Last week we got a press release from Titan Trailers that described a customer's use of wood-chip transporters in the woods and roads of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Carey's fleet includes six Titan six-axle chip trailers, including these two with Western Star and Sterling tractors. Each carries a payload of up to 84,000 pounds from woods to customers in Upper Michigan.
Carey's fleet includes six Titan six-axle chip trailers, including these two with Western Star and Sterling tractors. Each carries a payload of up to 84,000 pounds from woods to customers in Upper Michigan.
The story included glowing comments from Jim Carey, who runs J. Carey Logging & Excavation out of Channing, about the ruggedness of his specially built Titans. We've got to verify such things, and I did by talking to him by phone the other evening.

"You've got to verify it?" he asked, laughing a little.

"Well, yeah," I said. "To make sure you said what they quoted you as saying in the story."

"Well, I don't think I saw the final version, but I did see a draft of it. And yeah, it's true. There's nothin' like 'em. They're $124,000, six axles and 50 feet (long). We load 'em in the woods and they just keep goin'. The payload (on one trailer) is 42 tons."

A hundred and 24 grand seems like a lot for what looks like a beefed-up dry van, but it's way beefed up, and it includes a Keith Walking Floor for unloading. And the trailers have been just about trouble-free, he says.

"A lot of my competitors use regular freight trailers with extra axles. After a while their frames start bendin'. But not these."

They haul wood chips to paper mills and pressed pellets to power plants in the UP. "Biofuel" for generating electricity seemed like a promising business, and last year Carey got what he thought was an "iron clad" hauling contract from a power company. "I bought a million dollars worth of equipment for it, and three months into it they cut it back to a third of the volume," he says.

Good thing he has a sense of humor. "When I check into a hotel they say, 'Oh, we thought the real Jim Carrey was gonna be here.' I tell 'em, 'I am the real Jim Carey.'"

The Jim Carey quoted in the Titan press release, anyway. Here it is:

Michigan Logger Builds New Chip Fleet With Titan Trailers

With successful operations already running in excavation and logging, Jim Carey was in no hurry to add new chip trailers to the fleet for his growing biomass business. He took his time to decide where he could expect to get the best return on his latest investments.

"When we got into the chipping business four years ago, we bought reconditioned multi-axle trailers to get started. We had frames put on them but there was always some sort of issue. They had poor tires, bad brakes, the structure was poor - we had to weld on quite a bit of material!"

Over time, Carey spoke to several operators who run wood chip businesses in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He attended the logging conferences in the region each year, and always made a point of checking out the trailers on display. "A guy I know had some trailers just a couple of years old, but they looked like our old trailers. Then I see the Titan trailers coming up the road - I think they are 20 years old but they look like the day they were bought. I asked three or four Titan owners and they told me they just never have problems. The Titans just work!"

With his interest zeroing in on Titan, Carey contacted Dale Handrich, the owner of Handrich Trucking and a second-generation chip hauler in Mio, Mich. As Carey recalls, "Dale bought out a company that had a bunch of trailers in the late '90s, and he got a few Titans in there and had added some. He's just Titan's biggest advocate. You can talk to lots of people and they'll brag up their equipment even if what they had was junk. But Dale's the kind of man that, if he told me something, I'd believe it. Since he got those first units, he slowly switched over his whole fleet to Titan." Now, with a fleet of six chip vans and seven trucks, Carey is on the same track.

From Logging to Trucking

J. Carey Logging and Excavation has been part of the Michigan logging business for about 30 years. Jim Carey started out working with slashers, feller-bunchers and chainsaws and eventually got into cut-to-length contracts in the 1990s. By expanding his equipment fleet, he developed the business into a full-service operation that offers everything from woodlot management to roadbuilding. Finally, the chip business presented itself as an opportunity for him to make better use of his equipment.

"We always had a harvester and a forwarder on the job and the forwarder was never busy enough. So we started picking up the wood waste and debris for some specific jobs, then a guy came and picked it up. He didn't pay us for it but he removed it and we were able to buy the wood a little bit cheaper. Then there were more people that wanted that done and we provided more for this contractor and he started paying us a little bit for it."

"When a mill approached us for more of this material, we ended up buying a grinder; more skidders to skid it. We started buying chip trailers four years ago, open tops mostly as we expanded the operation to supply chips to the mill. That led to a contract to haul waste from an OSB plant into the mill haul fuel briquets out to the power plant."

"A completely different trailer"

Today, Carey has built up his operation to utilize his capacity. His new Titan trailers are a valuable part of his growth strategy. "These trailers go right into the woods, as far as the Michigan log trucks go, we go right in behind them and pick up the residue. If you follow one of the trailers out to the road, you see our FRP boxes and our other trailer tilting side to side - the whole thing is moving and you think parts are going to fall off it! But the Titans are just like a solid chunk of aluminum rolling down the road. That's a completely different trailer."

The Carey chip trucks average about 80 miles per haul. All of the trailers are fitted with moving floors, because his customers don't have tippers on their site. When he converted three old trailers to moving floors, Carey took the advice of his Titan dealer, Jeff Root at Hudsonville Trailer. "We talked to Jeff in the past about used trailers, then this deal came about and he was a very good guy to work with. So many people in business today just want to make a buck on you. These people at Hudsonville Trailer, they're just good people. When they told us that Titan won't put in anything but a Keith Walking Floor system, that was good enough for me."

Investing in Biomass Futures

Now, Carey sees biofuel as his greatest growth prospect. With a pair of brand new Titan trailers in his fleet, Carey sees several ways that the investment is paying him back. According to Jeff Root, the Titan trailers will pay off in the long term by outlasting traditional equipment, with less downtime and lower maintenance costs. Hudsonville Trailer also helped to accelerate the return on investment by arranging terms for financing that were more favorable than Carey's bank could offer. But Carey sees a bottom-line advantage in his Titan trailers every working day.

"We can carry a heavier load in the Titan's because the trailer's lighter - 5,000 pounds more on average. Day after day that makes a big difference. Some of the other problems we've had with other trailers - frame rust, chassis rust, things like that - we just won't have with these Titans because of the aluminum structure."

Carey notes that even small details in manufacturing and design turn into maintenance savings. "The lift axles have a chart right there to tell you how much weight to put on each axle to spread your load out. All the gauges are easy to read and the adjustments are easy to make. The quality of the trailer extends to even the wiring for the lift axles. A separate high quality cord is used in addition to the light cord to operate the lift axles. This is a much better setup than we have seen on any other trailer. It's costs a little more, but then you're done with it!"

The distinctive Titan trailers, with their end-to-end extruded aluminum panel construction, have been attracting attention everywhere Carey Loggi