Livestock Hauling and the Aluminum Horse Trailer
It's All Trew: Tracing the development of the livestock trailer.
A very early one-horse trailer of wood construction with no top, pulled by a car from about 1920.
Today, when we see an all-aluminum horse trailer, riding on tandem axles and containing a bed, bath and kitchen for the owners, it's hard to believe this ultra-modern conveyance is only about 50 years old. The evolution of livestock hauling is a unique chapter in transportation history.
The earliest livestock hauling conveyance we can find is a wooden-wheeled wagon with a dropped rear axle using the rear end-gate as a loading ramp for animals. We guess the date to be about 1890 or 1900.
When motorized vehicles came along, we located photos of single animal trailers, obviously homemade and mounted on differentials stripped from automobiles. The sideboards and end-gates were wood slats bolted together with canvas stretched over wooden bows for a top.
By 1920, after post-World War I auto production made its rapid advance, most farms acquired utility vehicles or light trucks. This independence triggered the term "truck farming," where produce and livestock were hauled directly from farm to market, eliminating middlemen and traders. This movement was encouraged by the establishment of huge livestock commission houses such as those in Chicago, Kansas City and Oklahoma City.
Improved truck tire design, capable of carrying much heavier weights, spawned many livestock rack improvements patterned after the long-used rail cars that hauled livestock. At the same time, livestock trailers were being developed with a few early manufactured units appearing.
Like all new ideas, the livestock trailer had to go through many painful growing stages. When the average farmer saw, examined and priced his first trailer, as usual he went straight home and built "the better mousetrap" out of metal and wood from his junk pile.
Charles Goodnight, inventor of the first chuck wagon, made his invention so heavy and stout it took six oxen to pull it and they could not keep up with the long-legged longhorn steers in his trail herd. Homemade trailers usually followed this pattern and did not perform well.
A classic example of this practice occurred at the Trew ranch in 1954, when we built an iron cage on truck wheels that would have held elephants. We could ride our horses faster than we could pull the monster trailer out in the pastures. When traveling on the highway, it became a case of the tail wagging the dog. After several near-accidents, we parked the cage in the junk pile.