The Trailer Project

October 29, 2008

Tomorrow’s task is the erection of one of those chintzy little 10 by 10′ portable garages bought mail-order from Winnipeg.  The new Polaris Ranger’s demands must be met, or else I’ll gimp around all winter with icy back and bottom, and my tools will rust from dips in the soggy leaf-container on behind.

A more significant problem rests with the Ranger’s outlandish dimensions:  it won’t fit any trailer I own, so I can’t even take it back to the dealer should it need service.  Not to worry, I’ve 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 rate.  Steel prices are high, eh?

Then I found on Kijiji a set of axles, springs, wheels and tires off a large boat trailer.  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.  Peter Meyers was willing.   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 are why I’m interested in a tandem, rather than using just one of the axles.  Yet I want 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 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 has 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.  My son suggested that his sports car is 13.5 feet long.  How could he know that?

The other thing is that the Polaris likely won’t venture away from the farm much.  The trailer’s far more likely to haul lumber and  machinery for use on the farm.

A system of  stakes seems indicated by the wish list above.  Regadles s of how it looks, I want a tall stake on the right rear to provide a fulcrum for swinging heavy planks onto and off the trailer.  I have found that a similar wooden stake on the 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 will be to keep the bed of the trailer as low as is practical, given the nature of the axles and tires. A 21″ height would be a reasonable target.  I think a pair of ramps will do for access to this trailer.  I’d keep the 5X8 for utility loads such as lawn mowers, golf carts and leaves.

Peter Meyers warned about potential trouble with the Ministry of Transport if we build the trailer too big.  I don’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 costs 3.60 per foot.  Similar 2″ square tubing costs 3.24 per foot.  2 1/2″ angle iron, 3/16″ wall, costs 2.82 per foot.  This tends to shorten a trailer rather quickly.  Let’s see:  5 1/2′ by 9 1/2′ will do it…

Notwithstanding my son’s hint that his Porsche is 13 1/2′ long, I think I’ll trim as much “weight” as I can from the trailer at the planning stage.

That’s about it, so far.

UPDATE:  November 3, 2008

This evening I discovered that there are no books on the subject of 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.

Peter and I settled upon 3 by 1 1/2 square tubing for the frame, and he 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.

UPDATE:  November 8, 2008

At a junk yard I ran across three, three by four inch beams, 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 needs to mount as a V beneath the bed, rather than an extension of it, so I need 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.  The springs are 5 leaf, now moved to beneath the axles to lower the trailer bed.

This may turn into a pretty good trailer.

UPDATE:  Nov. 11th, 2008

The basic frame is now complete 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 is on the same level as the top of the bed, 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.  Peter will next turn the frame over onto the suspension and weld on the large tandem fenders.  I think I’ll use 1 1/4″ basswood planks for the floor and bolt the planks to pieces of angle Peter welded on to the front and back cross members for the purpose.  That way I won’t have to drill into the main structure to fasten the wood, and the hollow steel should stay dryer 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 can easily keep 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 can fasten a simple winch for pulling and holding cargo.  He’ll also put 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’ll wait and see what I need as a ramp.  I do have a couple of planks with aluminum ends from another trailer, so I’ll try them first.

UPDATE: 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.

Next I’ll wire it, then fasten the boards on.  It may take a few days for the paint to dry, though, as it hasn’t gotten above freezing for a while around here.

The overall quality of the construction on the trailer seems to be very high.   Peter Myers did a great job on it.

UPDATE:  December 6th, 2008

The wiring was an interesting challenge on a cold November 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 the truck.

The Ranger loaded 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 pulled 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 strenghtened the fenders.

I’m still using four-foot 2X6 basswood planks with aluminum ends as a ramp.  For now I store them in the bed of the truck when hauling.

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.

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 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 highway.

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Dolly, the Belgian Mare

February 27, 2008

If you were to believe the photos on the stairway of my mother’s house you would swear that I could ride a horse before I walked. While this is not an inaccurate impression, it fails to take into account the forty-five year gap in my equestrian exploits after a series of disasters with a mean little pinto stallion named Tony that my dad figured I would somehow grow into.

The bites and bruises eventually became too much, and the homicidal little maniac went to a riding stable where he apparently settled down nicely. By my sixth year I had decided that dogs were more trustworthy, and that was that.

Of course everyone else in my family loves horses. My dad’s Belgians made great moving wallpaper, I’ll grant them that. They were beautiful, placid animals, and if you treated them like large, dull-witted golden retrievers they weren’t hard to get along with at all.

I had come up with a variety of methods of gathering sap from my two dozen buckets when the maple syrup run began each year. The first season there was no snow, so the golf cart did the job quickly and efficiently. The next year I upended the oil drum on the back of a vintage Ski Doo Alpine purchased for the purpose. As long as it sat and idled willingly while I gathered the sap it was fine, but with twenty-five gallons of product on the back it was hard to steer, even though the ride was much improved. When it stalled there was always some question if I would have the strength to restart its huge, high-compression motor.

The year after that the Alpine was in pieces and my tractor and trailer had the sap-gathering job. One morning after a heavy snowfall I needed to go back and look at the buckets and see if the little covers had kept the snow out, or if I would need to dump them before the next run.

The snow was too deep for the tractor, so I put the bridle on an amazed Dolly and led her out of the stable. The next hour was quite an education for me on the thinking patterns of a kindly Belgian mare.

I knew she’d be careful to protect me from harm if I climbed onto her back, so I mounted up off a nearby fence. Dolly didn’t mind, but my pelvis sent out an urgent distress call as soon as I straddled her broad back. I could put my legs over all right, but my hip joints felt as though they were being torn apart. There must be a more comfortable way to do this. Sidesaddle?

As a kid I sat right on the horse’s neck and dug my fingers into the mane to stay on, then kicked like crazy with my feet to direct the horse, but somehow as an adult it didn’t seem right to sit on top of the horse’s shoulders. She might stop for a bite to eat and I’d be down around her ears. I settled in over the saddle area and hoped numbness would come quickly. The ride was nice and warm, though.

Dolly agreed to go for a walk, but when she got about two hundred feet from the barn she stopped, gently turned around, and walked back. Huh? Mom later told me that my dad had trained her to walk that route with the many kids over the years who had come to the farm for a ride.

Now Dolly was my friend, but this wouldn’t do, so the next circuit out I used the bit and my heels to make it clear to her that we’d venture a little further afield this time. A snort and some head-shaking, and Dolly reluctantly plugged back the lane through the deep snow. I noticed that without her partner, Duke, Dolly walked exactly in the middle of whatever lane she faced.

This posed a problem in the woods. I wanted to look into the sap buckets without getting off the horse, so I tried to persuade Dolly to move over closer to the trees. No way. She just wouldn’t do it, for fear of scraping her rider off on a tree, I guess. Whatever I tried by way of backing her up, turning at ninety degrees to the trail, stopping, speeding up – they all ended with Dolly, whatever direction she ended up facing, standing exactly in the middle of the logging road.

Eventually I gave up and headed Dolly back to the stable, but because the snow drifts were very deep I thought I’d cut out into the field to find easier walking for the horse. That’s where we hit the frozen puddles. They happen often in spring. The water drains away from beneath an inch of ice. This day they were covered by snow and invisible to both horse and rider.

Poor Dolly. Every time she cracked the ice the horse thought she was going to die. She didn’t start or buck or balk, she just internalized the panic, but I could feel the shudder slowly run down her neck, along her spine, through her ribs and back to her tail — every time she took a step which cracked ice. And we had a great deal of ice to crack: it was a ten-acre field. It made no difference to her that she had pastured this field every day of her life and had come to no harm, or that the previous dozen crunches underfoot hadn’t actually hurt her. Nope, she was going to drown, she just knew it, and yet she nobly shivered her way across the field to the barn.

She was a glum and tired horse by the time she regained her stall. When I landed on the ground I discovered I could hardly walk for bowleggedness, but my hip joints recovered fairly quickly.

I immediately got to work on the ailing snowmobile. It has always been more than willing to run into trees, and I had had enough of getting out-thought by my vehicle. There was no danger of the Alpine doing that.