ATS Transportation Blog

What is a Conestoga Trailer?

conestoga-trailer

As a shipper in a booming industry, you’re always looking to expand your horizons and take your budget further. You know the transportation world is brimming with unique opportunities to move that marker and you’re here to learn a bit more about another great service offering — Conestoga trailers. 

With so much to learn about the complex business of moving freight, you may feel overwhelmed when researching equipment types like the Conestoga. And we don’t blame you.

Here at ATS, we understand how difficult it can be for shippers, like you, to make the most of their transportation dollars — especially with so many options at their fingertips. 

Over the past 65 years, we’ve seen this industry flourish and its offerings change. We’ve seen firsthand how helpful Conestoga trailers can be for the shippers that use them and it’s important that you understand everything they bring to the table. 

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Conestogas so you can make the absolute best decision for your needs, including:

What is a Conestoga Trailer?

Conestoga trailers are a specialized segment of trailers developed with security, versatility and protection from the elements in mind. Also called “Curtainside trailers”, Conestogas feature a retractable tarping system spanning the length of their decks. 

This tarping system, named after Conestoga Wagons — the carts pulled by horses and used to traverse 1800s America — does several things:

  1. Where other open-deck trailers — such as the standard flatbed — require tarping to protect commodities in transport, a Conestoga’s curtain provides a natural remedy for these products.  

  2. For products that need to be side-loaded and unloaded, a Conestoga’s curtain can be fully retracted to allow for these requirements. 

  3. A Conestoga’s tarp makes it easy to veil the nature of a shipment when secrecy is necessary.  

Although this isn’t a comprehensive list, all of these are unique features of the Conestoga trailer and, for the supply chains they fit, make the Conestoga trailer an integral addition.

What Are The Different Types of Conestoga Trailers?

double-drop-conestoga

The staple feature of these trailers is the tarping system — deployed to cover cargo in transit and retracted to load/unload. Because of this, a “Conestoga trailer” is offered in many shapes and sizes. 

Each iteration of the Conestoga trailer offers different services and fits unique use cases. In total, Conestogas create a neatly packaged, and versatile, class of specialized trailers. 

The most common types of Conestoga trailers are:

To give you a more comprehensive understanding of exactly what these trailers have to offer, let’s talk a bit about each of them. 

Note, the specifications of each trailer varies slightly from one to the next. Always consult your provider to find out the exact specs of your trailer. 

Conestoga Flatbed Trailers

The most common kind of Conestoga is the flatbed Conestoga. Used to transport many of the same open-deck commodities as the traditional flatbed, Conestoga flatbed trailers are offered in 48 and 53-foot versions. 

Although the dimensions of these trailers vary slightly from one to the next, here are some general guidelines for your reference. 

Flatbed Conestoga Dimensions

Flatbed Conestoga Maximum Width 8 feet, 6 inches (102")
Flatbed Conestoga Maximum Height 8 feet (96")
Flatbed Conestoga Length Range 48 and 53 feet
Flatbed Conestoga Weight Capacity 44,000 pounds

48’0″L x 8’6″W x 8’0″H (48-foot)

53’0″L x 8’6″W x 8’0″H (53-foot)

 

Step-Deck Conestoga

Step-deck Conestogas are used to move commodities that need height capacity above and beyond the amount offered by flatbed Conestogas (96 inches).  

As such, step-deck Conestogas are used to transport taller commodities like CNC machinery, robotics, helicopters and other large freight where in-transit protection is a concern. 

Here are the dimensions of the step-deck Conestoga, in both of its 48 and 53-foot versions.

48-Foot Step-Deck Conestoga Dimensions

Upper Deck Maximum Height 8 feet (96”)
Upper Deck Length  10 feet
Lower Deck Maximum Height 9 feet, 2 inches (110”)
Lower Deck Length 38 feet
Lower Deck Length 8 feet, 6 inches (102”)
Lower Deck Length 44,000 pounds

10’0″L x 8’6″W x 8’H  (upper deck)

38’0″L x 8’6″W x 9’8″H (lower deck)

 

53-Foot Step-Deck Conestoga Dimensions

Upper Deck Height Capacity 8 feet (96”)
Upper Deck Length  10 feet
Lower Deck Height Capacity 9 feet, 8 inches (116”)
Lower Deck Length 43 feet
Overall Width Capacity  8 feet, 6 inches (102”)
Weight Capacity 43,000 pounds

10’0″L x 8’6″W x 8’H  (upper deck)

43’0″L x 8’6″W x 9’8″H (lower deck)

 

Double Drop Conestoga

For equipment, machinery and other commodities weighing less than 36,000 pounds and measuring above 9 feet, 8 inches at their tallest point, Conestoga trailers are also offered in a double drop version. 

Double drop Conestogas aren’t nearly as common as their flatbed or step-deck counterparts. That said, for the companies that need a Conestoga’s tarping system to move freight that meets these requirements, double drop Conestogas present a competent solution. 

Here are the typical dimensions of the standard 48-foot double drop Conestoga.

Double Drop Conestoga Dimensions  

Front Deck Length 9 feet
Front Deck Maximum Height 8 feet (96”)
Lower Deck Length 30 feet
Lower Deck Maximum Height 11 feet, 7 inches (139”)
Rear Deck Length 9 feet
Rear Deck Maximum Height 9 feet, 6 inches
Weight Capacity  35,000 pounds

9’0″L x 8’6″W x 8’H  (front deck)

30’0″L x 8’6″W x 11’7″H (well space)

9’0”L x 8’6”W x 9”6’H (rear deck)

 

What are the Advantages of Conestoga Trailers?

fully-loaded-conestoga-trailer

Providers in the trucking industry are constantly looking for ways to expand and improve the quality of their service offerings. And, frankly, Conestoga trailers are an excellent example of how this can be accomplished. 

Countless shippers have felt the benefits that come from utilizing a Conestoga to move freight. And, as they save money, meet their deadlines and find their product in good condition following a successful transit, their commitment to these trailers only increases. 

These shippers understand the advantages of moving freight within a Conestoga’s tarped confines and it’s time you did too. 

The three biggest ways Conestogas make their presence felt are:

  1. Decreased risk for damage
  2. Protection from the elements
  3. Efficient side loading and unloading

1. Decreased Risk For Damage

The most widely used alternative for the Conestoga trailer is to send open-deck freight — be it steel, construction materials, machinery or another commodity — under the cover of tarps. 

Tarping freight, although highly effective for keeping freight protected from the elements, can cause damage to more delicate goods. Since the very nature of tarping requires tarps to be securely, and tightly, fastened to the freight in question, scratching, pinching and crushing can sometimes occur. 

Damaged products are never an optimal outcome for transportation providers or their customers. Luckily, Conestoga trailers — which can fully enclose products without directly touching them — offer a great solution for avoiding in-transit damage.  

Additionally, since all a trucker needs to do is roll back their Conestoga’s canvassing system, utilizing one for your freight makes their jobs a bit easier as tarps are heavy and time-consuming to employ. 

2. Protection From The Elements

Perhaps the largest benefit Conestoga trailers offer this nation’s shippers is increased protection from the elements. Too often, freight is damaged in some way due to unpredictable outcrops of rain, wind, hail and snow. 

Although the potential for incident can be blunted by using tarps to completely cover open deck freight, this is far from a catch-all solution. 

Conestogas provide another great way for freight to avoid interacting with this nation’s weather patterns. Simply load up the trailer, firmly secure the freight, roll the Conestoga’s canvas into place and hit the road. 

As such, Conestogas are a perfect, touch-free, solution for moving quality-conscious freight — such as sensitive machinery — when the weather is poor. 

3. Efficient Side Loading/Unloading

With a Conestoga trailer, shippers gain the benefits of having a container to surround their freight. Since this is an advantage usually reserved for dry van or reefer trailers, having 360 degrees of coverage for open-deck freight can be delightful. 

That said, loading traditionally open-deck commodities into a 53-foot dry van container would be impossible. Dry vans — and other covered trailers — are typically filled from the back using a loading dock while open-deck commodities are not.  

This is where a Conestoga’s tarp retraction system comes in handy. Similar to how the spring inside of your ballpoint pen retracts, so too does a Conestoga’s canvas. 

As such, the loading/unloading process — be it via forklift, crane or otherwise — remains the same from a traditional flatbed, step-deck and double drop to their Conestoga counterpart. 

If you’re used to loading open-deck trailers, utilizing a Conestoga for your next shipment won’t mean you have to adjust your processes. 

What are the Disadvantages of Conestoga Trailers?

Bret Micheals is right, every rose has its thorn. And Conestoga trailers have a couple of pointy “thorns” you’ll want to keep in mind.

Even though these trailers are great for moving many kinds of freight, they simply won’t work for others. This specificity tends to result in a finer number of businesses capable of employing this specialized equipment type. 

Ultimately, the decision of whether this trailer is used for your shipment is up to you. 

The top three disadvantages of Conestoga Trailers are:

  1. Limited weight capacity
  2. Limited dimensional capacity
  3. The cost of using a Conestoga (sometimes)

1. Limited Weight Capacity

Despite their benefits, Conestoga trailers fall behind when it comes to the total amount of weight they can effectively — and safely — transport. 

Due to the sensitivity that accompanies their tarping systems and tracks, if you’re hoping to get as much weight on a flatbed Conestoga as you can on a flatbed, you’ll be disappointed. 

To keep their canvas and beds in good condition, these trailers aren’t made to haul maxed-out weight capacities. This can make it difficult for the companies that don’t understand this to get the most from their shipping budget as delays occur while quantities are adjusted. 

2. Limited Dimensional Capacity

The easily retractable canvas covering offered by Conestoga trailers doesn’t allow its contents to exceed any of the dimensions outlined above. As such, to ensure that everything goes smoothly and nothing is damaged in transit, all freight must fall within the dimensional confines of these trailer’s coverings. 

It’s not possible to transport any over-dimensional freight on a Conestoga trailer as — to prevent damage to this relatively fragile equipment type — there’s no room for error. 

3. The Cost of Using a Conestoga

Conestoga trailers, although incredibly convenient to the shippers using them, can be costly in areas where they’re in low supply. 

You see, pricing in this industry is dictated by several factors with supply (trailers) and demand (freight needing a trailer) prime among them. And since Conestogas aren’t as prevalent as other equipment types, the trucking companies that use them charge a bit more for their services. 

This isn’t unique to Conestogas as many specialized trailers are more expensive than more plentiful trailers. As the supply of each equipment type diminishes in your origin location, you should expect to pay more to secure that capacity. 

Additionally, Conestogas are more expensive to own than standard flatbed, lowboy or step-deck trailers (common alternatives). This expense translates to additional costs for shippers using them, making Conestogas more costly. 

What Trailer is Best For Your Freight?

Now that you understand how Conestoga trailers are uniquely valuable for the businesses that use them as well as what some advantages and disadvantages of using them are, you’re ready to make decisions for your freight.

Make sure to consult your transportation provider on which trailer will be the best fit for your freight. 

For example — where protection from the elements is concerned — it’s often more cost-effective to tarp your open-deck freight than to find and secure a Conestoga in your area.

That said, decisions like these are made easier by utilizing a competent transportation provider, and adding flexibility to your processes. Often, a good partner — given a bit of leniency on the shipper’s part —  can help them navigate transportation decisions in a way that saves them money.

In the interest of doing just that, ATS publishes educational content each week dedicated to helping shippers make the right choice for their business. 

Here are some additional pieces of trailer-related content to help you move the envelop and get your product onto its best-fit trailer type:

If you have any questions on which trailer type can save you the most money, or want more information on how ATS helps customers grow, reach out. 

Our best work is done when our customers are looking to expand their knowledge with a bit of guidance. Let’s connect today!

Tags: Transportation Solutions, Shipping Services

Sean Glenz

Written by Sean Glenz

Sean has been with ATS in various capacities since early May 2011. During this time, Sean has thoroughly enjoyed the work he does with carriers and customers spanning the country. Today, Sean serves as operations manager in the logistics division and continually strives to develop lifelong relationships with his customers and co-workers.

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