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Old 05-18-2009, 11:57 PM   #1
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tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

I've been kicking an idea around in my head for a few months now, and thought I'd finally ask for some opinions here. Now I know, I know... asking for an opinion here is a risky proposition... since nobody here wants to share their opinions. lol

Anyway, crazy crazy idea time....

Has anyone thought about taking a 16' to 18' cargo carrier/tractor trailer trailer unit and converting it to be pintle hitch instead of 5th wheel and using it as the portable garage for carrying your vehicle/bike/tools/garden hoses/whatever? Technically, I think I could go up to a 20' length, and with a tongue length, not exceed the 65' limit.

I figure with a bus that is already configured with air brakes, adapting the bus to feed air to the trailer wouldn't be that involved. The same connectors that tractor trailers use would be just right for that purpose of course.

Also, these units tend to be extremely durable. No need to worry about your car getting tar from the road on it.

I imagine the conversion from a 5th wheel assembly to a pintle hitch assembly would be non-trivial. Removal of the 5th wheel ought not be that difficult, but adding a tongue without compromising the frame might be quite difficult.

I realize that this would likely reduce the cargo capacity of said trailer. However, if it were a unit with 2 positionable axles, you could do a good job of balancing the loads.

For someone with a front engine bus, it would probably be easier to just shorten the body of the bus and put a 5th wheel hitch back there. However, I have a rear engine bus, and I just don't think that'd work out.

Other thoughts I had were that the cargo unit would be shorter than the bus once the bus roof is raised, so perhaps the satellite mount could go on the cargo unit. For that matter, solar panels could go there too, and remove the worry of holes in my planned roof. The cargo unit could be parked in the sun with clear southern exposure while the rig remained in the shade.

Anyway, I know it is one of the crazier ideas I've heard. Just wondered what others think of the idea. Does it have enough merit for me to keep kicking the idea around, or is there some major gotcha that I've missed?

Thanks,
jim
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Old 05-19-2009, 12:21 AM   #2
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

If I understand what youre asking (i'm not sure) it should actually be fairly easy, have you ever seen the double pup trailers? They make a converter dolly that puts a pair of wheels and a fifth wheel under the trailer and has a pintle hitch off the front which attaches to the trailer in front of it. Theyre normally only used for lighter trailers (28ft is the most common with a single rear axle), i'm not sure what shorter trailers are made.

I was considering on doing something like this if I make my own conversion to haul extra stuff in a trailer behind the bus.

However the problem is the towing weight. Can your bus haul the 10-20k lbs of weight fine?


I'd still kick the idea around a bit. Let me know if you go ahead with anything, the notion of putting the solar on the trailer and say batteries and cabling your power over to the shade is interesting. I'm not planning on doing anything this fancy soon so I wont be researching it much beyond the detail I know above but maybe that can get you started, find out about those converter dollies and pup trailers. They actually shouldn't be all that expensive. A 28ft pup trailer is probably going to be alot cheaper than a 20ft or shorter one due to market abundance possibly to the tune of thousands. I haven't really seen 20ft semi trailers or you'd have to pay to shorten one.
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Old 05-19-2009, 02:51 AM   #3
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

the real problem is the weighmasters etc,
they look at a commercial trailer and say that once it is a commercial trailer it's for commercial use.
I follow one of the class 8 truck conversion sites and this info comes from there, it appears that their have been some abuse by race teams and the profit/not for profit issues and that the winnings are income and therefore it is a for profit operation etc, anyhow the current ruling looks like if it looks commercial or it was commercial it is commercial

look closely at a semi trailer, they use the top and bottom rails and skin for the trailer frame, the suspension and axles are on a mini frame that is usually on a slide apparatus that allows the wheelbase to be changed, these trailers are relatively heavy and to cut into the floof and lower rails to onstall trailer axles would compromise the structure.

next look closely at a van box on a straight truck, they rely on the frame of the truck for strength and are lightweight construction, almost begging to be set down on a relatively light trailer frame and have wheel wells cut into the floor and bottom rails leaving an enclosed trailer that is close to the ground, user friendly and doesn't look like a commercial trailer.

it gets even more interesting when my mind starts to wander and i think about using a long trailer tongue and a pintle hitch way forward of the rear bumper up near the rear axle like the euro trucks use, it's got to help the trailer follow better and probably help to smooth out the ride because the trailer has less leverage on the back of the bus

thoughts and comments welcome please.
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Old 05-19-2009, 09:45 AM   #4
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Quote:
Originally Posted by paul iossi
the real problem is the weighmasters etc,
they look at a commercial trailer and say that once it is a commercial trailer it's for commercial use.
I follow one of the class 8 truck conversion sites and this info comes from there, it appears that their have been some abuse by race teams and the profit/not for profit issues and that the winnings are income and therefore it is a for profit operation etc, anyhow the current ruling looks like if it looks commercial or it was commercial it is commercial
Ahh, that's exactly the kind of thing I was worried about. I definitely *don't* want to be dealing with upset DOT folks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by paul iossi
look closely at a semi trailer, they use the top and bottom rails and skin for the trailer frame, the suspension and axles are on a mini frame that is usually on a slide apparatus that allows the wheelbase to be changed, these trailers are relatively heavy and to cut into the floof and lower rails to onstall trailer axles would compromise the structure.
Yeah, I see a lot of them on my daily commute (an hour each way... *shudder*... but it helps pay for the bus work...), and I've noticed the myriad of designs. Some tractor trailer trailers appear to not be modular, but the modular ones are much stronger looking. And the adjustable axle position is appealing. The biggest thing to my mind is having the air brakes vs electric brakes. I hadn't thought about trying to lower it at all, but with the commercial appearance, that makes sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by paul iossi
next look closely at a van box on a straight truck, they rely on the frame of the truck for strength and are lightweight construction, almost begging to be set down on a relatively light trailer frame and have wheel wells cut into the floor and bottom rails leaving an enclosed trailer that is close to the ground, user friendly and doesn't look like a commercial trailer.
Now that's something I never thought of. That's probably the smartest way to do it. I've seen several old u-haul trucks that would be good for that, with a rollup rear door and everything. Now ya have me thinking!

Quote:
Originally Posted by paul iossi
it gets even more interesting when my mind starts to wander and i think about using a long trailer tongue and a pintle hitch way forward of the rear bumper up near the rear axle like the euro trucks use, it's got to help the trailer follow better and probably help to smooth out the ride because the trailer has less leverage on the back of the bus

thoughts and comments welcome please.
Paul, I like the way you think. Dad and I have kicked around the idea of having the pintle hitch be beneath the bus body somehow, maintaing the radius such that the trailer couldn't possibly scrub the bus, but so that it would streamline the entire rig. The aerodynamics would have to be improved, no?

Hrm, a decent sized box truck, lowered frame, add air brakes or an air brake axle, pintle hitch underneath the bus, I could go a lot closer to 25' for the box. Maybe 22'. My bus is actually closer to 39' in length than 40', so there's a little wiggle room there.

I'd eventually like to have a decent 4x4 pickup truck (my gf insists on a chevy) and a couple of dirt bikes kept within the box. So assuming the truck isn't too long, that'd do it. And, I'd have more room for more tools, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
If I understand what youre asking (i'm not sure) it should actually be fairly easy, have you ever seen the double pup trailers? They make a converter dolly that puts a pair of wheels and a fifth wheel under the trailer and has a pintle hitch off the front which attaches to the trailer in front of it. Theyre normally only used for lighter trailers (28ft is the most common with a single rear axle), i'm not sure what shorter trailers are made.
I definitely want to avoid those adapters. Some states consider that "double towing", which is illegal in some states.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
However the problem is the towing weight. Can your bus haul the 10-20k lbs of weight fine?
My bus has a GVWR of 33,280. I haven't yet had it empty to go find the current unconverted empty weight, but will be doing that in the not distant future. I also plan to weigh it empty again once the roof raise is complete, and probably at several points during the conversion. This way I will make sure to stay under my weight budget. Granted, the weight budget is pretty high. I know the bus is a bit too light at the front at the moment as I had a few episodes of porpoising when I drove it home from GA. Of course, the bus had no seats or kids, so that might've contributed... lol

Unfortunately, very few bus manufactures included a GCVWR rating back in the day. So, I figure if I stay under 10K behind the bus, with appropriate braking ability, things should be ok. I'm not too worried about getting things moving, but I'm definitely paranoid about making sure things can be stopped.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
A 28ft pup trailer is probably going to be alot cheaper than a 20ft or shorter one due to market abundance possibly to the tune of thousands. I haven't really seen 20ft semi trailers or you'd have to pay to shorten one.
Around here there are containers in all sorts of sizes all over the place. Whether any of them are available at a reasonable price or not is another question.

thanks for the thoughts guys,
jim
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Old 05-19-2009, 10:53 AM   #5
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Quote:
Originally Posted by baadpuppy
Around here there are containers in all sorts of sizes all over the place. Whether any of them are available at a reasonable price or not is another question.
again, I think that a comercial container like an overseas shiping container is going to look commercial and attract attention from the law, but if you want to pursue that route, it can't be to mdifficult to cut the end off of a box, remove a section and then reinstall the endcap either front or rear. just make sure to overlap the skins so that they shed wind and water and don't act like scoops, and funnel the elements into the box.

with some forethought an interchangeable hitch system could be made using reciever hitch type tubes and the trailer could be used as a euro style, regular tag or even a goosneck style trailer, and be used pulled with something other than a dedicated tow vehicle.

Quote:
Originally Posted by baadpuppy
The biggest thing to my mind is having the air brakes vs electric brakes.
imho, a properly setup set electric brake system is as good as or better than air brakes in this relatively light application, easy to install, goofproof to hookup and moisture is not an issue in cold weather, and again air brakes scream commercial trailer and might require a cdl with air brake endorsement.

lots of the rent/lease box trucks are repurposed as vocational trucks with different bodies in their rebirth, good used boxes are available at reasonable prices, look at the truck and truck body dealers for used units.
old mobile homes are a good source for trailer frame material, their axles and brakes are rated for 6,000 pounds each
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Old 05-21-2009, 10:00 AM   #6
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Paul, thanks for the ideas and pointers.

I've been digging around some of those class 8 conversion sites. My pockets are way too shallow to play in their pool.

One important fact I got from there though was that an empty 20 cargo container will weigh about 5400 pounds. That's seriously more weight than I had in mind.

However, I also see from those sites that there are people doing this type of work. Seems their goal is to live within theirs and mine was to haul extra cargo and a vehicle, but the exterior issues are the same.

So, I'm nixing this idea. Also, looking at the availability of truck boxes around here, I don't think I can go that route either.

Another thing I got from the class 8 conversion sites is tips on building from scratch. Things that make you go "hmmm...".

So now I'm thinking my best bet is to keep an eye out for a strong flatbed pintle hitch high capacity trailer for a decent price. Then, I can build my own box on top of it and have things be the way I want from the beginning. With the trailer being already titled, etc, this might just work out great for me.

Frankly, the trailer walls/ceiling don't need to be cargo-container strong. Nor does the unit need to be insulated all that well. So I'm thinking I can knock something out fairly easily once I have a good solid foundation to build on.

Thanks again for all the feedback. I'm glad I asked for opinions here before committing any money to that plan.

jim
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Old 05-21-2009, 11:44 AM   #7
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

my opinion ,for what its worth

is find a 20 or 24' truck box with a good roof skin, should be less than $1500, then find a salvage mobile home frame, if you shop hard enough you can find one that is only 102'' to the outside of the tires, moving the axles and shortening the frame to fit the box is going to be a lot less work and money than building from scratch.

shop the mobile home parks and dealers to find out who is scraping out old trailers, the scrap guy is the place to buy a frame from, you might need to work a deal to have him carefully remove the floor or remove it yourself so that the frame doesn't get twisted like a pretzel, remove all but the front axle, cut the rear of the frame off past your needed length and tow it home, to fit it to the box and move the axles where you want them.

for comparison purposes, my 24' flatdeck gooseneck tandem axle trailer eighs 5400# empty, it,s rated capacity is 14000#.
you should be able to put a frame under an aluminum box and stay at or under 5000#

a 20 or 30 ton trailer, dual wheels tandem axles is going to weigh close to 10000# empty, the beams in the frame are lots thicker and have wider flanges.
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Old 05-21-2009, 08:50 PM   #8
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Could someone share some of those "class 8 conversion site" links? I'm curious about this.


Paul, could you expand a bit on the bit with DOT? I dont have any OTR experience so I don't know what gets flagged and what doesnt. I've wanted to eventually use a pup type trailer (shorter big rig trailer) hauled behind a medium duty 5th wheel for personal use only (no commercial hauling for others) but from that description it sounds like I may have a problem registering/insuring or at least being hassled for doing so by nosy DOT inspectors.


To baadpuppy, I do know you'd need air brakes to use any kind of air braked trailer as the origin, there wont be a way to convert one to electric brakes. And you wont be adding air brakes to a truck that didn't have them to start with - thats more cost and work than it's worth. :P Also the pintle hitch adaptors, I cant see how any state would consider that double towing, that's total news to me?? A bus towing a trailer should only be a normal single tow even with adapters. Btw keeping the weight under 10,000 with a big rig based trailer isn't going to be easy - the 40ft trailers alone probably weigh that, a shorter one is less but you probably wont be putting a 6000lb 4x4 in there on top of it. However if you went with a standard box trailer of whatever type (7x16 or 8x24 for instance) such as the car carriers made for hauling behind a 1 ton pickup you would have electric brakes, a designed 10,000lb approximate weight, a non-commercial appearance, etc. It seems like the effort to use a semi trailer instead of an 8x20 car hauler will cost more and require lots of work in the long run.

-------

I'm confused by the talk of changeable wheelbases and modular trailers though, I don't think i've seen that at all. Unless people are meaning the ISO shipping container haulers which can adjust to haul either 20ft or 40ft containers, which is different than a semi trailer strictly speaking.
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Old 05-21-2009, 10:50 PM   #9
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
Could someone share some of those "class 8 conversion site" links? I'm curious about this.
I just searched google for "class 8 conversion". I didn't bookmark the sites.

Seriously, if I had the right kind of pockets, a class 8 conversion would be sweeeeeeeet...

On the other hand, I have a bus that falls slap dab into the class 8 classification, as the GVWR is greater than 33,000 pounds.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truck_classification

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
To baadpuppy, I do know you'd need air brakes to use any kind of air braked trailer as the origin, there wont be a way to convert one to electric brakes. And you wont be adding air brakes to a truck that didn't have them to start with - thats more cost and work than it's worth. :P
My old pickup truck I just sold had an electric brake controller with a hydraulic line hooked directly into the brake lines. It didn't use any kind of inertial system at all. It was a wonderful brake controller. I really appreciated the true proportional braking.

The inertial brake controllers I've used on other vehicles annoyed me with the inconsistency of responsiveness to braking. Adjusting was also a bit of a pita.

Since my bus has air brakes, I'm willing to bet there's an electric brake adapter somewhere that'll hook right up to the air lines and do true proportional braking... however, I believe the big rigs with air brakes all around have true proportional braking without the extra conversion step. Additionally, a trailer setup with air brakes has a built-in breakaway braking system that doesn't need constant recharging and checking like a battery does. The primary reason I wanted a trailer with air brakes was because I figured it would be at least as good as the setup on the old pickup truck.

I only need my trailer to hold 1 4x4 pickup truck, 2 offroad dirt bikes, some gasoline, a couple generators, some batteries, solar panels, satellite dish, and a bit of miscellaneous materials. It needs to be secure enough to stop the honest people from stealing my stuff. Looking at it from that perspective, I don't need a big rig trailer. The big rig trailer will be heavier, cost more in maintenance, and run the risk of some cop feeling his oats hassling me for not stopping at a scale. Going with a lighter duty trailer seems to make the most sense.

I'm still divided on the whole buy vs build for the box. I think I'll keep my options open for now and just keep an eye out for different things.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
Also the pintle hitch adaptors, I cant see how any state would consider that double towing, that's total news to me?? A bus towing a trailer should only be a normal single tow even with adapters.
My understanding of these is that they attach to the pulling vehicle and provide another axle or 2, and can be pulled independent of having a 5th wheel sitting on it. Also, I believe that with a pintle hitch, it would be able to pivot at the point of the pintle hitch. Since it can also pivot at the 5th wheel plate, that makes a 2 pivot point towing setup, making for 3 individual moving bodies. Whether that is considered towing "double" or not is up for interpretation, and we all know how much room for interpretation there is in the laws.

But legal issues aside, I have no desire to be backing a 3 pivot point system around in a tight area. Ever.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
Btw keeping the weight under 10,000 with a big rig based trailer isn't going to be easy - the 40ft trailers alone probably weigh that, a shorter one is less but you probably wont be putting a 6000lb 4x4 in there on top of it. However if you went with a standard box trailer of whatever type (7x16 or 8x24 for instance) such as the car carriers made for hauling behind a 1 ton pickup you would have electric brakes, a designed 10,000lb approximate weight, a non-commercial appearance, etc. It seems like the effort to use a semi trailer instead of an 8x20 car hauler will cost more and require lots of work in the long run.
Yep, that's pretty much what was established earlier today.

thanks,
jim
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Old 05-22-2009, 01:25 AM   #10
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Re: tractor trailer/cargo carrier conversion?

Quote:
Originally Posted by nearhomeless
Could someone share some of those "class 8 conversion site" links? I'm curious about this.

search truck conversion.net


Paul, could you expand a bit on the bit with DOT? I dont have any OTR experience so I don't know what gets flagged and what doesnt. I've wanted to eventually use a pup type trailer (shorter big rig trailer) hauled behind a medium duty 5th wheel for personal use only (no commercial hauling for others) but from that description it sounds like I may have a problem registering/insuring or at least being hassled for doing so by nosy DOT inspectors.

my understanding is that if it started life with a commercial trailer title that you cannot chaange the title or registration to noncom status.
the other thing is the construction of a box semi trailer is frameless or more specifically the top and bottom siderails are the frame and the roof,floor and sideskins are the structural webs in the beams.


To baadpuppy, I do know you'd need air brakes to use any kind of air braked trailer as the origin, there wont be a way to convert one to electric brakes. And you wont be adding air brakes to a truck that didn't have them to start with - thats more cost and work than it's worth. :P Also the pintle hitch adaptors, I cant see how any state would consider that double towing, that's total news to me?? A bus towing a trailer should only be a normal single tow even with adapters. Btw keeping the weight under 10,000 with a big rig based trailer isn't going to be easy - the 40ft trailers alone probably weigh that, a shorter one is less but you probably wont be putting a 6000lb 4x4 in there on top of it. However if you went with a standard box trailer of whatever type (7x16 or 8x24 for instance) such as the car carriers made for hauling behind a 1 ton pickup you would have electric brakes, a designed 10,000lb approximate weight, a non-commercial appearance, etc. It seems like the effort to use a semi trailer instead of an 8x20 car hauler will cost more and require lots of work in the long run.

-------

I'm confused by the talk of changeable wheelbases and modular trailers though, I don't think i've seen that at all. Unless people are meaning the ISO shipping container haulers which can adjust to haul either 20ft or 40ft containers, which is different than a semi trailer strictly speaking.
looking closely at the underside of a box trailer you will see a pair of perforated framerails on the back half or third of the trailer, the suspension assembly is pinned to this subframe and by locking the trailer brakes and releasing the pins you can slide the trailer front or back on the axles to effectively change the wheelbase or transfer the weight on the axles, fifth wheel hitches can also be setup to slide.

for clarification a pintle hitch consists of the pintle hook on the truck, like a clasp on a necklace, and a lunette eye on the trailer. the wiggle wagons or double bottom trailer setups that you see on big trucks use a fifth wheel setup on the tractor, a pintle hitch on the lead dolly or jeep to the back of the first trailer and another fifth wheel setup for the second trailer to the dolly

a straight truck/skoolie pulling a tag trailer with a pintle hitch is the same as a trailer with a ball hitch, the only difference is that pintle hitches can be had with higher weight capacities and ratings.
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