Ronnie Beams carefully pulls over to the side of a narrow two-lane road to allow the driver pulling a 14×70 mobile home a few inches to navigate past the one half of a doublewide home he is transporting.
Tommy Kizziah of Gordo, Ala., who owns the mobile home toter Beams is driving, follows him while an escort in front warns him of oncoming traffic and potential hazards along the route such as close mailboxes. Beams and Kizziah pull into a mobile home park that is still under development, with the first half of the doublewide home unscathed. Beams pilots the half-a-house over a curb and parks it near where it will be set up. After unhooking, the 29-year-old Cottondale, Ala., driver returns to a Tuscaloosa, Ala., mobile home dealership for the other half of what will be a 28-foot-wide home.
“I love the thrill of pulling mobile homes,” Beams says. “I get an adrenaline rush. I like being able to put the home in a tight spot safely.”
Mobile home traffic has been heavy in recent months along this stretch of Bear Creek Road in Tuscaloosa. In December, a powerful tornado swept through the area, killing 12 people and destroying numerous homes, including many manufactured homes in a nearby mobile home park.
Weather is a constant factor in the mobile home transport business. In many states, you can’t pull mobile homes in the rain. David Crowder, owner of Dave’s Mobile Home Transport in Tuscaloosa, is racing against the clock to try to get hooked to a mobile home in advance of the remnants of Tropical Storm Barry, which is dumping heavy rains as it spreads north from the Gulf of Mexico into Alabama. Crowder, 35, is also restricted by 6-8 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. city curfews. “It’s not a job for everybody,” Crowder says. “It’s hard work.”
The hard work begins long before a mobile home can be pulled onto any highway. Mobile homes must be “flagged out” according to the regulations of states where they are being transported. Most include red flags on the corners of the mobile home, “wide load” signs on the back and attached strobe or revolving amber lights. Beams says the most important things a driver must check are tires and axles. “You’ve got to check them,” he says. “Lugs can get loose and the tires will start spinning and they can come off. I try to tighten all the lugs myself to make sure they are tight. One of my biggest fears is to have a tire to come off and hit someone.”
Darrel Hoover of Paoli, Ind., who pulled mobile homes for almost 30 years, says recycled axles and tires that many mobile home manufacturers use put too much liability on the drivers. “You can have all kinds of problems because they are using recycled axles and the same kind of axles they were using in the 1970s when mobile homes didn’t weigh nearly as much,” Hoover says. “They are building homes that weigh 32,000 pounds as opposed to 12,000 pounds back then, and they’re maxing out the axles. You can have trouble with bent spindles and flattened springs that cause tires to start blowing. I can’t believe the federal DOT allows the factories to keep using these axles.”
Hoover, who now runs CSS Mobile Homes, an online transport and service consultant company, says one of his biggest concerns with the mobile home transportation industry is the pay, because the average is $1.75 per mile. “You’ve got all kinds of restrictions on when you can, with holidays and weekend curfews in many states,” Hoover says. “You’ve got about 200 days out of the year you can pull. You’re a specialized carrier, but you’re not making any more than the average driver. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
But Crowder, who mostly pulls for local setups, says mobile home transporting is something that gets in your blood. “I like the challenge more or less,” he says. “You’ve got to love it or hate it.”
Escorts: Don’t leave home without them
Even though a few states don’t require pilot cars for loads 14 feet and under, Darrel Hoover thinks they should. The 30-year veteran of mobile home transporting says escorts can make all the difference in the world when it comes to safety. “A good escort can be the difference in getting you where you are going safely or having an accident. I think every state should require escorts for all mobile homes.”
Hoover says a good escort not only warns a driver about what lies just around the next curve, but also checks tires when en route and makes sure there are no problems developing on the house.
Regulations vary from state to state on escorts. Some states allow you to use your own pilot car, while others require a certified escort or a police escort on certain roads. State laws also vary on the number of escorts – one or two – and whether the escort needs to be in front of or behind the mobile home.
David Crowder says an escort driver is an important member of the team. “An escort is very valuable,” he says. “Your escort keeps you out of trouble.”