Family Travel Stories

A warning when towing a 5th wheel and filling up at gas stations a few miles off the highway

shell stationOn our way to San Jose, California from Crescent City, we needed to make one last stop for gas before we drove through Oakland traveling on U.S. Route 101 to I-580. We were having a hard time finding stations that carried diesel right off the highway so we decided to venture a few miles off our main route. We located a Shell station in Santa Rosa. What we did not realize until it was too late was that the roof over the pumps was a few feet lower than those directly off the highway. It was dark and the height (which we saw after the fact) was written in small lettering to the left of the roof.

After filling the tank, we debated backing up but decided against it because of the turn we would need to make to exit… unfortunately we pulled forward.

As we were pulling away from the pump a crunching sound could be heard from the top of the camper. By pulling forward we had dragged one of our AC units under the gas station roof edge. Now we had one unit under the roof and one on the opposite side of the roof. Continuing forward or backing up was not an option at this point.

We called the police for help but they would not come to write an accident report unless the manager of the Shell station requested.

Next we called our insurance company and filed our report. They located a tow company that may be able to help but they were not hopeful. Our thinking was if they had a truck without a sliding hitch, we could detach and they could hitch up and back us out since their hitch would be lower than our sliding hitch.

My husband suggested detaching the truck and lowering the 5th wheel on the rails to back up four feet than hooking up again. I was not comfortable with this suggestion and recommended he reach out to the RV Tips Facebook group we were members of for advice and support.

While all of this was taking place we also had released the air from the trucks’ tires to 20 psi. Unfortunately it was not enough to drop us below what was needed to fit under the station2

After about 45 minutes of brainstorming, we were approached by a Shell patron who was anxious to help. He was on his way to a boy scout meeting with his son. He called his brother to see if he still had a 5th wheel hitch in his truck. When that idea did not work, he asked if he could see the roof of our camper. He and my husband climbed up to investigate further. After a few minutes of discussing they decided to drop the truck’s tire pressure even further to 10 psi. They asked me to drive very slowly in reverse as they both pushed on a side of the air conditioning unit. They successfully pushed it under the lip of the roof.

shell station3Fortunately there were only scratches on the roof of the Shell gas station. Our AC unit casing was cracked but it still works fine. The insurance company comes tomorrow to view the full extent of the damage. We were lucky. So thankful to this complete stranger for taking the time to care and lend a helping hand as well as to other RVers in our Facebook group. We pumped our tires back up at the station air pump, grabbed supper from the gas station and continued the 120 miles to the campground in San Jose arriving at 10:00 pm. We quickly set up and went to bed.


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