Give me 40 acres and I’ll turn this rig around

Tight FitI must be getting good at this. Or just lucky. But I was able to maneuver our 24′ fifth wheel into my sister’s narrow driveway, in between a big tree and her house, without ripping off our rear view mirror or doing any other property damage. And not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I did keep it on the pavement and nearly squeezed it in there on the first attempt!

While the picture does show my most excellent parking job. It does not give justice to just how incredibly narrow this small residential street actually is. It’s one of those neighborhoods where you can only park on one side of the road or nobody can get by. Not to mention a Dodge Ram 2500 pulling a fifth wheel trailer.

It sure is a good thing we fit where we did, considering the street is a narrow dead end. The dead end of which ends at a cemetery entrance gate. Appropriate, but we would never fit under it.

Whenever we end up on streets like this one, a certain Boxcar WillieBoxcar Willie Music lyric comes to mind…

He was headin’ into beantown in a big, long diesel truck.
It was his first trip to Boston, he was having all bad luck.
He was going the wrong direction down a one-way street in town,
And this is what he said when the police chased him down.

“Give me forty acres and I’ll turn this rig around.
“Give me forty acres, it’s the easiest way I’ve found.
“Some guys can turn it on a dime or turn it right downtown,
“But I need forty acres to turn this rig around.”

Boxcar WillieBoxcar Willie Music
Give Me Forty Acres
Truck Driving Favorites

In situations like this, we always try to remain calm and hope for the best. And we haven’t gotten stuck anywhere yet. (Please feel free to knock on something wooden for us.) And there are a few tips that have come in handy for backing up a trailer that we have learned along the way…

  • To straighten out the trailer when backing up, point your steering wheel at the side that’s sticking out. Thanks to my brother Pat for this tip, as he’s the one who taught me to “Point it at the butt!”
  • To remember which way you need to turn the steering wheel, grip it at the bottom and stick out your thumb. Turn the wheel in the opposite direction of your thumb to turn the trailer toward the direction your thumb is pointing.
  • Note that when you turn the steering wheel right, the bottom of the wheel goes left. Then remember that the trailer will follow the direction of the bottom of the steering wheel.
  • Have someone outside to help point you in the right direction, but be sure to agree on what you both mean by right or left. I recommend the driver take care of any steering corrections and the navigator say “right” if the trailer needs to turn right.
  • Make sure the navigator remains visible in the rear view mirrors at all times. And this does not just mean being able to see the mirror! Make eye contact.
  • Use walkie talkies to avoid embarrassing shouting matches for the enjoyment of all in the campground.

While I am getting pretty good at keeping the trailer straight when backing up, I’m still trying to figure out exactly when to turn to put it where I want it on the first try. So like I said, maybe I just got lucky this time. Any tips are welcome and appreciated.

7 thoughts on “Give me 40 acres and I’ll turn this rig around”

  1. Simple solution. Put your hand ont the 6 o clock position if you want the trailer to go left force your hand left (counter clockwise) and vice versa for the right side.

  2. Hi Cathy, thanks for asking …

    First of all, it will get easier! Since I wrote this post last year, I have gotten much better backing up but there is always room for improvement.

    As you back up, if the right rear end (passenger side) of the trailer is veering to the right, Turn your steering wheel to the right to straighten it out. If it’s veering to the left, turn the wheel left and the trailer will start pointing right.

    Basically, the rear of the trailer will go in the opposite direction of the way you turn the wheel. Another way to look at it … the rear of the trailer will point in the direction the bottom of the steering wheel goes: Turn the wheel right, and the bottom of the wheel spins to the left – the direction the trailer will go.

    Hope this helps! Another thing that will help is to find a big open space and practice backing up to get a feel for how to keep it straight. Now, figuring out when to turn to get the trailer where you want it is another issue that I’m still working on.

  3. I enjoyed reading your tips for backing up a fifth wheel trailer. I have just become invovled with the “sport” and needed a few tips. I do need to have you explain this point, as I don’t quite understand how to point the steering wheel: To straighten out the trailer when backing up, point your steering wheel at the side that’s sticking out. Thanks to my brother Pat for this tip, as he’s the one who taught me to “Point it at the butt!”
    I would like to know as this is something I don’t do well, yet!


  4. Jimbo, you’ve gone big rig on us, good for you and thanks for the lesson plan as I’ll be sharing my tips on how to work a riding mower backwards soon.

    You had me curious about the managing turns in reverse thing, for example, just tonight I took out the two-wheeled garbage cans backwards. Your well documented tips paid off as I angeled the wheels so as to follow my turn hand and can you guess what happened? Parked ’em like they were on rails, nicely done and thanks for the insights.

    If one pays attention success usually begets additional success and as such my lady-love and I will be inline skating tomorrow evening – you guessed it – back words. We’re both convinced that too much credence has been given to forward motion and in light of your recently shared skill-set we’ve elected to open up a bit and take our chances with reverse.

    We’re not sure if the Segway will run in reverse but if so my credit card is squeezed tightly before thumb and index in anticipation.

    Again, thanks jim, ruoy eht tseb.
    Eric Auckerman


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