It occurred to me that someone might prefer a picture to all of these words, so here’s a reference you can cut-and-paste:
26 August, 2009
See new safety update at the end of the article.
15 December, 2015. Just replaced the basswood deck on the trailer with another basswood floor. Oak would have been too heavy, so I sawed up another tree from the woodlot, then added 1 large can of Cuprinol, and another of red Tremclad. Basswood likes paint.
October 29, 2008
As I adjusted to the new machine I soon learned I had a problem with the Ranger’s outlandish dimensions: it wouldn’t fit any trailer I owned, so I couldn’t even take it back to the dealer should it need service. Not to worry, I’d been yearning for a new highway trailer for some years now.
I found a good 6X10 utility trailer at a farm implements dealer, but I didn’t like the price. As well, when I inquired at the Ontario License Bureau I learned that: “Only livestock trailers are exempt from provincial sales tax,” regardless of my tree-farm status. I was not about to add another 8% to the already-exorbitant price.
Then I found on Kijiji a set of axles, springs, wheels and tires off a large boat trailer. The 13″ wheels looked as though they would run lower than larger rigging, and allow me to keep the weight down. (What I hadn’t anticipated was that nobody builds fenders for tandem trailers with 13″ wheels.) The owner had replaced the running gear with a heavier set to use for a steel dive boat he owns. The kit looked like an interesting way to start a winter project, so I drove to Kingston and picked up the axles.
I decided to find a welder to make this project happen. Local farm machinery expert Peter Meyers was willing to build it. His loader picked the axles out of my utility trailer and I headed off to the nearest metal yard for some scrap 2″ pipe to extend the axles from 5 to almost 7′.
Through a series of email conversations with pals, I developed the following set of objectives for the trailer:
1. transport the Polaris Ranger;
2. have a versatile bed surface available to transport pieces of machinery, as needed;
3. have a stake trailer available to transport logs and lumber to mill and/or market;
4. have the capacity to transport 1 cubic cord of firewood on the highway, as needed.
The occasional 3-ton capacity and the greater smoothness of towing were why I was interested in a tandem, rather than using just one of the axles. Yet I wanted to stay with a smaller-is-better principle in its building, as I see little point in hauling around a lot of extra height, width and weight. Removable sides would improve the trailer’s potential versatility, but extract a penalty in convenience; i.e: the drive-on-and-forget ease of a golf cart in a 5X8 box with ramp.
The other conundrum had to do with the trailer’s potential length. A ten-footer would carry the Polaris in better balance than a twelve or fourteen, but a longer bed would work better for lumber and logs. Without a back gate a few feet of overhang wouldn’t be such a big deal, though.
Regardless of how it looks, I wanted a tall stake on the right rear corner to provide a fulcrum for swinging heavy planks onto and off the trailer. I have found that a similar device on my old lumber trailer is invaluable in making the transfer from trailer to pile. I pull, lift one end, pivot and drop, never lifting more than half of the weight.
Maybe a flat bed with cleats on the sides would work. I could use heavy ratchet tie-downs like what the lumber yards use, substituting chains for the really heavy stuff.
Another priority was to keep the bed of the trailer as low as was practical, given the nature of the axles and tires. I asked Peter to move the springs to below the axles while he had things apart. This lowered the bed to about 20″. I decided to use a pair of light wooden ramps for access to this trailer and keep my 5X8 with its large tailgate for utility loads such as lawn mowers, golf carts and leaves.
Peter Meyers warned about potential trouble with the Ministry of Transport if we built the trailer too big. I didn’t want to get into the annual-inspections routine or have to install brakes.
The price list at the metal place woke me up. 1 1/2 by 3″, 1/8″ wall square tubing cost 3.60 per foot. Similar 2″ square tubing cost 3.24 per foot. 2 1/2″ angle iron, 3/16″ wall, cost 2.82 per foot.
Notwithstanding my son’s hint that his Porsche is 13 1/2′ long, I decided I’d trim as much “weight” as I could from the trailer at the planning stage, aiming to build a trailer that was neither too large nor too small.
November 3, 2008
I discovered that there are no books on utility trailer construction in the Ontario Library System. The best the research librarian in Smiths Falls could do was a Haynes trailer manual in the collection of the Toronto Public Library, but it’s missing. Maybe I should write a book about this project. Of course I know nothing about the topic, but Peter knows plenty.
We settled upon 3 by 1 1/2″ square tubing for the frame, and Peter likes the idea of continuing the frame sides on to form an “A” tongue. That will mean hauling 18′ steel home. This isn’t much of a problem: one of the many trailers at the farm is a tri-axle narrow flat bed 17′ long.
November 8, 2008
At a junk yard I ran across three, three by four inch beams with boxed ends, 17′ long and 1/8″ in wall thickness. I couldn’t resist, so I brought them to Peter for use as the main structual members of the frame. Another foray into the used market proved fruitless, so I bought the remaining material (mainly 1/8X2X2 square tube) at Heaslip’s in Smiths Falls. Or so I thought. When I delivered the steel, Peter had been thinking about the tongue and decided that it needed to mount as a V beneath the bed, rather than an extension of it, so I needed to pick up an additional 16′ of 3 X 1 1/2″, 1/8th wall. Oh well, over-runs happen. On the other hand Peter cut and lengthened the axles very neatly, then straightened the bent one to where I couldn’t find any evidence of damage. The guy’s great at straightening steel.
The axles are a bit over 3/16″ steel, so I guess the vendor’s claim that they are rated at 3500 pounds isn’t too crazy even if they are only 1 15/16″ in diameter.
We started to think that this might turn into a pretty good trailer.
Nov. 11th, 2008
The basic frame finished up at 11′ 9″ by 6′. The outer frame is made of 3 X 4″ expanded tube, 1/8″ thick, with stringers on two foot centres of 2 X 2. The “A frame” tongue turned out to be on the same level as the top of the bed to accommodate the jack. It’s made of 1 1/2 X 3″ expanded tube, with similar reinforcement underneath to take the weight back to the outer edges of the frame.
I decided to use wide 15/16″ basswood planks for the floor and bolt them to pieces of angle Peter welded on to the front and back cross members for the purpose. That way I didn’t have to drill into the main structure to fasten the wood, and the hollow steel should stay drier without holes in it. The basswood will be strong for ten years and then deteriorate, so I’ll replace the bed at some point before that. Clear basswood’s abundant in the woodlot and surprisingly tough stuff, as long as it isn’t trapped with moisture in a cavity. With the lighter wood I easily kept the trailer under 1000 pounds.
The 6′ tandem fenders I bought at Princess Auto wouldn’t fit the trailer. The existing frame for the fenders had come with the axles, and it was clear that we needed 5′6″ units to fit the space. An Internet search revealed that a trailer store in Stittsville had two in stock, so I gratefully drove in to pick them up. The new fenders also had a teardrop, a rounded lump of sheet metal to occupy some of the empty space between the tops of the tires and provide reinforcement for the flat surface above it.
I asked Peter to rig up out of scrap some sort of “headache bar” for the front to which I could fasten a simple winch for pulling and holding cargo. On a rainy day he created a masterpiece of metal sculpture, but it does the job, too. He also cut 3″ sections of 2X3 square tube and welded them to the frame to make stake pockets along the sides and front for tie-downs, or in case I decide to build a low picket fence around the perimeter, for hauling firewood. I decided to wait and see what I need as a ramp. I do have a couple of planks with aluminum ends from another trailer, so I would try them first.
19 November, 2008
I’ve scrubbed most of the red paint off my hands, but I’d have to describe outdoor painting in late November as a chancy activity at best. The compressor would barely start because the oil was so cold, and when I poured thinned Tremclad into the sprayer I realized that this was unlikely to work. I sprayed around a couple of corners with diminishing success until I gave up and used a roller. That worked pretty well as soon as I gave up any aspiration to do more than prevent rust. The trailer’s a rough piece of equipment, not a show piece, so it was more important to have the metal protected so that I could use it over the winter than to have a gemlike paint job.
The basswood boards went on after two coats of Cuprinol and I worked the rest of a gallon of paint into them, as well. The trailer is now very red.
Just for the record, enamel paint will dry in below-freezing temperatures.
The overall quality of the construction on the trailer seems to be very high. Peter Myers did a great job on it.
December 6th, 2008
The wiring was an interesting challenge on a cold day. Because the trailer is over 80″ wide, Ontario regulations require a set of clearance lights at the back. Everyone looks at them and speculates about how long they will last, exposed as they are to banks and loading docks. I put the wires inside a conduit so that I should in the future be able to fish a new harness from front to back without crawling around on the ground. The rest of the wiring went well. Clearance lights went onto the ends of the headache bar.
Then when I connected the rig to the truck, nothing but the left signal light worked.
On a hunch I tested the lights with a 12v battery. Everything worked perfectly. The truck was the villain. I replaced the back pigtail and then all but the right hand signal worked fine. For some reason my Tacoma won’t fire the right-hand signal on the trailer, though all other lights on truck and trailer work perfectly. So far in a year of ownership, this is the only glitch that has defeated me on my eBay purchase.
The Ranger climbed the planks onto the trailer without difficulty, and so we then had to devise an efficient method of holding the machine in place. When the dealer loaned me his 6 X 12 utility trailer to bring the Ranger home, he simply winched the machine up against the front rail with a heavy strap and left it. The front tires jammed against the railing provided all of the restraint the rig needed for a highway haul.
With a flatbed I figured I’d better do more, so I winched it against the headache bar with a ratchet strap and then attached two more smaller straps from stake pockets at the sides to the trailer hitch at the back of the Ranger.
This proved less effective than a single, strong attachment point at the front, so I added a commercial-grade strap tightener (the kind you use a separate bar to tighten) and installed 7/8″ basswood sideboards to wooden stakes to enclose the bed. This also lined and strengthened the fenders.
The system is still evolving, but one strap with a heavy hook runs from the strap-tightener to an appropriate hole in the undercarriage of the Ranger. The front tires tighten up nicely against the headache bar and so far nothing has moved during a couple of tows over moderately bumpy roads.
I’m still using five-foot 2X8 basswood planks with aluminum ends as a ramp. For now I store them in the bed of the truck when hauling.The tandem trailer works very well, with a smoother ride for the Ranger than I expected. That does not mean that the rig is easy to tow. For my four cylinder pickup the one-ton weight is not a problem, but the sail area on the Ranger is quite considerable, especially with the mesh insert which links the roll bar to the passenger compartment. As I wrote before, the beast towed much better with the mesh removed, but now I have the license plate and the slow moving vehicle sign mounted up there as well, no doubt robbing even more power through wind resistance. I’ll be o.k. in fourth gear for local jaunts. If I need to go far, I’ll remove the mesh grill and use fifth gear on the flat parts.
The rig is now ready for ice fishing season.
UPDATE: March 5, 2009
We may have built a design flaw into the chassis by locating the axles too far forward. The Ranger rides well because it is centred forward of the axles when butted against the headache bar, but I ran into some difficulty with a load of steel pipe this week. When we loaded a bit over a ton of 5″ pipe onto the trailer, it didn’t look as though the load was significantly aft of the centre line. Nevertheless, as soon as I accelerated to highway speed the tail started to wag the dog on no uncertain terms.
Shaken, I retraced my tracks to the nearest service station and inflated the tires. All were below 20 lbs of pressure, even though they seemed rigid when I kicked them before loading. At March temperatures in Ontario, sidewalls become stiff enough to mask a soft tire. I keep re-learning this obvious lesson. In fact, one of my truck’s rear tires was also below 20 pounds and didn’t show it.
With forty in the truck tires and fifty pounds in the trailer’s, I set off again. Still squirrely, but less dangerously so. With that 20′ pipe hanging off the back, the maximum stable speed of the rig was 38 miles per hour. Mild oscilation would begin at 40.
Again, I emphasize that the load didn’t seem seriously overbalanced to the rear. When I unhitched, though, it was clear that I had over 200 pounds of negative hitch weight on the load. Reloaded after some of the pipes were cut into shorter lengths, the trailer behaved better, stable up to about fifty-five miles per hour. This was acceptable, but far from great.
The lesson seems clear: with a wide tandem trailer it’s essential to maintain significant hitch weight. Only time will tell if there’s a design flaw or other defect in the the trailer itself.
A week ago I loaded the Ranger onto the trailer and headed out the driveway. Something didn’t sound right. Grating noise. Rusty bearing? On I went, but cautious. Then I noticed a peculiar cloud of blue smoke following the truck as I accelerated. Getting thicker. Stopped. On the trailer a 1/2″ bolt had freed itself from the tandem evener and was rubbing forcefully against the inside of the right forward tire.
Feeling fortunate that this had happened right in front of the co-op store where I buy my hardware, I cheerfully walked inside, bought a nut, jacked the trailer up, tightened the new nut on, and continued my errand.
Today at long last I got around to checking the other bolts. The mate to the one before had also lost its nut, thereby losing the connecting plate, as well. It was rubbing on the same tire. Most of the other nuts were loose. Obviously things had not been tightened after a temporary assembly when we built the trailer.
A heavy load and a long drive in traffic would have been a recipe for disaster.
1 November, 2009: Over the last month I have made a number of highway hauls with over a ton aboard. The trailer has preformed properly in all respects. Perhaps the earlier instability was at least partly the result of the loose bolts in the undercarriage.
With the bugs worked out, it seems as though the Ranger’s trailer has become a very useful and reliable tool for use with a light pickup truck.