Fifty-three feet became the predominant length for vans and temperature-controlled trailers by the end of the 1990s, when they replaced 48-footers in most fleets. But while shippers demand 53s, their full volume is seldom used.

That's the case in reefers, anyway, said Corey England, chief operating officer of C.R. England Inc. and outgoing chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association Refrigerated Division.

"The red line is back there on the floor, marking off the last 3 feet, but it's almost never filled," he commented in a conversation with HDT during a break at the TCA Reefer's annual meeting last week in Sunriver, Ore.

"But customers want it," he said. Many shippers give loading responsibilities completely to forklift operators, and some of them want the flexibility of that long floor. They'll occasionally use all of it to spread out weight instead of figuring a correct way of stacking merchandise in a shorter length.

"We've thought of asking Utility or someone to build us 50-foot trailers because they'd almost always be long enough," England said. "California requires the extra [SmartWay-type] equipment on 53s, so we could avoid that if we ran 50s. Of course, if enough of us did that, they'd catch on pretty quick and change the rules" to include 50s.

"But we couldn't do that anyway because customers want 53s. If you can't display that 53' label on it, they turn you away."