Childhood fascination with auto haulers leads to development of self-contained transport module for use in drop vans

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Car on Pivoting Upper Deck
Removable Adjustable Decks/Auto Transport Modules, a trademarked product created by Ernest Dandridge Carrier Design Services Inc., are designed for use in drop vans. The modules are secured with steel locking arms that engage the van’s vertical wall posts; if there are no wall posts, the modules can be bolted to the floor. (Courtesy: Ernest Dandridge Carrier Design Services Inc.)

McLEAN, Va. — As a teen, Ernest Dandridge Jr. was fascinated with auto haulers. In fact, he told The Trucker, he often visited a local Ford dealership just to watch the car carriers delivering new vehicles to the lot. His interest was so intense that he even reached out to the auto hauler in the hope of satisfying his curiosity.

“I wrote to the primary Ford transport company, Nu-Car Carriers Inc., expressing my fascination,” he said. “A senior vice president invited me to their headquarters outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I got to know the head engineer, who taught me how to do car-trailer layout work.”

Dandridge’s next step was to visit East Coast Ford plants to learn more about the industry.

“As a young adult, I got to know and learn from some of the pioneers in the car-hauling equipment industry,” he said, adding that those pioneers included Don Cottrell, founder of Georgia-based Cottrell Trailers, and Leonard Strick, founder of Strick Trailers.

In fact, Dandridge said, after retiring from Strick Trailers, Strick started a separate firm in the Philadelphia area — and recruited Dandridge.

“The units consisted of a long wheelbase tilt cab tractor with a box on it, coupled to a trailer van. (Strick) wanted to haul lightweight freight in high volume or haul cars,” Dandridge said, adding that Strick taught him the ins and outs of working with third-party manufacturing firms.

The more Dandridge learned about the design and function of auto haulers, the more fascinated he became. While his early experience was with open car haulers, he soon developed an interest in enclosed vehicle transport systems.

Today, Dandridge is president of Ernest Dandridge Carrier Design Services Inc., based in Fairfax County, Virginia. Working with Kentucky Trailer of Louisville, Kentucky, he has developed a trademarked product that converts a drop-frame/electronic van to a secure, enclosed vehicle transport. Unlike other enclosed car haulers, which are permanently built into place, Dandridge’s Removable Adjustable Decks/Auto Transport Modules are self-contained, a feature that allows them to be transferred from one trailer to another. In addition, the module design allows the units to be teamed with a standard Class 8 freight tractor with no additional equipment, such as a PTO, required.

The modules are designed to take full advantage of a drop van’s vertical space to more efficiently load vehicles, Dandridge said, adding that the decks can be pivoted to further maximize loading space. Auto haulers can use a single module or multiple modules, depending on the size of the load being transported. The modules are secured with steel locking arms that engage the van’s vertical wall posts; if there are no wall posts, the modules can be bolted to the floor.

“The module’s upper decks pivot on greater angles than some other enclosed car hauler’s upper decks, and the upper decks also go flat to the trailer floor,” he noted.

In addition to small, boutique-type moving services that transport premium vehicles for private parties, Dandridge says the modules are ideal for commercial haulers who transport confidential prototypes for OEMs, premium new retail vehicles or show vehicles.

“Our firm can point truckers to used trailer dealers that recondition, repaint and DOT-certify trailers, saving a trucker the cost of a new trailer,” Dandridge said, noting that even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic many drivers and carriers were dealing with rising taxes, insurance rates and toll fees.

“Used trailers are not subject to the 12% federal excise tax (FET), and neither are self-contained modules,” he added. “Thus, a trucker can save via a used trailer purchase and also get brand-new interior (module) equipment — or they might already have a drop-frame trailer that could be used.”

Dandridge’s firm also offers electrified trailer options that include a solar charging system for the module’s battery power pack, plus a battery-powered camera system that allows drivers to monitor the upward lifting of vehicles inside a trailer.

For more information, contact Ernest Dandridge Carrier Design Services Inc. at 703-904-1875.

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Linda Garner-Bunch has been in publishing for more than 30 years. You name it, Linda has written about it. She has served as an editor for a group of national do-it-yourself publications and has coordinated the real estate section of Arkansas’ only statewide newspaper, in addition to working on a variety of niche publications ranging from bridal magazines to high-school sports previews and everything in between. She is also an experienced photographer and copy editor who enjoys telling the stories of the “Knights of the Highway,” as she calls our nation’s truck drivers.
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