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New Season, New Trailer, New Shows

Inside of the new trailer

Inside of the new trailer

In the aftermath of the Main Street Fort Worth show, I had some time to reflect on what was working and what wasn’t with my transportation systems. After a lot of thought, a few sketches and some conversation, I decided to go with a setup similar to the one I had before. Of course there are a lot of options for getting your stuff to and from shows. Many artists are opting for Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter vans now, which have more headroom, run on diesel fuel, and are easy to maneuver into tight show spaces. Many artists still use the standard Ford E250 white van. A few tow a trailer behind a truck camper. But I’ve been set up to tow a standard tag-hitch trailer behind my Toyota Tundra, so that’s what I decided to stay with. I can’t use a Sprinter because of the two large bin boxes, and without rethinking that whole system, it was easier to stay with a truck/trailer combination.

About three weeks after returning from Fort Worth, I placed an order with my dealer for a new Wells Cargo Road Force trailer. As it turned out, I was able to drive to Elkhart and pick it up. I bought one that was in stock, saving about six weeks build time. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, but close enough. 14′ length, 7′ width, an extra six inches in height, a modified v-front for aerodynamics, dual axle with electric brakes, ramp in back, door on the side. A nicely built trailer.

After I picked it up, I spent three weeks building a rack for the panels and a new pole cart. I also built big drawer units that hold mats, frames, glass and other supplies. Shelves were constructed in the front of the v to make use of the wasted triangular space. I installed a spare tire hanger up high, to get it off the floor. I also had to build a new unit to carry larger framed work, because the two boxes that handled my 30×40’s were stolen with the Artanic. Luckily, the weather cooperated, and I was able to use the driveway to spread out to make the various parts and pieces.

Work in progress

Building panel racks and shelves on my driveway

Panel Racks and Pole Cart

The rack holds about 16 30" x 84" Pro Panels

Materials Storage

6 Drawers hold mats, frames, glass, clear bags and other materials

Arthur the trailer

Arthur

I had to build a ramp flap on the back ramp, as this trailer didn’t have the extra piece. Ordered a 6′ steel hinge and drilled holes for large screws and installed that. I built a rack to hold the four 75 2″ steel weights near the front door. I used to have to stow them on the floor and they would slide around. The rack holds them in place vertically in the 12″ space between the door and the v — a space that would normally be unusable. The ladders stow behind the panel rack so that they are easily accessible for setup and teardown. The two print bins weren’t stolen, so they stay in the same place in the back. I installed e-track along the door-side wall, and in the v, to secure various boxes and bins. I also bought industrial strength ratchet straps with e-track attachments, which are vastly superior to the Home Depot variety in strength and durability. A good source for e-track and cargo control is US Cargo Control.

All in all, this trailer is more efficient than its predecessor. It’s quicker to unload and load. Lessons learned from the first two trailers proved invaluable here. Little things like bigger ladder hooks to stow light bars and hang a lantern from, the weight rack (not seen in the photos), the spare tire hanger — all of these items help keep the trailer neat and tidy.

And the Road Force with the torflex axles rides smooth as silk. Items don’t shift in transit. It doesn’t quite get the mileage that the Artanic did (10 mpg vs 11mpg), due to the flatter v-front. But the 4′ v on the Artanic added weight without being very useful storage space. Probably a good trade-off.

And the final touch: security on the trailer. When we leave it parked, it gets two wheel boots, one on each axle. The hitch gets locked up with a gorilla guard and a padlock through the hitch release. Hopefully it won’t get towed off like the Artanic. The wheel boots are Titan Grips, from Universal Security. They take about ten seconds to install, and don’t take a lot of space on the trailer when not in use.

Front end storage

Bungie cords keep small bins from flying out of control

And we’ve had the opportunity to test it out on the road several times now. It’s been to ArtBirmingham, Northern Virgina (Reston),  the Columbus Art Festival and Chicago’s Wells Street show. It’s a bit easier to park and maneuver due to it’s slightly shorter wheelbase, and it’s easier to load and unload. There aren’t any barriers in the middle like the old had. I did have to build a ramp for the side door, for emergencies when I have to unload something in the front without taking everything off the back first. But it’s essentially done.

I’m thinking about print storage like I had on the old trailer — 6 boxes to hold prints in alpha sort. But that can wait. The drawers hold an awful lot, more than I expected, so I have some time to see if the additional box is needed.

We named the third trailer, of course. His name is Arthur, sort of an abbreviation of Art and Third. A faithful beast of burden…

A Hard Road – report from Main Street Art Festival Fort Worth

Just got back from the Main Street Fort Worth Art Festival, and man, what an experience! First off, let me just say that this festival deserves its reputation as one of the top shows in the country. Spread out over four days, it is staged over five blocks in downtown Fort Worth. Festival tents are set up along Main Street, and an additional group of artists use their own canopies in a parking area between Commerce and Main. Most artists elect to erect their own canopies under the show structures. I wondered why the show went to all the trouble to set up tents, when most artists have a solid canopy. Well, the reason is the wind. Aside from the show we did a few years back in Rising Sun, Indiana, where Hurricane Ivan closed us down early on Sunday with 70mph steady blasts, the wind here is brutal, violent and destructive. Setup is on Wednesday afternoon, with staged load-in times. The show runs from 10AM-8PM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 10AM-6PM on Sunday. The music continues later, and many artists choose to remain open, making sales until the music’s over at 11PM. Long hours, but generally worth it.

Weather at this mid-April show runs the gamut from hot, stifling Texas heat, to high winds and thunderstorms. This year, we were lucky, in that the storms that rolled across the state on Thursday night did not touch the show. Hail up to 2″ in diameter was reported as close as 20 miles from the site, and tornadoes killed two people up in Tushka, Oklahoma. Friday, the winds gusted up to 60mph, taking many pieces of artwork to the ground, and leveling some artists’ tents. Our tent, in the artists square, stayed standing, but not without assistance from Karyn, who leaned against the corner panel much of the afternoon. I helped our neighbors, Jeanne and Sam Maddox, take their artwork off the walls, and lower the tent to half height. One of the corner joints failed, and no amount of bracing and tie-downs kept it standing upright. By evening, the gusts had died down. Sam came back later, and rejiggered it for Saturday’s show. Saturday, the crowds were out in force. Sales were steady all day, better than Thursday and Friday. But mostly it was smaller prints. I did send a couple of good size pieces home with lucky customers on Thursday, and had great sales all four days of the show.

But the saddest part of the show happened to us on Thursday night. We had visited our trailer Wednesday morning, which we left parked and locked at the Marriott Towne Place Suites, just a few blocks from downtown. We got a couple of things for the show, and walked over to open up the booth. After a long day of visiting with patrons, we managed to get back to the hotel at around 9:45PM. Coming around the back of the hotel, Karyn asked me,” Where’s Artan?” (The trailer’s nicknamed the Artanic). There was a big hole where the trailer had been parked. The chocks for the back wheels were still on the ground, and the blocks under the tongue jack were still there. A long white arc in the cement showed where the foot of the tongue jack had been dragged along the ground. Evidently the thieves had towed or hauled the trailer out the back entrance to the hotel.

The big art trailer is affectionately know as Artan for short.

We immediately went to the front desk and asked the desk manager if the trailer had been towed for some reason. She had no knowledge of any towing operation, and went to get the general manager, Brian Tigner. We sat down with Brian, and gave him a full report. Brian called the Fort Worth police for us, and after waiting twenty minutes or so, an officer arrived to make a police report. We went out to look at the empty spot again, hoping that perhaps we had just misplaced the trailer. Of course, that wasn’t the case. The police officer gave us a report number, and a phone number for the police department. Brian gave us his cel phone number, and told us if there was anything he could do to help, to call at any time.

The  good news is that we were already set up for the show. The bad news is that all of our back stock and extra exhibit equipment was on the trailer. That included five ProPanels, a good Hollywood chair, the double canopy top and all the extra Trimline parts to set up a double booth. I also had a large number of prints, spare mats, frames, glass and framing parts on the trailer, as well as a full framing toolkit. The canvas racks were full, as we didn’t hang any canvas at the show — just the black and white work, and the new color stories. I also had a couple dozen spare framed pieces on the trailer.

We made it through the show okay, but I spent several sleepless nights worrying about whether the trailer would be recovered in time for our load-out on Sunday night. I need not have worried, since we never got a call from the Fort Worth police. On Saturday, I made a call to U-haul, and reserved a trailer just in case. Saturday came and went, with lots of selling, and less wind, much to the relief of the artists. Many of them had heard about the theft, and came by to offer sympathy and assistance. Thanks to all of you who stopped by, and especially to Vince and Julie, who offered to let us park the rental at their house west of the city if necessary. As it turned out, I needed that U-haul. Sunday morning I picked it up, and made a stop at Home Depot to get some plywood to make a ramp, some tie-downs and a replacement dolly.

In the meantime, I made a report to our insurance agent, who is presently working on establishing a value for the trailer and its contents. I still do not know exactly what will be covered, but I do know that this is a significant loss of both time and money for me. I will be rebuilding the storage drawers for the mats, glass and prints, as well as the rack system that carries our panels and the canopy parts. A new trailer will have to be acquired, and it will be several weeks before I can get that ready for shows.

I discovered several things about trailer thefts during this experience. Several states don’t require a title for a trailer to be licensed, and some don’t even require that you have a license. These states include Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky. Here in Michigan, you must transfer title to a new owner and you must register the trailer with the state department of motor vehicles in order to tow it on public roadways. The hotel that we stayed at, the Marriott Towne Place Suites, chose not to install security cameras in the back of the hotel. They did, however, block the entrance by parking a van across it at night, so they were aware that there was a theft problem. Too bad the trailer was stolen during the day! They also posted signs saying that all valuables should be removed from vehicles, and that theft was not their responsibility. This wasn’t just the theft of an iPod, though. It was an ENTIRE TRAILER. But at no time did they ever warn us that it was a high crime area. Brian Tigner, the general manager,  led us to believe that their insurance company would be helping us to cover the loss, but when I spoke with a representative on Wednesday, she informed me that the hotel did not have insurance to cover this type of incident. I tried several times to speak with Mr. Tigner directly on Monday, but he was “not available” or “off the property”. I checked out without ever speaking to him in person. He did not offer any kind of compensation for our loss. I was hoping that he’d at least offer to comp the room, but evidently they don’t really give a damn. I do not recommend that anyone stay at this property. (It is a franchise, not a corporate property.) I didn’t feel safe there after the theft, even though we had to walk to and from the show. I’m glad my truck remained unmolested, though.

There are several things to be thankful for. No one was injured. We were set up for the show, and had our best show ever, sales-wise. I met many, many nice folks, and made some additional sales on Monday, which will help to offset the cost to replace all of the work lost on the trailer. My friends tell me that they are amazed at how well I’m handling this hard road. But to be truthful, I’m angry. At the thieves, at the hotel for not providing better security, and myself, for not protecting my own property better. The police tell me the only way to really protect a trailer that is parked is to use a police boot. Other friends told us of their experiences with trailer theft. One artist had their trailer stolen while it was still hitched to their tow vehicle! Another had a cube truck stolen with all of the equipment and artwork aboard.

After spending a good part of Monday making phone calls, I got on the road again, towing the U-haul back to Michigan. I made it as far as Hope, Arkansas on Monday night. Tuesday morning, I had to detour around a haz-mat spill on I-30. Traffic was backed up on State Highway 67 for 15 miles, and was barely moving. After waiting in line for an hour and a half, I found a back-road, and drove around the delays. Tuesday night, big storms rolled in again, with tornadoes spotted in downtown St. Louis, and up near Springfield, Illinois. I spent some quality time under the 1-64 underpass on I-255 waiting for reported hail-storms and tornadoes to pass through. Luckily, there was just heavy rain. I made it to Springfield, and holed up with friends for the night. Wednesday I finally pulled the trailer into our driveway at about 9:30PM. I’m extremely thankful that after all the hardship that Karyn and I are both healthy and safe. Seeing some of the damage from the tornadoes puts it into perspective for me. For me, it’s only stuff that’s gone. Stuff is replaceable. Lives are not. While I’m still adding up the losses, including the $650 it cost me to rent a trailer to transport my show setup home again, I’m also counting my blessings.

While I still can’t believe that this happened to us, I am using this opportunity to rebuild my body of work and my show setup. It’s unlikely that the property will be recovered. Thanks to all our friends who have offered assistance and sympathy during this difficult time. A large number of my limited edition prints are now floating around in the unknown. What bothers me the most is that some thief may be selling my work at a huge discount in some flea market in Bountiful Butt, Oklahoma. If you do run across my work in such a venue, please let me know, and please do not purchase signed originals from anyone except me. And wish me luck as I travel the hard road of an itinerant artist.

The evolution of the Artanic

When I first started doing art fairs, I rented a van from Enterprise. We didn’t have a lot of equipment or art, so this worked out fairly well and helped to postpone what was to become a major investment. We used the rental van a couple of times, and discovered quickly that it was expensive. So I decided to buy a trailer.

Artie and the Jeep

The original art show trailer, parked in St. Augustine 2006

The first trailer I owned was a 6×10′ Wells Cargo, with a single axle and no braking system. It had a maximum carrying capacity of about 2500 pounds, including the unloaded trailer, which weighed about 800 pounds. We had it packed pretty full in no time. I built some racks to stack wide Propanels above the canopy poles, and another rack to stack the 30″ panels and still leave room for plastic tubs of matted work. When packed exactly right, the trailer was full top to bottom, back to front. It handled a 10×10′ Trimline canopy, 10 30″ Propanels, plus two rolling boxes that carried 20×26″ framed work, two bins that sat on top of the rolling boxes, another box that opened into a bintop box, two larger boxes that carried 30×40 framed work, and other miscellaneous grimble. It was a lot of stuff! I towed it with my old Jeep Grand Cherokee, which had over 150,000 miles on it by the time I traded it in.

We christened this trailer Artie. It was a Wells Cargo R/T trailer model, and also carried “Art”. I’m big on nicknames and anthropomorphizing just about everything here in the parkerparker household. Artie served us well for two years, until I decided that I wanted to start showing more and larger work, with a larger 10×20′ canopy. The new Trimline was taller, too, by 2 feet, so I was finally able to use the extensions for the Propanels, giving me a wall height of 9′, and an overall height of 12′. This new tent generates a lot of comments from artists and patrons alike, mostly favorable, and mostly geared towards its similarity to the Taj Mahal. We’re thinking of adding a VIP loft with cappucino and biscotti sometime later this year!

Comparison between the new and old trailers

Comparison between the new and old trailers

Anyway, Artie just couldn’t handle the additional artwork and weight of the new tent, so I ordered a new trailer. Same source, American Trailer Mart. American mostly sells Harleys and Big Dog motorcycles, but they do carry an extensive line of trailers that are good for carrying big bikes. Also good for carrying art. I got my new trailer in January, 2007, and made plans to build out the interior to be more efficient. The new box has enough headroom that I wouldn’t be banging my head on the door frame (a pet peeve that generated lots of four letter words), has a big ramp off the back and a side door to allow access from the street when parked. It’s a large beast, too. I wanted a V-front to lessen wind resistance because of the added height (78″ plus the roof vent), and that adds about 5′ to the overall length. I went with the Pace American Conquest, partly because of reputation, and partly because it was less expensive than the comparable Wells Cargo (the Cadillac of trailers).

Panel rack, and center aisle, looking towards the ramp

Panel rack, and center aisle, looking towards the ramp

First thing I did after getting the trailer home was to back it into the driveway. In doing so, I took out a good sized branch on the redbud tree next to our garage. Oops. Guess the trailer is a little bigger than I estimated. A lot bigger than Artie. Karyn came home, and after seeing that large branch on the driveway, said, “What did you do? Try to dock the Artanic?” And so the trailer was christened.

Got that squared away, and spent a few days building a rack for the Propanels and a cart for all of the tent poles. The cart slid under the panel rack, leaving most of the right side of the trailer free for other boxes. I also built another rolling box, which ultimately was scrapped. The two big magillas came later.

Panel rack and tent dolly on left, bin box on right

Panel rack and tent dolly on left, bin box on right

I got the trailer built out and loaded, and just about ready to haul to Florida for the first of six shows in a row. I backed the Jeep up to the trailer tongue and lowered the trailer onto the hitch ball. It weighed so much that it practically bottomed the Jeep out. It also made it impossible to unhitch the trailer again, because there wasn’t enough clearance to get the jack foot off of or back onto the trailer jack. This was a problem. The trailer brakes also didn’t work properly — there was something wrong with the electrical connector on the Jeep. I had to get a bottle jack and jack the tongue up again to free the trailer, and realized that driving 1200 miles and back with this rig would be, shall we say, unsafe. Planning is everything, and one thing’s for certain: life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Called my buds at American Trailer Mart, and got a reco for a competent trailer place close by. Took the new trailer over to Howland’s Trailer Service, along with the Jeep and had a weight distribution hitch installed. They had to weld two supports onto the trailer tongue, as there wasn’t enough room to bolt them, due to the long v-nose. The Jeep took a heavy L-shaped bracket and two long spring bars that helped balance the load. They also fixed the electrical problem, by connecting the 7-pin to the pre-existing wiring inside the Jeep. These mods made a huge difference, and allowed the Jeep to haul the 7,000 pound trailer much more efficiently.

I drove this rig for a couple of years. It wasn’t fast, but it got me there. Slaved brakes on the trailer and the weight distribution system helped keep it on the road, and I averaged about 10 MPG on a good day. After four trips to Florida and two trips out to Arizona and Texas, I finally traded the Jeep in for a heavy-duty Toyota Tundra, which tows the trailer like butter.

The big art trailer is affectionately known as Artan for short.

The titanic art trailer (the Artanic) is affectionately known as Artan for short.

Stuck in Lodi again…

The unthinkable happened this afternoon on my way back home. Left Albuquerque about 2PM yesterday, and made it to the border between Oklahoma and Texas before I decided to pack it in. Found a convenient rest area, and pulled the rig in between a couple big trucks to catch 40 winks. Crawled in the back and slept soundly for about 6 hours, and then got back on the road again about 5:30AM.

What's missing here?

What's missing here?

Stopped for gas a couple of times, and while I was filling the tank the second time in Joplin, Missouri, I did my usual walk-around the truck and trailer. It had been raining off and on pretty much all day, so I didn’t do the check first fill-up. Grabbed coffee and went on down the road. But in Joplin I walked to the far side of the trailer, and noticed that something important had gone missing. One of the wheels had simply disappeared.

This is something that takes a bit of time to register. I looked again in disbelief. How does a 15″ rim and tire detach itself from the trailer, and, more importantly, why didn’t I notice it sooner? Luckily, the second wheel supported the rig so I didn’t go careening off the highway. Very lucky indeed. But it’s Easter Sunday, and the chances of finding an open trailer repair facility are slim to none.

I parked the rig, and walked back to the lube rack at the truck stop. Asked for recommendations on a trailer facility. Got one, but no answer and no machine at the number they gave me. Went back into the restaurant and had me some french toast and eggs. Drank a pot of coffee. After eating, I went to drop the trailer, and found a convenient motel next door. Checked in, and parked the rig til morning. Nice room, BTW, which was a blessing since I wasn’t gonna make it home for Easter or even the day after.

Detail of missing wheel

Detail of missing wheel with sheared bolts

Quite unbelievable. The bolts on the right rear wheel were just sheared off, but the brake drum still spins. The brake pads sound scrapey though. There’s still grease in the bearings, so it doesn’t look as if the bearings froze up. Very odd. The brake controller disconnected cleanly, too, leaving the connector and the wires. The fender was partly ripped away, too. Just unbelievable. I’m lucky, I guess, that the other tire didn’t give out. I only have the one spare, though, so I’ll need to get another rim and tire. All I can say is “YIKES!”.

Random Thought

 Artie and the Jeep

The view from here…

As I get ready to trundle down to Florida once more for art fairs, I’m easily sidetracked by new software. It’s a long drive to be stuck behind the wheel, so why I am sitting behind the keyboard tonight? Interesting thought… We’ve named our little road trailer R.T., or “Artie” for long. The Propanels, the canopy, all of the inventory and bins fit just right into his little 5 x 10’ interior. But boy, what a bitch driving it and parking it!

Anyway, we’re hoping to do better sales-wise than we did at the last show. It’s a learning experience for me for sure. I’ve got lots to do — revise the web site so it isn’t so butt-ugly, replace prints sold, make new weights for the tent, figure out how to fit the large photos into a single booth space. Lots of stuff. And the view isn’t very pretty. I’d rather be out shooting.