When we sold our Hitchhiker fifth wheel, which had been home-sweet-home for twelve of the thirteen years of our full-time RV adventure, we thought we’d never own a fifth wheel trailer again. So, we let our fifth wheel hitch go with the trailer as part of the sale.
Oops! Never say “Never!”
After trying Truck Camper Vacation Life for a year, we realized we wanted a bigger RV, and we purchased a 2022 Genesis Supreme 28CRT fifth wheel toy hauler for extended travels and shorter getaways.
Suddenly, we needed a hitch so we could tow our new trailer home from the seller’s storage lot! Enter the Demco Recon 21k Fifth Wheel Hitch!
This is a detailed article. Here are shortcut links to each section:
- Why We Chose A Demco 21K Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch
- Specifications for the Demco 21K Recon 5th Wheel Hitch
- Installation – A Step-by-Step Guide
- Towing, Hitching/Unhitching and Overall Impressions
Demco Recon 21k Hitch
We’ve owned two fifth wheel hitches over the years. The first was a Pullrite traditional fifth wheel hitch that was installed permanently on rails mounted under the bed of our 2007 Dodge Ram 3500 single rear wheel truck. This rail-mounted hitch design had been an industry standard for fifth wheel hitches for many years. We used it for 7 years.
Our second hitch was a B&W Ram OEM fifth wheel hitch. This new style hitch used the Dodge Ram OEM factory installed pucks that came with our 2016 Ram 3500 dually to mount the hitch to the truck bed. The four corners of the hitch base were secured into the four pucks by turning each puck handle a quarter turn. The hitch could be removed from the truck just as easily simply by turning the four puck handles, a game changer! We used that hitch for 5 years.
We loved being able to install and remove the B&W hitch at a moment’s notice, even though it had a big, beefy base that was a little bit of a challenge for one person to manage alone. So, when we went hitch shopping, we wanted our new hitch to be equally mobile but a bit lighter, if at all possible.
One of the shortcomings of any OEM puck system fifth wheel hitch is that the three diesel pickup manufacturers, Ford, GM and Dodge, have all designed their own unique footprints for the placement of their pucks in their pickup beds. This means that an OEM hitch designed for a Ram truck will not work in a Chevy or Ford and vice versa.
As we contemplated which hitch to get for our new toy hauler, we knew that there might come a day fairly soon when we would want to replace our current truck. Of course, that may never happen, especially given the weird state of the car and truck market today, but it has been on our minds for a while.
So, our hitch requirements boiled down to these two:
- Could be easily installed in or removed from the bed of any brand or age of truck
- Would be comprised of components light and small enough for one person to maneuver alone
Demco 21k Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch – A Gooseneck Ball Mounted Hitch!
We discovered that the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch is mounted on a gooseneck ball in a gooseneck receiver in the truck bed. Gooseneck receivers come standard with all OEM puck systems and can also be installed as an after-market addition in any truck that doesn’t have an OEM puck system.
The beauty of this hitch design is that the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch can be used in any brand or age of truck. This took care of Requirement #1 in our new hitch wish list!
Like the OEM puck system fifth wheel hitches, the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch is installed in two basic parts: a base that installs onto a gooseneck ball mounted in the gooseneck receiver in the pickup bed, and a hitch head which mounts onto the base and latches onto the kingpin of the fifth wheel trailer.
The hitch head can be further broken down into two parts: the actual hitch head itself and a center column that inserts into the base. These two parts can be installed and removed separately, which adds a step to the process but keeps each individual part quite lightweight. Or they can be handled as a single and slightly heavier unit.
I called Demco to talk to a salesperson about the hitch and get some details about the sizes and weights of the individual components.
And I was absolutely floored when an operator answered the phone on the second ring and immediately transferred me to a salesman who picked right up and greeted me warmly.
How often does THAT happen nowadays?
We were delighted to find that the total weight of the hitch and the weights and physical dimensions of the individual components were slightly less than other manufacturers’ OEM puck based hitches. That took care of Requirement #2 in our hitch wish list!
But back to that phone call… In a fifth wheel towing setup, the fifth wheel hitch is one of the most important pieces of equipment to ensure you get down the road safely. For us, it is reassuring to have the company behind the product be easy to reach by phone without having to listen to endless lists of menu selections, punch in endless numbers and wind up leaving a voicemail in some unmonitored voicemail box anyway. In the RV industry today, most brands are owned by massive umbrella corporations. It is rare to find an independent manufacturer that is not a subsidiary of a massive corporation.
Demco Recon 21k Fifth Wheel Hitch Specifications:
- Rated to tow a 21,000 lb. trailer. Our toy hauler has a GVWR of 15,000 lbs which is well within the limit.
- Mounts onto a standard 4″ tall 2 5/16 gooseneck ball.
- Total Hitch Weight: 134 lbs.
The component weights are:
- Head Weight: 35.75 lbs.
- Center Column Weight: 20 lbs.
- Base Weight: 78.25 lbs.
If the Center Column and Base remain connected as a single unit, the weights of the two components are:
- Head Weight: 35.75 lbs.
- Center Column + Base Weight: 98.25 lbs
Demco 21k Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch Installation
The installation proved to be straight forward. As mentioned above, the hitch has three main components:
- The Base which is installed on a gooseneck ball in the truck bed
- The Center Column which slides into the Base and sets the overall height of the hitch
- The Head which mounts on the Center Column and whose jaw latches onto the trailer’s kingpin.
The parts included the following:
Tools Required for Installation
- 15/16 inch deep well socket
- 3/4 inch 12 point socket
- 7/16 socket
- Torque wrench that can go to at least 100 ft-lbs
Installing the Base
The gooseneck coupler (or socket) on the underside of the Base slips over the gooseneck ball in the bed of the truck.
If you flip over the Base, you can see that the coupler is slilghtly offest from the center of the Base. The coupler location is offset to accommodate the Center Column which stands directly in the center of the Base (for balanced support) and holds the Hitch Head.
When the hitch is installed in the truck bed, the gooseneck ball coupler is positioned towards the cab of the truck.
The Base is secured to the gooseneck ball in the truck bed by sliding the Coupler Pin through the hole in the square column at the bottom of the Base. By tightening the Top Coupler Bolt nut on the top of the Base to 30 ft-lbs, the Coupler Pin is cinched up against the Base, clamping the Base and gooseneck ball together into the bed of the truck. A very clever design!
Before getting to that step, however, the Top Coupler Bolt on the Base was loosened so the gooseneck ball coupler would slide over the gooseneck ball easily. We did this before placing the hitch in the truck bed.
Then the Base was placed in the bed of the truck with the Gooseneck Ball Coupler sliding over the Gooseneck ball. As you can see, when the hitch is removed from the truck, the entire bed of the truck is open except for the small bump of the gooseneck ball. You can haul things in the truck or just drive around peacefully without a fifth wheel hitch clanking around in the back (especially helpful when driving on rutted dirt roads)!
In order to secure the Base into the bed of the truck, the Coupler Pin was inserted into the Coupler Hole on the Base below the round head of the gooseneck ball. Then the nut on the Top Coupler Bolt was tightened to 30 ft-lbs using a torque wrench and 15/16 socket.
The Bolt Lock Plate was placed over the Top Coupler Bolt head and then tightened the adjacent 1/4″ bolt with a 7/16 socket. The Bolt Retainer assembly blocks the Top Coupler Bolt from turning.
Installing the Center Column
Next, the Center Column was placed into the square opening in the Base.
The Center Column can be positioned at one of three different heights that are 1 1/4 inches apart. The height of the Center Column determines the vertical distance between the bottom of the fifth wheel overhang and the top of the truck box. Demco recommends that this distance should be about 6 inches.
The middle height looked like it would be the best choice, so we placed the Cross Pin through the center hole in the Center Column. The Cross Pin was secured with an R-clip.
Two set screws hold the Center Column in place in the Base. Using a 3/4 inch 12 point socket, the set screws were tightened to Demco’s recommended spec of 100 ft-lbs of torque. Then the jam nuts were tightened using a 15/16 inch deep well socket.
Installing the Head
Flipping the head over, the blue Urethane Pivot Bumper was placed on the bottom of the Head. This quiets the hitch when you aren’t towing.
Then the Head was placed onto the Base, and a 1 inch Pin was slid through it to hold it in place. The 1″ Pin was secured with a Lynch Pin.
Then the Hitch Handle was assembled. A Safety Lock Pin held the handle in place while the bolt was tightened. A light coat of White Lithium Grease was applied between the Safety Lock Pin hole and the handle housing.
That was it!
Hitching and Unhitching
There are many different mechanisms used for locking a fifth wheel hitch’s jaws around a kingpin. The jaws of the Demco Recon hitch wrap completely around the kingpin. This 360 degree wrap makes a very tight seal around the kingpin and helps reduce chucking when towing, which we loved.
However, the hitch’s tight wrap-around jaw also makes the process of hitching and unhitching a little bit more finicky.
Demco provides two brief videos that show the process of hitching up and unhitching (“coupling and uncoupling”) in action (click here and here).
These are well worth watching to get a feeling for the relative positions of the hitch head and the king pin. The videos are for Demco’s rail mounted fifth wheel hitch, but the positioning of the components is identical to the Demco 21k Recon gooseneck ball hitch.
Demco also recommends using wheel chocks for both hitching and unhitching operations. We weren’t accustomed to using wheel chocks, but we found they made a huge difference in easing the fifth wheel’s king pin into and out of the Demco hitch while preventing the trailer from rolling slightly.
The Demco 21K Recon hitch also requires that the fifth wheel’s landing jacks be lowered slightly below where they would be with other hitches.
We found that as we were hitching up, the trailer king pin’s lube plate needed to be positioned slightly lower than the hitch plate. The truck would squat a bit once the trailer was hitched up. Eyeballing across the lube plate and hitch head, the lube plate needed to be coming at the hitch about halfway up the little lip on the edge of the hitch head.
When unhitching, there needed to be just a slight hairline crack of light showing between the king pin’s lube plate and the hitch plate. Since our truck has a factory installed auto-leveling system, we’ve found we need to wait until the truck bed has completely stopped raising or lowering and then see if a hairline crack of light is visible betwen the lube plate and the hitch plate.
For unhitching, Demco provides a Safety Lock Pin to hold the hitch handle open until the truck has pulled out completely. We found we needed to use this Lock Pin whenever we unhitched or the handle would close on its own before the truck had pulled out completely.
We also stabilized our Rota-Flex pin box with an Andersen Rota-Flex lockout kit as Demco recommended. Because both the Rota-Flex pin box and the Demco hitch are mobile in multiple directions, the two can end up working against each other. One will move in one direction and then the other will compensate for that motion in a counterproductive way. The Anderson Rota-Flex lockout kit prevents the pin box from moving at all, allowing the Demco hitch to make all the movements necessary to hitch up or unhitch.
After using the Anderson Rota-Flex lockout kit for a few thousands miles during our trip, we removed it and found that we didn’t really need it. So, if your trailer has a Rota-Flex king pin, you might try using the Demco hitch without the lockout kit first and purchase the lockout kit only if you are having trouble hitch and unhitching.
Underway, we have found that when suddenly accelerating or braking hard, or turning a sharp corner or starting a steep climb or descent, the hitch sometimes clunks loudly as it adjusts to the change in motion.
However, although we’ve taken the trailer over some very rough terrain and deeply pot-holed dirt roads, we’ve found the motion of the trailer has been surprisingly smooth. This absence of chucking is due to the very tight fit of the wraparound jaws encircling the king pin and is a wonderful feature.
After about 1,000 miles of towing, the shaft of the Center Column began to wobblie slightly. Interestingly, the set screws hadn’t come loose by unscrewing themselves because the two jam nuts were still tight. Probably the set screws had worn away a little metal on the shaft from all the jiggling as we went down the road. We didn’t have our torque wrench with us, so Mark tightened the two set screws as hard as he could and they never loosened again.
After 4,000 miles of towing, we noticed that the hitch base had twisted very slightly in the truck bed, about 5 degrees of rotation. This was due to the hitch being secured to the truck in just one location in the center, by compression on the gooseneck ball, rather than being connected in four corners like an OEM or traditional hitch. With the hitch slightly twisted in the truck bed, it was harder to slide the king pin in and out of the jaws while hitching and unhitching. We straightened the hitch and tightened it down again and it hasn’t twisted since.
One of our readers left a comment below suggesting that we try putting a rubber horse mat (sold at farm and feed stores) in the bed of the truck under the hitch with a hole in it for the gooseneck ball. This would provide some friction that might prevent rotation and would also protect the bed of the truck.
The three components of this hitch are slightly lighter than some of the OEM puck system hitch counterparts, and the Base has a smaller footprint too, so it is less awkward to load into and unload from the truck bed than other hitch bases.
Mark can lift the Base in and out of the truck easily by himself. Of course, it is even easier with a second pair of hands and I happily jump in to help! The other two components, the Center Column and Head, are easily lifted and maneuvered by one person, even me.
That said, if you choose to keep the Center Column attached to the Base after the initial installation, which saves you from loosening and re-tightening the two set screw bolts on the Base to torque spec, then two people may be required to lift that Base/Center Column combined unit in and out of the truck.
The three great benefits of the Demco 21k Recon fifth wheel hitch are that it is:
- Compatible with any pickup truck
- Easily installed and removed by one person
- Almost free of chucking when towing
The process of hitching and unhitching is a little different than with other fifth wheel hitches but is easily mastered (it took us a while to realize we had been doing it wrong!). The hitch also required two small adjustments after we had used it for a few thousand miles, but our adjustments have held since we made them.
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More info about this hitch:
- Demco 21K Recon Fifth Wheel Hitch Product Info (Part #8550045)
- Hitching up with a Demco hitch
- Unhitching with a Demco hitch
- Available at Amazon here
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