There are almost as many stories at the Mid-America Trucking Show as the tens of thousands of people who attend the huge confab in Louisville, Ky., every March. One story is Jimmy Wink, a fleet operator and now trailer maker
Jimmy Wink and one of his round-bottom dump trailers at the Mid-America Trucking Show last month.  (Photo by Tom Berg)
Jimmy Wink and one of his round-bottom dump trailers at the Mid-America Trucking Show last month. (Photo by Tom Berg)
in southern Indiana. His 2011 booth was many times the size of what he rented last year, when he first showed off new aluminum-and-plastic end-dumps.

Wink ran dump trailers for 29 years and liked the then-new half-round-bottom design when he saw it 15 years ago. It's simpler than separate walls and floor, and lower slung for more stability. He improved on the concept and founded American Trailer Manufacturing to build them. He sold that company to investors, and it's now operating as Fruehauf of Mexico (so one could say that Fruehauf, once a dominant trailer builder that went bankrupt in the mid '80s, has truly gone south).

The non-compete clause that came with the sale expired in 2009, and Wink got back to business by starting another company named after himself and based in Rockport, Ind., on the Ohio River. This time he designed half-round as well as square dump trailers using two proven and lightweight materials, aluminum and plastic. Wink claims that one of his trailers weighs hundreds of pounds less than anything else available.

The colorful sheets that compose the sidewalls and half-round bottoms of his trailers are made of UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight) plastic used in liners for metal dump bodies. It's slippery so material slides out easily, and is impervious to the elements and immune to corrosion.

In Wink's trailers, thick sheets alone replace the common combination of liners and metal sides. Sheets are not mechanically attached to the frame, but instead float in channels of the extruded aluminum side braces. If a sheet is damaged, it can be repaired or quickly replaced, he says.

The sheets are made at a plant near Wisconsin Dells, and the supplier's rep was in Wink's booth last year. I remarked that "the Dells," a tourist area in central Wisconsin that I first visited while in high school, seemed an odd place to be manufacturing anything. He explained that its location is an advantage because shipping rates are low. Lots of supplies go into the Dells area but not much freight goes out, so truckers offer low rates for the UHMW sheeting rather than leave the area empty.

Jimmy Wink has expanded his plastic-and-aluminum trailer line to include vans with Keith walking floors that can haul trash, mulch, wood chips and the like. One was on display at this year's show. It and many other vehicles are featured in a special "Trailer Trends" edition of Trailer Report in the May edition of Heavy Duty Trucking. Watch for it.