By Bill Hudgins
Trucking will never be an easy way to make a living, but through the years improved over-the-road sleepers have made life better. Few drivers today have had much, if any, experience with dog houses, while the integral sleeper has made the big rubber gasket between cab and sleeper a fading memory.
Still, factory sleepers lack amenities that many owner-operators lust for in expensive, heavy and larger custom-built sleepers – such as showers, toilets and kitchens.
If OOIDA member David Henry has his way, that won’t be the case much longer. The Brooten, MN, custom sleeper builder has come up with a way to put those desirable conveniences into a factory Studio Sleeper, along with a bigger bed, a back door, radiant floor heating – and only a modest increase in weight.
His approach embodies the words of the late Robert F. Kennedy: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. ... I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
David started asking why not in 1994 when he bought his first two Kenworths – an Aerodyne and an Aerocab.
“When I picked them up, I wondered why no one had attached an Aerodyne behind an Aerocab and made a really big living space,” he said.
A few years back, David launched his company, Custom Studio Sleepers, to build custom sleepers for KWs. He uses fiberglass molds to create non-boxy lines that flow back from the cab like factory sleepers. Recently, he began offering sleepers that are 100 inches wide – 10 inches wider than factory-issue, 90-inch wide sleepers – yet preserve the original KW lines.
“Ten inches wider inside a sleeper is a huge increase in space,” he said.
These units are available in 100-, 110-, 120-, 130- and 150-inch lengths.
But big custom sleepers are a hard sell in tough economic times and not always convenient or even necessary for many owner-operators. A lot of drivers out there just want a more comfortable standard sleeper. Realizing that one day, Dave’s long-held vision of better OEM equipment moved from dream to practical design.
“God gave me the ability to do this, to look at things and see a way to improve them,” he said. “I had the thought for a long time and finally came to the realization of how to arrange everything. I sort of wish I had had this idea first, because it’s less expensive and simpler to do than what we did with the molds.”
The process starts with taking everything out of the 86-inch KW Studio Sleeper and cutting a door in the back. He installs a combination shower with a cassette toilet next to the door on the driver’s side. Then comes a 54-inch pull-down bed mounted on gas shocks for easy raising and lowering. The bunk is flanked at either end by box benches; a 30-gallon freshwater tank is concealed in a cupboard between them.
The conversion also includes a kitchen: a 36-inch countertop with a two-burner glass cooktop and a sink with a 3.5 cubic foot refrigerator freezer beneath it. When the bunk is up, there’s enough floor space in the sleeper for two people to stand comfortably, or to sit and enjoy a meal, do paperwork or watch TV.
The floor can also be replaced with one that has radiant heating, eliminating the need to pipe engine coolant to a heat-exchange HVAC system and providing more uniform comfort, David said.
An 86-inch KW Aerocab sleeper fresh from the factory weighs about 1,500 pounds, he said. His prototype added about 500 pounds, but that included a granite kitchen countertop, so a lighter and less costly laminate top would lower the weight gain, he said. LL
Bill Hudgins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: For more info, go to customstudiosleeper.com or call Dave Henry at 320-346-2866.