A shorter trailer makes it easier for a frac sand hauler to negotiate switchback corners in the Marcellus Shale region.

In baseball terms, trucker Dennis Bednarek was having trouble with the curve — as in the tight switchback turns he often navigates to deliver frac sand to gas well drilling sites in the mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The cure? A custom-designed Polar Corp. APX 9 pneumatic dry-bulk tank trailer that’s only 38 feet long, compared to 43 feet for a standard trailer of this type. A 5-foot difference may not sound like a lot, but it makes it much easier for Bednarek, the owner of Bednarek Trucking in Little Falls, Minn., to negotiate treacherous turns and narrow roads.

The shorter length also helps him avoid bottoming out on rugged terrain, which damages valves and pipes on the bottom of the tank, notes Bednarek, who’s been in the trucking industry for 32 years.

“I was inspired to look for a different kind of trailer after I had to have bulldozers hook up with chains so they could nudge my old trailer sideways and get it around some sharp switchback corners,” Bednarek explains. “When you start to pull a loaded trailer sideways, it’s just not good for it … it raises havoc with the suspension and can damage components. I just knew that something better could be designed.”

Bednarek’s trailer features 840 cubic feet of hauling capacity, which is less than the 1,000 cubic feet offered by his old, 43-foot-long trailer. But since weight restrictions limit the trailers to carrying roughly 25 tons of material, which equates to approximately 550 cubic feet, he says his shorter trailer still can carry the same volume of frac sand.

“I only used 55 percent of my last trailer’s capacity,” notes Bednarek, who used to haul the sand from Wisconsin and Minnesota. Now it’s shipped by railroad to Pittsburgh, where he picks it up and delivers it to customers in the Marcellus Shale region. “So I wanted to find a shorter trailer that could handle tight turns, provide better ground clearance, and still maintain a relatively low center of gravity.”

To unload the frac sand, Bednarek relies on a Tuthill T850 blower that’s mounted on the frame rail of the tractor cab (the blower moves 390 to 1,000 cfm and generates a maximum of 20 psi continuous pressure). He purchased the blower from R.A. Ross N.E., Inc., a Tuthill distributor. The trailer features an aluminum tank with a stainless steel subframe assembly for added durability and corrosion resistance.

It also includes a liftable third rear axle, which helps Bednarek two ways: When he raises it, the trailer’s turning radius decreases to that of a 34-foot-long trailer; when he lowers it, the third axle helps the trailer meet bridge-law weight requirements (80,000-pound limit for gross motor vehicle weight).

The APX 9 offers other advantages, too, aside from increased safety on mountain roads. First, it can maneuver well in the tight quarters often found on drilling pads. And because Bednarek often can get it closer to the sand chief into which he unloads the frac sand, there’s less hose required, which decreases offloading time.

“As a rough rule of thumb, every foot of additional hose you use can add another minute to unloading time,” Bednarek explains. “So adding 60 to 70 feet of hose could add up to an hour of unloading time for a horizontal blow.”

Bednarek also points out that the trailer boosts his profitability significantly through less downtime and better productivity. Plus, by reporting fewer insurable incidents, he says his insurance rates don’t go up as fast.     
“Downtime is very costly in this business,” he says. “We operate seven days a week. If my equipment is damaged, say, late on a Friday and I couldn’t get it fixed until Monday, plus the time needed to order parts, I could be down for a week. That adds up to thousands and thousands of dollars lost, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”       
The trailer cost Bednarek about $95,500, but he says it’s worth every penny. The unit will recoup the extra cost, compared to a conventional pneumatic trailer, if it eliminates just one downtime incident annually over three years.

“I don’t know of any other trailer like it,” he adds. “My customers absolutely love it. They wish everyone had trailers like this one.”

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