To service customers on the road, Minnesota truck upfitter built a jack-of-all-trades vehicle that can handle just about anything.
As a service mechanic who works almost exclusively on the road repairing trucks and equipment for oil and gas field customers in remote locations, Ethan Angell has to constantly think – and work – on his feet. But his job got a bit easier after he and his employer, Aspen Equipment, customized a service truck that’s as versatile as he is resourceful.
“We started with a bare chassis and built the truck to our specifications,” Angell says of his trusted in-the-field partner: a 2014 Ford F-550, equipped with a 6.7-liter diesel engine and a six-speed automatic Allison transmission. “We looked at buying a new truck, but couldn’t find one that could do everything we wanted it to do. So we designed one ourselves with our customers in mind.”
The truck features a lightweight composite body made by BrandFX Body; an Air-N-Arc 300D ALL-IN-ONE Power System® made by Vanair Manufacturing; a 38,000-foot-pound crane manufactured by Auto Crane (a brand owned by Ramsey Industries); work lights made by Electronic Controls; and in-cab Weather Guard storage from Werner Co.
Aspen Equipment is headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota, and also operates facilities in Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa. The truck upfitter serves a variety of industries, including gas, oil and mining. Its 137 employees serve customers located primarily in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and North and South Dakota.
While customer locations may vary, two things are certain: On-site repairs drastically reduce customer downtime, and customers invariably need help at all hours of the day and night – and in challenging environments where repair shops are a pleasant thought, but not a reality. As such, repairmen like Angell need a truck they can trust, and one that can deliver the goods without costing customers time-consuming – and profit-killing – tows to a repair shop.
“When you’re far away from civilization, your truck is your lifeline – and your customers’ lifeline, too,” Angell notes.
The Ford F-550 delivers the goods. One of its most valuable components is the Vanair unit, a multitasker that features a 25 hp Kubota engine, a rotary screw air compressor, a generator, a 300 amp welder and a battery charger. One of the Vanair unit’s chief advantages: It enables Angell to run a variety of components off it without the truck idling, which produces significant annual savings in terms of fuel expenses and general engine wear and tear. The Vanair’s engine runs off fuel from the truck’s gas tank, but a safety feature prevents it from emptying the tank and leaving Angell stranded.
Moreover, because of the way the Vanair unit is designed, it saves valuable space on the truck compared to if it carried a separate welder, generator, air compressor and the like, he notes.
The crane, which can rotate 370 degrees, features a maximum lifting capacity of 6,400 pounds at a height of 6 feet. “I’m always lifting something – things like hydraulic cylinders and parts from cranes, components from air compressors or wing plows on trucks,” Angell explains. “I’m by myself, so it’s nice to have a ‘dead man’ to assist me.”
The lightweight BrandFX body boosts gas mileage and keeps Angell organized. He opted for six air- and watertight compartments – two vertical and one horizontal unit per side – that store everything from truck parts, miscellaneous hardware and fluids (like penetrating oils and paints) to tools and controls for the Vanair unit. The body also boasts an E-Track tie-down system, made by US Cargo Control.
Angell lauds the longevity of the rustproof composite body, which the company plans on remounting on another truck chassis after the Ford reaches the end of its life cycle. In fact, company officials expect the BrandFX body to last through two more truck chassis, at roughly 300,000 miles per truck.
The truck serves as an office on wheels, too. Angell can run a laptop computer and a printer and charge his cellphone courtesy of an 800-watt pure sine inverter. Made by Sensata Technologies Inc., the unit converts DC voltage into AC voltage (like that found in a household electrical outlet) and spares the truck battery from usage. The seats are clad with custom-made covers made from heavy-duty fabric made by Tiger Tough Group, a division of Sewn Products. “Those are for appearance as well as longevity,” Angell says. “Sometimes customers have to ride in the truck, so appearance is important.”
Appearances count on the exterior, too. The Ford truck looks as good as it is functional, thanks to a full vinyl wrap that Angell says conveys an image of professionalism. “Lots of our customers never get to see our shops, so a well-equipped, nice-looking truck makes a good first impression,” he notes. “It’s like a traveling welcome mat for the company.”
At a total cost of $124,000, the service truck represents a considerable expenditure. But Angell says it was a very worthwhile investment. “We needed a vehicle we could rely on to fix other peoples’ equipment,” he points out. “We can’t work on other trucks if we’re back in the shop working on our own truck. It takes only one chance to make someone a long-term customer … when they can’t find anyone else who can get the job done, and you come out and do it, you’re a hero. And this truck is my hero.”