The Source of a Great Idea
After 28 years in the equipment rental business, transporting as many as 50 units per day, my company, Midwest Aerial Platforms, had used about every type of truck and trailer that was commonly employed for that purpose. We had also experienced all of the related problems.
Inspired by a product we had seen on a trip to California, Ray Smith, an experienced design engineer, and I created a truck bed featuring a curved deck and pullout aluminum ramps that could be mounted on an F-450 Ford. This first "Retriever" (although it wasn't called a Retriever then) was built and put into service in 1995 at Midwest in Waukesha, Wisconsin. It was simple, rugged and able to drive into many locations that were difficult or impossible to access with any other kind of truck or trailer. It worked so well, we built two more for use at our other locations.
Building on Success
We were successful with our first effort, but knew we could do better. So we began work on a second generation. We added a longer curved and hinged rear deck, further reducing the loading angle. We created an air drive system to operate the deck, utilizing the trucks air system rather than a PTO, eliminating the headaches of hydraulics: high maintenance, difficult operations in cold weather, oil spills and excess dead weight to name just a few.
My brother Phil joined the company in 1998, adding his design and manufacturing talents, plus a lot of practical experience, to the team. It took another two years to produce a 2nd generation prototype we were happy with. We then tested and modified it for 2 more years before offering it for sale as Retriever in 2002. There were 16-, 18- and 20 foot versions, all able to be used on non-CDL trucks. To our knowledge, all of the 2nd generation units sold are still in service today.
Designing Around Customer Input
While the 2nd generation models were also successful, we continued asking for customer feedback. Customers told us they wanted 2 primary additions:
- A larger, heavier duty version.
- A powered ramp system.
The 3rd generation models came to market in 2005, featuring a unique full-width, 2-section, air operated ramp. It could be carried vertically or with the first section extended to provide an additional 4-feet of deck length. Available capacity ratings were increased to 15-tons for tandem axle trucks and lengths to 28 feet.
There were other significant additions to the 3rd generation product:
- The No Idle System, that allowed loading and unloading even when the truck's engine was turned off. Customers could more easily comply with increasing anti-idle regulations,
- The LoRider deck design, providing greater bridge/overpass clearance when transporting farm and other tall equipment.
- An 18-ton capacity unit for tri-axle trucks
Innovation is Alive and Well
Credit for development of the Retriever line goes to an exceptional design team, which continues to strengthen. Ray Smith, now 87 years old, is still contributing product improvement ideas. He just loves coming to work. Unfortunately, we lost Phil in December 2010 to a long battle with cancer. We will always miss his practical ideas and positive attitude in the face of difficulties.
Phil's son, John, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering, recently joined the company. John brings a wealth of training and practical knowledge. He is picking up where his Dad left off.
John's name is deservedly included on the patent for our newest offering, the G4 Series. My role has been more the concept and experience guy, with some practical raised-on-a-farm thinking thrown in to keep it simple and as bulletproof as possible.
Our Quality Standard Has Never Varied
One of my pet peeves while running the equipment rental business was discovering, while repairing a breakdown, that the product had been made poorly or with cheap materials. With a little more care or concern over the grade of materials and/or components used, the problem could have been avoided altogether. The manufacturer might have saved a few dollars making the product more cheaply, but it was costing me hundreds or even thousands in repairs, downtime and late delivery costs to fix what he had produced.
Like many of our customers, when we made a promise to someone renting from us, We did everything in our power to keep it. When a vendor's poor workmanship or desire to save a few nickels caused our promise to be broken, that was really upsetting. We at Versatran will be doing everything possible to make sure we don't put our customers in that situation.
We are extremely excited to announce that the 4th generation of Retriever, the G4 Series, developed as always in response to customer needs and requests, has arrived. It has been in development for more than 2 years. Among its many advances will be:
- Six more inches of bridge clearance, due to a deck height that can reach as low as 41 inches when the optimum chassis specs are chosen
- Two different ramp configurations, providing optimum adaptation to specific customer requirements
- Availability in capacity ratings of 15 tons for tandems and 20 tons for tri-axle trucks.
- E-coating of all weldments. With the advent of more aggressive highway chemicals, magnesium chloride in particular, this gold standard for corrosion protection of steel surfaces, will keep your G4 Series Retriever looking good and lasting even longer.
If you have an idea that would make a Retriever even more useful for your application please give us a call. We welcome your thoughts.