System One Modular Truck Equipment has developed into the company that it is today very differently from the way most other manufacturing companies begin. For many years, we were roofing and sheet metal contractors. We learned early on that the efficiency of our entire company depended on how good we could become at working out of pick-up trucks. So, it is certainly true that our ladder rack design grew more from a need to be functional and practical than any other reason. It was with this idea in the late 80's, combined with a lot of hard work, determination and 20 patents, that our ladder racks have evolved to the level they are today.
This is our story:
Trucks and ladder racks had always been the nucleus of our company's equipment. All equipment and materials we moved relied completely on them. When we researched ladder racks to buy for our company trucks we were unable to find an acceptable rack, no matter how much we were willing to spend. The terms "heavy duty construction" and "fully welded steel" were merely marketing ploys. The products being sold were a poor excuse for heavy duty ladder racks. We did what so many other contractors are forced to do - we made our own. The racks for our company started out as steel and they were indeed heavy duty. We made one rack at a time for each truck, and always kept them painted because any steel structure with ladders and construction materials being dragged on and off of them soon starts leaching rust. We were always known for top quality equipment and we had built many specialized trucks. It seemed as though we were as much in the truck equipment business as the contracting business. A scissor lift/dump body truck, two boom trucks, a roll-former truck and a full complement of a dozen pick-up trucks made up our fleet. We felt our operation was first rate and that our equipment had evolved to the highest level. But after a few years, our stake pocket-mounted steel racks would start to break through the floors of the pockets. We welded flanges to the legs to spread the weight onto the bed rail. That worked fine at first, but the metal of the bed rail on our late model trucks cracked and split in the stake pocket area. The idea of a full-length bedrail grew out of this problem.
The first ladder rack we built using our new design incorporated a steel bed rail which totally stopped the cracking problem around the stake pocket holes. This worked so well that we built the next rack entirely of aluminum. We were not designing extrusions yet; instead we formed the shapes from 3/16" 5052 aluminum alloy sheet stock. The cross section of the legs was so large that they were totally rigid even without a top front-to-back member. We now call this configuration our "Utility Rig". It was extremely light, absolutely rigid, fork lift loadable, and, most importantly, it didn't need paint. This rack received such wide local acclaim that the idea of actually building similar racks for sale seemed like a possibility. Since our strong point had always been in metalworking, we decided to design a rack that would address the problems that we and, we hoped, other contractors had encountered.
The entire machine tool world revolves around T-slots and their versatility to accept various fixtures. Having already decided to take advantage of the benefits of aluminum extrusions, the next logical step was the inclusion of T-slots to slide bolts and accessories into. Ours would be sized to accommodate not a proprietary bolt but a regular 5/16" carriage bolt -- a bolt that can be bought at any hardware store. We know what it's like to work in the field and how important it is not to have to scramble to find special fasteners. Now, with T-slots incorporated in all crossmembers, inside and out, we were finally able to address the problem that proved the most costly. For years, we had to replace ladders that wore out at the point where they contacted the crossmembers. Whether it was a steel rack or an aluminum rack, the constant vibration and abrasion would cause the rails of the ladder to wear paper thin - even through on some ladders. More than once we replaced $700-$800 worth of ladders a year because of this wear. The solution was to have a piece of high durometer (fairly hard-about like a tire tread) EPDM rubber extruded as a bumper to slide into the T-slot. It protrudes about 3/8" above the crossmembers, costs very little and completely stopped all of our expensive and high liability ladder wear!
Now, with a strong, rust-free, and versatile rack ready, the next step was to devise a secure tie-down method. We commonly experienced enormous frustration when our trucks returned to our shop employing the most remarkable assortment of materials to hold down their ladders. Over the years we saw antenna wire, plastic straps from nail boxes, clear stretch wrap, an employee's belt, the rope that normally belongs on the extension ladder, and the all time favorite - 12/2 Romex, all used to hold down our ladders. Although these "ingenious" methods got our ladders back to the shop intact, it did leave us with the thought that maybe there was a better solution for tying down ladders.
The perfect tie-down is no secret, we didn't invent it, and it's been in use for decades. The perfect tie-down is a strap, anchored on one end and tightened on the other with either a hand winch or a ratchet. They're used all over the world for securing cargo for transport.
Small ratchet tie-downs with one inch wide straps were an easy choice for our new rack design. These ratchet tie downs were small and economical but the fact that they have 2 loose ends with hooks and an operating mechanism in the middle makes them less than convenient to use for fastening and removing ladders and loads all day long. The T-slots incorporated in our extrusions allowed us to eliminate one loose end of the assembly and to mount the body of the ratchet directly to the legs of our rack. With this method we had only one loose end with a hook and a rigidly mounted body. This was quick, easy to use and always part of the rack which made it the most practical tie-down method at the time. After a few years, we had sold over 50,000 of these ratchet tie-downs and although we continue to sell a lot of them, we realized they were not the perfect solution. The big down side is that they are made of steel and, although they're plated, they still rust and become difficult to use. Periodic lubrication helps but it attracts dirt and grime which results in an unclean, unprofessional appearance. Also, if you're tying down a small load, like a single ladder, the unused portion of the strap is left trailing in the wind beating on the rack, ladders or tool boxes and in general, wearing out.
It was clear a better tie-down system was needed. Our new tie-down would be called the Work Winch. It needed to be adaptable to all of our racks, it needed to be rust proof, it had to be able to spool up its entire strap, have a hand wheel for rapid spooling and a handle always attached to it for tightening. It also needed to be easily assembled for either left or right hand operation so that the spools could be mounted inboard of the front and rear trusses when mounted on the truck. A design emerged that would incorporate an existing element of the rack - namely, the gussets in pick up trucks and the mounting brackets in vans. They would have an identical configuration of holes, or bores, in which to receive the moving parts of this left and right hand winch. By incorporating the proper bore sizes into what is now known as I.T.S. (Integrated Tie-Down System) series gussets and brackets, we eliminated the need to manufacture a separate frame for the winch and at the same time created a universal mount to be used with the different gussets and brackets for the moving parts of our Work Winch. After many long hours and many trips back to the drawing board, the Work Winch was born out of a design that satisfied all the criteria and our rack was truly one system.
We hope that as you've read this, you will relate to some of the challenges of working out of a truck with a ladder rack, and that you can see why we and many others think that System One makes the most practical, highest quality rack in the country.