Machine Transport Products Become More Versatile

Vending operators have more tools available for moving machines than they did several years ago. Powered stair climbers, in addition to moving the machines up stairs, allow machines to be moved on and off trucks.

In addition, hydraulically-driven elevating beds now allow machines to be moved from a warehouse loading dock onto trucks without having to be manually lifted.

Many operators still rely on pallet jacks, dollies and ramps to move machines onto trailers. But powered hand trucks and hydraulic elevating trailers make the job faster, easier and safer.

Bruce Adams, owner of Rainbow Vending Inc. in Denver, Colo., is able to move machines by himself using a battery-powered Lectro Truck hand truck. The ease of use has enabled him to expand into the equipment transport business, handling moves for other vending operators.

With a 24-foot trailer and a battery-powered hand truck, Adams can handle eight deliveries by himself in one day.

He also has a smaller, 16-foot trailer that can hold four machines. The smaller trailer requires no steps for moving machines onto it. He simply climbs over the back of the trailer.

The Lectro Truck has a second set of wheels on it that fold out to form a tripod, giving Adams additional leverage. He can use his leg for even more leverage. "It gives me the balance that I need," he said. When the second set of wheels is not needed, it collapses back into the main unit.

"With the extension handles on the tripod, you can handle a 1,100-pound machine with no problem," he said. "It's a piece of equipment I'm extremely comfortable with. You can lay that machine almost on its side by using the motors to balance."

When moving a machine up steps, Adams said it is always important to know how strong the steps are, particularly if they are wooden.
The Lectro Truck features automatic brakes, allowing the mover to stop quickly if necessary, noted Daryl Mowrer, service manager for Vendnet, part of the Wittern Group and a Lectro Truck distributor. Mowrer said the key benefit is being able to balance the load while moving. "Balancing the load is the key to the whole thing," he said.

Balance is key in moving machines up steps
"When you move machines, if you have to balance it going upstairs, you're always in a position of losing it," noted Mark Dalton, president of Steprider Inc., which makes hand trucks specially designed for vending machines. Dalton said his company's hand trucks can adjust so that the machine moves at the same angle as the steps. In this situation, one person can move a piece of equipment up steps, and there is no need for heavy lifting or pulling.

Shane Mister, operations manager at Daniels Vending, a 12-route operation based in Trappe, Md., said the Nortech hand truck fits easily onto the back of a pick-up truck and allows him to move machines single handedly.

For moving machines up steps, Mister uses a motorized stair climber.

Mister also devised a 2-inch metal frame that he welds onto a standard pallet jack that extends the jack's height. This allows him to lift a machine up higher.

4-wheel dolly addresses high clearance
John DeSimone, who operates Fresh Vend in Fort Worth, Texas, said the Easy Lift 4-wheel dolly from Nortech allows him to move a machine that requires high clearance; something a pallet jack would not allow him to do. "You can pick the machine up off the floor and it instantly moves any direction you want," DeSimone said. "If you have to turn corners, you don't need to lean it over."

The dolly works well for snack machines and other machines with good clearance from the floor.

DeSimone uses an appliance dolly for extra heavy machines. The appliance dolly has a second set of wheels that provide extra support.

DeSimone does not have to deliver equipment since he has the machine manufacturers deliver machines to the accounts. He has a unique situation in that most of his machines are in large locations and usually only have to move from one break area to another.

"It's very easy to go into someone's building and tear up a wall or a carpet," noted Gene Lovas, a former vending operator who now, at age 61, moves equipment for other operators using a battery-powered stair climber. "You need to know what you're doing and eliminate any damage to the building."

Lovas, who operates a company called Ace Certified Installers in Anaheim, Calif., said a power jack is fine for moving equipment around in a warehouse, but not to a location. "It won't negotiate any elevations," he said. "It only goes one direction; forward or backward."

The key benefit of the battery-powered stair climber, Lovas said, is the ability to maintain balance while turning. "If you can't turn that piece of equipment, you're very limited in what you can do," he said.

He noted that one of the more important accessories introduced is the horizontal floor extender.

Some buildings require movers to be certified
Lovas said spaces in many locations have become tighter. He said some buildings today require a mover to be certified before they can operate on their premises. Some buildings require liability insurance and workers compensation insurance.

The economics of powered stair climbing equipment make sense for operators of all sizes, according to some observers. "You don't want to have a truck load of equipment to handle the eventualities," noted George Dabb, president of Ultralift Inc. In addition, room is often limited in tight spaces. "In a lot of situations, you can't send enough people (to help) because there isn't room," Dabb said.

Dabb noted versatile moving equipment is especially important for operators serving locations in high rises. His company, like others, has offered longer handles to give movers more leverage. "It's an accessory that makes particular moves easier," he said. "The moving requirements have gotten more complex," he noted. "The machines have gotten larger and the landings haven't changed." \

Dabb said mechanical equipment can still be used for easy moves.

Sanese Services Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio, recently began using the battery-powered stair climber from Steprider, due to safety benefits, noted Jim Sheets, service manager. Sheets said this unit was recommended by his company's cold drink suppliers.

The unit can be battery-activated or powered by means of an electric extension cord, Sheets said. "If the battery power does go out, you can hook it up to an extension cord and go on," he said. Another benefit of the Steprider is that it comes mostly preassembled.

The Steprider also has rubber claws that allow it to move three steps at a time; the weight is spread across three steps so it is not necessary to balance the machine on each individual step.

Craig Hunt, service manager at Tulsa, Okla.-based Imperial Companies, said his company relies mostly on mechanical equipment for moving. Besides pallet jacks and dollies, the company uses a Nortech moving cart with swivel casters to move machines through narrow, 32-inch doorways.

Once the machine is jacked up a few inches, the cart slides beneath the machine. The unit, operable by one person, can hold up to 950 pounds.

Imperial Companies also uses a mechanical system called a "Dun Tonner Truck" which consists of two dollies and ratchet straps, heavy duty casters, and a 23- by 3.75-inch toe plate. One dolly is placed at each end of the vending machine. A ratchet strap connects the two dollies.

The mover presses the foot lever down into the locking position to raise the Dun-Tonners onto the heavy duty wheels.

Liftgates continue to address needs
When it comes to moving equipment from the warehouse onto the truck, many operators insist that a liftgate is an important tool.

When choosing a liftgate, the most important thing to consider is the weight of the items that are going to be used, noted Allen Birmingham, national sales manager for Tommy Gate Co. In addition to the weight and dimensions of the machines being moved, he said the mover also has to consider the handling products that are accompanying the machines. "It's best to know what you're moving ahead of time," he said.

"A liftgate, for what it does, is not that expensive," Birmingham said. "It's not a luxury."

Joe Halpin, marketing manager at Waltco Truck Equipment Co., said the gross vehicle weight of the truck being used is the first consideration when choosing a liftgate, followed by the weight and dimensions of the items being moved.

Birmingham and Halpin agreed that both aluminum and steel are good materials.

Halpin said aluminum is more aesthetically pleasing and brings the advantage of withstanding corrosion better, but this is more likely to be important in geographic regions where corrosives are used to melt snow and ice. "In general, steel liftgates are the most common," Halpin said.

Liftgate manufacturers have given greater attention to electrical components in recent years, Halpin said. They are using better materials for wiring and switches.

Aftermarket support for liftgates has improved, thanks in large measure to the Internet. Halpin said it is much easier for customers to find parts they need.

To find qualified aftermarket specialists, he recommends contacting the National Trucking Equipment Association (www.ntea.com).

"Certainly they (vending machines) are getting larger and heavier," said Bob Thomas, owner of Nortech.

Elevating trailers bring new options
Hydraulically operated, elevating trailers have been introduced that automatically lower to ground level, allowing for easy loading and unloading. This is accomplished quickly and efficiently, without the need to uncouple the trailer from the towing vehicle.

Stellar Industries Inc. has offered an electrically controlled, hydraulic lifting system that is designed for 1-ton pick-ups and 1-ton trucks with utility bodies. The lifting equipment operates parallel to the ground, keeping the load level at all times. It is stable throughout the entire cycle, making it easy to load from various heights.

Should the operator not need the use of Stellar Industries' X-Tra-Lift, the carrier can quickly detach the loading bed from the lifting unit to allow the operator to use it without any restrictions.

"This (X-Tra-Lift) will go any height you want it to go," said Merv Petersen, distribution manager for The Wittern Group, who recently began using the X-Tra-Lift in one of his pickup trucks. He said the system is about the same cost as a liftgate, but is safer and can be operated by one person. "The whole bed lifts out of the truck," Petersen said. "You can back into a loading dock."

With a liftgate, Petersen said, it is necessary to lift the machine onto the liftgate, then one person has to
operate the liftgate while the other person has to balance the machine on the liftgate.

Elevating beds prove more versatile
Kelly Uselton, who has a 2-route operation in Harrisburg, Ill., found the X-Tra Lift easier, safer and more economical than a liftgate. "I can put that all the way down on the ground, roll the machine in there, then take off," he said. "The X-Tra Lift is just a whole lot easier."

He noted that a standard liftgate will not extend to certain heights, requiring manual work to get a machine onto a loading dock.

The X-Tra Lift has also allowed him to pick up pallets of soda from retailers quickly and easily. When his Coke bottler raised his soda price, he was able to find better deals at supermarkets. With the X-Tra Lift, he can pick up a pallet of soda at the store and bring it back to his warehouse. This can amount to a savings of $150 on product costs.

"That has paid for the X-Tra Lift in itself," Uselton said.

Michael Voss, a one-man operation based in Apple Valley, Calif., uses a similar system from JLG. "It trails behind your vehicle flawlessly," he said. "I just love it to death for moving equipment."

Voss, who operates as Sip N Snak Vending, previously used a liftgate on a 14-foot van. He had to lift the machine using a dolly or a pallet jack onto the liftgate, move it in position and secure it. There was only four feet of space in the bed for a dolly and any other equipment. "It wasn't fun," he said.

Voss came across the JLG Triple L system because the company is based in his service area. He has a 4- by 8-foot, single-axle unit that is hand cranked. He exchanged his 14-foot van for a smaller vehicle. "It works out so much better all the way around," he said.

New moving equipment pays off
Hydraulically-powered moving equipment now makes it possible for a vending operator to move equipment single-handedly, more safely and in less time. Operators have learned that the investment pays for itself in time saved, not to mention improved safety.

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