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By Pam Burke 

If the 'duh' fits, go with it


Ockham's razor, also called the principle of parsimony, is a theory that basically says: All things being equal, go with the simplest answer.

Even though both names are a bit of a mouthful, sometimes it's easier said than actually done.

I'm loaning my horse trailer to some friends for the weekend, and I wanted to let them know the size of trailer towing ball that my fifth-wheel hitch requires. No problem, right. The size is stamped into every towing ball ever made in the history of mankind.

Pam Burke

Everybody knows that the caveman who invented the wheel said, "Hey, I'm tired of packing this here wheel all over creation. I'm gonna make me a way to tow it." So he put a nice long hitch on that wheel, and then chiseled a towing ball out of a wooly mammoth tusk. He pulled that wheel everywhere. It was a pretty sweet setup.

His cave buddies noticed and started asking to borrow the wheel and attachments, but those cave morons kept losing the ball, and then our caveman would lose a day searching for it (because that was much easier than hunting down and killing a wooly flippin' mammoth for a tusk). So one day when a cave buddy asked to borrow the wheel to haul a couple wives home from the neighboring valley (too far to have to drag two cave babes by the hair, y'know), our cave genius thought ahead to having to search over hill and dale, looking for his lost towing ball, and made an historic decision right there.

"Buddy," he said, "you can borrow the wheel and the towalation modification device, but not this here ball. Go make your own." He held his hand up to the ball, concentrating so hard his tongue curled out the corner of his mouth, and said, "It's three fingers wide. Good luck with the mammoth hunt." And he stamped the size, 3 fingers, right there on top of the ball. Forever.

From that day forward, if anyone asked to borrow the wheel setup, he'd just point to that size-three ball strapped to his backside and all was right with the world.

Of course, my towing ball throws practicality into the face of a millennium of tradition and does NOT have a size number stamped on it. Anywhere. I crawled around in the bed of my pickup, all but stood on my head to see every angle and curve of that ball, so I know. No size number.

Thinking that modern tools might come to my rescue, I grabbed the calipers and took a measurement of 2.3-ish inches, causing two simultaneous thoughts: 1) What kind of a nut job has calipers that measure tenths of inches in America. My husband. And 2) What kind of a measurement is that? It's not 2 1/4 or 2 3/8. Don't all trailer towing balls come in eighth-sizes?

My husband, in a less than tactful move, suggested that maybe I measured wrong. Right. Because running a stick with a slidy thing is so difficult. I measured again. Twice. He measured again. Twice.

We said simultaneously: "Two and five-sixteenths? But that doesn't seem right." Don't all towing balls come in eighths

We checked the hitch to see if it had the required ball size stamped on it. The hitch is a fancy jobber with its own braking mechanism. It's stamped with its fluid requirements but says nothing about the size of ball required. The thinking is, I guess, it's OK to use the wrong sized ball, letting the trailer pop free, because you'll have properly functioning brakes to stop the total wreck. Thanks for that.

The only recourse left to us was to hunt down and call the manufacturer, so my husband got on the phone to his father and said, "Hey Dad, do you remember what size ball is needed for that trailer you built for Pam?"

The grand answer: 2 5/16 inches.

Huh. Not 2 1/4 inches, not 2 3/8. Just like the calipers said.

So go ahead and forget that fancy Ockham's principles of razor-sharp parsnips stuff, but remember this: When faced with the unbelievably obvious, believe it — thus says Pam's Theory of Duh.

(Who'da thunk before learning today, that 2 5/16 is the standard ball size for fifth-wheel hitches at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com?)


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