Equip-A-Truck

October 1, 2001
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A.R.E's EZ3 3-door commercial fiberglass lid.


You’re having a busy season. Running around like a rodman with his head cut off. You rush from the office to the field, hoping you have all the equipment you’ll need to get the job done. At the jobsite, you realize you forgot the cable for your GPS antenna.

You’re on a drive to a jobsite. Rocky roads. Dirt. Potholes everywhere. You and your crew bounce around in the truck like you’re on some bad roller coaster ride. You arrive onsite, only to find your materials and equipment strewn about.

You’re out in the field on a multi-million dollar project. Your data is important, of course. Must be accurate. One thing you may not have considered is to attach your GPS antenna to your truck to reduce multipath.

So, what is the magical answer to organizing your truck, securing the items and reducing multipath from the deflection of your truck? Equipping your truck the appropriate way. What is the appropriate way? I don’t claim to have the answer for every surveyor out there, but below is some equipment to look into.

An Organizer How-To

Whether your truck is a full-fledged office, or you load it up with jobsite particulars, it needs to be organized. In a recent POB poll, 44 percent of the 162 respondents indicated that an equipment organizer is one of the most important options when selecting a vehicle. Whether you make it yourself or buy from a manufacturer, there are several things to consider, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Composition, Weight and Durability

“Surveyors are very hard on their equipment,” says Dr. Rafi-Zadeh, president and owner of Silver Shield, a maker of galvanized steel organizers in Phoenix, Arizona.

He’s right. With many surveyors traveling to remote, even primitive-like land on occasion, expectations of maintaining a kept truck and good shocks might be optimistic. Nonetheless, surveyors require durability as a key quality for their equipment, including truck organizers.

So, what are most surveyors’ organizers made of? Most use homemade wood units over manufactured ones.

According to Dr. Rafi, though, the wood units are heavy and expensive. Rafi estimates a homemade wood box weighing 380-500 lbs. to cost a user more than $300 per year for gas mileage due to the extra weight of the wood material. Not all wood units weigh in this range, some surveyors say, so gas isn’t a big concern.

“My organizer probably weighs in the order of 150 pounds,” says Matt Filus, RLS, of Vierbicher Associates Inc. in Reedsburg, Wis. “It is 8 feet long and rather extensive. I’m sure I am dropping some fuel economy, but not a substantial amount considering that the truck has a V-8 with automatic transmission. On a smaller, underpowered vehicle, it would probably make a bigger difference.”

Some organizers may be heavier but they’re also durable, users say.

“I do have to admit mine [wood units] are heavy,” says Greg Shoults, RPLS. “I use 2" x 8" bedlength boards with 3/4" cdx plywood with several L braces and angle brackets with 3" long screws to hold. We do remote land surveys and 90 percent of our time is off-road over very inhospitable terrain. A box and truck have to be very tough and durable.”

Filus agrees that wood units are generally heavier, but says there are several advantages of wood units over galvanized steel units.

“Using proper materials and methods (jointing, fasteners, etc.), a strong, light and attractive unit can be constructed for less money (but of course, more time),” Filus says. Filus has built about 10 wood organizers over the years, has purchased several Silver Shield units, and has used a combination of both. His current personal survey rig is a 2000 Chevy regular-cab long-box 4x4 with a wood organizer.

Time, it is true, is a factor when deciding on an organizer. Several surveyors will put in the time it takes (estimated at 8-9 hours) to create a homemade wood box custom to their needs.

Many wood organizers are glued or nailed together, which come apart over time. And many have seen better days—days before they were ruined from chainsaw gas, paint can spray, and normal wear and tear.

“Steel lasts forever,” Rafi says.

How long will a wood box last? John Hogan built a wood organizer in 1989—a 12-year stint—which is still held together and serving its purpose. McMillan says he made an organizer 16 years ago using good quality fir plywood and western pine.

“It is still in very good shape,” he says.

So, why do so many surveyors have homemade wood boxes? Rafi says that before the galvanized steel units came along, most everyone built a wood unit to get by. Surveyors are catching on, he says, and little by little realizing the benefits steel has over wood. Steel won’t warp like wood; there’s no argument there.

Eventually, many business owners will look to steel, according to Rafi. Silver Shield is slowly penetrating the market and Rafi says he maintains 90 percent repeat business on average.

“They buy one [unit], and then they buy again and again,” he says. “The only way they don’t come back is if they retire or die.”

Steel units also offer versatility over wood units. If you want to change trucks, you can remove your organizer and re-install it in your new vehicle. And the lids provide work surfaces.

Silver Shield's field organizer system.

Get it Together: Benefits of Organization

To curb your forgetfulness (not due to old age, of course), organize your truck carefully and logically. Pat Bramble, field manager for G.C. Wallace, a surveying and engineering firm in Las Vegas, Nev., equips his truck with Weather Guard Pack Rat Drawer Units. Weather Guard Truck and Van Equipment, manufactured by Knaack Manufacturing Company of Crystal Lake, Ill., offers these full extension drawers, which put frequently needed items within easy reach. There is no more forgetting those charged batteries or needed cables. They each have their own spot in the truck. Silver Shield organizers have a place for everything, too (see figure below). It's kind of the “no excuse” truck configuration.

McMillan says his homemade organizer includes a long drawer that slides on refrigerator rollers (for heavy stuff like the turning plate and spare spikes) and detachable boxes that hold four prism poles and a gas drill.

“The next thing I need to build is a carry rack for a couple of tripods,” McMillan says. “I have in mind something like a gun rack.”

Jim Blayne, sales manager for commercial and fleet division for A.R.E. Truck Caps, a maker of commercial grade work caps for pickups in Massilion, Ohio, says A.R.E.’s best selling cap for surveyors is “probably our aluminum DCU, a cab-high metal model. It’s kind of the workhorse of our industry.” The newer, lighter LS is a big seller for owners of lighter utility trucks like the Dodge Dakota or Ford Ranger. Most customers choose the aluminum over the fiberglass caps, Blayne says, because “you can’t do as much with fiberglass as with the aluminum because it [fiberglass] is molded.” Blayne also said that aluminum caps can be customized for any domestic pickup.

A custom GPS surveying truck.

Style and Size

The look of your truck reflects your image and that of your firm. And it doesn’t matter if you’re working for a long-time client or a new one, you—and your truck—must look good. In a study of 348 surveyors, 54 percent indicated using their vehicles as a field office.

Woodworking surveyors even admit that galvanized steel organizers such as Silver Shield’s are attractive, in addition to being lightweight. Silver Shield’s units can also be painted to match any truck. A.R.E. also custom paints its truck caps.

A.R.E.’s best configuration for surveyors is the Toolbox configuration, which contains small and big boxes, bins and slide-in storage for transits. “It’s a nice, portable but attractive unit,” Blayne says.

The configuration of your organizing unit must be adaptive to your equipment and to your truck to be effective. Blayne recommends first evaluating what you’ll put in your truck.

“We can build a cap up to 78" over the rail of the truck (providing about 90" overall),” Blayne says.

Silver Shield units run 30-50 sq. ft. in area and occupy about 12-18.6 cu. ft. of space. Wood, of course, can be made to any specification.

A.R.E. offers a rollout bed tray good for long, bulky tools, handy for items like locators.

Important for you worktruck owners who may spend much time on the phone is a non-rattling organizer. Manufactured units are made to fit the bed size of the truck. So, if you’re planning to design your own, make sure you make your unit snug in its bed.

Watching Your Pennies

Silver Shield units may cost a bit more up front, but as Rafi notes, it pays off in the end. The total investment in Silver Shield is less than 17 cents a day, he says, which buys security for all valuables, gas savings of 3-5 mpg, and time savings in accessibility and safety, preventing accidents due to blind spots.

The last part alone bears influence for the steel units. Woodworking surveyors need to remember to analyze the line of sight when building an organizer, just as one would while surveying. Rafi says his units eliminate blind spots and increase safety with 360 degrees of unobstructed visibility.

Another thing to consider is the effect an organizer has on the life expectancy of your truck. The weight from wood cannot only add to your fuel bill, but also to the maintenance on your truck. Silver Shield credits its organizers to prolonging the life expectancy and effective performance of your truck.

Cab covers, according to design experts, improve the fuel economy of many pickups.

“Tonneau covers on pickup boxes reduce aerodynamic drag,” says Jack Williams of Ford Aero Systems Engineering. “We’ve seen reductions in aerodynamic drag of 8 to 10 percent on the F-150. The average steady-state (cruise control) fuel economy improvement on the highway is around 5 percent. In easy to understand terms, this means you get a free gallon of gas for every 20 gallons you use,” Williams says.

If you need another reason to consider a truck cap, think about equipment loss. Surveyors know that losing equipment can suspend or halt a project entirely.

“One thing I have found with the lid over the cap is that if you can’t see under it, the less likely anything will be stolen,” says A.R.E.’s Blayne. “Out of sight, out of mind works here.”

Reducing Multipath

Today’s typical surveying truck setup includes a solid white bed shell. GPS users configure GPS antennas on a tribrach that attaches to the shell with magnets or lay a rover unit in the truck bed. This still leaves much room for obstacles to increase multipath.

G.C. Wallace’s Bramble and Dan Hill set out to find a better configuration to limit multipath. After much trial and error, they settled on a configuration including Weather Guard equipment. Their GPS antenna with quick-release mount and RTK radio antenna are mounted on a Protect-A-Rail cab protector. The GPS roving unit is stored in a saddle box with a 1" diameter hole to protect the cable and route it to the antennas and into the truck cab for data collector use.

They also use low side boxes, a four-drawer sliding box and a steel box to hold tripods, rods, etc. All this is mounted to the side rails, and the four-drawer sliding box is welded to the steel box bolted to the bed.

The company has four trucks configured with the Weather Guard toolbox arrangement for GPS. Bramble says the setup reduces multipath by about 30 percent. G.C. Wallace feels their data is more reliable, which means not having to go back to the job due to bad data.

So, unless you have a personal caddy, consider these options to equip your truck.

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