Bug Out Trailer

I purchased a 5'x10' Trax utility trailer in 2007 and it's been a great tool transporting my junk dutifully for all these years, never giving even a hint of trouble.

The weather here in the northwest has taken a toll on the many components of the trailer, the deck in particular. The time had finally arrived to tear into it and replace or upgrade those worn and weathered parts.

The deck of the trailer was the most obvious part that needed a complete replacement, having rotted through in several places. The original decking was comprised of standard 2"x6" lumber that was not pressure treated or waterproofed and secured to the frame of the trailer with five 3/8" deck screws for each board.

Now, I don't know if you have ever had the pleasure of removing deck screws that have been rusted in place for eleven years, but... what a challenge! In the end, I used a heavy spud bar to finish off the destruction of the wooden planks and literally shredded them into submission, revealing the old and rusted guard, proudly standing at attention, now holding only air into place.

The most efficient way that I found to remove the old deck screws was to hit them with a heavy blow to the side, snapping them off flush with the trailer frame. This method worked so well, it made quick work of the job and getting to the rust clean up that much sooner.

After some vigorous wire brushing and clearing of the rusty dust, I applied two coats of rust treatment to all of the exposed metal, including the cross frames, axle and spring components. I also removed the old wire harness for the lights, seeing how it might be the best time, given the wide open workspace I had without a deck.

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During a recent camping trip we were searching around many of the logging and forest service roads in central Washington, looking for that nirvana of sites to call home for the week. On a rather tight switchback I drug the drivers side corner of the trailer over a berm and broke the tail light lens (brand new, maiden voyage). At that moment I resolved to lift the trailer by using the age old method of relocating the leaf springs from under the axle to above the axle (spring over axle mod). Having the trailer deck removed was, once again the prefect opportunity to make this happen.

The only thing harder than removing old rusty deck screws was removing old rusty u-bolts... just saying.

I am lucky enough to live in fairly close proximity to a trailer supply store, having to pass right by it everyday to and from work, so sourcing parts was easy. For my particular axle the modification it was pretty straight forward; lift the trailer, support it with jack stands, remove the u-bolts, remove either the forward or aft spring shackles, roll the axle out, reattach the spring shackles, rotate the axle 180 and roll it right back in place. The same spring perches were able to be used without having to relocate them, as my axle is straight and not a bowed one. 

 

One thing of note; in the above photo you can see the clearance between the tire and lip of the fender. As I recall the distance was less than 3" and now the clearance is over 7" giving well over 4" of effective lift to the bottom of the trailer by using this quick and simple mod. Of course the axle housing is still at the same height as before (1" taller than stock, as I gained 1" axle clearance from a previous tire and wheel replacement).

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My local metal supply store has a great selection of quality, "Made in the USA" metal. My next upgrade/modification came in the form of a new tongue and fabrication of a rear receiver. So the plan was to cut the welds holding the fish plate and coupler together, then weld in an extended 6' tongue that also passed through the front of the trailer frame and back to the first cross brace. The rear of the trailer received the same treatment with the 3' receiver 2 1/4" square tube material passing through the rear of the trailer, extending the last cross member. I remember thinking, why don't I just run the square tube the entire length, but with the deck removed I just didn't want to compromise the integrity of the trailer by cutting all of the cross sections of frame apart leaving very little to keep everything square and plumb, so that's where my compromised landed.

 

The new tongue and rear receiver is 2 1/4", 1/4" thick square tube. I also welded a 2 1/2" collar on to the ends to help with the extra anticipated stress of off road use. Additionally, I fabricated a new coupler that is removable so with the pull of a pin you can add an extra layer of security to your trailer when you park it. Pull the pin and take the coupler with you when you leave camp.

The new tongue and coupler combination extends the trailer two more feet than the previous set up, which will help tremendously gaining access to the rear of the Jeep. At one point I had to remove the factory landing leg because it fouled against the spare tire of the Jeep in certain situations.

My welder is a little buzz box made by Lincoln, Weld Pak 100. 110v, flux core wire, and burns like a champ. Most of this material so far is 1/4" thick steel and will be supporting a lot of new weight, not to mention the new dynamic of changed leverage points. I called on one of my buddies with a big 220v Miller to burn over a few key welds and to hit the underside welds that I hadn't completed yet.

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Reinstalling the deck was pretty straight forward; lay down a 2"x6", drill some holes and screw in the new deck fastener. This task only made complicated by the amazingly true pieces of wood that pass for quality lumber these days. Some pry bar action was needed to keep some of the decking into position while I secured each piece, but in the end, it all fit like a puzzle.

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I was down at the local Tractor Supply Co., and came across a trailer storage box that would defiantly qualify for a scratch and dent. I put it on the cart and headed out to find the manager. After a little show and tell the box was mine for 50% off and it found a new home on the front of my trailer.

 

With the new receiver coming out of the backend, it was necessary to make a small modification in the tailgate. not a big deal, I'll box in the open sides when I work on some of the finishing details.

Once the storage box was mounted, it left little room for the clamp mounting of the hokey clamp mount of the aftermarket landing leg. I figured a good position for it and marked, drilled and tapped for the fasteners. I opted for threads rather than welding in blind nuts for now, we will see if the mild steel gives me any trouble down the road. Also I'm not very impressed with the quality of this one and will be looking for landing gear that is a bit more substantial in the near future.

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The next small upgrade to the trailer was the fenders and lack of a running board. At 29" at the widest point, the fender wouldn't allow for any kind of off road tire without risking rubbing or cutting of the tire.

The fenders and running boards are fabricated from 1 3/4" .021 DOM steel tubing, running the full length of the trailer on each side. To make this happen I needed to get some tubing bent. Unable to beg, borrow or steal my way to fenders I picked up a Westwood tubing bender. The biggest trick to this tool was to try and find a place to mount it. My garage is not big enough to accommodate the length of steel that needed to be used and mounting it in the driveway was a no go, so I mounted it on a piece of 1/2" plywood. As a side note, it worked very well all things considered.

At a full one foot wide, the running boards and fender can easily be used as a step to access the rest of the trailer and will serve well as rock solid rails if they encounter anything on the trails that they need to slide by.

One of the goals for this trailer is have it sit level with the Jeep, or as level as I can get it as I have a Lock-N-Roll off road coupler that I will be using. The magic formula hasn't been worked out yet, so how large of a tire I need to have, to achieve the proper height is still a mystery. I stumbled into a really good deal for a set of tires and wheels that came off of an older Jeep, so the 5x4.5" bolt pattern on the wheel and the 32/10.5 tire was perfect to get me started.

I opted to cut the welds with my Dremel cut off wheel and remove them when the time came, getting rid of the undersized tin.

I have about an 1 1/2" of clearance between the trailer and the sidewall. If it becomes an issue with full articulation I'll go with a spacer and change it up to a 5x5" bolt pattern to match the Jeep. I'm leaning this way anyway just so I can interchange tire/wheels without issue, but as I mentions this is a cheap set up to get me started.

The profile length of the fenders were exciting to complete and to hang in place. The cross pieces were made from the same 1 3/4" .021 DOM tubing as the rest. We used a hole saw with a 1 7/8" bit to cut the fish mouth notches for the joins and a cut off saw to cut them to length.

  

And side two. You would think that having already done one side the the other would be even easier. Trying to replicate all of the bends in a mirror fashion were not as simple as you would expect. Freelancing without a jig or other hard measuring devices proved to be a little sketchy. Some of our measurements are off just a bit from the other side but will probably never be noticed. We are pleased how both sides came out.

 As with all projects sometimes things do not go exactly as you had planned, or more directly... measure once, cut twice.

One of our measurements was off a full three inches! Luckily it was three inches long and not three inches short. I took an eight inch piece of tubing and cut 3/4" from the center eventually making a split pin. Then in the vice I started to carefully roll it back closed, being sure to keep the roundness intact. After about thirty minutes I was able to tap it into place for a really nice plug/butt weld fix. I have no doubt that it will be the strongest part of the entire trailer.

 

 

 

 


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