Big and Tall Haul

Hauling an oversized load needs the right kind of trailer.

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Credit: Fontaine Heavy-Haul
Matching a Fontaine Magnitude trailer to a Cat excavator
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Height, weight, and width are all factors in trailer selection, but Nathan Uphus, sales manager for Felling Trailers Inc., says that every piece of large equipment assumes its own level of difficulty when it comes to loading, unloading, and hauling. “The most difficult would be over-dimensional [and] overweight equipment requiring special permitting, which couldn’t be hauled legally with a standard road tractor-trailer configuration.”

When equipment is “extra-wide” or has a concentrated footprint weight, it can be difficult to haul, acknowledges Shane Zeppelin, marketing manager, Monroe Towmaster LLC.

Complicating the situation, says Rodney Crim, XL Specialized Trailers Inc., is the fact that “the major manufacturers keep coming out with new products that are heavier, taller, and wider, so we have to come up with new products to accommodate them.”

Traditional trailer sizes of 40 to 50 to 55 tons and even 60 to 65 tons no longer work, Crim continues. “Loads today are 5,000–10,000 pounds heavier.”

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Big vs. Heavy
Both are challenging, acknowledges Ken New, owner, Star Intermodal Transportation, FL, but whether weight or size is more imperative depends on your location and environment. “Height is an issue in Chicago and New York City, due to the bridges.”

Where you are, Ryan Piana, director of sales and marketing and business development, Globe Trailers, poses as the first question to consider. What are your state and region? Which coast are you on? “They are completely different.” And if you’re near the Canadian border, you might prefer to opt for 60-inch axle spacing instead of the 53-inches more commonly used in the US.

Second, what are you hauling? Everything is bigger, taller, wider, heavier, Bob Luttfring, the southeast regional sales manager for Talbert Manufacturing, observes. But taller with a high center of gravity has to be accommodated. Longer loads must accommodate for swing. And some equipment, such as grinders, has all the problems: weight, a width of 9–10 feet, and height. He estimates that about 15–20 feet hang over the back of the trailer or it will need support on the gooseneck.

For extremely heavy loads, a trailer must be reinforced. It can be made wider to stabilize loads up to 9–10 feet wide or made longer. However, Luttfring cautions, if you lengthen the wheelbase, you need more iron. The longer or wider the trailer, the more axles you’ll need.

Will you be traversing mountains? If so, you’ll want a shorter trailer for tighter turns. Over-the-road operators want a longer trailer. Geography can be challenging. What works in the northeast, where height is an issue, doesn’t in Texas, which has tall bridges and where weight is an issue, explains Greg Smith, vice president and business developer, Fontaine Heavy Haul. Crossing state lines complicates the situation. “You end up with a compromise.”

“There is no such thing as a unicorn trailer that does everything,” adds Piana. “You’re going to have to compromise.” The challenge is to match the trailer to the equipment. A trailer may be very versatile, but not one trailer can do everything.

It’s important to know what you’re going to haul a majority of the time to make sure the trailer is built for it, Zeppelin says. “You can have a larger piece of equipment that isn’t necessarily that heavy. You may need more deck space, but not more weight capacity.” However, he adds, a small, heavy piece of equipment will need a heavy-duty trailer, even if it doesn’t require a lot of deck space.

And you’re going to have to know bridge laws, which vary by state.

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Bridge Laws and Other Regulations
The Federal Bridge Gross Weight Formula is used by the Department of Transportation to assess the maximum gross weight of a commercial vehicle based on the number and spacing of axles, with the intention of preventing heavy vehicles from damaging roads and bridges. It limits the weight-to-length ratio of heavy trucks to mitigate the damage that can result from the concentrated weight of short trucks, leading to premature deterioration of bridges.

In addition to federal regulations, each state enacts specific laws. Over-width, -height, or -length trailers may be affected by additional laws that restrict travel to only during the day or night. Some state laws restrict which roads they can travel on, require lead or chase vehicles, or impose time restrictions.

“Every state is different,” says Crim, adding that it is the customer’s responsibility to consult the DOT and make sure they have the right configuration. It’s getting harder, he admits. “Things can change so fast.” His advice is to choose the toughest state laws to adhere to and the others will be ok.

Customers want flexibility, but weight and other constraints can limit that. Federal law limits single axles to 20,000 pounds and axles closer than 96 inches (tandem axles) to 34,000 pounds. Thus, equipment weight can become an issue. “Scrapers are a big problem because they’re so large,” explains Crim, adding that 100,000–115,000 pounds is an issue.

Anything over 80,000 pounds of truck-trailer weight is governed by state regulations, says Luttfring.

Heavy loads can often be dealt with by adding axles. A “tweener” is a 3 + 2 configuration to haul specific equipment, and can save considerable costs, Crim says—$100,000 versus $175,000. Also referred to as an axle spreader, it adds an additional axle to the regular three, spreading the weight. This adds length that extends beyond what some states will allow.

Extra axle groupings like a spreader bar or Globe’s hydraulic flip axle can accommodate heavy loads, but Piana cautions if you’re adding weight, where are you going? “Keep in mind bridge laws,” he urges. An extendable deck can add 30–50 feet, but Piana points out that it will be heavier because of the need to “beef up the rails.” The trade-off, he says, is a loss of versatility.

“There are always trade-offs,” says Smith, especially if an operator is trying to keep within the standard 53-foot overall length. Some states won’t allow the longer length an axle spreader adds. “California is different. There are special requirements there. The standard 53-foot, 55-ton is fine in 40 states, but the 53-foot standard won’t work in California. There’s a 48-foot maximum in California.”

But Luttfring says that height can also be a “big problem” in regards to bridge laws. Operators will encounter restrictions at 13 feet, 6 inches. “If a load is heavy, you can add more axles: the longer the truck, the better. But height is a big problem: 13 1/2 feet is legal; anything above 14 1/2 feet is difficult to transport, especially with an 18-inch deck height.”

New, a Trail King customer, is accustomed to hauling oversized equipment and dealing with bridge laws. When he has to transport an excavator, he likes to run the route first, looking for low tree branches that might require taking off the bucket to gain an extra foot in height.

He also has trailers built with a boom trough to help get the machine lower. The boom trough is an area between the rear frame beams where the frame has been modified to create a trough that can hold the boom or stick of an excavator, thereby reducing the overall height of the loaded machine.

How Low Can You Go?
A common issue is ground clearance. “Everyone wants to go lower and lighter,” reflects Smith, “but you must do one or the other. The flanges and webs of the beams that support the load get heavier as you go lower, so it’s a trade-off.”

Ground clearance depends on whether the trailer is on the road, off-road, on railroad tracks, or uneven ground, says Troy Geisler, vice president, sales and marketing, Talbert Manufacturing Inc. Airbacks can be raised to allow a low bed to gain height in uneven areas.

Ground clearance can be adjusted, Luttfring adds, “a lot in the front, but the rear depends on the suspension.” When pulling an 18-inch deck with 6 inches loaded ground clearance, he says it’s necessary to “get out and raise it, then drop it down for overpasses.” Six inches is considered small ground clearance, but some trailers can drop to 2–4 inches if the equipment height is extreme—although that makes it difficult to clear bridges.

XL builds to suit, Crim says, and now offers a hydraulic detachable 40-inch mini deck with 12 inches of ground clearance. A new model is their 5-inch loaded deck height, 55-ton trailer. “That extra 3 inches makes a difference in removing the cab or exhaust to get under a bridge.”

A rail trailer supports the load in the center and gets the load as low as possible. “It uses the pan of the excavator to support the load, but the tracks can hit the ground,” says Geisler. A drop side-rail trailer is the lowest you can go. However, he adds, a drop side rail can’t carry a wheeled fork truck.

New likes the fact that he can “drive over the top” of a rail trailer and that the equipment doesn’t take up deck space; the tracks just hang down.

The average level deck is 18 inches. A drop is 14 inches—but you can’t carry other equipment on the beam. “A level deck can carry more variety, but height can be an impediment,” Geisler says. “The challenge is that state laws are different. A level deck is the number one choice for the utility industry. They want a long, free-space deck. We make the deck as long as possible, but three axles are the limit because a gooseneck has to swing.”

The type of tractor-trailer combination required to haul a really large excavator, most likely around 75 tons, is called a 13 axle (4-axle tractor, 3-axle jeep, 3-axle trailer, and 3-axle booster).

Duck, Duck, Goose
Pavers typically have to go on a sliding axle trailer because a low angle is important for loading due to little ground clearance.

XL offers a paver trailer with a 16-degree load angle and standard front flip ramp. “If an operator can drive the equipment, there’s no issue loading it,” says Crim, calling it “user-friendly” with self-aligning, self-locking hydraulics. “We can train an operator to hook and unhook it in 15 minutes. You just lock it in; the wedge system guides it. Then you set the ride and go.”

Similarly, Talbert has designed a trailer for minimum load angle, Luttfring says. “You load from the front with the gooseneck off.” The top of the deck and bottom are at a 7-degree load angle.

Fontaine offers a hydraulic detachable gooseneck for the heavy haul industry that allows operators to drive onto the deck. The smallest is a 35-ton, Smith says, although there is a smaller rear-load choice that is a 10–25-ton, typically pulled behind dump trucks. “The gooseneck is a heavy haul divider. It really starts at 35 tons and can carry 70,000 pounds.” He mentions the 50-ton and 55-ton as common sizes for hauling excavators for site prep work. Attached to a tractor weighing 18,000–20,000 pounds, it quickly reaches 80,000 pounds, the bridge law standard for permitted load situations.

“The challenge is the ability to carry big excavators without tearing up the deck with their cleats,” continues Smith. “You want to get as low as possible by curling up the arm.” He considers the gooseneck to be the safest trailer because it can be detached, dropped down, and driven onto.

Globe offers a hydraulic gooseneck detachable on which equipment loads over the front. “It’s safer,” notes Piana, “but people think it takes longer to load.” He says that they timed it, and it actually takes less time to load.

The advantage of a hydraulic gooseneck value is that access to change the ride height is within arm’s length. Chain hangers off the gooseneck fender are also accessible, Piana says. “We are a custom builder, so we go through all the feedback. That’s the reason for the location of handholds and tie-downs.”

Lowboys are well-liked for transporting equipment such as rock crushers and excavators, but it can be a regional preference. “In the west, they like to go over the back,” says Piana, “but in the east, they worry about the angle, snow, and ice.”

Residential zones that are tight on space make sideloading an impossibility. Shorter trailers are generally preferred in subdivisions and other restrictive areas. Nine times out of 10, says Russ Losh, northeast regional sales manager for Talbert, the operator is the expert in factoring loading and unloading. “Study the equipment, ask the drivers.”

Credit: XL Specialized Trailers
The XL Specialized XL80 HDG mini deck

Hello, Operator?
Go with the experience of the driver when it comes to trailers, Piana advises. Most have a pre-load safety inspection checklist that includes securing the load and checking tires, gooseneck, flags, and permits for length and width.

There is a constant need for skilled drivers, states Fontaine’s Smith. Not only must they figure out the load, including the axle-out over the scales and proper strap-down, but they have to be aware of varying regulations as they move across state lines. “The simplest of loads is complicated; this is the most difficult type of hauling.”

An operator must safely move loads. “That’s key,” summarizes Geisler. The operator must be aware of the surroundings, conditions, and tight places, and must demonstrate patience and knowledge.

Operators need training, New insists. “You can’t just jump in and hold the steering wheel. You have to know how to chain down the equipment to secure the load, run the equipment, keep the blade in the vehicle or reduce the footprint of the blade, and a thousand other things.” The challenge, he concurs, is changing rules.

Patience and attention to detail are some of the biggest skills to have, Towmaster’s Zeppelin reckons. “A competent operator with experience will be able to load any machine.” He says they need to move slowly and purposely—and pay close attention to the task at hand in order to make sure that the load gets safely to its destination.

Experience with overweight and over-dimensional loads, along with knowledge of state and federal rules and regulations and permitting is necessary for hauling this type of load, Uphus believes. It requires a high level of experience. “Driving a tractor-trailer takes skill and experience in itself, but when the equipment being hauled gets larger and/or heavier than what’s allowed under legal load limit, it takes immense driver concentration and focus, as these units do not react as quickly as a standard tractor-trailer configuration, which is much slower than a typical passenger vehicle.”

Heavy-haul, multi-axle tractor-trailer combinations require qualified, experienced drivers. But it’s also important to select the right equipment. “At Towmaster, we first have to look at what it is the customer needs to haul,” explains Zepplin. They record the specifications of that equipment and look at the trailers they already make that are able to haul the equipment. Next, they take the existing design and modify it as needed to make sure the equipment can be hauled safely.

Talbert can also customize. “We produce a 10–30-ton tag-along for small equipment,” says Geisler. It is usually pulled behind a dump truck. The make a 30–60-ton lowboy for larger equipment, but for 200 tons and up, it’s all custom. Trailers of this size are used to haul generators, heavy equipment, a D-11 JD bulldozer, and other “massive equipment that needs 170-ton with multiple axles.”

Safety, durability, and resale are important considerations for any kind of equipment, and trailers are no different. Geisler issues a reminder that regular PMs should include trailers. “A PM is key.”

De-icing is important in maintaining the condition of the equipment. If the truck and trailer, lights, wiring, and metal finish are not properly cared for, Geisler said the equipment will begin to deteriorate, but he considers it also a safety issue.

One reason it’s important to maintain equipment in good condition is that construction is on the upswing. Geisler says he expects to see a 1–10% increase, and that Talbert supports it. If the equipment isn’t up to the job, the job doesn’t get done.

It’s just the beginning, Crim believes. “What works in California is coming. The trend will be axle groups that shorten the trailer. The big thing is custom manufacturing—building to specific needs.”

Find the right axle combination to meet state and federal permit laws and match it to the equipment being hauled. But keep in mind that when a complex trailer is designed for one use, it loses
versatility. GX_bug_web

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