them in the past and who would know how to make the repair….we never received a phone call from anyone at Forest River.  So, who is to blame.  We really don’t know.  We don’t feel we did anything to cause this problem.

Unfortunately, the welder that Michael Locke had recommended was about 700 miles away.  We really didn’t think he would even be interested and if he were…we didn’t think we could afford to pay for both the repair and his travel expenses.  We had heard that this type of repair can cost anywhere from $5000 to $8000.  While we were trying to figure out what to do next, the phone rang.  It was the welder, apparently Michael Locke had called the welder and told him about our situation.  We were so relieved when he told us he would come and quoted us an affordable price…..around $2000.00 and that included his travel expenses.    He advised us he would be there early Monday morning, but that we needed to have the front cap and the framing for the closet removed before he could do the work.  HOLY COW!  We had two days to get the cap removed.  We had no idea how to remove the cap, but we just looked at each other and decided we would figure it out….and we did!  We were fortunate enough to have been able to have the maintenance man at the rv park and a couple of his friends help us out.


Now with the cap removed you can get a clear picture of the break in the front beam.Prepared-for-work

Have a closer look…..


That tube of steel split completely apart…..and YUP what you see above that is our closet.  The floor had been pushed up and we were lucky that was the extent of the interior damage.  Fortunately, once the repairs were made the floor was still intact and able to simply be put back in place.


The broken front joist was completely removed and replaced with another joist….thicker and stronger then the one that broke.  Once that was done, the pin box was pulled into position and thick metal plates were welded over the tears at the back.   Next the cross beams were welded back into place and two more were added on either side of the pin box.  Gussets were also welded in several places for added support.  The welder stated the structure was now much stronger.   He stated he had done many such repairs and assured us that we would have no further issues.  The final cost ended up being $2570.00.  The fact that the welder stated he had made many such repairs did not go unnoticed by either of us.

Once the welder had made his repairs, we were left with putting it all back together.  That, in and of itself, was a daunting task!  Why is it that things always come apart so easily, but hardly ever want to go back together.  LOL!  But we did it….

Normally this kind of repair would be done in a repair shop….but that would have meant the added expense of a temporary weld just so the thing could be towed to a repair shop. We would have also had to ‘move’ into a hotel room…more expense.  Since the welder offered to do it ‘on site’, we just rolled up our sleeves and did what needed to be done.  Hell….we both figured we couldn’t possibly do any more damage.


I wanted to share our story in the hopes that you will also share our story….far and wide!

Not to rant and point fingers at the manufacturers, but because this could happen to others.  We had absolutely no warning, even though it is very likely that the tearing of the metal probably took a long time to develop.  There was just no way to fully inspect the pin box, as it is almost completely enclosed and covered up.  This is our home and we feel we have always been responsible owners….doing proper maintenance and inspections…..but how can you inspect something you can’t see.  Pulling down the sheet metal under the nose in order to inspect the pin box, is no easy task.  Putting it back up….when there is only two of you…is even more difficult, trust me on that one!  We both feel some type of an inspection “hatch” needs to be in place so that people can do a proper inspection.  Still….if you own a fifth wheel, we feel it is important to find a way to do that inspection.

 I certainly don’t want to be a ‘chicken little’ running around telling everyone the ‘sky is falling’ but nor do I want to ‘stick my head in the sand’ and do nothing.

Is this a wide spread problem….I honestly don’t know


 this problem effects more then just the fifth wheel owner

do you want to be following behind one of these on the highway when it breaks free?

me either

So….please share our story….

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20 Responses to A very different kind of Journey….

  1. Peggy Klemsrn June 6, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Wow, I can only imagine how you two were feeling. You are lucky. So, at the time you first shared that the pin box metal ripped, we had our 5th wheel up for sale. Your story got Scott to wondering ….is this happening to ours? How can we sell it not knowing if it’s safe? What to do didn’t even come into question, off the nose cap came. Scott had to know for certain. We were good, but ours was the same age as yours so we had to know for certain. It was a bugger to put back together, like Humpty Dumpty. Thank you for sharing, I pray people take your story to heart & check their pin box.

    • Debbie Goode June 6, 2016 at 11:40 am #

      Wow Peg….how awesome of you two to go that extra mile and make sure everything was good! Most folks would have decided that was up to the new owner. I’m so happy all was well and that you guys sold your fifth wheel knowing it was safe! I don’t think this is wide spread, but how do we really know unless folks start checking and reporting! I so agree with it being a ‘bugger’ to put back together….and it was so dang hot when we were doing ours I thought we would melt before the job was done. LOL! Glad to put this all behind us and thanks for stopping by and sharing your story….much appreciated!

  2. Bob Gauvreau June 6, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    Two words to make the hair’s on your arms stand up: FOREST RIVER.

    • sdw June 12, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

      I don’t know what your experience with Forest River has been. But we own an 07 Americana and travel over dirt washboard roads
      because we boon dock a lot, and have never had this problem. Then ours isn’t as old as theirs. I noticed that it had wood framing and
      that hasn’t been used since the early 2000s. I guess that’s why Americana started custom building their own frames and taking them to Forest River to have the Cardinal body installed. Ours came with a trailer-air hitch which also takes some of the stress off the pin box.
      But I have had trouble with Lippert products before, and would blame them before Forest River. I wonder if they were overloaded at the time this happened.

      • Debbie Goode June 12, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

        Our rig is an Americana 2008 and it has always had an “air” ride under its nose. As to the ‘wood framing’, we have aluminum studs throughout. The “wood framing” you are seeing is merely the box where the closet is located. As far as I know, Americana has never built their own frames. Our fifth wheel was picked up from the ‘cardinal line’ and then Americana did their ‘customizations’. We worked with both Russ and Jerry during this process. No…we were not ‘overloaded’ at the time this happened. Thanks for your comment and glad that your 2007 is doing fine!

  3. Alison Miller June 6, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    Wow, you guys! Thank you so much for sharing and showing the pictures. So glad it happened when you were in the RV park and that the repairs were done onsite. Looking forward to the fall

  4. Dan June 7, 2016 at 3:43 pm #

    Lippert frame failure is common

  5. Robert June 7, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

    Chills indeed, made me quiver here in Cape Coral just processing what could have been. So glad repairs went as well as they have although you guys were put through the grinder in making it happen.

    What are your travel plans this summer?

    We head north later this week via Nola and the Natchez trace with two grandchildren. Get to Indy area June 20.

    Be well


    • Debbie Goode June 8, 2016 at 8:12 am #

      Our plans this summer are to be in Elkhart mid July. We want to make sure everything is holding together on the fifth wheel. Our next stop…..August 1st will be the every lovely AOK in Lafayette. Sam and Kourtney are expecting and the baby is due early September…..we are so excited! If you are still in Indy, we would love to see ya!

  6. exploRVistas June 8, 2016 at 5:54 am #

    I’m wondering if the welder gave you any indication as to what gauge the old steel was. Our frame (Lippert) on our 07 Colorado has gussets expanding out from the pin box. I’m going to investigate the guage used on ours. Thanks for posting this!


    • Debbie Goode June 8, 2016 at 8:06 am #

      Yes Jim, the original was 11 gauge and all the replacement steel is 7 gauge. Thanks for stopping by and you are most welcome!

  7. Jim Morris June 8, 2016 at 9:57 am #

    I enjoyed this article a lot and will share it with others. I used to do html work and recognize your talent in preparing this. Great Job! I had to look up a thickness chart for steel because I have no knowledge about the gauge reference. I saw that 11 gauge is 0.1196 for mild steel and 7 gauge is 0.1793. I don’t know if “mild steel” is what the frame is made of but regardless it appears that it was a much needed improvement. Thank you for posting.

    Jim Morris
    Forest River 3008 Windjammer (owner)

  8. Kelly L McKenzie June 15, 2016 at 11:40 am #

    Holy man, the learning curve here is steep. Simply cannot imagine what it has been like for you. Debbie, I do thank you for providing photos as all of it was very foreign to me. However, I can see the extent of the damage and have a much clearer idea. Golly. You’ve been through the ringer. How very fortunate that it happened as you were pulling into the site. The angels were looking after you that day. And to have to chap come to you to do the work? Meant.

    • Debbie Goode June 23, 2016 at 5:26 am #

      Yup! It was quite the experience. No question in my mind that the angels were hard at work making sure all went well! We both felt very blessed.

  9. PR Brady June 16, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Yikes! I mean YIKES! You’ve experienced my worst fear! Ever since getting my Toy Hauler, I’ve had ‘back of the mind’ worries about the exact kind of thing you’re describing! Clearly you guys travel with the angels at your side. Things could have gone VERY differently. One of the things I worry about with my rig is dealing with all the “made in China” grade parts. I know it’s the reason for all of the piddley problems I’ve endured. While it’s somewhat cramped and basic, I’m somewhat grateful for the simplicity of my trailer because there’s less to go wrong. Do you wonder if the people who build the units are RV enthusiasts themselves? Do they “get it” ? Or are they just doing a job, cranking out trailers, compromising quality for cost, completely unaware of the importance of it all being done to the highest degree of quality possible? Absolutely every inch of metal on my Toy Hauler rusted within the first year. My whole hitch area is scary looking. I sound absolutely paranoid, asking and asking “does that look ok???”. Just on my 1,790 mile way home this spring, I had a screw in one of my tires, the septic piping unattached from the frame underneath, and (once again) the fridge wouldn’t work when I shut off the truck. Seriously it’s always something. I’ll be writing a post about last fall’s adventure soon–but it will pale in comparison to your story here. Traveling with 2 dogs, a rabbit and two chickens, I cannot begin to imagine what I’ve of done in your shoes. Have to say, I’ve not heard good things about Forest River. I goto the Giant RV show in Tampa in January and look every year. I’d really like to move up to a bigger unit–a fifth wheel even–but wow, with it just me traveling alone, I am afraid to take on any more than I’ve already got! With my luck, my slide outs would stop sliding in the middle of nowhere….anyway…..sorry to ramble on. One road warrior to another, I can relate–but not THAT closely. I’m so glad you survived the ordeal!

    • Debbie Goode June 23, 2016 at 5:31 am #

      I know…..and I have all those same doubts and concerns. I’ve often wondered if something happened to my hubby if I would travel on alone. We have definitely had our share of ‘stuff’ go wrong…..and I can’t imagine having to deal with it all on my own. You are a brave soul! Wishing you safe and happy travels!

  10. Deborah Weber June 20, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    What an incredible experience – that’s certainly goes in the never-to-be-forgotten books. I’m so glad everything worked out on the side of safe, even though it was such a shock to your systems and pocketbook. I was just reading this weekend about the traveling difficulties the folks who make up Hedgespoken, off-grid travelling theatre project, have been having with their caravan as well. It makes me aware of things I hadn’t really considered before. And now I’m going to be sending love and good energy to all travelers.

    • Debbie Goode June 23, 2016 at 5:35 am #

      Thanks Deborah! A little extra love and good energy would certainly be helpful out here on the road!

  11. SKJAM! June 25, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    Yep, now would be a good time for everyone to inspect their frames and pin boxes for potential issues, while it’s still fresh in mind. If problems can be spotted before the break, you will not have warned in vain.


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