JT Strong Arms
Last summer, when we were first outfitting our RV for our new life, I did a ton of research into the type of modifications folks were most often doing and tried to do some of them before we hit the road. One that kept coming up was some sort of stabilization system to keep the camper from moving when people are walking around inside. There were several kinds to choose from: King-pin tripod stabilizers that add a tripod under your kingpin to keep it from moving, X-chocks that wedge between the wheels to keep them from moving and JT Strong Arms and similar systems that turn your leveling jacks into a much more stable platform by adding 'triangles' of strength to them. We liked the idea of the strong arms as setup and tear down from site to site would be much easier with them vs a king-pin tripod. We also liked the X-chocks as a backup chocking system as well as assisting with stabilization, so we bought both.
The X-chocks are super-easy to install. You simply crank them open while placed between the wheels of the trailer and it keeps the wheels from moving while parked, adding some additional safety, but, we've found, not a whole lot of stabilization. They help, but they are not the entire solution. This is where the JT Strong Arms come in. We bought them before we hit the road, but once they arrived and I opened the box to find 20+ pages of installation instructions and a pile of hardware big enough to construct my own robot, I felt the installation project would have to wait until we were on the road as I just didn't have time to get it done while we were busy selling the house, downsizing and otherwise turning our lives upside-down.
The X-Chocks doing their thing
Nearly six months later, I finally got around to it while Pam and Crayton were visiting Wisconsin and I was alone in the camper for a week parked in El Paso, TX. Once I laid everything out and watched a couple of Youtube videos of the installation, it at least made sense. A trip to the hardware store later to get some drill bits and 6 or so hours later I had the front two sets of stabilizers installed. The kit came with another set for the rear and it was at this time I realized I did not have the proper adapter to secure them to the rear stabilizer jack pads. I ordered a set and when I got them and set about installing the rear, I noticed that I needed yet another part. The original kit included only 6 3⁄8-16 X 1-¼ Swing Bolts, and the adapter lug kit I ordered did not come with two more that would be necessary to complete the installation. At this point, once again, I was really disappointed in Lippert. These aren't your ordinary swing both. They are carefully machined to accept the end of the strong arm and of course Lippert does not offer them for sale on their website. So I had to contact them and explain my situation. To my surprise they sent me the parts free of charge. It was, however, some time before I had the time to complete the installation. Finally, while in Williamsburg, VA in Late May (10 months after I originally ordered the kit!), I finished the installation. Of note is that our rig didn't have a true frame cross-member near the rear stabilization jacks, so the arms are bolted to what appears to be a small piece of angle-iron with some additional metal bracing above it. It's not ideal, but it seems to work reasonably well.
JT Strong-Arm installation Phase 1
JT Strong-Arm installation Phase 1
JT Strong-Arm installation Phase 2
So, did the JT Strong Arms work? YES! Even just the front stabilizers did a lot to remove the wiggles from the rig in the front of the camper (bedroom side). Once I got the rear ones installed, the wiggles in the rear (living room side) were reduced, though not eliminated, as well. They were a huge hassle to install, but worth it. Getting them set is dead easy. After leveling the rig, I just tighten the handles on each arm and then put the levelling system in manual mode and give both the front and back a small 'bump up' to put some tension on the arms. When breaking down camp, I just loosen the handles, retract the legs and then tighten them again to keep the handles from working loose and falling out while driving. That's it. Nothing to store, nothing to assemble, no fuss. Totally worth it.
Once we were on the road, it became apparent that "bucking" was going to be a problem. This is the forward and backward motion of the trailer moving the truck as it bounces down the road. It can be really bad on concrete highways with the seams between concrete sections setting up a sort of harmonic as we go down the highway. This motion was not only uncomfortable to us, but would cause things to bounce around in the camper, too. On really bad days, we'd find cabinet doors open, plates and glasses askew, and such, no matter how well we secured things before starting the day. Something had to be done.
Researching various options, it seemed like a motion dampening pin-box replacement was the key. There were two basic types on the market. Ones that use inflatable rubber airbags and ones that use solid rubber blocks to damped movement. The ones that use inflatable bags looked nice and from what I was reading would help dampen up and down movement as well as the back and forth, but they were twice the price of the solid rubber versions, required maintenance and were prone to failure. I'm all about maintenance-free, so we decided on the solid-rubber block version and the only ones on the market are made by MorRyde.
My word this thing is heavy. How are we going to do this...
This was another project I tackled while parked in El Paso with the rest of the family in Wisconsin. Installation only took a few hours and wasn't particularly difficult. I did have to buy a new larger torque wrench to get the bolts up to the required torque (185lbs). Since I didn't have a second person to help me, I used the hitch on the truck and a pile of boards and our plastic stabilizer stands to hold and align both the old pinbox as I removed it and the new pinbox as I put it back in. As I was getting ready to back the truck up to get the new one aligned, a neighbor came over to lend a hand. With his help we made quick work of it. This is yet another reason why I love this lifestyle. Folks are so friendly and willing to help wherever we go. I hope to get more chances to pay it forward.
I'll do this with a big pile of wood and plastic!
Out with the old!
In with the new!
So now that it's installed... does it help? Yes! Does it totally eliminate bucking? No!
I was disappointed to find that bucking can still be a problem. That said, it is greatly reduced. I find that when we hit a bump, it may buck two or three times and dampen to nothing where before it would buck 6, 8 or more times, sometimes getting into that harmonic. We've even managed the infamous section of I-10 through Louisiana without major bucking issues. In hindsight, though, I'm wondering if we should have gone with the airbag version as reducing the up-and-down shock would be useful. I think, though, that I'm actually going to install adjustable air-bag suspension on the truck instead. The benefit there is that not only do get get better dampening of shocks to the camper, but being adjustable, we can soften the ride of the truck when we're not towing, too! I think the list of upgrades/projects will never end. Wasn't this life supposed to be simpler? ;)