Custom Trailerwerks eyes future

Sept. 1, 2002
FRED Jackson's motto: Let the good times roll. Wait a second. Aren't these the bad times? Haven't some prominent trailer companies either gone out of

FRED Jackson's motto: “Let the good times roll.”

Wait a second. Aren't these the bad times? Haven't some prominent trailer companies either gone out of business or reorganized? Well, yes.

But at Custom Trailerwerks Inc in Independence, Oregon, Jackson says he's “moving ahead.”

“Almost every industry that I know of is down,” he says. “I'm not boasting and I'm not overconfident, but I've got a lot of work right now. And I've had a lot of work because I do not specialize in one industry. I'm a small business. But right now, it's starting to snowball.”

Jackson, who started Custom Trailerwerks in 1996, says he's the “problem solver” in the high-tech mobile industry. His company provides new, remanufactured, and remodeled vehicles primarily for medical applications, but also for the broadcasting and racing industries — everything from 14' cab-chassis to 40' self-propelled coaches to 28' through 53' semi configuration trailers.

Custom Trailerwerks has installed a wide variety of modalities, including MRI, CT, nuclear cameras, cath labs, lithotripsy units, mammography and breast biopsy units, mobile field surgical units, X-ray units, and general wellness, screening facilities and emergency-response vehicles.

But his most successful unit right now is the eye laser suites.

When the trailer market started suffering in 2000, Jackson shifted gears and entered the laser industry. He believes his trailers for the Lasik Vision Institute are going to “blow the bottom out of the market.” The reason? They make the laser-correction procedure cheaper. In the beginning, doctors who initially couldn't afford to buy the laser and pay it off started renting the laser time from companies. Jackson says the industry, patterning itself off of other modalities, is now going to semi trailers that transport the equipment. The cost of the procedure, including pre-op and post-op, now can be done for 60% less.

“People are selling their real-property offices to replace them with semi tractor-trailer rigs,” he says. “They cost about $250,000 a trailer. Well, how much of an office can you set up for $250,000? Most doctors in an eye clinic, unless they just specialize in laser surgery, might do 20 to 50 eyes a month. These guys are doing 2,000 eyes a month in these trailers. They also have the newest technology.”

Modifying the trailer

Great Dane Trailers and Mount Trailers in Portland perform most of the structural modifications for him, giving him what he calls “a trailer that is bulletproof.”

Start with a standard dry freight trailer. Put in expanding-wall sections by cutting about 37' on one side and 18' on the other. Install a full-length computer floor by mounting pieces of equipment on the floor and running cables down through what is a raised floor — 2'×2' honeycomb-style tiles, each capable of holding 2,500 lb. All the hydraulics for the expansions are on the main deck, with the computer floor 10" off the main deck.

Great Dane then adds 10" I-beams to the trailer, and a 6" extruded C-channel at the rub rail, with gussets in between, wherever the openings and stress points are.

Jackson says he designed a device that bolts to the bottom of the laser, allowing the operator to raise the laser with an electric pallet jack. With the touch of a button, the 1,600-lb laser and 700-lb pallet jack can be propelled.

He uses standard air ride, and says he has shipped lasers from Oregon to Orlando, Florida, where they can be used without requiring calibrations.

For all industries, he has finished 94 projects, including 40 refurbishments and the construction of 25 semis between 48' and 53'. Even when the aftershock of Sept 11 made elective surgery a lower priority item, he just shifted into trailers for data recovery, anti-terrorism, and decontamination. He sent three general-health units (for mammography and health screening) to New York City — one trailer and two self-propelled 40' trucks on F-650 chassis.

Business is so good that Custom Trailerwerks has outgrown its 8,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility, which joins a 4,000-sq-ft warehouse and 2,500-sq-ft shop on a one-acre spread. Jackson is proposing to put another 2,000 sq ft onto the back of the manufacturing facility to accommodate two 53' trailers, end to end.

“You go through transitions as a small business,” he says. “This is more than just an idle I-think-I-need-a-bigger-place thing. When we moved in, 8,000 sq ft was a lot. Well, you move in a 40' self-propelled unit, you're doing good. But then you move two 53-footers in here, with expansions six feet out both sides, and you're talking about taking up a lot of room. The reality becomes, ‘Yeah, I do need more space.’ I'm not so pie-in-the-sky that I need 30,000 sq ft today, but I need some more square footage.”

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.