This pole trailer has a bumper but not a shock-absorbing rear impact guard, which wasn’t...

This pole trailer has a bumper but not a shock-absorbing rear impact guard, which wasn’t required when this aging vehicle was built. Under current federal regs, it would be exempt from the RIG requirement because of its rear-set axle and wheels. This one totes a load of piping for a gas transmission line.

Photos: Tom Berg

The other day I was motoring along U.S. 36/Ohio 37 west of Sunbury when I spotted a pole trailer parked in a large dirt lot off the highway. It was loaded with coated-steel pipe, ready for installation on a gas pipeline that apparently is being built nearby. It caught my eye because pole trailers are among the types exempt from rear impact guards under federal regulations, about which I’ve written a lot lately.

 A rear impact guard, or RIG, is built to absorb impact forces when a car rams the rear of the trailer, and keep it from running under the trailer. A pole trailer is exempt from needing a RIG because its rear-set axles and wheels would stop a car before it went too far. It is among several types specifically listed in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 223. It still needs a bumper, though, and this trailer has one.

Pole trailers get their name from the pole-like structure that forms a backbone that connects the tandem to the forward structure, including the upper coupler assembly (or is it because such trailers sometimes carry utility poles?). That steel spine is in two parts, with a smaller diameter pipe able to slide into or out of a larger one to retract or extend it to suit the load’s length. I suppose that’s done by applying the trailer brakes and moving the tractor forward or backward, like moving a sliding tandem.

I found a website for a manufacturer that specializes in such vehicles, and saw that the pole is more often a beam-type structure, and that there are numerous types of trailers used in various construction activities. The company’s name is Brooks Brothers, and no doubt its employees are all nattily attired in shirts and suits from the clothing maker of the same name (or maybe not).  

This pole trailer is hitched to an ex-military tractor, a 5-ton 6x6 well suited for off-road...

This pole trailer is hitched to an ex-military tractor, a 5-ton 6x6 well suited for off-road service. Next to it is a 5-ton 6x6 cargo truck. Both are owned by a pipeline contractor.

The trailer I found looked rather old, and I couldn’t find a builder’s plate on it.  It was hitched to an ex-military truck-tractor, a 5-ton 6x6 well suited for off-road service, including pipeline construction. Parked next to it was a 5-ton cargo truck outfitted with a ladder so workers can easily climb aboard (seems like an overly heavy vehicle to be a personnel carrier, but that’s what it looked like).

The tractor had all kinds of data and instruction plates on its dashboard, but I didn’t see its model number. A little on-line research tells me that it’s in the M-800 or -900 series, probably with a big ol’ Cummins NH-250 diesel or a smaller Hercules multi-fuel engine. I didn’t climb up and open the hood to find out.

The government sells such trucks to specialty dealers who resell them to users like the pipeline contractor that owns these two units. They are inexpensive to buy and ideal for crawling around in mud or sand. Usually they’re hauled to a work site rather than driven there, so don’t incur the costs of registration.

Sometimes buyers are enthusiasts, often former soldiers who might or might not yearn for the good ol’ days in uniform but appreciate the appearance and capabilities of these trucks. I’m one of ‘em, but no, I don’t have a 5-tonner parked in my back yard. Or a pole trailer, for that matter. 

About the author
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Former Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978.

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