Truck and Trailer Tailors
Meeting Alaska’s specialty hauling needs
By Rindi White

pecialty truck and trailer suppliers are not short on ingenuity. In a state where hauling needs are as unique as snowflakes and nearly as abundant, the skill to recognize a problem and engineer a solution is rarely far away.

Need a refrigerated storage facility to preserve a community’s whale meat? No problem. Massive snowplow/grader/sanding vehicle? Easy-peasy. Trailer that can handle 70 tons of mining waste and dump it in precisely the right spot, every time? Can do.

Take, for example, Bob’s Services. Its “BSI” logo is visible on mud flaps of commercial vehicles all around Alaska. The company predates statehood: it’s been in business since 1952, when founder Bob Brown started moving houses for people. Sales manager Kate Forster says it wasn’t long before people started coming to Brown to see if he could help them create a custom truck. One conversion at a time, Brown built a reputation on bringing people’s truck dreams to life, whether that was adapting pickups to drive on the Alaska Railroad or outfitting trucks with snowplows and sanders for the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT&PF) crew to use to keep roads clear.

While Bob’s Services is now in its second generation of Brown ownership and operations, the commitment to getting the job done—and done well—remains the same.

Equipment and Relationships Built to Last
“Our list of what we don’t do is shorter than the list of what we do,” Forster says. “If a customer has an idea, we will bring it to life.”

Forster says the company will work with any chassis a customer has and modify it to meet their needs, anywhere in the state. With forty-seven employees working out of the shop in north Anchorage, most of the company’s work is a balance of oil field and municipal and state vehicle jobs, with an assortment of “you never know what” in between.

Oil field builds might require a “cold pack,” she says, referring to heating pads placed on a truck’s oil pan. Some require extra toolboxes and other equipment that is more durable for working remotely in extreme cold.

Snowplows are a significant portion of Bob’s Services’ work, Forster says. Whether it’s a plow sold to a homeowner or local plow truck operator or the gigantic plows and blades the DOT&PF plow trucks use, Bob’s Services might be where it came from. The company equips and services most state plow trucks, Forster says. But not all plow trucks are the same—each is tailored to meet the needs of the community it serves.

“If it’s going to Yakutat, it’s going to be different than if it’s going to Anchorage or going to Palmer,” she says. “We also do the lighting of those trucks—in the Lower 48, they don’t understand what a moose light is.”

A moose light is the enormous light that sits atop the cab, bright enough to span the road and far beyond its edges so drivers can see moose approaching, she says.

Bob’s Services doesn’t hold contracts with the state or municipality to produce the vehicles, she says. There aren’t many other options in the state for specialty truck builds like those the company provides, yet the Bob’s Services sales team goes above and beyond in maintaining good relationships with clients who have had work done at its shop.

“The gentlemen here have been working with pretty much the same people for the last thirty to forty years,” she says. “Our big thing is retaining those relationships.”

Keeping It Cool
In a state in which temperatures are generally on the colder side, keeping cold food from freezing can be as important as it is to keep frozen food frozen. Luckily for food retailers, Dallas Dalton has fine-tuned the process of keeping mobile refrigeration units operational.

His company, Dalton Refrigeration, specializes in just-in-time repairs for transportation companies that have unexpected breakdowns mid-shipment, as well as on-time services such as rented cooling units that can be used when a restaurant unexpectedly has a freezer go down, for example. His company also builds custom freeze or chill units.

“If it’s going to Yakutat, it’s going to be different than if it’s going to Anchorage or going to Palmer… We also do the lighting of those trucks—in the Lower 48, they don’t understand what a moose light is.”
Kate Forster, Sales Manager, Bob’s Services
Dalton learned about refrigeration and diesel mechanics in trade school, then he worked for a local shipping company, where a manager said Alaska lacked technicians who could repair refrigeration, or reefer, units. He quit that job to work on the North Slope, saved enough money to buy a former bread van and some tools, and in 2014 he ventured out on his own, repairing reefer units. He worked on his own for about four years, he says, and started the leasing and sales side of his business in 2018.
Bob’s Services specializes in customizing trucks, like this Knapheide platform body mounted on a chassis the customer brought in.

Bob’s Services

Bob’s Services specializes in customizing trucks, like this Knapheide platform body mounted on a chassis the customer brought in.

Bob’s Services

Bob’s Services tow truck
A customer brought in this truck chassis, and Bob’s Services installed the steel dump body and hydraulics to make it work.

Bob’s Services

A customer brought in this truck chassis, and Bob’s Services installed the steel dump body and hydraulics to make it work.

Bob’s Services

truck chassis being installed
“That’s when I started getting people asking me all the time if I had something for rent. At the time, I bought two units and rented them to the Alaska Native hospital,” he says. It’s been a growing part of his business ever since.

Dalton explains that the hospital had a major construction project under way and needed extra space to store food. He has also provided cold storage for fishermen and hunting guides.

“The first year we did about 50 moose,” he says. “We were loading containers quick.”

By the third year, Dalton says three containers were filled with more than 140 stored moose, plus wolves and bears.

“It was a service that no one ever had done,” Dalton says. “The processors didn’t have enough storage to store those… it’s a month-and-a-half market that I never knew existed.”

Those previously unrecognized markets are becoming a larger part of his business. His company has a refrigeration unit on site, held as backup in case the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention needs emergency storage. Dalton provides refrigeration units to Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to store whale meat from subsistence hunts, and he sets up exterior refrigeration units for restaurants that need more chill space.

Recognizing a need for smaller trailers, Dalton says his company recently built a 10-foot by 8-foot walk-in cooler on a trailer. In April it was used at a fish processing spot in Kenai; it’s also booked for a June wedding and for the Alaska State Fair. When an avalanche left a 40-foot pile of snow on upper Hiland Road in Eagle River’s South Fork Valley, Dalton brought the trailer to the site to provide freezer space for residents who had lost power.

“All of our units were large, with three-phase power. This trailer heats, cools, and freezes, and has its own generator or can be plugged into shore power—220 [volts], single-phase power; almost every home in Alaska has it,” Dalton says. “It was something new we wanted to try so the general public can use it. Most of the time, a box truck or trailer is overkill.”

“The first year we did about fifty moose… We were loading containers quick… It was a service that no one ever had done… The processors didn’t have enough storage to store those… it’s a month-and-a-half market that I never knew existed.”
Dallas Dalton, Owner, Dalton Refrigeration
Keeping Fresh Food Fresh
Although the rental market is growing, Dalton says the bread and butter of his business is Alaska’s hauling fleet, which transports fish, meat, and produce. As consumers move toward fresh, organic produce, a refrigerator unit malfunction somewhere on the Alaska Highway from the Lower 48 can cause problems quickly.

“It was so cold this winter that, if a trailer goes down and it’s -60˚F, the food is going to freeze,” he says.

Three times this winter, Dalton drove to the border to repair refrigeration units as soon as they entered Alaska. Frozen produce means empty shelves at the grocery store, he says.

“The majority of our work is in the transport industry, but we also do custom builds,” Dalton says. “Almost every month we have a call from someone.”

Unique Solutions for Unique Customers
One such client was Dr. Lisa Espey, a Palmer-based veterinarian who owns Passages Pet Cremation and Grief Center. Dalton Refrigeration built a freezer unit where pets awaiting cremation can be stored, she says. But she also occasionally needs to cremate a horse—or sometimes more than one—which can present a problem.

Espey says, “If the cremator is running and we have another horse, then what do you do?”

Dalton designed a container to hold up to four horses at a time, each stored on a rolling metal tray that can easily be moved by one person—an important feature, Espey says.

“The idea is, you get the horse on a pallet and the trays roll easily back and forth. That was my goal—it had to be easy for one person to maneuver it,” she says. “What’s really nice is, I can bounce ideas off him.”

Espey says the freezer turned out well and has come in handy. While her company doesn’t cremate a lot of horses, it’s an important service. Horses can live for two or three decades; families often become deeply attached to them.

“Their horses are as important to them as dogs or cats; they’re part of their family,” Espey says.

An eighty-ton SmithCo trailer is loaded at a mine.


An eighty-ton SmithCo trailer is loaded at a mine.


eighty-ton SmithCo trailer
A seventy-ton SmithCo trailer in use in Alaska.


A seventy-ton SmithCo trailer in use in Alaska.


seventy-ton SmithCo trailer in use in Alaska
One Load at a Time
Hauling a load, whether it’s mining waste, gravel for a road project, or loads of snow, is a year-round task. Scott Lovell and Duane Myears of SmithCo Side Dump Trailers are seeing rapid growth in the side dump trailer industry, which SmithCo pioneered. Based in northwestern Iowa, the company has been designing and building side dump trailers for more than twenty-five years. Lovell is the company’s president; Myears is its national sales manager.

Alaska is a popular destination for SmithCo trailers; to date they’ve been shipping them up as needed.

“We build the trailers in groups of six, assemble them, make sure they function, then stack the frames and tubs in groups of three and get six trailers up there in three loads. We typically do that once or twice a year. Sales are so strong that everything we build is sold,” Myears says.

But this year, Lovell says, they will be partnering with North Pole Equipment Rentals as a SmithCo trailer dealer. Having an in-state dealership means the company can have stock trailers on hand, as well as a depot for parts. Bringing up more inventory might take a while, though—the company is experiencing higher demand than ever.

“Typically on a normal year, we would have between fifty and seventy-five stock units sitting in our yard that you could call up… and come get in a week. We have zero stock units—and we have zero stock units on the schedule, and we’re [scheduled] out to late October. We will produce more than 100 trailers more than we produced last year, and we can’t produce them fast enough,” Lovell says.

What’s driving the demand? Lovell speculates it might be a mix of pent-up demand due to projects delayed during COVID-19 and companies getting equipment ready for federally-funded infrastructure projects. And some of the increase is due to focused marketing, he says.

“The concept of side dumps is really gaining popularity. The side dump is so much more versatile than any other trailer out there; it’s so much more stable. Guys are finding that, instead of having an end-dump fleet and a belly-dump fleet, they can just have a side-dump fleet,” Lovell says.

Although SmithCo sells plenty of its twenty-five to thirty-ton payload, road-ready, side-dump trailers in Alaska, the company specializes in customizing trailers to meet the needs of its earth-moving customers. It’s not uncommon for a company working in northern Alaska to request Arctic brake hoses, Arctic wiring, and other features to keep the equipment operating smoothly at sub-zero temperatures. More commonly, Myears says, Alaskan customers need trailers with larger payloads for mining or other off-road operations.

“Our seventy-ton payload trailer is probably the most common in Alaska,” he says. “It has three axles, but they’re heavy-duty axles, and heavy-duty suspension, heavy-duty tires.”

Lovell says those trailers might be used on the North Slope to build pads for the oil industry or maybe in the construction of ice roads. The custom trailers are designed to meet each customer’s specifications, he says.

“We are a solutions provider, so we have a lot of customers or potential customers who tell us, ‘This is what I haul and this is where I haul it; I’m using this right now and this is the problem we have,’” Lovell says. “We take a look at it and design a solution around the problem they have. We will make what you need.”