Tornados are called “twisters” for a reason. Just ask Sam Hart, whose cargo trailer was left a twisted mess and hanging from a tree on Groundhog's Day 2007.
That's the day three tornadoes swept through East Central Florida in the early morning hours, leaving a path of destruction. One of those tornadoes tore through the little town of Crow's Bluff where Hart lives with his 19-year-old daughter.
When Hart went to bed the night before, his 20-ft cargo trailer was loaded with his country band's equipment and parked in his driveway. His pickup truck was parked in front of the trailer, and his bass boat was parked behind it. He had no idea how very different things would look when the sun rose the next morning.
Hart's daughter, Linna, was sleeping soundly in her room on the second floor, while Hart dozed in his first-floor bedroom with a television on. At 3:40 a m he awoke to see the TV flashing a warning. As he turned the volume up, the television showed the projected storm's path with a line drawn to Crow's Bluff and estimated the storm would arrive there at 3:50 a.m.
“I stepped outside and saw lightning that looked like a spider's web. There was virtually no sound. It was as quiet as can be,” Hart says. “I went and woke up my daughter and we were watching the storm warning when the power went out at 3:48.”
Within 20 seconds Hart and his daughter heard the tornado outside, bearing down on them. By now the storm was beginning to pound his neighborhood. Hart dashed outside to check on his dog, and just as he spotted her standing near the door, the windows in his house started blowing in. Bringing the dog in with him, Hart and Linna ran to the safety of the solid concrete bunker Hart had built in his home.
“The storm was fierce. It sounded like vehicles were being thrown at the house,” Hart says. “It was all over in one minute, and we came out of the shelter after two minutes. It was dark and quiet, but when I turned on my flashlight, I couldn't believe the devastation.”
Water was pouring in from the ceiling because the roof had been ripped off his house. All the trees around his house were gone, and all the fence posts and fence sections also were gone. Hart's two-story barn was missing. And except for the frame there was nothing left of his mobile home. It was completely demolished.
The tornado had touched down a quarter-mile away and stayed on the ground until it reached Hart's house. It wasn't until later when his best friend arrived and asked Hart where his trailer was, that he realized it was gone.
His bass boat was untouched, but his truck had been turned sideways and heavily damaged. A day or two later, a friend found the missing trailer — hanging in a tree. It was about five feet off the ground and 1,000 feet from his house.
“I couldn't believe it was my trailer,” Hart says. “All the band equipment was gone, and the whole thing looked like a twisted pretzel.”
The trailer was built just down the road from Hart's house in Deland, Florida, by A-OK Trailers. Hart always liked the clean, tight look of the smooth-sided trailer without the screw heads. But it wasn't until he saw how well the VHB-bonded panels held up to the tornado that he fully appreciated how strong it was.
After his trailer was destroyed, A-OK Trailers built Hart an exact copy of the one he lost in the storm. Hart has a new appreciation for his smooth-sided trailer, and he knows that the beauty isn't only skin deep.
How it was built
Hart's trailer was one of approximately 1,200 that A-OK Trailers produces annually. Among the processes the company uses to produce its trailers:
Steel components are placed in an assembly jig for accuracy when the frame is welded.
The frame is cleaned using a chemical spray formulated by A-OK Trailers.
The entire frame — including the top — is sanded using a 3M Scotch-Brite 7447 pad to remove rough edges. The frame is then pressure washed.
When the frame is dry, 3M VHB tape is applied on the sides and top.
The frame is then painted black, and panels are installed, also with 3M tape. The VHB bonding system has elastic properties that absorb shock and flex for reliability against wind, vibration and thermal expansion/contraction, qualities that were evident when the tornado put Hart's trailer in a tree.
Outgrowing the backyard
A-OK Trailers began building cargo trailers in 1983 as a backyard operation. Today, the company has 33 employees and produces 1,200 trailers annually in a new, 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
Management attributes part of its growth to the gas-saving V-nose design and smooth sides of its cargo trailers.
“Buyers are interested in smooth-sided trailers over screws because of better graphics application, less vibration and better fit,” said Roger Wagner, chief operating officer of A-OK Trailers.
Standard features of A-OK trailers include all-steel door frames, a seamless aluminum roof, aluminum diamond plate fenders, 15" Goodyear tires on white spoke wheels, a spare tire carrier, dome light with switch, and a tongue jack.
A-OK Trailers conducts six separate inspections prior to shipping, and all their trailers have aerodynamic fronts to save fuel. Brakes are pre-adjusted and have a breakaway system installed to enhance safety.
“Many first-time trailer buyers purchase on the basis of cost,” said John Vick, A-OK president. “Then they come to A-OK Trailers the next time for better quality, and end up being long-term customers.”