Bottom Line
Modern Trucking Techniques
Versatile and convertible
Convertible trailers open doors, tops and sides to more money

By Paul Abelson
Senior Technical Editor

For most owner-operators with trailers, what you pull is dictated by what you haul. But what if you want to expand your horizons?

With the new convertible trailers on the market, you can spec your trailer to make it more flexible, which can give you more options when looking for loads or for new long-term relationships with new customers. This flexibility may very well have you choosing between higher-paying loads instead of competing for low-revenue hauls.

Curtainside trailers evolved in Europe, where narrow streets prevent older factories and stores in ancient urban locations from having loading docks. It’s amazing to see a truck parked in the middle of a side street, with forklifts attacking it from both sides. That kind of flexibility can speed turnaround at many locations, compared with loading and unloading only through the rear doors.

There are a few OEM-manufactured trailers starting to filter into the market, meeting this ever-growing need for versatility.

Utility Trailer’s Tautliner is typical of soft-sided trailers available in North America. Picture a dry van, complete with front bulkhead, roof and rear doors, but without sidewalls. Additional roof support posts are spaced on the sides. Heavy-duty vinyl-coated fabric (usually polyester) curtains slide along tracks in the roof to enclose the trailer. 

Western Trailers manufactures a curtainside trailer based on the company’s Elite flatbed. The Elite Curtainside features a flexible mounted front bulkhead, rear doorframe, top roller tracks, a roof sheet and roof bows. It is designed to prevent water intrusion. The side curtains are urethane-coated polyester fabric, constructed of a single sheet.

Fontaine Trailer also makes curtainside trailers with their platform trailers. Differences between manufacturers of curtainside trailers are in the hardware used and attachment techniques, but the principal designs are similar.

Beyond converting to a soft-side system, Fontaine also makes the Extendable Flat, a telescoping flatbed trailer that can be extended for extra-long loads. 

Its 45-foot can go to 75 feet. A 53-foot will stretch to 90 feet. Other lengths are also available. If you have an opportunity to go after better-paying oversize loads, telescoping trailers let you handle the occasional load as well as regular platform loads.

Convert your own
Maybe you just bought a flatbed, or your cash flow just isn’t adequate to purchase a new convertible trailer right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add some versatility by “converting” your existing trailer.

Aero Industries’ Conestoga soft-side system does not need a fixed roof. Conestoga systems adapt to a variety of flatbed and drop-deck trailers. They open from the front or rear or from both ends together. They can be opened or closed with a push-pull handle from the ground. A feature I especially appreciate is the set of Uplift Bows, supports that raise the fabric cover to maximize loading height and keep the cover from contacting the load. 

Conestoga assemblies make it easy to locate, secure and tarp metal coils. They provide weatherproof protection without the need to physically throw and secure tarps over each individual coil or stack. 

Some curtainside trailers’ posts can be removed, making them subject to theft or damage. Sliding Systems imports systems from Edscha, a German-based company, which feature side posts that stay secured in the rail but can roll to either side for loading. 

Most soft-side kits can be retrofitted to existing platform trailers including step decks, but modifications may need to be made to each kit for a precise fit. 

Even if you are looking at a new trailer in the next year or so, that doesn’t mean you can’t cash in with an aftermarket kit. Most kits can be transferred from trailer to trailer. And even if the kit you have won’t transfer to your new trailer, it will enhance the resale value of your current trailer.

Why bother?
Offering any type of added service can make you much more valuable to your shippers. In fact, anything you do to satisfy the most demanding customers’ additional needs will let you charge more for your services. You can get a share of the money you save them.

When you increase revenue per haul, virtually all of the increase goes to your bottom line. Maintenance intervals don’t change. There should be no change in fuel economy. The only increased expenses are amortizing the cost of any added equipment. Just a 10-cent per mile increase in average revenue will add $10,000 every 100,000 miles. That’s certainly worth the effort to upgrade your trailer and to seek new opportunities.

Paul Abelson may be reached at


Heat up your profits

Temperature-sensitive loads possible  with a few conversions to your trailer

By Paul Abelson
Senior Technical Editor

Converting a trailer doesn’t mean just adding a tarping system to a flatbed. 

If you can provide temperature stability to meet customers’ needs, you can differentiate yourself and command higher revenue. You don’t need a reefer to protect temperature-sensitive loads, but having an insulated trailer can open other doors.

Insulation adds weight and thickens trailer walls. Great Dane’s

i-Van is a semi-insulated trailer combining a dry van’s structure with press panel insulation. Semi-insulated trailers offer an added measure of temperature stability.

Reefer units can be used as heat pumps to prevent loads from freezing, but fuel-fired heaters from Espar or Webasto, properly sized for the trailer and your temperature requirements, are far more efficient. They pay for themselves in reduced fuel usage and less reefer maintenance. 

Some operators who don’t want the hassle of operating reefers, or don’t want to be dispatched to food warehouses, use insulated trailers just to prevent loads from freezing.

Some shippers prefer to have products-in-process delivered hot, to minimize the need for re-heating. Many chemicals, paints and other temperature-sensitive products must be kept from freezing or excessive heating. 

If weight or cube are considerations for most of your hauls, consider thermal quilts for occasional needs.

Q-Sales and Leasing manufactures insulated quilting to maintain temperatures for products in transit. In addition to quilts sized for everything from pallets to cargo containers, they supply tailored shapes for standard drums and pallets. They are made of the same material that keeps home-delivery pizza steaming hot, as if it just came out of the oven. 

During a cross-country trip, with ambient temperatures ranging from less than 40 to almost 100 degrees, temperature-sensitive chemicals wrapped in Q-Sales quilting varied less than 5 degrees. Drums of photographic chemicals in outdoor storage were prevented from freezing for more than 12 days. Even though ambient temperatures dropped below freezing for 10 of those days, the product never got below 40.


Got questions?
Aero Industries
Great Dane Trailers
(912) 644-2100
Sliding Systems
Western Trailers
Fontaine Trailer
Q-Sales and Leasing
(708) 331-0094
Utility Trailer
(626) 965-1541