Rod Ehrlich gave a presentation on the evolution of trailers. And why not? He’s been integrally involved in the last 54 years of them.
“From the beginning of trucking, change has continued to take place, pushing the usable envelope to deliver freight in the most efficient manner,” said Ehrlich, who started in 1963 at Monon and has been at Wabash National since 1985, most recently as chief technology officer, though he says he is in “semi-retirement.”
“Legal size, weight, aerodynamics, fuel costs, and safety have always been driving forces to change the designs to what we have today. Walls are smooth inside and outside: only ¼” thick, yet extremely durable and easy to repair. Expected life has been pushed to over 15 years. Today’s 53-foot smooth-wall trailer weighs less than most of the ‘80s 45- and 48-foot trailers. We have come a long way, baby.
“It’s been an interesting 54 years that I’ve been in the industry. I could talk the rest of the afternoon on any one of the developments.”
He said the drivers of the van trailer evolution have been: federal and state regulations; customer need; safety; fleet maintenance costs; new materials and processes; plant production efficiency and e-commerce.
“e-commerce is one I never even thought about before,” he said. “Boy, is that ever going to change things. That’s why old codgers like myself are probably moving on—because new people are not afraid of this e-Commerce. They are the ones that embrace new ways of doing things.”
In Ehrlich’s eyes, the philosophy has always been “bigger is better.”
“As brother Jerry always said, ‘Every time there was an opportunity to go to a larger box, it was embraced,’ ” he said. “Railroads were always behind. We had a 40-foot. So they went to the 40-foot and made cars to handle 40-foot. Then 42 came out, 45, 48, 50, 53. Are we going to see 60? I don’t know. But bigger in the past has been better. Is that going to change? I don’t know.”
Ehrlich said the 1956 Federal Highway Act set the federal truck weight regulation at 73,280 pounds, and the Interstate Highway System was authorized to be constructed. In 1974, amendments established the bridge formula as law, along with the gross weight limit of 80,000 pounds.
In 1983, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) allowed new minimum length and width on the Federal Highway System: the length became 48 feet for a single and 28 feet for a double (with the death of 29-foot bay nose doubles) and the width went from 8 feet to 8½, with some states starting to allow longer 53-foot trailers with restrictions.
What will happen in the next 50 years? Self-driving vehicles? Aerodynamic truck/trailer integration? Weight reduction? Increased cube 33-foot double/60-foot long van? Electronics, telemetrics, lighting? Braking and roll-over? Interactive highways? Maintenance-free?
“Will it sprout wings? I doubt that,” he said. “But you don’t want to let your attitude control it.” ♦