It’s not everyday a 2,2-ton trailer disappears mid-journey, says Piet van Heerde.
Ilook in the rear-view mirror and I realise something isn’t right. Then it hits me like a ton of bricks: My trailer is gone! I hit the brakes, jump out, and run to the back of my car. Nope, there’s still no sign of a trailer. Anxiously I get back into my Cruiser. It can’t be. It can’t just have disappeared. I retrace my route and I shake my head from side to side more than a spectator at a Wimbledon final. And the more I say it to myself, the more I don’t want to believe it. The trailer is gone. I’M BUSY MOVING from Hopefield to Brackenfell, and like any move, it’s an exercise in inconvenience. I rent a 2,2-ton double-axle trailer for all the small items. When I go to fetch it in Brackenfell, the staff and I inspect the tow bar and lights – exactly like any responsible tower would. My Cruiser tows that trailer like a champ. I’m almost unaware that I’m towing because I can’t feel the trailer, and because you sit high up in a Cruiser it’s difficult to see it. Again, like any good tower would do, I make a point of checking my rear-view mirror to see if the trailer is still trailing behind me. I stop in Malmesbury to refuel and check everything again. Everything seems fine; no problems or irregularities. And while I’m driving out of Malmesbury I even check to see how I’m managing to keep the trailer in the lane perfectly around a bend. I really am a good driver and a responsible tower. Over the hill outside Malmesbury the turbodiesel is pulling like a steam engine. I even pass a few trucks. I turn off towards Hopefield and everything is going smoothly. I’m going at about 100 km/h, Pink Floyd blaring on the stereo, and the trailer is performing admirably. The next moment, I feel a slight jerk. I’m still a bit entranced by Roger Waters and the boys but I quickly snap out of it. I look in the rear-view mirror. Nope, the trailer is still there. No problem. It was probably just a gust. A while later I remember that the road is about to get bad. And once I see the first potholes, I slow down and look back to check that the trailer isn’t shaking too much. Everything checks out. A kilometre or so further down the road I check again. Gone!
WHILE I’M DRIVING AROUND looking for the trailer, I start to doubt myself. I am after all on the wrong side of 50 – did I perhaps imagine that I saw the trailer every time I checked? Was I too engrossed in Dave Gilmour’s guitar solos? My brain feels numb, like when I had to write exams in school. The numbness changes to dizziness and tunnel vision begins to set in. I drive all the way back to Malmesbury, which is where I know for sure I last saw the trailer. Nothing. I phone the owner of the trailer. At first he thinks I’m pulling his leg, but then he starts getting upset. No, he says, he’ll send some of his people to come help me look. I drive back the way I came, just a lot slower. And I check the world around me like a professional hunter. The trailer is nowhere to be found. I reach the point where I first realised that my trailer had disappeared, and I turn back again. This time I drive even slower and I imagine that if I narrow my eyes I’ll spot it. But the trailer really is gone. Like last month’s salary. I DECIDE to drive back to Hopefield to fetch the kids from school. Three pairs of eyes are better than one. Again we drive the stretch of road over and over again, but we see nothing – not even a mark on the road that would give us some kind of clue. I inspect the back of the Cruiser and I start to get a clearer picture of what happened. The tow bar is not the typical fixed ball type, but rather a ball with a shaft which fits vertically through the mounted piece. A safety clip through the bottom end keeps the shaft in place. It looks like the safety clip broke, because the ball and shaft is missing. The next line of defence was the cable that winds around the tow bar to activate the trailer’s brake in case it unhitches. But that couldn’t have happened because the entire tow bar is gone. I decide someone obviously saw the trailer, hitched it, and drove away. It’s the only logical explanation. So I report the matter to the police. The constable looks at me like I’m crazy as he writes: “…while driving, the trailer went missing in an unexplained manner”. Back in Brackenfell I go to the owner and we agree that I’ll write a report he can use to get the ball rolling with his insurance. I still need to move my things though and for that I need a trailer. But I’m too embarrassed to ask the same guy for another trailer so I go somewhere else. I drive to Hopefield, and there, in the Bermuda Triangle of trailers, I spot a trailer in a field next to the road. I stop and walk closer. It’s my trailer! I’m so happy I jump into the air like Fred Flintstone and click my heels. “Are you looking for this?” a voice next to me asks suddenly while I’m looking for my cellphone to call the owner. It takes every inch of self-control not to hug the farmer because he looks like the type of guy who probably wouldn’t appreciate that kind of affection. Yes, I say. Where did you get it? “This morning I was putting the sheep into the camp, but then quickly went to inspect the fence. I came to a spot where only the bottom two wires were broken and there was a faint track running to the opposite side of the field. I went to go look and I found your trailer at the end of the track. I hitched it and towed it here.” WHAT EXACTLY happened? The safety mechanism broke, the trailer unhitched with ball and shaft and all and then with its own momentum went full steam ahead. Thank goodness there was no oncoming traffic. The trailer went through the fence and continued for about 300 m before coming to a standstill at the far side of the field – neatly concealed underneath the bushes. I didn’t see the broken fence because it was in the tall grass. And it must have happened right before I looked in my rearview mirror because I stopped not even 750 m further on. I’m thankful that nothing and nobody got hurt… except for the fence and my ego. But I’m even more thankful that the mystery of the ghost trailer was solved.
A kilometre or so further I check again. And there is nothing. I start to doubt myself. I am after all on the wrong side of 50.