Towing a Tiny House (from California to Texas)
Now, 2 years later, we've relocated to Austin Texas, adding another 1900 (hard earned) miles to our towing experience. Towing the tiny house this distance was NOT easy. Unlike 2 years ago, we avoided bad weather this time, but instead were struck with some trailer brake and tire issues that added a couple days (and stress) to our journey. We hope our experience can help save you some time and frustration when you tow your tiny house!
Here's the full story:
To prepare for the move, several things needed to be done. Some had been done 2 years ago and worked well, and others were new, improvements I learned from struggles we had during the first move. Read our original Tiny House Towing Adventure for many towing consideration. There you'll find checklists with pre-move tips for how to keep the house and yourselves safe while towing, plus info on staying at RV parks and finding a place to park your house to live.
Two years ago, we towed with an F250 Super Duty. It had a lot of miles (over 200,000), it was NOT a diesel, and was JUST BARELY enough truck to get the job done. If you were following us back then, you may have read of the engine troubles we had (blowing a spark plug straight out of the engine!). This time I knew I wanted something better. Scouring craigslist and doing a lot of research on the most reliable diesel engines, I decided on an F350 with the legendary 7.3 International diesel.
Boy, did this pay off! I was able to find a 2002 F350 with very low miles, including a camper shell -- perfect for both towing and for hauling the extra items I had (outdoor furniture, camping gear and other items from storage). It towed like a champ. An excellent truck for those who can find one. The 7.3 was only made during a short period of time. Don't be fooled into getting one of the smaller diesels used in similar Ford trucks as they are known to have many more problems.
Since landing in California, I had added a 20x5' fold-up deck, separated into two sections, to one side of the house. Before the house could be moved again, I had to finish this job and add hardware needed to hold the deck in its upright position, securely locked into place for the long journey to come. To accomplish this, I screwed 6 heavy-duty stainless steel eye bolts into the side of the house, making sure to hit the studs, not just into the exterior sheathing. These bolts did not need to support too much weight (the hinges at the bottom hold that load), but were necessary as anchor points to lock the deck firmly to the side of the house.
Matching the bolts on the exterior wall of the house were similar bolts on the deck, precisely placed to come within millimeters of each other when the deck was lifted upright, so a lock could be fit between the two. Once locked upright, the legs were removed and we were one step closer to travel-ready!
New weight-distribution tow hitch
I don't know exactly how much the Tiny Project house weights (or the exact tongue weight), but I do know that the old F250 was struggling a bit under all that weight. To make the load a bit easier this time, I decided to install a weight distribution tow hitch. The new F350 has an even beefier suspension than the F250, but I wanted to make sure I was towing such a heavy weight as safely as possible. The new weight-distribution hitch uses multiple mounting points to help distribute the tongue weight a bit more evenly, helping to keep the rear end of the truck and the trailer more level. I also had the option to install an anti-sway bar to the setup, but the dimensions of my trailer tongue didn't leave the right spacing to make it fit (and I wasn't sure I wanted it anyway, since you can't back up with it installed).
This new system, combined with the F350's great towing capacity was excellent. Towing was very smooth, with no sway, and the truck was far more level than the F250 setup from 2 years prior. I'm very happy with this combo!
Pre-travel: Moving the house from it's hidden back yard location
Our Sebastopol, CA parking spot was a dream (thanks Katie and MC!). One reason it was so great was for its private, secluded setting. This, however, came at a cost. It was hard to get in (tree trimming, shed moving, etc) and hard to get out as well! The loose earth under where we were parked made getting the house out an all-day affair. Repeatedly, the truck tires would dig into the dirt (wet or dry) and we'd need to place wood or cement blocks under the tires to try to gain enough traction to pull the house, before getting stuck all over again.
On top of that, we had new garden beds to content with, low-hanging wires, tree branches, and new small tree saplings to avoid. Metal flashing at both protruding, front corners of the roof got slightly mangled in low-speed collisions with tree branches, but the damage was minor, and we eventually made it out in one piece.
We made sure to get this first very short move done before our first day on the road, and more importantly, before the rainy season started in NorCal (potentially keeping us stuck there until it dried out in spring). Luckily we got the house out of the back yard to firmer ground at the side of the "big house" just in time -- a day before the rains hit and turned the yard to mud!
Day 1&2: Smooth but long
Our first day of towing was an ambitious one. After needing a bit more time than planned to navigate a very tight turn (and more trees) getting out of the driveway, mileage requirements put us in the LA area at the end of the day, with little in the way of RV parks to stop for the night. We chose to push on, over 500 miles that day, into the Southern California desert, where we could find a quiet place to stop for the night. We didn't reach the Banning, CA KOA until 9pm. In retrospect, maybe too many miles to try to fit into the first day, but all went well and a night in our comfy loft left us refreshed for day 2!
Day two towing also went well. But towards the end of the day we started to notice something concerning with our dear shib inu, Anya. The night before the start of the trip she had been licking a section on the rear end of her back more than usual. I thought nothing of it at the time (she had started shedding, so was just a little itchy I thought). But by the end of day 2, she had spent most of the day licking and biting at that area, pulling out fur to try to soothe the area, leaving herself with a patch of bare skin, an open wound that clearly needed immediate attention.
Needing to be in a populated area for a vet appointment in the morning, we landed at the Mesa / Apache KOA, just East of Phoenix for the night. As a last-minute remedy, I crafted a cone out of cardboard to keep her form doing more damage to the sensitive area over night. In the morning we headed to the vet to get her cared for. They didn't know exactly what caused the discomfort that made her start licking and pulling out fur in the first place, but they shaved and cleaned the area, gave us some medication and ointment for her an proved her with a real plastic cone to stop her from licking the area while it healed.
We lost a few good travel hours with the vet visit, but nothing is more important than our precious pup! We'd soon realize that the lost time was nothing compared to the bigger issues ahead of us!
Days 3&4: Trailer breaks fail!
Only a short drive from Phoenix, on a decent along highway 60 through Tonto National Forrest, I noticed the truck (and house) wasn't braking as well as before. I had to really push the brakes hard to avoid the cars in front of me as we stopped a few times for road work. What was going on? I looked down to my break controller for clues, and the light was solid green, even while breaking. Uh-oh (it should have been red if the breaks were engaged)! Not good! Something had happened to the trailer breaks and they were not engaging at all. I was relying solely on the truck's breaks until I could stop to get it fixed.
Luckily not far ahead was the small town of Globe, AZ. I found a place to park the house and assessed the damage. At first I could see nothing wrong, but after crawling under the house for a while, I found a few wires, smashed and cut, seemingly pinched between two parts of the trailer frame/axle.
After phone calls and trips to all the local repair places (not many in a small town), we settled on the only place that could look at it that day. The wonderful folks at Highway 60 Motors got to it as fast as they could. We waited patiently as they inspected and patched wires, and took off the tire to access the trailer brakes.
They fixed the damaged wires, but nothing changed! We sat there scratching our heads, thinking what else to try. They ran more simple tests, connecting and disconnecting wires. They pull wires out of tubing looking for more areas where it may have shorted out. We checked and rechecked the fuses in the truck, the connection to the trailer wiring at the hitch, everything related to the electrical system on both the truck and trailer. Everything looked good, but still only a green light when the brakes were applied.
The tiny house was broken and I didn't know what was wrong or how to fix it!
Then the repair guy had a thought: let's disconnect the rear axle brakes to see if that made a difference. BAM! Now it worked. Well half the brakes worked. There was a short in the rear break wiring that was causing the breaks to fail. Either that or the brake magnets were worn out and needed to be replaced.
The day was wearing on. It was getting dark. They would resume troubleshooting in the morning, but meanwhile we needed a place to sleep for the night. Opting to leave the house at the repair place so they could start again early the next morning, we found the only pet-friendly hotel in town and tried to rest after a frustrating day with little very few miles under our belt.
The next morning, they pulled the rear brake wires out of the axle and replaced all the wiring. "We're done." they said, "Come on down and get your house." We came, paid, hitched up and left, so happy to be on our way. 5 minutes later, after a quick stop at the end of town for diesel, the light was green while breaking. The fix hadn't lasted. We returned.
They were as confused as me. We were tired and left for the relative relaxation of a coffee shop while they went back to work. Time passed, they troubleshooted. They messed up some of the rear brake wiring but that wasn't the only problem. They fixed that and it still didn't work. The rear brake magnets must need replacing, but even that was a guess. More tests (on each wheel individually) would be needed.
Hearing all this, we decided to leave good enough alone. They disconnected the rear brakes, so the font ones would work (they DID work now, very well) and we were back on the road. We had very little in the way of elevation change from here to Austin, so the loss of half the trailers breaking power was actually not all that big of a deal, something we could safely give up with the flat roads ahead of us. We rode on, eventually stopping at an RV park in Deming, NM, happily to finally put that issue behind us.
Day 5: Not another problem!
We were now making good time, and not long after starting for the day we had entered Texas! Yay, our final state!
But the joy didn't last long. At 3:30pm, on I-10 east, in middle-of-nowhere Western Texas, we blew a trailer tire! It was the same tire taken off a day earlier to fix the brakes. When removing it, they left it fully inflated and (because of the deck leaving just a small gap) had to force it free with a huge pry bar. I think they inadvertently scraped the sidewall of the tire as they were getting it off and back on. Once the tire was removed, I could see the spot where it tore under the pressure of the days drive.
We pulled to the side of the road (or rather to the relative safety of the triangle of cement between the freeway and an exit) and pondered our options. I realized I had AAA! Easy, I'll just give them a call - they'll send someone right away to replace a tire. Luckily I had planned for something like this and was carrying a spare trailer tire in the back of the truck. Always carry a spare time (for your trailer) if you are moving your house long distance!
Back to AAA. I'll spare you all the details, but 2.5 hours later, still on the side of a busy freeway, it was getting dark and we had yet to receive any help. I had been in heated billing and coverage arguments with 4 different people at AAA trying to explain the situation, upgrade to a higher level of service (gold plus, with RV), work out billing details, explain what a tiny house is, negotiate coverage, weight limits, talking to CA AAA, then to TX dispatch, then to CA AAA, then back to dispatch etc. Their customer service was horrendous. I repeatedly asked that they send someone right away and we'd deal with billing later, but they refused. After repeating the same thing to 4 different people, talking to the highest level manager I could get to, having him review multiple recorded phone calls where others had promised me an on-the-spot upgrade in service, we finally worked it out and they FINALLY sent someone to help. Almost 3 hours after we had originally called!
Eventually though, once someone came, they easily fixed it. They were worried that it was over their weight limit, that standard RV equipment wouldn't work, but I had already done the hard work. I had jacked up the house with my own bottle jack and had the spare tire ready. It was fully dark by the time it was fixed. Another day gone. No RV parks in the area. It was time to find another cheap hotel for the night. And so we did...
Day 6: Arrival!
Nothing to report. What? An uneventful day? I almost forgot was that was like! We arrived at our new parking spot right before dark, pulled in and began hooking up power and water. The land had previously had a mobile home on it. So while relatively unimproved, it's within Austin city limits and has pressurized city water and a conveniently located power poll already in place. All good! Well, almost. We tried the couple water spigots on the property and they were all off. Really? We were desperate for a shower, but headed to get dinner, dirty but happy to have arrived safely.
Two hours later, with the help of our new landlord, we had found the water main and turned it back on. Oh yeah! Mission Accomplished!
Our Austin parking spot is lovely. Our landlords/owners are amazing. They fully understand the tiny house concept and the legalities, and are happy to support us (and happy to be making some rental income)!
We are in a temporary location on the property, near the front, but within a couple of months we hope to move the house back to an even more private part of the property, away from the road, once power and water can be trenched farther back. We're excited!
Moving a tiny house almost 2,000 miles can be easy or riddled with problems. Even with a great truck for towing and all the preparations we made, we had several unforeseen issues pop-up and were forced to deal with each one, as it happened, doing our best to stay safe and well cared for along the way. One thign that certainly helped was having my partner, Lee with me. Her love (morning and evening, and via walkie-talkie throughout the day) was a helpful remedy to the stresses of a long tiny house towing trip. For that I am very grateful!
Tip: Always travel with a partner/buddy. You need a follow vehicle to look out for problems with the house (Lee saw the flat tire right away, whereas I could only hear a loud pop and make a guess). Get walkie-talkies so you can quickly communicate and coordinate gas/pee stops without fussing with cell phones. (Thanks BA for this recommendation). Walkie-talkies made the trip so much more fun!
Here are photos from our trip (including those from above) of you want to view them at full size. Enjoy!