Sometimes people keep lightweight equipment from paying off

Investing in lightweight equipment like this aluminum-and-steel landing gear from Jost could be for naught in some situations. (Photo by Tom Berg)

“Trailer Talk” blog by Tom Berg, Senior Editor

Many truckers seek lightweight equipment so they can carry more payload, and manufacturers strive to cut poundage from their vehicles. But in the real world, how much cargo goes aboard often depends on the guy doing the loading.

This came to mind as I reviewed my photos that I shot at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., about a month ago. East Manufacturing was showing an aluminum dump trailer fitted with a aluminum-and-steel landing gear from Jost International. The aluminum sleeve and feet saved 35 to 40 pounds compared to a set of all-steel landing gear, said representatives at the Jost booth. That’s not much compared to the thousands of pounds slashed out of a vehicle by using aluminum in major structural members, and in the walls, floors and tailgate. But details like this add up, or down, as the case may be.

The added payload capacity comes at a cost of thousands of dollars, depending on the trailer type and market pressures. Truckers have to pay the higher prices if they want to add productivity and earn more revenue on each trip.

Aluminum meanwhile is among the many commodities that are going up in price as the economy recovers and creates demand for products made from it. Trailer makers can cut weight with aluminum and other lightweight materials, and they can make a lot of trailers as orders get stronger. But competition from other builders holds down prices, so they can’t always make much money on the deals.

In spite of all that, let’s say that a lightweight trailer or truck body is now on the road, and the driver eases into a construction materials yard to take on a load of asphalt for a street paving project. He positions the rig under the loading tipple and the old guy in the shack above pushes some buttons and 22 tons of the hot, black stuff thump aboard. That’s what the trucks common in this area can legally haul, so everyone gets the same.

The driver knows that his lightweight rig can carry 25 tons or more, and he’s in touch with the old guy by CB radio, but he doesn’t argue. It’ll only tee the guy off, and who knows what will happen if he gets mad at this driver. Go with the flow, even if it’s less than it should be. So the productivity the truck’s owner paid for is wasted on this trip and every other one made from this yard.

I saw this very thing happen some years ago while researching a story on a new lightweight truck-and-trailer rig in California. The driver shrugged and said the old guy up in the house didn’t like to change. Maybe some phone calls could’ve been made to try to educate the old guy, but it was none of my business. I was glad to be allowed in the truck and to later drive it so I could write about it. But I’ve got to think this sort of thing happens a lot, at many places where trucks take on cargo.

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