Trailerin’ the Range

In the 18th and 19th centuries, merchants hitched up a four-wheeled Conestoga wagon to six oxen to transport their spoils across the developing western landscape, carrying up to 7 metric tons of goods and moving at a speed of 15 miles per day.

Although the capacity was enough for hauling a mighty mini loader or excavator, the slow travel speed and frequent water stops for the oxen wouldn’t make the grade for busy contractors on a deadline. Luckily, leaps and bounds have been made in the trailer industry since the 1800s. Now all you need is a single trusty stead (in the form of a medium-duty pickup) and the right size trailer (with lengths spanning 14 to 20 ft) made of the correct material (aluminum, steel or composite metal) to get your hard-working compact equipment to the next jobsite.

While the Conestoga design only offered covered and uncovered wagons, today’s trailers can be lumped into two different sub-groups — low profile and deckover trailers and open or enclosed trailers. Typically, the low profile variety is going to be the trailer of choice for the small equipment hauler. It offers a wider, more stable wheelbase, as this trailer uses longer axles. The wheels are situated outside the frame and the body of the trailer, allowing the trailer deck to sit down between the wheels. This means that the deck height is closer to the ground, providing better stability and a lower angle of ramp incline for the machine to load onto.

A deckover design pits the wheels under the trailer deck and may feature a downward sloping dove or beaver tail at the rear to reduce the height of the deck at the point where the ramp attaches. Typically, a deckover trailer is only recommended for equipment that is wider than the 82 in. of loadable space on a low profile trailer. Conversely, a deckover trailer is required for machines as wide as 102 in.

“Open trailers, or flatbeds, allow more versatility for hauling equipment such as skid steers or mini excavators. For those hauling smaller equipment or require trailers with workbenches or cabinets, an enclosed trailer is an option,” says Randy Lewis, national sales manager for Featherlite Inc. “Meeting with your local dealer is the best way to find the right [trailer] match. Take the measurements of the equipment and note any special requirements you think you might have. The dealer will be able to show you your options and discuss the best match for your cargo.”

As far as trailer options go, there are plenty to choose from. One of the popular options within low profile trailers used for hauling compact equipment is a hydraulically assisted trailer deck;
nearly all the major trailer manufacturers, including JLG, Featherlite, Bri-Mar and Lo Riser, offer hydraulic decks. The degree of hydraulic assistance varies among trailers. With the push of a button, some trailers hydraulically tilt to minimize the ramp angle and some decks lower completely to the ground.

Brake options are another consideration when searching for trailers. Electric brakes tend to be the most popular, with brakes on all the axles for the best performance and safety. However, hydraulic surge brakes and disc brakes are available. Hydraulic surge brakes tend to be more
expensive and are even illegal in some states for commercial use, due to using the trailer’s force against the tow vehicle to initiate the braking. There is little demand for disc brakes on trailers because of the massive expense and availability is limited.

Saddle Up

Just as your forefathers had to match the number of oxen or mules to hitch up to their Conestogas to get across the Great Wagon Road, which ran from Pennsylvania to Georgia, you must find the best marriage between your pickup and equipment trailer. One aspect of trailer match-making has remained the same over the years — overestimating your needs ensures that you’ll be able to haul your load. Six mules are always better than four, and a trailer with a payload capacity of 8,000 lbs is better than 6,000 lbs.

“Always buy more than you think you need — size, gross vehicle weight rating [GVWR], capacity and so on. It’s better to buy more than you think you need and not need it than to buy the bare minimum and need more,” says Micah Goldstein, president and CEO of Bri-Mar. “Consider how the trailer is built, the undercarriage supporting the weight, welding practices, axles and tires and other features and benefits. Spend the same amount of time researching this purchase as you would for the truck that tows it. Like everything else, you get what you pay for.”

As trailer technology progresses and common sense prevails, the trailer price range has increased from trailers starting at $3,000 to some listing around $14,000. Considering that you want to haul several tons, purchasing a trailer isn’t the time to cut corners. To make sure you are buying a trailer that will carry the load, a bit of math is in order. First you need to determine the size and weight of the equipment, if the equipment weights 6,000 lbs, you’ll need a trailer with at least a 6,000-lb payload capacity.

“Payload is calculated by taking the GVWR of the trailer and subtracting the net weight of the empty trailer. For example, a 10,000-lb GVWR trailer that weighs 2,500 lbs empty has a payload of 7,500 lbs,” says Goldstein. “The only other thing to check is the size of the equipment — will it fit easily into the box of the dump trailer or on the deck of an equipment hauler? Obviously, the tow vehicle capacity will need to be adequate as well.”

Determining if your workhorse (pickup) can pull your trailer is a bit more complicated than adding another mule to the lineup. The first calculation to make is the gross trailer weight (GTW) of your fully loaded trailer. So, if you have a 2,500-lb trailer and a 6,000-lb skid steer, then the GTW is 8,500 lbs. It’s a good idea to double check this number by placing the loaded trailer on a vehicle scale, just to be on the safe side.

Next, you must find the tongue weight (TW), which is the downward force put on the hitch ball by the trailer’s coupler. TW is commonly 10 to 15 percent of the GTW and can be measured on a household scale but, again, it’s a safer bet to find the TW at the vehicle scale when you are finding the GTW.

“Most people are using too light a hitch and too light a truck. Lo Riser recommends a Class 5 hitch with a 20,000-lb rated coupler,” says Bill Smith, engineering manager for Advanced Metalworking Co. “A lot of people will just look at the rating of the axle and multiply by the number of axles and think that is what they can carry, but pulling usually isn’t the problem. You have to look at the downward load on the hitch; you have to consider how much downward pressure the rear [truck] axle can handle. Your GVWR is only as strong as the weakest link.”

If you don’t carefully consider the weight of each component, you could end up in trouble. Most 3 1/2-ton pickups have a GVWR around 15,000 lbs. Let’s say that you want to haul a 12,000-lb capacity trailer. You look at 15,000 lbs and 12,000 lbs and think that you can pull it off. But the rated trailer capacity and GTW are not the same. You have to make sure that the weight of the trailer is added into the capacity. If the trailer weight isn’t calculated, you’ll end up trying to haul nearly 16,000 lbs (given the trailer is 3,000 to 4,000 lbs) with a truck that can’t handle it. Also be sure that your GVWR doesn’t exceed 26,000 lbs, as you would most likely need a commercial driver’s license.

“Trailer owners should also consult the owner’s manual for proper [loading] procedures, but there are some general tips. Couple the trailer to the tow vehicle before loading the equipment. The tongue of a bumper pull trailer can rise during loading, before the cargo is properly distributed,” says Lewis. “Also, inspect the floor of the trailer. Open trailers may be fitted with D-ring hold downs and/or a track system that can be used to secure cargo.”

Yippie Kiya!

Now that you’ve got your equipment loaded, you’re ready to ride off into the sunset. Before you hit the range, check the tire pressures and lug nut tightness — be sure that you inflate the tires on the trailer and pickup to the value indicated on the vehicle identification number (VIN), which is the manufacturer’s load rating plate usually located in a pickup’s door jam. Double check that the trailer is coupled to the pickup properly, test all the lights and brakes and ensure that the cargo is properly loaded, balanced and tied down.

You’ll want to take notice of the difference in drive performance since you’ve hitched a 10,000-lb trailer to your pickup. Decreased acceleration, increased stopping distances and increased turning radiuses all need to be considered when trailering equipment. The trailer may also change how your pickup handles, making it more sensitive to steering inputs and more likely to be pushed around in windy conditions.

“Use a lower gear when driving down steep or long grades and don’t ride the brakes, as they can overheat and become ineffective,” says Lewis. “Be aware of your trailer’s height, especially when approaching bridges, roofed areas and around trees. It’s recommended that on long trips you stop every hour to make sure the coupler and cargo are secure.”

Confident that your gear is stowed, you enter your cab and yell, “Giddy Up!” Like your ancestors who braved the Great Appalachian Valley and the Oregon Trail, you’ve loaded your equipment wagon for the highways and byways in search of your next jobsite. As a pioneer in equipment trailering, your researched knowledge leads to worry-free towing and prosperous job opportunities on remote worksites.

Jason Morgan is assistant editor of Compact Equipment.

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