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Meeting specialized needs in Western Canada

Caytec Equipment Ltd emulates the body building businesses of Texas during the oilfield bonanza days of yesteryear. With its headquarters in Calgary and a branch office in Edmonton, this distributor and manufacturer of truck bodies handles some of the ‘one-off’ jobs that would stop some larger companies in their manufacturing tracks.

Caytec specializes in fabricating owner operator, oilfield, and custom crafted specialty truck bodies — the type of bodies that have an articulating crane mounted on a one-ton cab and chassis styled body, oilfield rig-up trucks that are required to traverse very rough access roads, and emergency response bodies.

Caytec distributes and installs other types of bodies. The company has an impressive snow and ice control line of products. These are items that most distributors handle — safety lights, grill guards, lift gates, tarps, tow straps, and others too numerous to mention. They make the company a well-stocked distributor. Caytec also stocks items that have to be special ordered by some distributors.

Growing up in Amsterdam instilled an old world storekeeper's philosophy into Caytec's president and co-founder, Peter Vanderlinden. “You can't sell from an empty cart,” he says. “We watch the aging of our inventory. But as a company, we put lots of money into our inventory. We stock some things that might only take a week or so to get to Canada, but owner operators can't wait that long for a repair part. On items that aren't normally stocked elsewhere, customers realize we have a carry-cost on that item, and they are willing to support that cost because they need a distributor that will stock those parts.”

Still, it's not just having a large inventory that makes a truck equipment distributor successful. It's knowing what to do with the inventory so that at the end of the day, a customer is happy.

Canadian Oil

Another reason Caytec has earned a lofty standing in Canada's competitive truck equipment industry is because it manufactures truck bodies to meet the exacting specifications of customers.

“Alberta is the last western frontier, in many ways,” says Vanderlinden. “In the early 80s, the political climate was not favorable for the exploration of oil in Canada. Oil and gas exploration companies today have received a friendlier welcome. This has been a factor in driving our business, and perhaps in our forming a little different body distributorship than one might expect.”

The oil patch business in Alberta has provided Caytec the opportunity to build a specialized business by going beyond the scope of a body distributor. “Much of our body manufacturing is based upon customer needs for some exceptionally tough bodies that are capable of handling the severe duty of the oil patch,” says Vanderlinden.

“There's more oil in the Ft McMurray area than in all of Saudi Arabia. Oil and gas exploration provides a lot of business for us, from sales generated by exploration, the maintenance of the transportation related equipment used in that exploration, and of course the natural growth that takes place around such large projects.”

“We get different requests from many body upfitters,” says vice-president Burke Schumacher. “Some truck bodies have a natural fit in the oil patch; however, you wouldn't see them elsewhere.

“Our Texas Rig-Up is a good example,” says Schumacher. “A rig-up truck transports the drilling rig's components to the drilling location and assists in setting up the rig. It is very hard on a truck chassis and body. Not only are there stresses caused by transporting a heavy load over rough terrain, there are the stresses caused by the truck being used as heavy equipment at the drill site.”

A rig-up truck usually has four components: A heavy-duty long wheelbase chassis, a behind-cab mounted winch, a ramped (or dovetailed) fifthwheel, and a rolling or live-roll tailboard.

Technicians who determine specifications for a rig-up truck understand that the truck is going to be severely tested. The truck chassis usually consist of a long wheelbase with a reinforced frame. Chassis with an extended front axle are used to help with weight distribution. Often twin front axles assist in steering and also increase the payload capabilities of the truck. All-wheel drive chassis are a common feature for rig-up applications. Axles having an upgraded weight rating of 16,000 pounds or more are very common.

The body and chassis are equipped with a winch. For a recent body that Caytec built, a model 62 DP Winch was used. The model 62 is a planetary gear, hydraulically engaged winch with a two-speed motor. In-cab controls make the operation of the winch much safer and more comfortable for the operator than earlier model rig-up trucks.

As the customer requested, this 60,000-lb winch is outfitted with 150 feet of one-inch cable and a 7/8-inch tail chain. A winch cage consisting of heavy-wall, three-inch pipe, is built around the winch as a protective device. Winches used in this application are not equipped with built-in roll-guides, so the cage supplies the support and guidance for line retrieval. As part of the cage, greasable side rollers can be built into the cage frame. Additional guide-rollers can be added for extending and supporting the range of angle-retrieval.

For the latest rig-up truck that Caytec fabricated, the customer specified an air slide fifthwheel with dash-mounted controls. A tricky part of mounting a fifthwheel on a rig-up body is making certain to install the correct mounting risers and angles on the ramp for the trailer to be pulled onto the fifthwheel.

Ramps can be incorporated into the rear skirt area between the fifthwheel and the live roll. If the ramps are too low for the fifthwheel, the kingpin may bind on the rolling board, or the front of the trailer may hang on the fifthwheel's ears if the plate isn't in the position to accept the trailer.

If the fifthwheel is mounted too low, or the ramps are fabricated too high, then the kingpin won't be accepted by the plate's jaws. If the kingpin is accepted, but the ramps are too high, the trailer will hang up on the ramps.

A live roll is installed to assist the mating between the trailer and the fifthwheel. It is similar to a long-pin roller bearing that goes across the entire width of the rear skirt. The roller's width can be six inches or more depending on customer requirements.

Live rolls can be constructed so that the height can be adjusted hydraulically and set with manual pins. In the high position it can move mud tanks, dog houses, or draw works onto the tractor. In the low position, the live roll assists in connecting an oil field trailer to the tractor in the same manner as a winch tractor.

A full bed with a live roll also provides a load-bearing surface, so that the flip-over fifthwheel design allows for the full utilization of the body as a platform truck.

An interesting option for these units is an “A-frame” or gin poles. The A-frame is constructed of two long poles that are each attached at the rear corners of the truck's bed near the tailboard. When needed, the poles are joined together at the top end by a sheave block. In the A-frame's upright position, the winch cable can lift other equipment.

Another example is a hotshot bed that Caytec manufactures. “One-ton and larger chassis cabs will be set up with a short flat-deck bed that will have a goose-neck hitch or fifthwheel. Companies use hotshot rigs to haul a needed part to an oil rig. Because of the daily cost involved in operating a rig, it's cost feasible to use a delivery company to hotshot a piece of equipment out to the rig — basically on a moment's notice.”

Larger-capacity pickup-styled cab and chassis with heavier combination weight ratings allow for more customer-specified chassis and body options, Schumacher says. A standard 12,000-lb GVWR truck with a gas engine would not have the capacity or the power to handle the options that Caytec installs on heavier and more powerful chassis cabs.

“One of our customers has bought numerous hotshot beds from us,” Schumacher says. “Specifications include a behind-cab mounted articulating crane. That might be an unusual bed design on a one-ton styled cab and chassis, but it's very useful for the hotshot application of unloading pipe.”

A popular bed design uses the Ferrari 550-A3 crane. The 550 has a lifting capacity of 1,100 pounds at a reach of 26 feet. With the crane at an eight-foot reach, the unit can lift 3,700-pounds. Many of the items that are hotshotted out to the rig are heavy, but not voluminous, like pumps, compressors, and specialized tools. In many cases they can be carried on the flat deck of the truck.

The crane typically is mounted on a tubular subframe and equipped with outrigger supports with 12-inch pads. Hydraulic power is provided by a power take-off unit.

Some hotshot rigs are equipped with air compressors to run tools or refill tires. For this application, an underhood serpentine belt or hydraulically operated air compressor is installed, along with an air tank. Customers can request mounting a 100-foot reel in a tool box for supplying air.

A popular feature for hotshot rigs is a flip-over fifthwheel. This allows the flat deck to remain unobstructed when the trailer coupler is not in use. The lower part of the fifthwheel attached to the plate is mounted within an encasement that is below the truck bed. The plate can then be flipped in one direction to accept a trailer's kingpin, or flipped in another direction to provide a flat surface on the truck body.

Many of Caytec's clients have ranching and/or horse breeding businesses. They transport animals to shows in Alberta, as well as other Canadian provinces. In many cases when they arrive at an arena, their trucks stop inside to unload the livestock. Schumacher says these clients are particularly aware of the presentation that their vehicles make.

“Caytec's design team can provide very detailed CAD drawings to the prospective customer. Because we take the time to help these customers design what they really want, they are happier with us and also with the finished product.”

“We also build emergency response bodies that are used in harsh conditions,” says Vanderlinden. “The buyers provide detailed information concerning the size and exact location of their storage bins. Much of the equipment is job specific, and the schedule of equipment has been carefully selected to meet the geographic area the response team serves, plus the specific job requirements they need to perform. The response body must be carefully designed to accompany the needs of the end user.

“Because we are the manufacturer of the body, and many of our bodies are sold in Alberta, we can work closely with end users to get the shelving precisely the way they want it,” says Vanderlinden “We use our shear and press brake to make the cabinet's interior dimensions fit their exact needs.”

Harsh winter temperatures in Canada make heated cargo compartments a natural option for both the emergency response, and in some cases, service body buyers.

“A challenging project was the HAZMAT trailer that we recently manufactured,” he says. “Our design team put together a 53-foot trailer with a 10-ft width. It has an enclosed hazardous particle and dust rinse and shower area, plus changing rooms.”

Most of the company's success in fabrication is because of the quality of its craftsmen along with the well equipped shop that the technicians have available to them, Vanderlinden says.

“We now have a staff of 48 in the two locations,” he says. “We could use more if we could find qualified technicians.”

The facility in Calgary is equipped for fabricating a variety of bodies. “We use a stall-build method of manufacturing bodies; so our manufacturing equipment is located right next to the area that we have allocated for our distributed body and accessory installations,” Vanderlinden says.

Technicians use adjustable welding fixtures that can be set for the current project at hand. The shop can handle about ten fabricating projects at a time, although Vanderlinden says that they have worked on as many as 16 projects.

The shop is equipped with AccurPress and AccurShear metal forming equipment. Both machines will accept material up to ten feet wide. The AccurPress forms material by using 250 tons of hydraulic force. The shear can cut material up to 3/8" thick.

A model S-20 Hyd-Mech bandsaw does most of the cutting chores around the shop. The saw can cut a 14-inch wide bundle; since they don't do production manufacturing, they don't do a lot of bundle sawing. The major benefit of the saw is the precision of fitting the pieces together, even though more time may be required to use the saw than a cutting torch.

“Portable plasma cutters work really well in this environment,” says Vanderlinden. “We do a lot of aluminum work with plasma cutters. The portability of our equipment is beneficial in a stall-build environment.”

Caytec is a distributor for many well-recognized names: Ferrari Cranes, Holmes, Challenger and Vulcan wrecker beds, IMT service and lube bodies, Waltco and Ultron lift gates, Auto Crane, DP Hydraulic Winches, Henderson and Sno-Way snow removal products are all in demand.

“Much of our growth comes from a continued sophistication of buyers,” says Vanderlinden. “Drivers of expensive automobiles don't want their vehicles towed without the latest damage-free towing equipment. Wrecker operators are seeing the increased benefits of using damage-free equipment, plus bodies that are specifically designed for use in severe-crash recovery attempts.

“Those types of sales help our allied products lines, such as the Code 3 Safety Lights and Boost-A-Matic brake equipment. We do a strong business in tow straps and other products that will assist a vehicle stranded in the snow or mud.”

Snow and ice control products have boosted Caytec's sales. Vanderlinden says that the gradual privatization of services has increased the number of smaller independent contractors who are purchasing more efficient and upgraded plows and spreaders.

“We have a new Class 8 Severe Duty Freightliner that is outfitted with the Henderson UniBody pre-wetting and de-icing system,” says Vanderlinden. “That is a fairly large investment; however, we have seen the benefits of having the demonstrator package.”

Companies no longer base their purchasing decision solely on cost; they are adding safety devices that will assist the operator perform safer and faster deliveries.

“Manufacturers are making the loading/unloading operation ergonomically friendlier and safer for the operator. We are distributing for companies that are investing in research and development for more ergonomical and safer products.”

Serving The Province

In addition to the Calgary facility, Caytec opened the Edmonton location in 1995 to better serve Alberta. “We needed a store closer to oil patch activities, plus Edmonton is a thriving business center,” says Vanderlinden.

The Edmonton store serves customers of all sizes from the owner operator to the largest oil exploration companies.

“Much of the actual oilfield work gets done in the North,” says Kerry French, branch manager. “An executive with an exploration company headquartered in Calgary might purchase a new service bed for an older chassis. Everything works great with the bed installation, and the unit gets moved here to the North.”

When field personnel get the vehicle, they may need a pintle hook or an underbody tool box to be added to a flatbed.

“That's when the customer from the shop that's doing the work with the truck calls to get it fixed or rigged-up quickly,” says French. “That also gives him a chance to visit our store and buy other accessories. For example, the truck may not have a fire extinguisher, tow straps, or a receiver-hitch stinger.

“The field service personnel may not have the authority to buy a new truck body, but they can buy all the accessories they need from us,” he says. “And if we continue to do a good job servicing the account, they will tell the home office that they want to buy their bodies from us.”

French says that 80% of the Edmonton shop's work comes from some form of business generated by the oil patch. “We don't do heavy fabrication in Edmonton, however we certainly perform all the body, snow and ice control, winch, and light crane installation work.

“We also handle the light-industrial snow removal companies,” says French. “These aren't the heavy plow municipal buyers, but these buyers won't just get something of lesser quality. They want durable equipment that includes service and replacement parts.”

Vanderlinden and Schumacher saw the formation of the company as a way to improve their personal employment situations. They started Caytec in 1982 with little more than years of experience in the truck distribution business, a good reputation, and a desire to not to be at the mercy of another employer.

The company's first facility was a mobile home that housed their executive offices, plus a very basic shop for installations.

Schumacher credits Vanderlinden with having the industry contacts that helped the fledgling company obtain body materials that were going to be installed, raw materials such as steel and aluminum, and some specialized tooling.

Vanderlinden and Schumacher agree that the past 20 years have gone by very fast. “I don't know if I could, or would want to, do it again,” says Schumacher. “But I wouldn't change a bit of it. We have been growing since we opened the business, and I think that we will continue to grow for the next 20 years.”

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