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Author Topic: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?  (Read 12142 times)

Offline Kevin Warnock

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Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« on: March 13, 2010, 08:53:42 PM »

I am thinking about making permanent foundation mounted housing out of recycled ocean shipping containers, as a business. I am converting an RTS, so I am familiar with converting narrow metal boxes into living quarters.

If I go forward with making shipping container housing, it would be helpful as a sales tool to be able to take a sample home around to show prospective buyers. I don't have a truck, but I do have my RTS, which is the 40' version. So, my question is can I tow a 20 foot container behind the RTS? A 20' container is big enough to show a studio apartment with a bath and kitchen. I was in the Netherlands last year and saw student housing made from 20' containers, where each container made one living unit. There were hundreds of containers stacked on site, and the students I talked with loved them. I propose to offer the containers as 'granny units' for people to put in their backyards and use personally or rent to strangers. I would clad the containers in wood siding or stucco to make them look like conventionally built structures, so they would blend in with surrounding structures. I don't know yet which cities, if any, will allow this plan, but I do know of one city near me that does permit and even encourages residents to add detached granny units to their single family house lots. This city even helps residents finance the building of such units. Since I would start with just one unit, having one city allow this would be enough for me to get started, thus my starting to look into all of this a bit.

The empty containers weigh 5,500 pounds if made of steel. I think there are aluminum versions that weigh much less, but I can't find a specification for their weight online.

A flatbed bumper pull trailer that can haul 8,000 pounds costs about $5,000 and weighs 4,000 pounds. This would put the weight of the empty shipping container plus the trailer at 9,500 pounds. This seems pretty heavy for towing with the RTS. If I put a nice interior in the container, with drywall, tile floor and granite countertops, the total weight could hit 15,000 pounds without much trouble.

So I need to know the upper weight limit for towing behind my RTS. The RTS has a Series 50 with turbo, and no hitch. The RTS weighs 28,000 pounds, and has 4:10 gears and a 731R transmission.

One idea I had was to skip buying a trailer and add wheels to the shipping container directly. These containers can be stacked 8 high and can hold over 50,000 pounds of weight each, so I suspect they provide a good platform for adding wheels and a way to attach the unit to the bus. I have access to a big welder, though I don't know how to use it yet.

How might I add wheels, and where would I get them? Could I detach them from a container chassis at a junk yard, with the suspension and all, and just weld that to the bottom of the container? I don't want to spend a fortune, as who knows if I can sell even one container home at all.

Sorry this is a bit off topic, but I don't know where else to ask this question, and I am hoping there are some people here that might like the container home idea and want to talk about it, since lots of my friends think I'm crazy to be interested in this idea.


Offline RJ

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2010, 09:03:42 PM »

Interesting idea!

Biggest concern would be tongue weight, both static and dynamic.  Remember that the engine hangs off the roof and the rear bulkhead, as does the bumper.  The dynamic loads on the hitch could cause some serious bulkhead cracking on your coach.

To lessen this, you might consider a Tuff-Tow unit, to take the tongue weight off the back of the coach.  www.tuff-tow.com

FWIW & HTH. . .

RJ Long
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Offline Kevin Warnock

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2010, 09:18:34 PM »
I would be willing to modify the RTS to be able to tow a container. Is there some way to spread the stress on the bus over more of the bus? If I welded a long beam to the bottom of the bus, maybe half the length of the bus, then four of the five foot bus segments would be helping with the stress, instead of just the final five foot section.

Separately, what's the total length I can be in California? I think I've read 65 feet, so if I add wheels to the container, I have to keep the attachment system to under five feet. Is that possible?


Offline Iceni John

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #3 on: March 13, 2010, 09:19:39 PM »
When I purchased some 20' and 40' used containers for storage at my work, the supplier (Transport Specialties of Long Beach) used as one of their delivery vehicles a Super Duty Ford dually pickup hauling a 5th-wheel slide-off 40' trailer for two of the 20' containers.   The driver seemed quite happy with this rig, so I guess its GCWR was OK.   Your most serious concern may be the structural strength of your RTS, rather than its power and braking capacity.

As for attaching wheels directly onto the container, I think you may be the first person to try this!   Even with their twist-lock corners, there may be "challenges" both functional and legal to make this work.

I'm all for unconventional housing, especially what you are doing.   Go for it!
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Offline HighTechRedneck

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #4 on: March 13, 2010, 09:32:28 PM »
I definitely agree with RJ.  Tongue weight is a killer on GM buses.  Ask forum member "Ruthi".

Tongue weight was discussed in the RTS forum and RTS Yahoo group and as I recall, the general feeling was - as little tongue weight as possible but definitely keep it under 500#.

Another towing solution would be something like the Stinger Hitch support - http://www.stingerhitch.com/

The issue I see with Weight Distribution hitch systems is that they say they transfer the weight towards the front axle of the tow vehicle.  I am just not sure how well that would work on a setup like a GM bus where the entire engine section is hanging from above rather than leveraging through an extension of the lower frame.

If you were able to build sufficient structure to carry the hitch weight forward to the frame that might work.  Space for such large beams would probably be the biggest issue.  When an RTS airs down, there ain't much room under there.

Offline Sean

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #5 on: March 13, 2010, 10:12:03 PM »
I would be careful with this.

What you are proposing to do would make the entire combination vehicle commercial.  You'll need commercial plates and a Class-A CDL, and you will have to stop at all the inspection stations.

These inspections can be very detailed, especially for anything that appears, umm, "home made."  Be ready to have every component, from brakes to marker lights, gone through by law enforcement with a fine-tooth comb.  Your axle weights will have to be spot-on, and the combination will need to be under the GCWR for the coach.  You're talking about a lot of weight behind the coach, and the brakes will get special attention.

You'll also want to check your state regs for combined length as well as weight if you plan to stay within the state.  If you plan to go interstate, you can follow the federal rules under STAA, but you will need to register and get a DOT number, plus pay your apportioned taxes to each state you transit.

Intermodal shipping is cheap; when all is said and done, you might find it more cost effective to have a carrier haul these for you as needed.  After all, isn't that one of the advantages of using a container in the first place?

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Offline Fred Mc

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #6 on: March 13, 2010, 10:47:08 PM »
I have built a trailer similar to what you want to do and towed it with my bus. I didn't use a shipping container but did use the complete box off a 3 ton truck. In my case I built a very minimal frame under the box and attached the axles to that frame. In the case of a shipping container my idea would be to not add an additional frame but rather to mount the container on axles. You might have to re-inforce the area of axle mounting but I'm sure the container has enough structural integrity in itself. I would see it as having dual axles and these can be mounted close to the centre of the container to control tongue weight. Additionally, the axles could be spaced further apart than normal to also control the tongue weight.

Using an aluminum container would help a lot. Also, even with a steel container you could reduce the weight by cutting out large sections of steel and still maintain structural integrity. I presume  you will be finishing the inside with walls of some sort.

Also you could build a lighter trailer out of wood/etc to RESEMBLE a container. Its very common for developers to set up a simulated apartment unit in a shopping centre to duplicate/demonstrate ones for sale in a building under construction. Its not the real deal but it does show you what the inside of your apartment would look like once it is built.

Goog luck

Fred Mc.

Offline jackhartjr

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Offline zubzub

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2010, 06:00:40 AM »
All I can say is why?  There is a great way of moving shipping containers already, you see them on the road all the time.   Trucking is taking a huge hit as well right now, 10-15 yr old tractors can be had for a song.  i too am for out of the box thinking, but this is a lot of bother, with no significant savings.. By the time you engineer all that stuff....and make install it....whew!  Also really the easiest way to move your conatiners is to get a broker to move them for you.  Was talking to a trucker the other night, dead heading truckers will move stuff cheap.

Offline kyle4501

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2010, 06:38:31 AM »
Cool idea!, but, the short answer is no, your RTS will not tow it safely for any considerable distance - especially the distances you're talking about.
(The "frame" of a GM bus does not lend itself well to adding beams to carry more weight. It has to flex a little everywhere to spread the load stresses out - the added beam would be more likely to concentrate the load stresses in a few points.)

It is great to want to use what you already have - but, the additional work required will be a bit much for the limited return - especially when you consider the potential risks.

Another point to consider - how are you going to get the unit parked at the final instaled location? You might want to consult with mobile home installers as they will have the experience moving something like this & setting it up.

Good luck
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Offline Busted Knuckle

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2010, 10:14:42 AM »
Shoot just either add wheels to the container or build a trailer for it and pull it with either an old single axle semi tractor of "hopped up" diesel P/U (Super duty, Duramax, etc.)
Go ahead and finish it out, register it as an RV (makes it non-commercial as yer house!) and make you rolling apartment your demo too! ;)
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Offline buswarrior

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2010, 10:17:09 AM »
I wouldn't use the bus, as noted above.

For an easy wheel install, the bogies that go under those construction office/modular homes might be adaptable?

I agree, there are existing proven solutions to moving shipping containers that are the way they are because they are profitable.

You do want to be profitable, don't you?

spend time building the business idea, not fooling with the hardware.

happy coaching!
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Offline belfert

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2010, 11:11:08 AM »
Why would you want to take a home like this to the prospective customer?  Why not save a ton of money and have customers come to one these units set up as a model somewhere?  You could even give out $25 prepaid gas cards to potential customers when they visit and probably still come out ahead.

No matter how you towed one of these around I would be a bit worried about the exterior finish coming loose if you tow it on a regular basis.  A sold unit would presumably only travel a fairly short distance one time so the siding or stucco should stay on.

If you decided to display your unit at a county fair or similiar I would just hire a trucker to move it.  There are a great many trucks and trailers equipped to move these containers safely and legally.
Brian Elfert - 1995 Dina Viaggio 1000 Series 60/B500 - 75% done but usable - Minneapolis, MN

Offline Kevin Warnock

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2010, 12:08:33 PM »
OK, I'm convinced not to try to use the RTS to move a container. Thank you to everyone for their great input. I saved a lot of time today.

Offline ruthi

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Re: Can I tow a 20 foot shipping container with my RTS?
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2010, 02:39:44 PM »
WHEW, I am glad. Having the back end of your bus fall out on the highway is not cool! Ruthi
Mixed up Dina, ready for the road as of 12/25/2010
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