I must admit, I am one of those truck drivers who thought flatbed trucking is too much work. I always figured it would be easier to hook to a van trailer, shut the doors and go. I have a friend that made a career change to flatbed. After many years driving regular van trailers he is very happy he made the switch to flatbed. I recently spent some time at a delivery point with him and learned some of the basics and wanted to share them. One of the first ideas I would like to discuss is the physical aspect of flatbed. One of the major differences to us van drivers who are only in and out of the truck so much. A flatbed driver spends a lot of time out of the truck. They also spend more time doing more strenuous tasks such as tarping, strapping and constantly going back and forth around their rig.
Another thing that I was surprised about was how easy it was to un-tarp the load. It wasn’t an irregular shaped load and I’m sure that is more difficult. We simply unhooked the rope cord from the trailer and slid the two tarps off. Then we folded them up and were done in about 15 minutes. I can imagine this being more difficult in adverse weather and when it is dark. If you plan your flatbed loads so that you can arrive at your destination early. You will be able to pull your tarps and relax. It was a cool fall day when I was learning these new skills so it wasn’t too bad.
I asked my friend to give me some tips for this blog. The first thing he said pertained to strapping the load. He says, “If the thought even slightly crosses your mind about putting a strap there do it!” The regulations say that you need to have a strap every 8 feet. My friend prefers every 6 feet. You can never be too sure when it comes to securing your load. Another tip he shared was to use a long rope cord on your tarps. Thread the cord through loosely, then hook it to your trailer and pull it tight at the end. This way you do not have to hook every single rope individually. Remember to always use bungee cords to tighten any loose ends.
Some of the tools that you need to flatbed are; gloves, strap tightener/chain tightener, strap roller, bungee cords, extra rope, carpet, flags, oversize signs, corner protectors, stickers or dunnage and a light bar. Something else you might consider is what to wear. The tarps and straps get pretty dirty. Therefore you may want to pick up a pair of coveralls or a long sleeve shirt or hoodie. Don’t expect to come out of tarping a flatbed load looking like you are going to the prom. You may want to get an extra set of clothes just to wear when tarping.
If you dislike waiting to get your trailer loaded or unloaded, then going flatbed may not be a good choice for you. A good flatbed driver can be in and out of a place in 2 hours or less. Depending on their efficiency with their tarping and/or strapping skills. Obviously it depends on the shipper or receiver just like if you were driving a van trailer. There is not a whole lot of drop and hook when it comes to flatbed. Once the shipper has placed the load on your trailer, then you strap it down. And then, one cool thing I found out is that you don’t normally have to lug those tarps up on the load. The shipper will generally pick your tarp up with the forklift and place it on top of the load. Then you just climb up and roll it on out. You want to remember safety and use an appropriate ladder when available. Make sure to take your time and be careful.
The last thing to consider about flatbed is that you have the same trailer all of the time. I know this sounds funny, but most of us van guys at big companies drop and hook so often. We get to inherit other people’s problems. As a flatbed driver you can avoid some of those pitfalls by keeping your own trailer. So, the next time you get an offer to go flatbed. Don’t just push it off because you think it will be too hard. Flatbed is not for everyone, but many drivers do it and enjoy it. Take a chance! You might like it. And it will make you more marketable in your skills as a truck driver down the road. Thanks for reading this article about flatbed, as always be safe out there!