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Semi-Trailer 101: A Trailer for Every Need

If you aren’t familiar with terms like Bunny Hopper, Wear Out Your Bumper or Rolling Roadblock, you probably aren’t a truck driver or work in the trucking industry. To those on the outside it can be a business of both myth and mystery. By the way, for those not in the know, they mean: a chronic lane changer, a tailgating vehicle and a slow moving construction vehicle.

Semi trucks, or big rigs, are seen every day on every highway in the country, and the trailers they pull come in all different types. Each style is designed for a different purpose, and their purpose gives them each their own unique shape. One of the first tractor-trailer units conceived was exclusively designed and built to meet a particular transport need.

In 1914, a man in Detroit named Fredric Sibley needed a trailer built specifically to transport his pleasure boat. The carriage builder he hired built him a trailer that could be pulled by a Ford Model T. The trailer was such a success that Sibley asked the carriage builder to make several more similar trailers for his lumber business. That carriage builder was August Charles Fruehauf. In 1918 he incorporated his business and called his creations “semi-trailers,” and thus the Fruehauf Trailer Company was born. His company was a major manufacturer of semi-trailers until 1997. A specific need 100 years ago was behind the invention of a new type of trailer that is now the world-wide standard in transporting practically everything we use.

What types of semi-trailers have their roots in August Fruehauf’s invention? Plenty. Whenever a new need arises, another variation of that early boat trailer is created. Here are some of the types of semi-trailers we see routinely traveling the roads of our country:

• Box Trailer – Sometimes called vans, these are the most common trailers we see. As the name implies, the trailer is a box. It’s fully enclosed and usually opens at the rear. They are used for transporting all kinds of products from auto parts to plastic bags. They make efficient use of space and protect cargo from the elements.

• Refrigerator Trailer (Reefer) – A refrigerated trailer is a box trailer with the added advantage of being cooled. Though common now, when they came into mass usage they transformed the produce and food distribution industry.

• Livestock Trailer – Not all our food needs to be delivered in a refrigerated truck. Some of it is still very much alive and on the hoof like cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens and other animals that are transported live. These trailers are made up of open-air compartments to provide fresh air and ease of cleaning. Depending on the animal, they may be double decked, triple decked or more.

• Tanker Trailer – These trucks play a major role in keeping the country going. Tankers haul practically any liquid you can name. They transport gasoline and other petrochemicals that keep the country on the move, fertilizers, food products like milk and orange juice, and at the opposite extreme, hazardous chemicals. The tanks on these trailers are built with a series of baffles to control the flow of liquids as the truck accelerates, slows down or makes sharp turns.

• Flatbed Trailer- There are several varieties of flatbed trailers. Some are basically a box truck without a top or sides. Others are low-slung, called lowboys. The type used depends on the cargo. A standard flatbed may be used to transport things like lumber, pipes and machinery. Lowboy trailers work for transporting large construction equipment like bulldozers and other equipment wider than the trailer bed. Lowboys are especially good for hauling equipment that would otherwise be too tall to clear bridges and overpasses.

• Belly-Drop Trailer – When dry commodities like grain, powdered chemicals and other similar products are transported, a belly-drop trailer is quick and easy to unload. The driver just drives the trailer over a grid at the drop point and releases the load out the bottom of the trailer. It’s quick and efficient.

The types of semi-trailers is only limited by our needs. Thanks to the ingenuity and creativity of the transportation industry, there will continue to be new types of trailers as long as there is cargo to be moved and drivers to haul it.

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