Alvin Richardson

A couple of weeks ago I outlined in this space why camping out ain’t what it used to be. 

There was an extensive list of all the modern-day comforts that campers can enjoy, but the column may have been a little misleading — even to the point of giving one a false sense of security about how undemanding modern camping can be. Sure, those luxuries I mentioned are quite lovely, and camping on a nice cozy lakeside site is delightful. However, there are a few things that I failed to mention that need to be taken into consideration for one to make an informed decision on whether or not camping is for you.

Sorry about the oversight — I’ll make amends here.

First of all a little history: Back in the early Neolithic Age, wheels were invented. Not too long after that, campers came along and with them came trailer lights. Early man was pretty astute, but to this day — even into the modern era no one has been able to figure out how to hook up trailer lights in under eight hours. One of the problems includes plug-ins from the truck to the camper that don’t match up — those little holes and prongs are never the same, which means you have to go to a dealer who will charge you a hundred dollars for the correct one.

With that problem solved, you excitedly go home, plug in your new and improved plug-ins and check the trailer lights. Through experience, you will find that it takes two people to do this because even if you are quicker than a hiccup, you can’t mash the brakes and get to the back of the camper in time to see if the light works. Thus, your wife has to help. That, in itself, is a setback.

The information you gain from asking her if the brake lights are working is more like disinformation. One is working, the other is not. One is brighter than the other, the left blinker is blinking when you have the right blinker on. You get the idea. Then comes the hard part. Trying to figure out which wire needs to be changed to get all the lights working in the proper sequence.

Mathematically speaking, this is a long-shot. The specific permutations of this task are way over my head but I’d estimate there are at least 4,096 possibilities (four to the sixth power). For me, it is an excruciating exercise in trial and error and I’ve never been able to guess right inside eight hours.

Of course, hooking up trailer wires are not the only precursor to going camping. There’s other stuff like getting the ball on your truck to match up with the hitch on the camper. If the ball is too large, the hitch won’t go over it; if it’s too large, the camper might come loose in mid-trip and go bounding into a canyon. To get it just right, you must go back to the dealer. He’ll fix you right up for another $300 and you are good to go.

Then there’s tires. Camper tires are notorious for going flat and ball bearings are all but certain to go bad at least once a year. If you’ve ever tried to change a flat camper tire on the side of I-75 with semi-trucks whizzing by at 80 mph, you know that it’s a harrowing experience. If you’ve never had an encounter like that, just trust me, it is devastating to the nerve endings. In one epic instance, I changed a flattened tire under a broiling hot sun, amidst hurtling tractor-trailer rigs only to discover that the spare was dangerously low on air. That is quite a kick in the head and a sure sign that you should turn around and immediately go back home.

You’d think that inventors could come up with some better solutions to some of these problems. Take the trailer wires, for example. With the number of cellphones and other hand-held devices that operate without the benefit of wires, why can’t we have camper electrical hook-ups that are wireless? Seems like a workable idea to me. Of course, the obvious drawback is that when you get too far from a cell tower your brake lights quit working and your left blinker works when you turn the right one on. Worse yet, you have to get your wife to go back there and help you sort out the problem. 

Lord have mercy.

As an added blessing you must learn how to back your 25-footer between two trees and into a slot the size of a large file cabinet with your wife giving instructions on which way you need to go — just saying. 

So, in retrospect, I thought you should know about these things before investing in a modern day camper — it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, but if you forge ahead into the glorious world of camping just be sure to use your Sunday School words when hooking up the lights, changing a flat on I-75 and backing it into that tiny, beautiful lakeside spot. Only after you get through those minefields (and the two-hour time frame it takes to set up the camper) can you break out the satellite dish and begin communing with nature.

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