Friday, June 14, 2013

Custom-Made “Boondock Style” Heavy Duty Jack Caster Wheel

Almost every trailer comes with a stock plastic caster wheel – it’s about 6 inches in diameter, with a short, thin collar that fits over the end of the jack stem.  And this basic wheel is adequate for ordinary use in an RV park – it will roll fairly well on smooth concrete.

But what about those of us who camp in remote locations, with soft or pebbly soil?  The standard caster wheel just wasn’t cutting it for me – it would sink into soft ground or would get stuck on small pebbles.  Also, the collar was only an inch and a half long, and it didn’t extend far enough up the jack stem – the wheel would wobble, and I was afraid that it would snap off due to metal fatigue.

I shopped around, hoping to find a ready-made substitute that was a little beefier.  But there’s no such product available anywhere!  (This sounds like an opportunity for an entrepreneur.)  So I decided to make my own heavy-duty caster wheel.

I started with an industrial-strength 8 inch swivel caster.  They can be purchased at any RV supply store, although they aren’t cheap.  I happened to have one in my garage.  The swivel pad had four 3/8 inch bolt holes.  I then bought an Atwood "tall" jack foot, with a 2 inch internal diameter:

I cut the tube down to a total length of 2 inches.  (I wanted to keep the tube, i.e., the collar, as long as possible, for additional strength and stability.  But I didn’t want it to be too long, because that would make it very difficult to get the wheel assembly on and off the jack tube.)

Using my drill press, I then drilled two 5/16 inch holes in the tube, about a half inch below the top of the tube.  Using those holes as a template, I then drilled matching holes into the jack stem.  (It was surprisingly easy to drill into the jack stem – the metal was thinner and softer than I would’ve guessed.)

I then drilled four 3/8 inch holes into the foot pad, to match the holes in the top of the swivel caster pad, and bolted the whole thing together with three-quarter inch long 3/8 hex bolts, secured with lock washers under the nuts.

Finally, just for good measure, I tapered the end of the pin with a grinding wheel, so that it would go through the holes more easily, and I also polished the pin with a wire brush.

Anyway, here’s what the final product looks like – the little red ruler is 6 inches long:

Compare that beefy bad boy with the wimpy stock wheel and its stubby collar:

But we shall see how this new arrangement works out in the real world.  I’m hoping that the increased circumference, together with the softer rubber tire, will mean that the wheel will roll a little easier and will not sink into the ground quite as much.  Also, the longer collar may mean that the jack will wiggle somewhat less.

The only disadvantage that I can see is that the new wheel assembly is a couple of inches taller than the old one.  Therefore, when we are camped on a slope, and the nose of the trailer is on the uphill side, we will have a little less clearance.  There may be times that I have to remove the wheel in order to get the nose low enough to level the trailer -- no big deal.

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