Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 13 March 2012 15:32
A former longtime Hillsboro house contractor has turned his attention and considerable skills to a more mobile and temporary form of living arrangements.
Larry Bartel, working alongside his son, Kevin, is spearheading the interior work for two huge trailers that will provide lodging for up to 20 harvest-crew workers this summer—and hopefully for several summers to come.
The project was initiated by Kent Wright, owner of Wright’s Trucking & Harvesting LLC based in Sidney, Neb. Bartel has worked with that company each harvest season for the past 10 years after completing 31 years as a local housing contractor.
“We’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time and now we’re finally doing,” Bartel said the trailer project. “About the middle of July we got serious about getting this put together.”
Motivated to move
Wright and Bartel were forced to get serious after a company in Alabama that Wright had lined up for the project suddenly backed out.
“We were left at square one again,” Bartel said. “We had to find a new supplier for trailers.”
Working through Larry’s Trailer Sales & Service in Wichita, they located Craftsmen Industries in St. Charles, Mo., a company that specializes in customized trailers and large vehicles, including a traveling Taco Tico store.
“The undercarriage (for the Wright trailers) was special built 10-feet wide, and then the box on top and shell on the outside,” Bartel said. “Another trailer manufacturer built the undercarriage, and then Craftsmen built the shell for it and the underbelly boxes. They did a fantastic job.”
The 10-foot undercarriage—2 feet wider than the standard width—made it more difficult to find a manufacturer willing to take it on. Each trailer is 53 feet long.
“It’s about the max you can make,” Bartel said. “It’s overwide, but we run overwide anyhow. It’s no big deal. Some of our other trailers are 10-wide, too.”
To solidify the trailers against wind and thousands of miles of highway travel, the empty shells are braced with steel and the seams are sealed with high-powered glued rather than riveted.
Kent Wright brought the first trailer to the work site about a mile of Hillsboro around the first of February. Bartel said he and his boss agreed “kind of by concensus” that Bartel would be heading up the interior work.
“(Wright) had talked to one or two other people in Nebraska about doing it, and they weren’t really very interested,” Bartel said. “It’s kind of a speciality thing. I agreed to try and put it together for him.”
The design for the interior space—which includes a kitchen, an eating area, a lounge, restroom and showers, and bunk beds to accommodate 10 people—was adapted from an eight-bed trailer Wright’s Trucking has been using.
“We’ll still use one of the old trailers,” Bartel said. “We were having to put people up in a motel at several places. This way we gain four more bunks with these two main trailers.”
The project began with framing the interior walls with 2-by-2 lumber and dropping the ceiling by 41?2 inches to allow for plenty of insulation.
Yoder Insulation of Yoder was contracted to blow in the foam insulation to a rating of R30 in the walls and R40 in the ceiling.
One of the tedious tasks for the Bartel men is covering the facing side of each stud and rafter with painter tape to keep the blow-in insulation from sticking to those surfaces.
With the insulation in place, glassboard is used for the ceiling and walls, and the floors are covered linoleum—all for easy clean-up. The storage cabinets and bed frames inside each trailer are custom-made with finished wood.
The project has kept local subcontractors busy, too. The Bartels have engaged Flaming’s Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning of Marion to design and install the air and plumbing systems.
“Right away when we started this we didn’t want to have a bunch of rooftop units that cause all kinds of problems,” Larry Bartel said. “We went to a forced-air furnace, and they’ve done just a fantastic job of putting that together.
“Of course, they’ve done the plumbing, too. They’ve done just a magnificent job.”
Bartel hired Funk’s Electric from Goessel to wire the trailers, Duane Kliewer of Hillsboro has being building the custom cabinets and Supreme Floor of Hillsboro will lay the linoleum.
“It’s pretty much a Marion County deal,” Bartel said with a smile.
A high standard
Bartel’s reputation for quality construction has carried over into this project. He and Wright remember all too well what happened one summer with a housing trailer built by an Indiana company with a lesser commitment.
“The first summer, one of the guys jumped on the top bunk and it fell down,” Bartel said. “Where it was supposed to be screwed to the wall, they missed all the studs. That pretty much settled the deal. (Wright) wasn’t going to buy any new trailers from (that company).
“It’s that way through the whole industry,” Bartel added. “They don’t have craftsmen doing the work.”
The first trailer is due to be completed around April 1. The deadline for the second trailer, which arrived a couple of weeks ago and is housed in a machine shed on the work site, is the first week in May.
Kevin Bartel said the approaching deadlines have “required long days and a lot of Saturdays.”
“So far we haven’t resorted to Sundays,” his father added with a smile.
While he rates the technical challenge of the project as a “10,” Larry Bartel said the opportunity to work alongside his son rates even higher.
“It’s been wonderful,” he said.
Another positive component has been the complete support of Bartel’s employer.
“The people I work for are super,” he said of the Wright family. “You couldn’t work for any better people.”
It’s a working relationship based on experience and trust accumulated over time.
“It’s kind of nice that when you need something, Kent just says, ‘If you need it, go get it,’” Kevin said.
Added his father: “There are no constraints. He trusts us to be responsible for doing the work.”
The two trailers will be put to work this summer, but it’s possible that once the exterior decals and signing have been added, the trailers might be featured in a John Deere corporate publication.
“It’s been fun,” Larry Bartel said.