By Suzanne Stempinski
How big is big enough? How much stuff is enough? How much weight can you carry? How long can you stretch a wheelbase and still get in and out of the places you need to go – or stay legal? How much downtime can you afford? How deep are your pockets?
In a Class 8 world where little bitty coffin-sized sleepers are mostly historical and super-size sleepers are growing ever larger, these are just some of the questions you’ll need to answer before you decide to revamp your existing sleeper, bolt a new one on your existing tractor, or order a truck complete with an OEM or custom sleeper spec’d just the way you’ve always dreamed it could be.
If you’ve outgrown the space in your Kenworth sleeper, and you’d love it, if only it were bigger, you might want to talk to Dave Henry of Custom Studio Sleepers in Brooten, MN (customstudiosleeper.com).
Pick a sleeper size from 112 inches to 156 inches and decide whether you need a high-rise roof or a flat top. Henry has access to new or pre-owned take-off sleepers from Kenworth. To minimize downtime, he’ll build the sleeper so it’s ready to attach to your tractor in about 60 days.
The process includes sleeving in a replacement aluminum panel using the same rivet spaces and placement as your original KW, putting on a brand new fiberglass roof cap that exactly follows Kenworth’s lines – only on steroids – and filling your interior with a bigger bed, custom cabinetry, shower, potty, stove, fridge, microwave, dinette table and more.
The exterior can be painted to match your existing cab. Once the build-out is complete it takes roughly seven to 10 days to stretch your frame and attach the brand spanking new custom sleeper to your cab.
The original airbags will still be in place. Two additional airbags will be added at the back to provide additional support.
How much weight will it add? A 2007 Kenworth W900 with an 86-inch studio sleeper weighs approximately 19,000 pounds dry weight. Changing over to a 144-inch sleeper loaded up with extras adds approximately 2,400 pounds including 400 pounds for an APU. That does not include the weight of water, personal belongings or fuel.
What does it cost?
“Customizing also means money,” Henry said. “How deep your pockets are will help determine how much work you’ll be able to have done.”
If all you’re looking for is to replace the upright closet doors, cupboard doors and two-drawer fronts with cherry wood in your Kenworth sleeper, that will run you $1,150 installed. For a 144-inch full conversion sleeper with APU, roof-mount air conditioner and all the bells and whistles including the sleeper swap and stretching the frame, you’re looking at right about $59,000.
If you wanted to rip the guts out of your existing OEM sleeper and have a complete makeover, you might enlist the help of the folks at Indiana Custom Trucks LLC (trucksleeper.com).
From their smallest size, currently 36 inches for Class 6 or 7 regional haulers, to their largest of 230 inches, which is the biggest they’ve done so far, your options range from just a mattress to amenities found in luxury homes – think Corian countertops, porcelain sink, custom made roll-top desk, lighted and mirrored ceiling, ceiling fan and even a fireplace.
If weight is a factor and you simply want to make better use of your existing space by adding more cabinets, a sink, APU, microwave/convection oven and a bigger bed with a real mattress, you can do that with little change in the weight. The biggest single factor will be roughly 400 to 500 pounds for the APU, according to Indiana Custom Truck’s Chad Olinger.
“Doors and drawers don’t add up to much. The biggest additional feature might be the 10 to 12 gallons of water for a sink and even that’s only about 100 pounds,” Olinger said.
A typical conversion of an existing sleeper is in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, a high-end custom 230-inch sleeper can cost as much as $140,000 or more.
“While the options are limitless, the average custom sleeper sales price is around $70,000 and that includes a generator, rooftop air conditioning system and 110-volt baseboard heater,” Olinger said.
Just who is the target customer?
“It would be any owner-operator who wants to be healthier, more comfortable and more cost effective. When you can carry and cook your own healthy food, shower without having to wait for a truck stop shower and get good rest in a comfortable environment, we’re happy to help make that happen,” he said.
The average ownership period for a truck with a big sleeper is around five years, according to Olinger. For some, it’s only three years before they’re ready to update and upgrade.
“It’s a sport that’s only capped by someone’s imagination. People just want to do something bigger, better, newer ... different,” Olinger said.
They do a lot of work with owner-operators ordering trucks from scratch.
“We work with the dealers to make sure that the tractors are ordered with a longer wheelbase and larger alternator, making sure the position of the fuel tanks is correct and ensuring the proper look of the truck. The only limits we have are ones related to safety. As long as we can build it safely and make it a quality product, we’ll make it happen,” he said.
David Sweetman, owner-operator and OOIDA member, drives a distinctive green Kenworth and hauls some pretty amazing cars, safely tucked away in an enclosed auto transport trailer. So he’ll be even more distinctive. He’ll be the only guy in the Horseless Carriage fleet driving a Kenworth attached to a 126-inch Double Eagle sleeper.
As you read this, he’s in the process of ordering his next “last” truck, and his sleeper will be his fourth deal with Double Eagle Custom Truck Sleepers (doubleeagleind.com). He’s been working on the floor plan for a long time – after all, it’s one of the things you can ponder while you’re driving down the road, painting pictures in your mind of the truck you really want.
Sweetman’s a practical businessman – working smarter and not just harder are components of his daily life. So, his tractor and sleeper have to enhance the quality of his life on the road. That includes a gaucho bed placed along the back wall; flat-screen television with a serious surround sound system; satellite; shower; Amish cabinetry; maple floors, doors and drawer fronts; 600-watt inverter; gen set with a 3-cylinder Kubota motor; roof air conditioner; espresso/cappuccino machine and more.
“I gotta be out of my mind for doing this,” he said with a laugh. “But, it’s exciting to be putting together a new project.”
He looked at other sleeper manufacturers before deciding to stay with Double Eagle.
“I made a considered business decision and part of it is based on familiarity. They give me a good deal, but the integrity and quality of what they build is very important to me. They have built very, very good sleepers for me in the past,” he said.
“My truck has excellent resale value. It is desirable, in part, due to having a pre-emission control engine, but also due to the interior amenities. Both my KW dealer and my sleeper salesman have people who are interested in buying my old truck. A buyer will have to go through my Kenworth dealer to handle the transaction. I don’t want to have to pay capital gains tax getting rid of my old truck, and it will also reduce the federal excise tax on my new truck.”
So how does it work?
If you’re ordering a brand new tractor and a brand new sleeper, it can go something like this.
You work with your truck dealer to get the specs right – buying a daycab on a long frame with your choice of engine, drivetrain, supports etc. At the same time, you’re working with your sleeper manufacturer designing and ordering the interior with all the requisite comforts.
Because you’re working with two different companies, you’ll need to put down two deposits to get your equipment ordered. It’s possible for one lender to combine the loans into one payment plan.
When the tractor and sleeper are ready – a process that may take roughly 60 to 90 days, the tractor manufacturer arranges for the truck to be drop-shipped to the sleeper manufacturer to marry the two components together. It takes roughly seven to 10 days in most cases to fit the two pieces together and then you’re ready to head on down the road.
There are plenty of companies to choose from in addition to the ones mentioned above. You’ll also want to check out ARI (legacysleepers.com) and True Custom (wherevisionsbecomereality.com).
If you’re handy and motivated, there are plenty of things you can do for yourself. Don’t really like your cabinets and hardware? Change ’em. They can be ordered from places like Home Depot, or a local cabinetmaker might be willing to work with you.
Want a different floor? Do it yourself or order one made especially for your Peterbilt from Rockwood Products (rockwoodproducts.com).
Remember, the only limits are your imagination and the depth of your pockets. With time, patience and persistence you can make almost anything happen.
Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at email@example.com.