Several weeks ago my daughter Katie needed to move into an apartment in Chicago and we needed to help her furnish said apartment with a couch, chair, tables, bed, and various other possessions. Unlike our trips carting her things back and forth from upstate New York to Chicago, we needed something bigger than an SUV. It was time to consider UHaul.
Many years ago, probably about 25, I rented a UHaul trailer to get from somewhere to somewhere else. Therefore, having set a precedent, I reserved a UHaul trailer via the very handy online website. It’s good they have such a good website because, as I learned later, it’s almost impossible to get to central UHaul “traffic” control by phone.
The day before I was to pick up the trailer, I got a call from a UHaul franchise, but not the one I expected. While there is a UHaul place about 7 miles south and another 10 miles north, they decided I needed to pick up the trailer 25 miles west. After I expressed surprise about this, I casually asked if they had trailer hitches.
In my previous towing experience in the distant past, they had given me some sort of temporary hitch that went on the bumper. The woman at the end of the phone sounded confused and I quickly realized why: bumpers today are not designed for such hitches. I had reserved a trailer with no way to tow it. Mea culpa.
Now many UHaul franchises are just small efforts associated with self-storage or auto-repair businesses. I needed something more serious, and I needed it fast. The 800 number was never answered when I called. I live near Rochester, NY, and I quickly discovered by making a few local phone calls that the place to go was the UHaul Center on Jefferson Road in Henrietta. This probably means nothing to most of you, but the point is that I needed a place that did nothing but UHauls and did a lot of them. I called them and the amazingly helpful woman switched me from a trailer to a 10 foot truck.
This was better, but it did make the trip more difficult. Instead of the four of us driving out in the SUV pulling the trailer, my son William and I would take the truck and my wife and daughter would drive our car. Other combinations were possible, but no one voted for them. We would drop the truck off at a UHaul in Chicago and then the family (minus my daughter) would drive the car home.
Just because we had switched the trailer to a truck did not mean I was all set. I needed to wait for my official call from some UHaul franchise telling where to pick up the truck. I was hoping it was Henrietta, but I had no guarantee. While I waited, I kept an eye on the website and my 10 foot truck somehow morphed to a 14 foot truck. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that I would only have to pay for the size truck I reserved.
When I finally got my call I was indeed pleased that it was from the Henrietta store. They also told me that I could get my 17 foot truck first thing in the morning.
Now I’ve driven trucks before, including my brother-in-law Jay’s dump truck with a really bad clutch when I was a teenager, so I wasn’t too worried about it getting bigger by the minute. Nevertheless, I made them assure me that the truck would be in excellent condition and it wouldn’t stretch yet again into something 35 feet long, or multiple trailers, or anything like that.
The next day I picked up the truck and all was fine. I paid for the maximum amount of insurance since, well, it seemed smart for such a long journey (almost 600 miles) in an unfamiliar vehicle. I also needed to buy a lock for the back of the truck. The truck was a 2009 model and had 13,000 miles on it. It was in good shape. I had no problem getting it home, though I did take back roads to get familiar with it.
It did not accelerate quickly, but it would mostly stay at a speed, plus or minus a couple of mph, once I got it going. The controls were minimal, such as wind up windows and no cruise control. The radio was basic as well. It was a truck. It drove like one, but it met expectations.
We set off Friday morning in our mini caravan to the Midwest. Initially my wife took the lead but eventually I did since it was easier for her to match my varying speed while trailing me. My son was a great companion and it was really a just-guys experience. We talked, he read, and he stayed awake for the entire trip.
There were no issues as we headed west toward Buffalo, passed down through Erie, PA, and then set across Ohio. I know there are bigger states, but it seems to take forever to drive across Ohio on Route 80. As we approached the Indiana border, the sky got very dark. I was debating about whether to soldier on for another hour, but then all hell broke loose weather-wise with lightning and heavy winds and rain. We quickly bailed off the highway near Fremont, Indiana.
The next morning the sun was shining and though things seemed a bit wet, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. We made our way to Chicago in about 3 hours. One odd thing was that right as we got to Chicago we saw that some of the traffic lights were out. Not all of them, and not even consecutive ones, but some were dark. In case you don’t know, you treat an intersection with a dead traffic light as a four-way stop. I observed that this was not common knowledge.
I was anticipating problems unloading the truck, but I double parked it on the street in front of the apartment, put on the blinkers and we unloaded everything in 30 minutes. (Let me again thank my daughter’s friend Peter whose young back and legs really made the job go faster and better.)
William and I then drove the truck to a UHaul place about a mile and a half away, eventually found the guy who ran it, and finalized the paperwork. (Let me again thank my son for stopping me from backing up and running over the UHaul guy while he was inspecting the truck.) We walked back the apartment sans truck and happier for it.
Something was odd. My daughter’s apartment was not quite without electricity, but was probably at about 25% voltage. This was enough to feebly light a few fixtures but not enough to power the refrigerator. We hurried to do everything necessary before it got dark.
After dinner we left our daughter to her friends and we set off to drive a few of the dozen hours it would take us to get home. My plan was to get to Elkhart, Indiana, RV capital of the world and home of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum. We weren’t planning to go to the museum, but there are a lot of hotels and restaurants near the interstate.
Oddly enough, though, there weren’t any rooms. Evidently the storms of the previous evening had caused widespread power outages not just in Chicago, but across northern Indiana. The hotels were filled with people who had no electricity at home.
I filled the tank with gas, as that seemed like a good precaution, and we hit the road again. Eventually we tried another exit and there the signs were even worse: perhaps 10 electrical repair trucks were backed up to pay the toll on the exit ramp. More repair trucks were visible in the hotel parking lots.
We got back on the highway and drove into Ohio, eventually settling in to a Holiday Inn Express around 1:15 AM. The rest of the trip was easy.
As a side effect of this trip, I got a towing hitch installed on our SUV yesterday, so I’ll be ready if I ever need to pull something in the future. It might be a rented trailer or, who knows, maybe a boat. Have hitch, will haul.