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J.R. Buchanan


My trips to Hell

Early to mid '90s

Update in 2015: I still have this trailer, except for needing new tires (I've had several sets on it since this article was originally written), it's been doing great for 20 years. The big ramps were removed a long time ago, and a single center ramp was made. I applied the VIN with a manual graver and a hammer, using a paper template. It came out great. I'm also happy to report that the Indiana DMV was reorganized some time after the original writing, and it's not too bad at all when you have to go there. Much more pleasant and efficient.

Original article:

Well, I got that trailer I've been talking about. I justified it by telling my wife that we'd use it for hauling building materials and landscaping supplies. We all know I got it for hauling non-running bikes (yeah, I'm getting the urge for a project, thank goodness I'm almost broke!), and maybe a new used engine for the truck.

OK, great, now I've got a trailer, I'd better go down to the license branch to get a plate. It'll be a hassle, but we want to be legal, don't we?

Well, I know I'll need a picture and a bill of sale, so I show up with these. The lady at the checkout desk looks at them and says, "Do you have a bill of sale?" "Yes, it's sitting on the desk in front of you." "That's not a bill of sale." "Yes it is" "No it isn't, this is what we need", handing me a sheet of paper. I look at the paper for a while and say, "That's all on the bill of sale I got when I bought it." "But it's not in the right format" "OK, I'll copy it over", I said expecting that too be too easy. It was. Back to the seller who didn't mind filling out the "proper" form

OK, back to the license branch. "Where is your police inspection?" "Huh?" "You need a police inspection to verify the Vehicle ID number" "It doesn't have one, it's home-built" "In Indiana, all trailers must have a title and a Vehicle ID Number, you shouldn't have bought one without it." "But it hasn't been on the road since before that law was passed, so now I need to apply for those things". I felt good. I'd actually known this, and wasn't surprised.

"You need a police inspection", she repeated. "Why", I asked. "To check the vehicle ID number". "It doesn't have one" "You need a police inspection".

So I leave and go home and arrange for the trailer to be inspected by a neighbor who is a Sheriff's deputy. He warns me that although the trailer is perfectly legal and that I will eventually get it titled and registered, my hassles have just begun. I knew this, the seller had warned me (I believed you Jay!), and anyway I've been to license branches before.

Well, I went back to the license branch armed with the "proper" bill of sale and my police inspection form. I didn't take the photo in with me, as the first lady assured me that wasn't needed until I registered it, which could not be done until I got the Vehicle ID Number and "Applied it". Sadly, she could not tell me what the usual method for "Application" was. Well, in any case, this time a different lady was there.

"Why did you have it inspected"?, she said. "Because the woman sitting here two days ago told me I needed to have it inspected" "Well, you won't need that until after you've "applied" the Vehicle ID Number, this inspection is no good.". OK...

So I put ask her what I DO need now. "A photo and a bill of sale". "But the other women said that I didn't need the photo until I registered it. "No, you need it now".

Eager for more information, I ask, "People keep telling me that when I get the Vehicle ID Number, I must `apply it'. How is this `application' normally done"? I expected her to say something like, "It must be stamped or engraved on the frame". Instead, she came back with the amusing, but rather useless, "I don't know". Hmmm... OK, "would it be acceptable to engrave it on the frame"? "I don't know". "Would stamping it on the frame with number dies be acceptable"? "I don't know". This was getting ugly. "Who could I ask who would know"? "I don't know". At this point, I almost asked, "Why are you sitting at a desk under a sign that says `Information'"?, but I thought better of it. Later I was not so virtuous.

Well, I still needed the photo, so, feeling dumb for not bringing it in, I left to go get it.

I walk into to the license branch again, armed with the photo and wait in line again. Same lady.

"This photo won't do" "The first lady liked it". "It has to be a profile, so we can identify the trailer". "This is a good photo, it's a 3/4 view from the front and slightly above. It's clear, and it's far easier to identify the object in the center than it would be if I had provided a profile view". "We need a profile so we can identify it". "Sort of like an enemy bomber"?, I asked losing my temper slightly and resorting to sarcasm. It goes right over her head. It's as if she didn't hear it. I give up and go home to take a LOT of trailer pictures. I'm determined that one will be acceptable. At least a few will really be profile views taken while lying on my stomach. I'll bet they really want a side view from above.

In any case, I get home and whip out the roll of film that I bought the day before for another purpose. I try to put it in the camera.The camera's broken. Aarrgghh!

So far I've made three trips to the license branch and waited in line four times. All without getting past the (so-called) information desk. Also without getting any consistent information. What a bureaucracy. I'm impressed. I've had problems at the license branch before, but this is shaping up to be a record. Four visits without any noticeable progress!

As far as the photo goes, I'm borrowing a camera from my in laws. As far as "applying" the Vehicle ID Number, I'll ask my neighbor the Deputy. He'll be inspecting it the next time, so he's the one I'll need to please. Fortunately, he's also a more reliable source of information. Which, I suppose isn't of any real benefit once I walk through the brazen-hinged gates of the license branch.

As far as using the trailer, the second lady told me that it would be about a two month to wait on the VEHICLE ID NUMBER before I could register and plate it. Their stories differed on when it would be legal to use the trailer.

I've decided to start using it as soon as I get the hitch installed. I'm fed up, and I refuse to let civil servants get in my way. I'll carry all the paperwork with me in a manila envelope, and if I'm stopped, I'll explain the situation to the officer. If I'm really lucky, I might get shot.

This seems to be a lot of trouble to go through. After all, a title for an item that costs less than a TV set? I told this to the second information desk lady, and she said, "We insist on consistency". Sure.

Epilogue: The night after I made my latest trip to the license branch, I discovered that I was lucky to have even gotten in. Most were closed, due to a "sick-in" arranged to protest the employees low pay and hard work. I'd have had more sympathy earlier in the week.

Corwin the Silver prostrated himself on the floor. "May Bureaucrotis the great hear my plea! May my trip to the license branch be rewarded in a manner representative of my many and great tithings!"

The Dungeon Master drew his lips up into an evil smirk. "You'll need a 10 or lower to get that one", he said with an evil chuckle, "And we know how your luck with Bureaucrotis goes!"

Slowly the Dungeon Master picked up two twenty sided crystalline dice and rolled them in his hands. He casts! "Damn, a seven!", he cries.

Corwin the Silver entered the license branch bearing his hard won icons of power. Though they had failed him before, his faith was renewed. By a simple roll of the dice, his problems were solved.

"I've come to apply for a title on my trailer", he cried. "And I bear nothing more than I did the last three times you saw me! I defy you to stand in my way, for the dice have spoken!" All around him, lowly civil servants, the lowest caste of Bureaucrotis's priesthood, blanched and quailed.

With just a photograph, a form proving police inspection, and a bill of sale, nothing more than he bore on the previous stages of his quest, he entered. With a smile and proof that he'd applied for a title on his trailer he left.

Jim Buchanan's trip to the license branch was also successful, and apparently for the same reason.

So goes the game, and so goes life...

Hey, I've used the trailer now! after all the hassles getting it licensed (well, applied for), I've used it!

Here's an excerpt from a post to the BMW list about it:


Well, we'd planned this some time ahead, and I had no idea what the weather was going to be like. This, and the desire to try out my new, now legal, trailer, led me to take FB down in non-powered mode.

I loaded FB up on Thursday night to see how everything would work out. Trying something when you actually need it doesn't seem like a good idea to me, so I like to practice.

Well, it was cold. I was sure that I'd be needing the trailer come Saturday, since it was down into the 20's. I'll ride in the 20's, and have done so several times this winter, but for more than 60 miles? When I wanted to enjoy myself? Nope, the temperature limit for that is around 45 degrees. The mileage limit in the 20's is more like 10 miles.

Well, in any case, just to have more fun, I announced that I would put the bike on the trailer by myself. With no help. Just to prove that it could or could not be done if need be.

Now you must understand that even though I justified my posts about this trailer by calling it a bike trailer, it really started out life as a trailer built to haul a Bobcat. A piece of Construction Machinery. Yes, it is overkill for my purposes, but I _like_ sturdy, simple designs... In any case, the bed is rather high off the ground and the ramps are *stought*. They are made of angle iron and weigh over 50lb apiece. They present a ridged surface to the tire, with the edges pointed up. For traction. Yeah, right...

Warning to those who try to emulate people they read about on the 'net (you know who you are!): The following procedure was performed by a professional squid, do not attempt to duplicate this at home. Watch a few episodes of "Home Improvement" on TV, if you are even _thinking_ about trying this after you read it!

Well, the ramps aren't too steep. I've ridden up many slopes steeper than that. The trailer is really stable too (It has four feet that can be lowered to aid stability). I'll _ride_ the bike up the ramp!

OK, should I ride up the left or right ramp? There isn't time to install the middle ramp that I really want, that'll just have to wait. Well, the garage floor is very wet (not yet frozen) on the right side, but almost dry on the left. We'll go up the left.

OK, start the bike and warm it up. Head towards the ramp at about 5 MPH. Front wheel hits, give it some throttle. Great, until the back tire gets about half way up the ramp. Massive wheel spin. When forward progress stops, roll backwards, remembering not to put feet down -there's nothing to put them on.

Well, let's try again. Just go a little faster. Hey 3/4 way up!

Now, here's where someone who knows fear^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hhas a cerebral cortex would give up and ask one of the laughing spectators (will they catch the bike? Will they scatter?) for help. Well, I don't know the meaning of fear^H^H^H^Hcerebral cortex! Third try. Speed actually registering on the speedometer! (about 12MPH). We made it. Uhm, how much traction does painted wood have? We seem to be approaching the back of the truck rather rapidly... Whew. Got it stopped. Hey, they tried to catch the bike! Touching. Dumb, but touching. A good group of neighbors.

Great. The hard part is over. Just hop off the bike, put it on the stand, and then tie it down at your leisure. Oops. Maybe I should have found time to make that center ramp. Or maybe I should have just gone up the right ramp. There's nowhere on my left to dismount! Well, getting off on the right is easy, but I can't put it on the center stand this way...

OK, audience: DO NOT HELP ME! Just place your bodies under the bike! Feel free to give up you life to protect the machine!

Climb off the trailer, walk around it, balancing the bike the whole while. Climb back up on the left side and with one foot on the trailer tire, and another on the center stand, put the bike on the center stand.

Applause and nervous laughter from the audience. I've lived in this neighborhood for about three years now, and almost have them broken in. They wear better then the people in my old neighborhood, even after six years, they had a tendency to call various emergency numbers whenever they saw me out working -just in case.

After this it was work, but straightforward work, to center the bike and tie it down. In retrospect it would have been easier to center the bike from the right side w/o putting it up on its stand first. It retrospect it would have been easier to have accepted help. Physical or Psychological. Either would have been appropriate.

After the loading experience, I drove around a while testing the "rig" out. Perfect. Couldn't even tell it was back there, except for the expected changes in braking and acceleration.

My local club meeting was coming up, so my first thought was to drop the bike and trailer off at home and go to the meeting. Well, I was out to test this set-up, why not drive it around some more? So I took the bike to the meeting on the trailer. And was then subjected to an evening of (good natured) discussion of "Jim's trailer queen". The abuse we must endure before we die!

Since the placement of FB was such a hard-earned prize, I thought I'd leave her in her shame up there on the trailer until Saturday morning when we'd unload her at Bill's and head down to Shapiro's. By bike if warm, by truck if not.

Well, by Friday night it was obvious that the weather would be _perfect_ for riding all weekend. But it was so hard to get the bike up on the trailer!

Well, the trailer trip was smooth. Boring. Slow. Smooth. The only high point was when I realized who those speed limits on curves were aimed at. People with trailers! Trailers much bigger than mine though, 'cause the durned limits were _still_too_slow_.

Well, I got to Bill's. As it turned out, I was the only one, everyone else was going to meet us later, either at Shapiro's or back at Bill's. The weather being perfect, we did the no-brain thing and rode to Shapiro's.

Oh, how did FB get off the trailer? Real easy, with Bill's help. Just like it _could_ have gone on the trailer, and in fact, later in the day, did.

One problem. FB expressed her displeasure at the sedentary life of a trailer queen. Lots of coughing and spitting. When I followed Bill onto the highway, I was shocked to discover a top speed of about 60 MPH (about 6.45x10^6 rods/fortnight). After a few coughs, and a few miles, things improved a bit, but basically until later in the day, when we soothed her by caressing her carburetors and complimenting her classic good looks, FB was basically not too pleased to provide transportation. She wants to be ridden, not trailered! ***************************************************************************

Now I must wait. At some indeterminate point in the future, I should receive some paperwork in the mail. More trips to hell will follow. If I survive, physically and mentally, the journeys will be chronicled here...

Well, it was trivial. No problems. Once you've passed the test, you just need to hand over the money and they hand you a plate and registration. Cool.