Worth the Weight

July 1, 2009

The business of heavy hauling is all about waiting and weighing-waiting to load, waiting to unload-and weighing in at various stations along the route. The magic number is 80,000 pounds-which is the federal load limit-and the standard measurements are 8-feet-6-inches wide, 13-feet-6-inches high, and 75-feet long. Anything over that is considered over-dimensional and is subject to individual state regulations and permitting, which is typically broken down into categories depending upon how many axles and tires you have compared to how much weight you are hauling. Handling the oversized load is a complex business, since state regulations vary dramatically, and that’s exactly why the expert heavy hauler is arguably worth his weight in gold. And, trailer manufacturers would agree. More often than not, trailers designed to carry loads over 80,000 pounds are purchased by heavy hauling companies; while those engineered for loads ranging between 20,000 to 70,000 pounds may most likely be part of the contractor’s fleet.

When tackling plus-size equipment transport-whether under or over the federal load limit-it’s worth considering some tips from trailer manufacturers and heavy haulers as to the right approach. Carefully weighing all the factors involved is imperative. If you’re moving equipment fewer times, is it better to outsource the task to a heavy hauler? Or, if you choose to move your own equipment, what type of trailer is the best investment over the long term?

Heavy Haulers Weigh In
Owned and operated by the mother-and-son team of Annette Mears and Gary Ayers, Arlington Heavy Hauling has its headquarters in Jacksonville, FL, and is one of the largest specialized haulers in the Southeast. “We work with highway and bridge contractors, sales and rental companies, and small to midsize contractors,” says Ayers who stresses that many contractors don’t want any part of transportation. “They don’t want to deal with the back office end of it, and they don’t want the overhead of the assets and the trucks or the DOT compliance and liability,” he says. But what Ayers has seen in the current economy is that some contractors are rethinking the latter. “They may be buying one truck and trailer thinking that they might save some money,” he says. Because trailers have an average life span of 15 to 18 years, Ayers says that they are indeed a great return on investment. “But the trailer is the cheaper part of transportation. It’s the truck, the driver, and the worker’s comp that make transportation a very expensive item,” he says.

Arlington Heavy Hauling maintains a fleet of 46 trailers made up of several brands. “One of our primary brands is Fontaine Trailers. For the type of hauling that we do, they fit the profile. We’re not a carrier that is going to haul more than 150,000 pounds, but rather a maximum of 100,000 pounds. Fontaine Trailers are lightweight and durable. They have a 50,000-ton capacity on most models that we run, and they are simply built and easy to use. Primarily, we use the Fontaine removable gooseneck trailer, which breaks away in the front,” says Ayers.

The Arlington fleet also includes more than 15 trailers manufactured by Landoll. “These are traveling axle-tilt trailers. Versus the removable gooseneck, they don’t break away in the front. They look like a standard step-deck, but the axle slides forward and the entire trailer tilts so that you can drive onto it from the ground. They have winches, so for equipment that really needs to be winched on, the Landoll is great for that,” says Ayers, who adds that he really likes the versatility of this type of trailer.

Ayers says that another advantage to the traveling axle-tilt-type trailer comes into play when delivering to job sites where curbs have already been installed. “This trailer allows us to offload the equipment without damaging the curbs, as we can modify the trailer by sliding the axles forward and tilting it down over the curb so that it goes directly from the pavement to the dirt. With a removable gooseneck, you don’t have that luxury. You need somewhere to drop the trailer, pull the gooseneck off, and drive onto the ground,” he says.

Most recently, Ayers has added some Trail-Eze Trailers to his fleet. “They operate similarly to my other traveling axle trailers, and I find them very affordable,” he says.

Trail-Eze Trailers offer payload capacities from 10 to 75 tons. Within the last year, Trail-Eze has added two new designs to its lineup-a low load angle hydraulic tail trailer and a hydraulic bed tilt and low load angle tail trailer.

Regarding advice to contractors on picking the right trailer, Ayers says it’s basically a matter of assessing what equipment is being moved and what type of trailer is needed to move it. “When you’re dealing with a 70,000-pound excavator, you’re going to need a removable gooseneck. They have higher capacities and are lower to the ground with decks at 18 inches. But if the largest piece you have is 40,000 pounds, a traveling axle trailer will do just fine,” he says.

Ayers stresses that right now most site-work contractors are moving their own equipment. “If and when they get busy, they will start to outsource more as most will not want to buy that second truck and trailer,” he says.

Precision Heavy Haul of Phoenix, AZ, focuses on transporting oversize, overweight specialty loads. The company customizes and adapts trailers to its needs and rarely uses the “standard” trailer. Company President Mike Poppe says that the biggest reason for outsourcing to the heavy hauler is that of all the headaches involved with all the rules and regulations. “I also believe that many contractors don’t move enough equipment themselves to justify the cost of a truck, trailer and driver. And if you want to move a fleet, owning one truck isn’t going to do the job. You’re going to call someone to come in and move it all with four trucks or even a dozen trucks,” he says.

When contractors are looking for a trailer to move construction equipment, every trailer has its pros and cons, Poppe says, and there are many different good manufacturers to choose from. He cites such examples as Murray Trailers, Cozad Trailers, and Trail King.

“You have to look at your fleet and determine how often you are going to be moving the bigger machines versus the smaller machines,” says Poppe. “A typical five-axle low-bed trailer is going to cost close to $100,000, but then you get into the type of trailer suitable for a 385 excavator, and you’re looking at something in the $400,000 range. Are you going to move that 385 enough times to justify that cost?”

Poppe says trailer choice also depends on one’s geographic region. “In the icy conditions of the east, you see a lot of hydraulic removable goosenecks. In the west, we consider the manual removable gooseneck to be the best and the safest. Western haulers try to get the tare weight down as low as possible-and a mechanical gooseneck will be lighter than the hydraulic,” he says. While a lot of contractors will ultimately choose them, Poppe says he calls the hydraulic gooseneck “the lazy man’s trailer,” simply because some drivers don’t want to get out of their trucks for the three or four times that it takes to deal with the mechanical gooseneck. “Remember, you need to keep your tare weight down to try to make weight with all this equipment-with the smallest trailer you can safely use-rather than a trailer that is overkill for the weight of the cargo,” he stresses.

And finally, Poppe says, when contractors hit slow periods, they either get rid of their transport equipment or they try to find a job for it. “Many contractors do not understand what it actually costs to run a truck, but yet they are trying to haul for other companies. The biggest mistake that they make is not carrying cargo insurance for their customer, and they are putting their company at great risk. While required to have cargo insurance, they may not be aware of it, as they are not in the trucking business,” he says.

Trailer Manufacturers Speak Out
Jim Ladner is national sales manager for Landoll, a trailer manufacturer located in Marysville, KS. Like the heavy haulers, he has also seen more and more contractors transporting their own equipment. “When business was bustling, contractors couldn’t have owned enough equipment to move their units and so they opted to use heavy haulers. Then when they realized how much they were spending on trucking, many thought that they should at least buy one truck and trailer and keep some of that revenue within their company,” he says.

In choosing that one trailer, says Ladner, most opted for the lighter end of transport equipment. “That’s where our single-drop traveling axle trailer comes into the forefront, with its deck height of about 38 inches and its ability to haul about 70% of the equipment types that they typically own and operate. This type of trailer will give them up to 43 feet of usable deck space, allowing them to haul two or three pieces of equipment in a single load rather than one piece on a detach and making three trips. So a single-drop trailer has a lot of value within the heavy haul business,” he says.

Ladner says that when operating in a range between 80,000 and 120,000 gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), Landoll offers a 50-ton, three-axle version of the traveling axle. “Over 120,000 GVWR is considered the “˜super load’ and requires a specialized expertise. It takes a lot more investment in a trailer than most contractors wish to make, and this is really the instance when outsourcing makes the most sense,” he says.

Additionally, Ladner advises contractors to always buy trailers a little heavier than anticipated. “Even in these economic times, you want to evaluate what is really best as an investment for 10 to 15 years into the future. You need to make a solid projection on what the size of your equipment will be five years from now, and most likely that equipment will be getting heavier. Never under specify a trailer and take the chance of overloading it. Always stay within the certified guidelines,” he says.

Gem State Manufacturing Inc., of Caldwell, ID, has recently added a new traveling axle trailer to its TrailMax trailer line. The company says that its FWTD-70-TA unit features a six-degree load angle designed specifically to haul equipment with low ground clearance and load-angle requirements. Featuring a high-tensile, fabricated, four-beam construction and tubular cross-members on 12-inch centers, the model is rated with a 70,000-pound distributed capacity and a 50,000-pound capacity concentrated in a 10-foot space. The six-degree load angle and a 16-degree dump angle add great versatility to the trailer for those hard to load/unload pieces of equipment, says the company.

Butch Odegaard is national account manager for Mitchell, SD-based Trail King. He says that the proper specification of a trailer begins with defining the weight, width, and height of the equipment being hauled. “Getting the proper width on a trailer is very important, as sometimes the equipment being hauled is so wide that it is putting too much weight on the outriggers. This can damage or break the outrigger brackets. We recommend keeping 50% of the track or tire width on the trailer and 50% on the outrigger,” he says. In addition to that, he stresses that one must be very knowledgeable about a particular hauling region’s rules and regulations, which can vary widely.

Doug Murray, owner of Murray Trailers of Stockton, CA, would agree with the latter. “The most difficult thing for this industry is that most states will not allow two different types of running gear, or both the tridem and trunnion axle configuration. The tridem is a 12-tire suspension group and the trunnion is 16-tire. A tridem trailer is only an 8-foot-6-inch wide trailer, versus the trunnion trailer, which is an 8-foot-6-inch wide trailer that expands out to 10 feet,” he says, explaining that only the states of Texas, Utah, Arizona, California, and Idaho allow both types of suspensions. “So if I am in California and I have all trunnion-style axles, I can’t haul into Oregon because my equipment isn’t allowed there,” says Murray, who stresses that he has been fighting this issue for more than 20 years. He points to a study that was completed in October 2000 at the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin. “They wanted to uncover a true picture of what these two axle groups would do to pavement and bridges, and what they found was that the trunnion was a little more favorable than the tridem-but not so much that they couldn’t both be used,” he says. Since then, Murray has encouraged industry members to take this issue to their respective states and lobby for the adoption of both axle groups.

As to his line of trailers, Murray says his units are designed to be the industry’s lightest-weight unit without the sacrifice of strength. “They are engineered so that you can load over the rear or over the front, either direction, depending upon the load you have. That is the advantage,” he says.

Chris Pokornowski is an in-house sales representative for Towmaster Trailers of Litchfield, MN. He stresses the importance of taking a look at a number of products. “You will definitely see differences between trailers out there. There are those manufacturers who cut corners on these trailers, and that is something that we will not do, even in these times. We don’t build the trailer that will merely get people by,” he says.

Looking at the differences in warranties is also very important, says Pokornowski. “Towmaster offers a full 10-year frame-and-structure warranty, as compared with the rest of the industry, which varies anywhere from 90-days to five years-with the latter often being prorated so that the warranty may be worth only 20% of its initial value in its fifth year,” he says.

Decking is another key factor. “Some trailer manufacturers use pine decking, and that is not going to last. Most of our Towmaster Trailers have white oak decks; however, we do offer an upgrade to angelim pedra, which is a Brazilian hardwood that will deliver two to three times the wear life of the white oak,” says Pokornowski.

Finally, Pokornowski says, education is imperative. “A lot of customers know what trailer they want, but they don’t understand what it takes to pull that trailer down the road. So they have to be educated as to the right vehicle to pull the trailer they are buying,” he says.

As a dealer, Leonard Truck & Trailer of North Jackson, OH, represents a number of trailer brands. Sales Manager Rick Stratis says that for heavy-duty trailers suitable for small-to-mid- size equipment, he often recommends Rolls-Rite Trailers, a manufacturer that specializes in 4.5- to 35-ton units.

Rolls-Rite builds a complete line of tilt units, including deck between the wheels in both full-tilt and partial-tilt models and with a variety of hitches, including ball, pintle, and gooseneck options. Rolls-Rite states that many of its end users with low-profile equipment, such as pavers, rollers, scissor lifts, manlifts, excavators, scrapers, finish mowers, and curb machines, like a tilt bed for their equipment.

Stratis says that what is different about being a trailer dealer in the current economy is that most people are only price shopping. “They often waste their time making call after call to 15 different dealers and getting 15 different opinions. So they are probably more confused than when they started their initial research. After being in business for 48 years, we only sell quality. We ask customers what they are hauling and what they need to accomplish. Then we specify to each individual’s different needs and wants,” he says.

Getting It Right Planning plus-size transport is a complex issue. There is an important balance between the tare weight, the weight of the trailer, and the ultimate load capacity. With that said, buyers should closely examine trailer ratings and industry standards when comparing equipment trailers. Then take that information and merge it with a complete understanding of the rules and regulations of the road in your hauling region. In heavy hauling, one size never fits all. Getting it right makes it all worth the weight.