Innovative design, superior strength and unsurpassed quality typify Minnesota’s own Felling Trailers, fabricators of a full line of trailers used in diverse industries. Barbara Kram reports.
Like many successful businesses, Felling Trailers began with a simple observation of a marketplace need by an industry insider.
Felling Trailers began as Sauk Centre (Minnesota) Welding & Machine Works, Inc. in 1954. The small shop catered to local farmers and businesses by doing repairs and small custom welding and fabrication jobs. In 1974 an employee, current CEO Merle J. Felling, purchased the business.
Felling saw a lack of quality workmanship in many of the trailers coming through his shop for repair and began making custom trailers for a few of the local farmers. Others soon noticed his quality craftsmanship and Merle launched the Felling Trailer product line in 1975.
“We needed to expand fabricating and general farm and construction equipment repair along with trailer manufacturing,” he said. At the time, the clientele was mostly farmers but that customer base has vastly changed. “Currently we ship product into approximately 42 states and Canada and applications are primarily in the construction trades and very little ag[riculture].”
Quality, craftsmanship and pride grew over the years as did the company, which added to its line of specialized trailers. In 1985 Felling Trailers moved to its current 100,000 plus square-foot complex at the intersection of Highway 71 and Interstate 94 in Sauk Centre. This prompted a quick doubling in size for the company.
How They Do It
Today, Felling Trailers’ 100-plus employees design and manufacture a full line of innovative trailers. From blueprint through componentry production, robot and jig stations, blasting and painting, finishing and shipping, the company’s quality control formula pervades all operations.
A glimpse inside the shop shows that before any manufacturing begins, every trailer undergoes a strict design review with the engineering team, whether it is one of Felling’s 24 unique trailer styles or a custom trailer. Trailers are primarily made of steel, although the company also makes a line of aluminum trailers. Very little is outsourced – just wheels, tires, jacks, couplers, cylinders, scissor hoists and a few other mechanical pieces. “All the steelwork and fabrication is done here from bar stock,” Felling said.
To begin the construction phase, beams and cross-members are cut to each trailer’s specifications. Many components are cut by a laser or plasma table to ensure accurate and repeatable quality. After the cutting process, material is sent to one of 20 unique work stations or to an OTC robotic welding cell. Pre-engineered jig fixtures at production workstations ensure quality, accuracy and consistency. After the trailer is assembled in the jig and welded it is flipped over to weld the top. This approach allows for perfect weld coverage and a sturdier, more robust frame. Next, exterior welds are ground down to produce a clean, smooth surface. The running gear is also put on at this time including quality Dexter Axles for capacities from 2,000 to 15,000 pounds, and Meritor axles for 20,000 pounds and larger.
After fabrication, every trailer goes into a blast booth where steel shot removes all rust and contaminants in preparation for painting. In the paint booths the trailer undergoes an electrostatic application of two coats of primer, three coats of polyurethane paint and a rust inhibitive undercoat. The next stop is a specially designed drying room to ensure proper drying rain or shine, any time of the year. Felling Trailers has one of the finest and longest-lasting paint jobs in the industry, and the company stands behind it with a three-year paint warranty.
Once painted the trailers move to a finishing area where they receive the decking, wiring, and decals. This is also where the hydraulic systems are installed into the tilt deck and dump body trailers. After the trailers are complete they are loaded on one of the company’s fleet of eight delivery trucks – the trailer trailers – to be shipped to 200 authorized dealers throughout the country.
“One thing that has helped us grow is our large inventory,” Felling said. “We do a lot of research to track trends and the market so we stock the right type of trailer from among our 100-plus trailers. We can’t keep them all in stock but try to estimate what the market will do.”
In addition, Felling Trailers is a specialized parts supplier with a $2 million inventory in its warehouse containing complete axles, brakes, hubs, drums, lights, wiring, suspension parts, deck, hitch and ramp components. A sampling of parts in the warehouse includes Dexter and Alko/Hayes axles and running gear; Bulldog, Fulton and Wallace forge couplers; Bulldog, Ram, Jost, Iron Works, and Holland-Binkley jacks; Peterson and Optronics lights; Demco hydraulic brake actuators; Hayes and Dexter brake assemblies; Tekonsha brake controllers; B&W gooseneck and RV hitches. These, and the company’s full stock of parts, can be shipped anywhere in the world.
Merle credits hard work and perseverance for the company’s continued growth, having now quadrupled in size since moving to its current site.
“We see a lot of growth building custom trailers. A lot of other manufacturers may not bother but we’ve grown because we’ve done what other companies won’t,” Felling said. “We have a number of clients who have a specific application such as pressure washing or hydroseeding or other hauling water and equipment.” Other applications for trailers include hauling steel and compact equipment by Departments of Transportation, along with concrete mixers. Another specialized trailer type made by the company is the reel trailer that hauls spools of cables, or telescopic trailers for utility poles. Bobcat loaders and mid-sized construction equipment typify the payload for the company’s trailers.
The company’s line includes drop deck, light utility, deck-over and gooseneck, hydraulic dump, tilt, rigid neck semi, and specialty and custom trailers. Felling Trailers also performs custom manufacturing of truck beds as well as contract metal fabrication.
The extensive product line includes drop deck trailers that get progressively larger for carrying front end loaders, excavators, and heavy equipment. Light utility trailers serve a number of applications while deck-over and gooseneck trailers are used for large skid loaders or smaller excavators in ag applications. “It’s a kind of go-between – a little bigger than a drop-deck but not a heavy trailer,” Felling said of the popular light utility size.
Dump trailers represent a busy line for the company with multiple uses. The trailers are available with ramps to drive equipment into the dump box. Once deployed, the box can be used to load, dump and haul material. An innovative side loader is also available. “That’s a landscaper’s delight,” Felling said. “You can put equipment on the back with ease and the mulch and shrubbery on the front, then unload and dump at the job site, putting debris in the dump box. The back platform allows easy on and easy offloading of equipment and materials.”
Mechanical tilting is somewhat different from dumping and is in lieu of trailers with ramps but eliminates the need to drop a ramp. Another line, the semi-trailers, have been built since the mid-1980s for heavy equipment and payloads up to 60 tons.
“We see a trend away from some of the smaller drop-deck trailers toward some of the heavier deck-overs and larger tilt trailers because of the housing cool down,” Felling said, explaining, “in home construction, there’s a need for smaller business owners hauling equipment as opposed to the larger company hauling big excavators.”
The rising price of oil also affects Felling Trailers favorably since more companies are going into the oil business, requiring bigger rigs and trucks.
For the reliability required in heavy industry, customers enjoy Felling Trailers’ nearly unheard-of, five-year warranty as well as the three-year paint warranty.
“We pride ourselves on our workmanship. We do it the right way” Felling said. ” and we live by our tagline of quality, craftsmanship and pride. If a customer buys a trailer from us we know they will continue to do so because of our extraordinary commitment to quality.”