It might be said that without trailers, literally nothing would get done. Although trailers have a pervasive presence in doing their job every day, it’s easy to overlook their role as the hauling workhorse of manufacturing, the military, mining, construction, agriculture, and much more. In other words, if it needs to move from point A to point B and it doesn’t fit in the back of your car or pickup, it’s probably going on a trailer.
From small to large, trailer manufacturers must ensure that each model is safe, meets the hauling needs their customers demand, and performs for years without issues.
Troy Geisler, vice president of sales and marketing at Indiana-based Talbert Manufacturing, recalls how the company “revolutionized heavy hauling starting back in 1938.”
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“Our founder, Austin Talbert, realized in 1938 that climbing larger equipment onto the rear of a trailer going over one of its highest points (tires and axles) is unsafe, and hard on the equipment. He knew there must be a better way to move equipment, so in 1947 he conceived and patented the revolutionary design for a removable gooseneck,” explains Geisler.
Since then, Talbert has “had the distinction of a number of firsts in the heavy haul trailer industry,” and Geisler cites the many milestones: the first removable deck-to-rear bridge design allowing for a variety of configurations; the first to incorporate T1 steel; the first to offer non-ground bearing hydraulic removable gooseneck for heavy haul trailers; the first West Coast multi-axle; and the first US OEM to offer hydraulically steered and suspended trailer.”
He also adds the company’s dedication to continued refining and upgrading various designs so that they “better suit our customers’ ever changing needs.”
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While ownership has changed slightly over the years, now in its second generation of the same family since the 1960s, Geisler says, “Our core values remain the same: safety, durability, and good resale value.”
“Keeping customers on the road is crucial, and as a systems solution provider, we do this by listening to people to learn what they need. No two loads are the same, and the regulations for trailers vary from state to state in terms of axle weight and bridge restrictions, so we have regional salesmen who work in different regional networks. This allows us to address local needs to ensure the product fits their requirements.”
Geisler says that “A good deal of our orders are customized in some form or fashion. We do not have the luxury of hitting a ‘repeat button’ with our order packaging as every order must address the load need required, as they all behave differently.”
Their manufacturing capacity, he says, includes a small Tag-a-Long, then a model that is 10- to a 30-ton capacity, and “once in a while,” he says, “they will build a 500-ton trailer.”
“If the trailer is not properly designed and well-engineered from the beginning, it experiences fatigue and will wear out.”
At Talbert, everything is “calculated from engineering,” adds Geisler, and describes their manufacturing process.
“First of all, we have taken the time to source dependable and reputable suppliers so we have a solid working relationship; we take pride in our relationship with our vendors. From steel to Apitong flooring, suspensions, wiring, and coatings, we work hard to ensure our customers’ trailers are built with the best components to add to the durability and lift of their trailer.”
He says the first step is to assemble the main beams, then the cross-members are attached and components are added. “This is the building of the body of the trailer.” Along the way, the neck, axle, and other components are added. After that, it goes to a blast booth where contaminants such as weld beads, scale, rust, and oils are blasted off.
“In fact, we’ve been critiqued by two independent quality measurement companies and we’ve averaged 8.5 (out of 10) on our near-white finishes.”
Then the body goes to the paint booth where the trailer body is painted to prevent corrosion. While the paint cures, the trailer is sent to finish so that air and electrical, tires, decals, and other components can be added prior to final inspection.
“It typically takes two to three weeks from the start to build a trailer,” says Geisler, with an inspection and quality measure sign-off along each step.
Talbert has over 60 dealers throughout the US and Canada that serve the transportation industry covering commercial, military, government, aerospace, and energy applications, as well as in-plant material handling movers and manufacturing systems.
“Our product line includes hydraulic and mechanical lowbed and double drop trailers, tag-a-long, utility, traveling axle, hydraulic tail, specialty, and East & West Coast spread axles,” says Geisler.
Whether you’re building a road or pipeline or hauling equipment, he asserts that “We have the perfect trailer to meet your transportation needs, and we can build a custom trailer if you have a special request.”
And some of those requests have indeed been very special.
“We have been called on for some unique challenges over the years, especially recently. During Operation Desert Storm we built 150 tank transporters to move the M1 Abrams tanks where we added a lengthened deck to handle two Bradley Fighting Vehicles on one load.
“But one of my personal favorites occurred at the end of the Gulf War. The Kuwait Oil Company urgently needed two giant 250-ton trailers to rebuild the oil fields that had been destroyed and set ablaze, so Talbert was called and stepped up to the plate as we designed and delivered both trailers—in less than 60 days!”
A few years ago they also answered a call from the Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Corvette Museum that had experienced a massive sinkhole on February 12, 2014. In a state rife with limestone karst and caves, the earth simply opened up at 5:39 a.m. under the museum dome and swallowed up eight irreplaceable Corvettes in a sinkhole that was 60 feet wide and about 60 feet deep.
“They lost a lot of the valuable collectible cars, and they asked us to help. The Museum folks were extremely grateful to us, as the Talbert trailer was instrumental in getting a variety of heavy equipment where it needed to be—not just to get the cars out, but to also mobilize cranes, heavy equipment, and materials that were needed to restore the building and perform the restorations and rebuilding.”
Geisler says Talbert is an ISO company which, he explains, is a standing “awarded to companies who meet this non-governmental organization’s international standards. This ensures that companies who buy from an ISO know it was produced using a consistent level of technology, safety, and manufacturing.
“Our ISO accreditation is another indicator that our company leadership is buying and driving the quality of Talbert Manufacturing,” affirms Geisler.
Credit: Trail King
The Trail King HG series
Bridging the Concepts
“Sometimes it becomes a profitable move to change direction.” For the 100+-year-old Rogers Brothers Corporation, that’s exactly what happened, says Jay Kulyk, president of the Northwest Pennsylvania-based trailer manufacturer.
“The company was founded by my great-grandfather, Louis Rogers, and his brothers, Charles and Hugh, in 1905. For the company’s first decade, they primarily built bridges and other steel structures. In those days it was common practice for the steel for the bridges to be fabricated onsite. Rogers was one of the first companies to prefabricate the steel structures for use in the bridges at their factory and ship them to the bridge site, either by rail or on trailers they built for their own use.”
Kulyk says that soon after, “the company began to design and manufacture trailers for commercial sale as well.”
“By 1914, we were making heavy-duty trailers to bring the steel to where it needed to be. By 1915, Rogers had left the bridge construction market altogether and was fully engaged in the manufacture of heavy-duty commercial trailers.”
As large cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York City began to rapidly grow, there was a great need for bridge and road construction. Rogers realized tremendous success in supplying trailers to those markets, and this area of the country remains our strongest market. During this period, Rogers was at the forefront of the heavy-duty trailer business, introducing products and technologies that are now common to the industry. The “gooseneck” was first introduced in the early 1920s as was the power-lift, detachable gooseneck in the 1940s.
Kulyk says, “Today, the changes we make to trailers that we build are more frequently a reflection of market trends than company invention. For example, the hydraulic detachable gooseneck trailers we build today are somewhat longer and lighter than similar trailers we built only a few decades ago. As construction equipment has gotten larger and heavier, we have adjusted our trailer designs to accommodate those machines.”
“We make our own wide flange beams for the main carrying members of the trailer frame from high-strength steel plate, and then cut these into flanges and webs with a cambered arch in order to make the trailer lighter. Rolled structural beams were previously the norm for trailer manufacturing but, in the last 20 years, Rogers has gone completely into engineering and fabrication of their own beams.”
Kulyk adds, “As the machinery which is used by customers gets taller, Rogers has designed trailers with platforms that are increasingly lower to the ground. We’re seeing some trailers with loaded deck heights that are as low as 18 inches high, where 10 years ago, 20 to 23 inches was the standard. In the Midwest, higher deck heights are still common, but in the Northeast where the infrastructure is older, roadways are more densely connected and serviced by older bridges that have lower clearance heights. But, we still have to get bigger machines under the bridges that are 13 feet, six inches high, and, in some places, even less.”
He says, “One of the primary changes today, versus 20 years ago, is reflected in the trend to air-ride suspensions compared to mechanical or spring suspensions. When I came on board here years ago we built nearly half our hydraulic detachable gooseneck trailers on springs or mechanical suspensions but today, virtually all of those trailers are equipped with air-ride suspensions.”
An air-ride suspension uses air springs to support the weight on each axle instead of leaftype spring on other suspensions. Air springs provide a smoother ride than a mechanical suspension and, since the springs use a common source for their air supply, they also provide better weight distribution across multiple axles. Special valves can be added to the trailer to provide ride height adjustability to raise or lower the trailer deck height when needed or to lift a single axle off the ground when the trailer is traveling unloaded in order to minimize tire wear.
Kulyk describes one trailer featuring the Gentle Riser deck which was a custom design recently manufactured for a prominent paving contractor located in Northern Virginia.
“This trailer is a 35-ton capacity Ultima Series with a platform deck and the Rogers ‘No Foot’ non-ground bearing gooseneck. It also features our Gentle Riser transition from the platform deck to the load space over the rear frame of the trailer and air-ride suspensions. Most trailers have a 30 to 36 degree incline which only some machines can climb. The 16 degree incline provided by the Gentle Riser is most useful for paving companies that have asphalt pavers, rollers, or sweepers, as this design lets them carry two or three pieces on one load.”
Credit: Talbert Trailers
Loading up a Talbert Trailer
“Additionally, the rear frame is designed with a unique spread of about 100 inches between the trailer axles. The customer wanted the additional space in order to carry multiple machines on each haul,” explains Kulyk. “Extra-long, low profile front loading ramps allow machines to safely and easily climb on to the trailer deck. And custom designed lighted tool boxes built into the Gentle Riser area provide additional storage for chains or tools.”
Rogers uses only high-quality, reliable components on their trailers including Ingersoll axles, Ridewell suspensions, Yokohama tires, Truck Lite LE lights, and Meritor-WABCO antilock braking systems. The company offers customers a seven-year structural warranty. “There is no extra charge for this—it’s part of the sale and, actually, we’ve had very few claims because our trailers are made so well,” says Kulyk.
“We continuously evaluate the designs of our products to find opportunities for improvement in the performance and versatility of the trailers we manufacture for our customers.”
Credit: Talbert Trailers
A Talbert Trailer hauls Jersey barriers
Trailing Upwards With Time
As companies get bigger their needs change, and spokesperson Amanda Dodd at Mansfield, Texas-based Interstate Trailers, Inc. says, “You have to make the right changes for hauling.”
Interstate is now celebrating its 35th anniversary and Dodd says, “We are still family owned, with some of our current force of 55 employees still working here, or related to former employers from years back.”
Dodd says many of their original customers are also still with them and as those clients’ business grow, she says they are advised to get rid of their smaller trailers and go up a size or two.
“This gives them flexibility to haul bigger equipment and become more versatile in their own business.”
She says that about four years ago they developed an air ramp “and the government is eating it up—they love it.”
Dodd says it is very safe “because it is air operated versus electric over hydraulic.”
“It hooks onto the truck and it is a much cleaner design; there are no lines and all you do is press a button for operation. Plus, it’s very safe for preventing worker’s comp claims as there are no more crushed hands or back injuries with this system.”
She explains there are two air bags for the ramps and a hydraulic damper with a cylinder in the middle, and this hooks into the air of the truck, and the damper is what delivers “a very smooth operation; it’s not herky-jerky, and it makes loading easy and reliable.”
“You need the right trailer for the right weight you’re hauling, and one thing we do is connect our engineer with the customer so there’s no guessing game about axle weights and your loads.”
As equipment gets bigger and heavier, Dodd is concerned people may try to put a 20,000-pound backhoe on a trailer whose axles could potentially give way. “There’s a lot of safety concerns.”
Dodd relates their manufacturing side, which turns five plus units per day.
“The process actually starts outside where we store our axles and steel, then it’s fed into a far side of the plant, and cut from spec. We then go to our burn machine—some of our trailers have pierced beams—and the fabricated parts are burned, then this all goes down to blasting machines to clean the steel.
“Next it goes into where the main beams are cold-formed as we have continuous beam construction. The tongue is then welded to the deck; this is critical because this is an area that experiences stress and break potential.
“After this step, it is assigned to the appropriate line since we have four lines running at once—each a different model—and once it is fitted out to that model specs, then it goes to the paint area where we use a high-quality urethane paint product.”
Interstate truly runs the gamut of trailer options with retail prices ranging from under $10,000 to six figures with classes of trailers ranging from four to 60 tons including tag, tilt, lowboys, and utility models. But for the heaviest work, she says the trend now is for trailers to tilt, rather than employ the “beavertail” option for loading and unloading.
“What we are seeing is customers are preferring this tilt option. With tilting, you do not have to worry about a big ‘slam down’ when loading heavy excavation or paving equipment on and off the trailer typically associated with a beavertail
“The tilt is just a gentle lowering, but moreover, there is no high-stress break point. The microscopic cracks that welds can develop under stress can eventually lead to full-blown breaks on a job—and that’s when you least expect nor want them,” asserts Dodd.
In front of Interstate Trailers in Mansfield, TX
Good Engineering Equals Safety
When Towmaster talks about safe hauling, “It’s due to the fact that we have a super-strong, well-engineered frame that will hold the designed cargo weight for daily hauling,” says Shane Zeppelin, spokesperson for the Minnesota-based manufacturer.
Targeting the municipal, utility, construction, and rental markets “along with some penetration in the landscaping and agriculture markets, we pay attention to market trends and our customer’s needs,” adds Zeppelin. He says that design changes are typically responding to the trends in equipment changes.
Credit: Rogers Trailers
A Rogers trailer detached with ramps deployed
“For example, as skid-loaders got wider, so did our trailer decks, and as customers demanded brighter lighting, our lights changed from incandescent to LED. And for customers, municipalities, and utility markets who are hauling in harsher climates, we’ve added an optional hot-dipped galvanizing finish that’s an added protection and keeps them from worrying about having to repaint their trailers every three to
Zeppelin says Towmaster is sold through a nationwide network of equipment dealers who already sell big name equipment. But the rental market is another lucrative arena for the company.
Credit: Rogers Trailers
A Rogers trailer equipped with cobraneck
“Most of our large rental customers tell us they [Towmaster] offer a larger investment return as they are able to rent them out longer and make more profit. Testimonials from the rental customers tell us they love the brand and are loyal repeat buyers.”
The line offers many sizes and styles of flatbed equipment trailers ranging from two-ton to 60-ton capacity. Zeppelin says that each design family has traits that lend itself to different equipment such as skid-loaders, backhoes, UTV’s, excavators, dozers, rollers, and more, “although there can be a lot of crossover.”
“One of our most popular trailer models is the T-12DT tilt-bed trailer with a six-ton capacity and featuring a tilting deck and low-approach angle that makes it very easy to load and unload.
“Our Dexter Torflex suspension axle allows this trailer to pull smoothly and effortlessly while the deck locking mechanism strongly secures the deck to the frame. It also has trouble-free LED lights and is a popular model with rental companies because it’s easy to use and is customer-friendly.”
But for the industrial markets, Towmaster has the T-120DTG model that is popular in the heavy hauling construction markets.
“This 60-ton trailer can take on the tough jobs with its detachable gooseneck-style trailer and we can up-fit the model with jeep and booster options for hauling those big excavators, dozers, and earthmovers,” says Zeppelin.
Using only US-sourced steel, Zeppelin explains, this is brought in as sheet, plate, rod, angle, channel, and I-beam product.
“Our team of men and women do a great job in skillfully fabricating our trailer in the plant; each one is hand-built. We do use robots for some of the repetitive welds on components and ramps, but this is controlled by craftspeople to make sure it’s all done perfectly.”
After the raw materials are in place, he says the fabricators laser cut, saw, machine, and form the steel into the correct parts.
“Those parts are sent to the trailer lines where the trailers are welded together. Some start life as an axle and frame, and others start as a frame and the axles are placed onto them later on the line. The crossmembers are affixed to the main beams and then the rest of components welded on as they go down the line,” says Zeppelin. He adds that they are finished structurally at that point, and next go down to blasting to remove scale and oils prior to painting.
“After the paint is dry, they are fitted with the finishing touches of lights and decals, and decking with white oak, and then they are ready for inspection, and finally, shipping to the dealer.”
Like so many industries, Towmaster has joined the world of smart-device apps. In 2013, Zeppelin says that they were the first company in the trailer world to have an app that launched that year. He says it includes product information, product images, and links to the company’s social media and websites, plus has dealer-specific content.
“While it’s actually more useful for dealer salespeople, we’re seeing a growing usage by consumers who want to easily look up model information offline. We consider ourselves a ‘Cadillac’ brand in the trailer market, so we continue to make products that address customer special needs and that live up to the quality our customers expect.”