“The Rise of Semi Trailer Trucks” at first sounds as a title of a cheesy horror movie. Or perhaps like the ever popular trucker flicks from the 1970’s, much like the “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”! But, instead of monkeys taking over the world, you have trucks conquering the world!
Just think if ‘Happy Toyz’ (the Green Goblin truck from “Maximum Overdrive”) suddenly came to life and rolled over the world. Much like the “The War Rig” from “Mad Max: Fury Road”. What a sight to see! Who do you think would survive Max or the Bandit?
But, in an odd way that is what happened. As technology advances so does everything else. Some things are a bit slower. Cellphones were advancing quicker in the Asian market than in the American market.
While microwaves and instant meals gained in popularity here but not as quickly in Europe!
The same was for the vehicle. Now of course when gasoline and diesel engines were first being designed they had several issues to contend with. Some of these are obvious and other we might take for granted. But here are a few issues:
Roads: once you left the major cities roads were mostly dirt and often badly rutted from the years of wagon usage.
Fuel: sure they figure out uses for oil in the late 1800’s but refining it was another matter. Petro stations were just a few and far between!
Parts: in the early days’ inventors and designers were building everything by hand. As time passed the designed were mass produced, but there weren’t any Auto Zone, NAPA, or O’Reilly auto parts stores.
But that was all soon to pass with the creation the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Department of Revenue depending on your state. Then come driver’s licensing, traffic laws, traffic enforcement, and all the other things that we know and love today.
But First Things First
Well now we truly are putting the cart before the horse, so to speak. Because there was a long history of vehicles and events that lead us up to the point we are today.
Semi-trailer trucks didn’t just happen overnight. When Henry Ford set up his assembly line the model A couldn’t haul more than a few hundred pounds.
Before the invention and mass production of automobiles, we had the horse. In some places, they had the llama, the camel, the elephant, the water buffalo, oxen, mules or some other beast of burden. They were then used to transport whatever was needed to be moved.
Actually, this system was very good at the time. You might not agree when compared to the semi-trailer trucks of today, but it surely beat carrying everything yourself, and they could haul a whole lot more at a time. And haul they did!
They help build everything man had done up to the 20th century (and even still do in many places). They plowed the fields. They dragged the stones for buildings, temples, and pyramids. Moved armies over mountains and then carried them to victory, or aided their retreat as the case might have been.
For thousands of years, they carried the spices of the east to the markets in the west. They helped move families from one nation to another. And without them, America might never have been settled.
After all, they carried the pioneers across the plains from the cities of the east to the gold mines of the west.
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But like everything, their time was to end. Between ocean vessels, river barges, the railroad, and finally the semi-trailer trucks thousands of service quickly forgotten. No gold watch and pension for them. No, the semi-trailer trucks took all the glory away.
Semi-Trailer Trucks: – What’s in a Name?
Semi trailer trucks, the name seems like an odd name to someone who doesn’t know how to speak properly. So what is it?
Well, semi is the actual vehicle itself, the part with the engine and cab. The trailer is just that, a non-motorized vehicle pulled by another one. It is used to carry all the cargo. Together you can call them a semi-trailer trucks.
But really that isn’t as common as many of the other names: semi, semi-truck (semi truck) semi-trailer, tractor trailer, class 8 trucks, big rig, 18-wheeler, and the list goes on! Some are regional some are national. Heck, some terms are only local to the lot where the truck sits!
Then we can dig a little deeper when talking about semi trailer trucks. It can depend on the type of semi. Some call their tractors “cabin over” if it’s a cab over. Some might call the larger trucks “condo’s on wheels” or “mobile mansions”.
Of course, a semi-trailer trucks has a name for both the cabin and the trailer. So obviously the trailer has its own common terms.
Van or box is the common trailer seen on highways for hauling a good majority of the freight.
The other very common trailer is the flatbed (no sides or top). There’s the bull rack, for hauling animals (livestock).
A reefer refers to a refrigerated box/van. When hauling large equipment and doing heavy haul one might use a drop-deck. Tankers are used for liquids, gasses, oil, milk, hazardous cargo and etc. (but hopefully not in the same trailer)!
Of course, this is only a few of the common terms. Here’s a sample of few other used when referring to a semi-trailer trucks. Two trailers are often called doubles if three called triples. Real original I know. But when you see a semi without a trailer you can refer to it as a bobtail.
So with other words here are the most common types of trailers in the US:
- Box, or dry van;
- Refrigerator truck , or “reefer”;
- Dry bulk;
- Car hauler;
- Dump trailer.
When, How and for What Was the First Semi-Trailer Trucks Invented and Used For?
A person named Alexander Winton invented the very first semi-trailer trucks back in 1898 in Cleveland, Ohio. He sold his first manufactured semi-truck next year, in 1899 to be exact.
It all started back in 1898 when Winton began producing horseless carriages or better put he become a carmaker. The very same year his company sold their first twenty-two manufactured cars.
It was all good and sharp till a problem arises when the cars needed to get to the buyers somehow.
People from all over the country ordered vehicles but he has to drive them miles and miles away in order to deliver to their new owners.
This creates an additional problem, because if the cars were driven all those miles, then there would be wear and tear on the vehicle plus actual delivery would be expensive.
On the top of that God forbid bad weather condition and almighty with her natural causes!
All above was a good enough reason for Winton to start seriously looking into the problem and coming up with a solution for the same. So here is when he invented the concept of the very first semi-truck that will handle the delivery of his manufactured cars.
He called the concept an “automobile hauler”. This car hauler at the time could carry only one vehicle on a trailer. Next year, in 1899, Winton Motor Carriage started with the production of the hauler for its own use, but for other car manufacturers as well.
Semi Tractor Trailers Innovations and Early Advances
The very first semi-trailer trucks were really not much to look at. It was almost comical in its simplicity. Basically a re-engineered automobile or tractor and a regular cart hook to the rear.
Even the engine was in the wrong place, for a semi-trailer trucks. It was in the rear! Yet this designed is still the basis modern trucks. The removable gooseneck is one obvious example.
As the times moved forward the vehicles became better, but they needed improvements. One such improvement came when a Detroit blacksmith, August Charles Fruehauf, was commissioned to build a ‘carriage’ to haul a customer’s boat.
This semi trailer, as he called it, was hooked to a Ford. This core design went on to be used for many other semi-trailer trucks and since 1918 they have been built by the Fruehauf Trailer Company.
The Ford Model T was one of the main trucks used originally, as they were cheap and reliable. Throughout the years though engines designs and trailer modifications made the semi-trailer trucks the beast it is today.
People who originally had experience building horse carriages soon found new work in designing motorized versions, and trailers.
Trailmobile is one such company that came from such humble beginnings. Originally it took several people to hookup and unhook a trailer from their old jalopy.
But the Trailmobile changed all that. This made it so that the vehicle operator was the only one needed to handle the trailer.
A Few Other Key Advances in the Development of Semi-Trailer Trucks
Of course, there have been numerous key moments in the designs of the semi-trailer trucks. Perhaps one of the more recognizable ones came from Mack Trucks. You should be surprised they have been around for almost 120 years. So what did they do?
Well, this little company based out of Brooklyn, New York, not only manufactured their own engines they designed them! One of their earliest advancements was the automatic starter.
We have all seen the movies where they crank and crank to get their car started, well the automatic starter made the crank follow the dinosaurs. Through such great innovation, Mack builds a solid reputation.
But there was another completely unrelated industry that had a large impact. Some might say even bigger than the militarist transportation needs. So which industry was it? Would you believe the logging industry?
That’s right; the logging industry had a major hand in helping to evolve the semi-trailer trucks into what we have today.
While Mack was busy on the East Coast, Peterbilt was solving problems in the Northwest, Washington State to be exact.
The loggers were frustrated with their limited means of getting logs from the forest to the lumber mills.
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So the creators of Peterbilt took old Army surplus trucks and refurbished them to meet the needs of the mountainous logging semi-trailer trucks. They even designed a special trailer for carrying the cut timber.
So, as you can see there have been numerous events that helped shape the world of the modern semi-trailer trucks. They were born out of a need to get item ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in the best way possible.
It was about overcoming obstacles not being blocked by them. Remember this the next time you see one of the almost 3.7 million truck drivers in one of the fancy and last fashion trucks.
After all, the semi-trailer trucks represent and carry around 70% of America’s freight!
Factors That Helped Shape the Industry
As I just said, the trucking industry accounts for nearly 70% of all the commodities transported across the nation. I said that twice because it is important to understand just what a powerful hold the trucking industry has on a nation.
You can take away the internet, TV, and cell phones people will still communicate! You can trade sports teams to another city people will still be entertained. But if you take away the semi-trailer trucks people won’t get their freight.
So you can say greed is a major factor in innovation, but others will say need! We don’t need an NFL team with their over priced merchandise and high ticket prices. However, we do need food and medicines and another thing we take for granted.
Just as there was a need to get the logs to the mill, there was a need to transport more than one vehicle at a time. Thus the car carrier was born. There was a need to get fresh meats and vegetables to remote places.
The birth of the reefer came from the need for a more reliable means of refrigeration. 18 wheeler were evolved from the same concept. They needed a way to carry more weight, for longer periods of time.
As you can clearly see the super elaborate semi-trailer trucks of today evolved out of the most basic, almost primitive, designs. Many of these got their start in the early 1900’s. World War one saw the first real use of mechanical machines used in mass.
But when did it Become the Monster it is Today?
As automobiles grew in popularity so did the need to fix and improve the roads. But more than that was a need to get merchandise from one place to another quickly and safely.
So the highway departments were born to improve and maintain the roads. Uncle Sam was quick to see a means to raise revenue and thus the creation the regulatory agencies like:
- Department of Transportation (DOT);
- Federal Highway Administration (FHWA);
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA);
- Department of Labor (DOL);
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
- About 2 dozen other federal agencies;
- The state and local regulatory agencies.
Believe it or not, it actually isn’t obese as it once was. Yet there is a whole lot more red tape. But don’t blame modern politicians. You can trace some the laws all the way back to 1887, to oversee the railroads.
So the industry was deregulated but the drivers and their semi-trailer trucks became more regulated. This is evident in such regulation as the hours of service rule in 1965. Yes even the HOS become rules you need to follow!
Also by the revised diesel truck emission standards, these were implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2006.
Semi-Trailer Trucks Manufacturers in the United States and Canada
- Ford (They co-joined with Navistar International through Diamond Star International joint-Venture)
- Hino Motors (Canadian plant);
- Mack Trucks;
- Western Star;
- Volvo Trucks;
- Caterpillar Inc;
- Crane Carrier Corporation.
Major Historical Events
There are many events that shaped the future of semi-trailer trucks. Some of these are well known and shaped the lives of everyone. Others though equally important were barely noticed by the average person, but the effects were still felt.
Some of these major events were the World Wars. Both the first and second equally contributed to the expansion of the trucking industry, logistics and the evolution of the semi-trailer trucks.
For the militaries of the world needed better and faster means of getting supplies to where they were needed most.
This tradition continued even after the wars ended. The lessons learned on the battlefield were adjusted to meet the civilian consumer market. In this time there were many advances, for example, Roy Chapin experimented with pneumatic tires.
The idea was to handle heavier loads while running at greater speeds. Just look what happen from then until today with the heavy haul and the heavy duty truck!
By the 1950’s the USA had well over a million semi-trailer trucks rolling across her highways. It was during this time that other advances were made. The diesel engine was perfected and put to use in commercial trucks, locomotives, farm machinery and more.
Furthermore, our highways were improved and updated. Many of them were based on old trade route trails blazed over two hundred years ago (or more).
Other key events were things like the creation of fair conduct and other commerce related regulations. These were born out of FDR’s ‘New Deal’. Another was the creation of the American Trucking Association (ATA).
This was created from the merging of the old American Highway Freight Association (AHFA) and the Federal Trucking Associations of America (FTAA).
A few other overlooked events were the passage of the Motor Carrier Act in the mid-1930s. Also was the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which formerly regulated the trucking industry, something done by the Department of Transportation now.
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Of course, there have been numerous other events to either directly or indirectly affect the modern semi-trailer trucks.
As you can clearly see the semi-trailer trucks is an important part of our very fabric. The semi-trailer trucks and the drivers who operate them are what make this country so great. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t have stocked shelves in the store. Your furniture wouldn’t get delivered.
You won’t be going to the unclaimed furniture locations to get the best deals! Well, actually that wouldn’t matter because there would be no furniture in the store for you to buy!
A semi-trailer trucks is a very important tool that most ordinary people take for granted. Much as we did the beast of burden just a short time ago we now do with the semi-trailer trucks, the drivers and the entire industry for that matter. No, most people don’t truly appreciate them!
Most don’t understand the hardships involved with being a trucker. But few ever get to see the joy either! Being a truck driver isn’t for everyone, but those who do it wouldn’t want anything else. Travelling gets in your blood and if you stay home too long, a driver can get restless.
What kind of semi-trailer trucks do you operate? What are some of the mini adventures you’ve had while driving on the open roads? Would you recommend semi-trailer trucks driving to someone seeking a driving career and highest paying trucking job? Share your comments, thoughts, and questions with us in the comment box bellow.