More from: headache rack

The Difference Between a Bulkhead and Headache Rack

The terms ‘bulkhead’ and ‘headache rack’ are used interchangeably in the trucking industry. That’s fine. Truck drivers understand what others are talking about by the context of their conversations. For the rest of us though, there is a significant difference between the two pieces of equipment. That difference can help us to better understand how drivers use headache racks and bulkheads to protect themselves.

For all practical purposes, a headache rack is a semi-permanent aluminum alloy panel affixed to the back of a tractor to provide protection against shifting cargo. The headache rack essentially prevents shifting cargo from penetrating the tractor cab.

A bulkhead does much the same thing except for one major difference: a bulkhead is affixed to the trailer rather than the truck. Furthermore, bulkheads do not have to be permanently affixed. They can be installed or removed as loads dictate.

Bulkheads and Flatbeds

A bulkhead on a flatbed trailer is mounted directly on the end of the deck near the tractor. It stands roughly 4 feet high and is made with a strong yet lightweight aluminum alloy. Cargo can be loaded flush with the bulkhead or with a bit of space between the two.

It is common to see bulkheads on flatbed trailers dedicated to local routes. For example, think of a local construction company whose trucks never travel more than 50 miles or so to a given destination. Its tractors are not likely to have sleeper cabs or headache racks. In the absence of a headache rack, the bulkhead provides additional protection.

Over-the-road flatbed drivers are more likely to have headache racks. Bulkheads are used on a case-by-case basis. If a bulkhead is appropriate when carrying things like steel girders or timber, drivers will not be afraid to use it. Where it’s not necessary, a driver may choose to forgo a bulkhead to save on weight.

Bulkheads and Dry Vans

Bulkheads are most typically thought of in relation to flatbed trailers. However, bulkheads are used in dry vans as well. A dry van is a trailer with walls and a roof. So why would a driver need bulkheads inside such a trailer? There are a couple of reasons.

There are some dry van loads more prone to shifting than others. In such cases, using a number of removable bulkheads can help keep cargo more secure. A good example is a trailer filled with rolling carts of linen. Bulkheads are a better option than load bars because they go from floor to ceiling.

Another use for bulkheads in dry vans is keeping different kinds of cargo separate. For example, there might be a moving company that specializes in ‘renting’ just the amount of trailer space a person needs to move long-distance. Because several different customers will have their personal belongings on the truck, loads are kept separate with lockable bulkheads.

Bulkheads for Other Purposes

Mytee Products carries bulkheads for the trucking industry. But trucking is by no means the only industry to use bulkheads. In fact, bulkheads were around long before trucks were invented. They have been used ever since man began building boats and putting them in the water.

Bulkheads in ships, planes, and rail cars are multipurpose panels. Not only do they help manage cargo, but they also provide structural integrity. It would not be possible to build the huge boats and airplanes we now build without using bulkheads.

Bulkheads are just one of the many products we offer the trucking industry. If you are in need of one for your truck, we invite you to contact Mytee Products. We’ll get you hooked up.


The Incredibly Versatile Headache Rack

The headache rack is one of those pieces of equipment with a very descriptive name suggesting just how important it is. It protects the backside of a tractor cab against cargo that might shift forward on a flatbed trailer. Truck drivers do everything they can to prevent cargo shifting, including securing their loads with chains and straps, but sometimes things happen. The headache rack is there as an added layer of protection when something does go wrong.

Your standard headache rack is made of a premium, high-strength aluminum alloy. It can be as simple as a rectangular panel attached to two mounting arms that are then affixed to the frame of the tractor. Once in place, this seemingly simple piece of equipment can end up being a lifesaver. But here’s the thing: headache racks serve multiple purposes.

The beauty of headache racks is that they are versatile as well as being sturdy and protective. For example, just about every flatbed trucker in the country has used a headache rack to store chains, bungees, and straps. Some have built-in toolboxes because, as truckers know, you can never have enough storage space.

Personal Protection and More

One of the things we enjoy about working with the trucking industry is seeing how creative drivers are with their equipment. We see a lot of interesting things with headache racks. For example, we had a trucker stop by our Aurora, OH retail location to pick up some tarps and straps. On the back of his tractor was a typical headache rack you wouldn’t think much about under normal circumstances. But on this day, something was different.

On top of his headache rack was a custom-made bike rack. That’s right, this trucker mounted a bike rack on top of his headache rack so that he could take his bike with him. We assume he used the bike for exercise and leisure. Regardless, utilizing the headache rack to carry his bike was an ingenious use of a little bit of space that would otherwise go to waste.

Another ingenious use of the headache rack is storing a ladder or two. This is actually pretty common. Truck drivers can use foldable aluminum ladders to make it easier to work on their trucks, secure unusually high loads, and so forth. But if you are going to carry a ladder on board, where do you put it? Attaching a ladder frame to the headache rack is the perfect solution. The frame is attached to the aluminum plate; the ladder folds up and attaches to the frame during transport.

Built-In Toolboxes

One of the most common strategies for headache rack modification is adding toolboxes. Mytee Products carries three models with toolboxes already built in, but we know there are truckers who prefer to purchase a basic headache rack and build their own toolboxes to go with them.

Toolboxes are like gold to truck drivers. They can never have too many. As for the headache rack, most flatbed drivers are never going to have an incident requiring it to save their lives. They invest in the headache wrack just in case they need it. Assuming the need will never arise, truck drivers might just as well utilize the extra space the headache rack affords. That’s where built-in toolboxes come into play.

The utilitarian headache rack provides extra protection against shifting cargo. It is foolish to not have one. But a good rack is a lot more versatile. The most creative truck drivers do some pretty interesting things with their headache racks. We have seen just about everything here at Mytee Products.


Aluminum or Steel for Headache Racks?

Truck drivers in the market for a new headache rack can choose between aluminum and steel models. While the Mytee Products inventory is exclusive to aluminum and other alloys, there are some companies that deal in steel headache racks as well. That begs the question of whether one material is better than the other. We would say ‘yes’, based on the properties of both.

Before we talk about advantages and disadvantages, we should first discuss what steel and aluminum actually are. We will begin steel.

Steel is an alloy made mostly of iron and carbon. It offers an extremely high tensile strength which makes it an ideal material for building construction, road construction, and the manufacture of everything from automobiles to tools. Steel is also very inexpensive to produce.

Aluminum is a natural element and a soft, ductile metal. If you took high school chemistry, you probably remember that the symbol for aluminum on the periodic table is Al. At any rate, aluminum is highly chemically reactive to the extent that it is rare to find it in a pure form in nature. Rather, it is embedded in ore – usually bauxite.

Steel Headache Racks

Steel headache racks used to be the norm for American truckers. Drivers preferred steel decades ago because of its extreme strength and heavy weight. They could bolt a steel headache rack to the back of a truck cab or flatbed trailer in full confidence that it would stand up to virtually any load. That is still true today.

The biggest disadvantage of steel is the fact that it easily corrodes. In order to prevent corrosion, manufacturers can galvanize the steel or add certain chemical additives to slow nature down. In the end though, nature almost always wins. Truck drivers who prefer steel headache racks have to put some effort into routine maintenance in order to prevent corrosion.

Aluminum Headache Racks

Aluminum has its own drawbacks as a material for headache racks. The biggest is that aluminum, in its natural form, is too soft to be used for anything requiring structural integrity. The good news is that aluminum can be combined with other materials to create an alloy that is as strong as steel. In some cases, aluminum alloys are even stronger.

The vast majority of headache racks sold these days are made from high-strength, premium aluminum alloys capable of withstanding the toughest punishment. Better yet, aluminum is not subject to corrosion. In fact, aluminum oxidizes when exposed to the air. Oxidation creates a thin protective layer over the surface of the metal that naturally prevents corrosion.

Aluminum has another benefit that is especially attractive to truck drivers who enjoy entering their trucks in competitions: aluminum can be cleaned and polished to an extremely bright shine. Using a simple technique and a proven aluminum polish, drivers can get their headache racks to shine so brightly that they can see their own reflections in them.

We Have Your Next Headache Rack

Mytee Products carries more than half-of-dozen headache rack models along with installation kits, light bars, chain hangers, and binder racks. Everything you need to protect yourself and your truck against shifting loads can be found here on our site. We invite you to browse our inventory of headache racks and supplies.

If you are in the market for a new headache rack, we recommend an aluminum alloy product from Mytee Products. Aluminum alloys are strong yet still lightweight. An aluminum headache rack will keep you safe without the extra weight of steel or the need to continually maintain the rack to prevent corrosion.


How Tough Is Your Headache Rack?

A story appearing last year on the automoblog.com website described two ‘autobots’ vehicles being sold at the 2016 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Arizona. One was a tractor that was custom built to portray the Optimus Prime character of Transformers fame. One of the things that caught our attention was the description of the headache rack mounted on the back of this truck. The article described it as being an “armor-like headache rack.”

Describing something as armor-like is a complement to its strengths and toughness. That led us to wonder about the toughness of the headache racks on the real-life trucks that traverse our nation’s highways. If you are a flatbed trucker, ask yourself just how tough your headache rack really is.

Up to the Task

There is a purpose for having a headache rack that goes above and beyond aesthetics.A headache rack is intended to protect both cab and driver in the event that cargo breaks free and shifts forward. The headache rack is supposed to prevent the cargo from crashing through the back of the tractor. With that in mind, a good headache rack has to be up to the task. It has to be strong enough to withstand the forces of physics in the event of an accident.

The purpose of a headache rack dictates that function is the priority when buying one. Yes, a clean and polished headache rack is a visual chrome feast for the eyes on a tricked-out truck that looks as good as it drives. But all the aesthetics will not mean much if that freshly polished rack cannot hold up to the forces of a shifting load during a forced hard stop. Truck drivers should buy their headache racks first and foremost as a safety device. After that they can talk about aesthetics and peripheral utility.

Shopping for a Rack

The headache rack is one area where it does not pay to skimp. So what do you look for while you’re shopping? Start by looking for something made with high-strength, premium alloys. An alloy is a material derived by combining multiple metals or a single metal with other elements.

Alloys are defined by their bonding characteristics. Thus, their superiority is found in their strength and durability. An aluminum alloy headache rack is going to be tougher and stronger than a pure aluminum alternative. Likewise for any other alloys a manufacturer might use.

Finally, make the effort to visually inspect any headache rack you choose before you buy it. If you are forced to purchase online because you cannot get to the supplier in person, make sure your purchase comes with a reasonable return policy just in case it arrives in less than perfect condition. Your visual inspection should include looking at all the welded seams and the entire face of the headache rack. There should be no cracks or breaks of any kind.

The Optimus Prime truck sold in 2016 is nothing but a Hollywood showpiece. As such, whether its headache rack is truly armor-like doesn’t really matter. It is just for looks. The same cannot be said for your own truck. If you are flatbed truck driver, you absolutely have to have an armor-like headache rack to protect yourself and your truck.


How to Easily Enhance a Headache Rack

If you are a flatbed trucker working without a headache rack, you really need to rethink your strategy. You are but one accident away from a load coming through your cab in a hard-braking scenario that exceeds the tensile strength of your straps or chains. Having said that, truckers with headache racks can enhance those racks with a quick and dirty trick that is easy and inexpensive.

Get more out of your headache rack by securing stacked railroad ties at the front of your trailer with 5/16 chain and a break-over binder. Railroad ties are pretty easy to come by, and in some cases, you can get them for free if you know where to look. You can use 4 x 4 timbers if you don’t have access to railroad ties.

Truckers who haul freshly harvested timber use this trick all the time. Why? Because logs are among the most unruly pieces of cargo you can put on the back of a flatbed trailer. Being careful to stack timbers securely helps to some degree, but you never know when a log is going to shift forward. Adding the bulkhead just makes a driver safer.

How and Why It Works

At first glance, it might seem like building a bulkhead to enhance a headache rack is a waste of time and effort. After all, the whole point of the headache rack is to provide a tough barrier between tractor and load. But here’s the problem: cargo shifting forward on a trailer has to cross that open space between trailer and cab in order to do damage. Any cargo that does manage to traverse that empty space unimpeded has momentum behind it. Momentum is the killer.

A log with enough momentum can severely damage a headache rack to the point of requiring replacement. In a worst-case scenario, a log can send pieces of the rack through the cab. Building a bulkhead on the front of the trailer prevents deadly momentum.

The laws of physics dictate that stacking a load flush with a wooden bulkhead greatly reduces the risk of cargo striking the back of a tractor because the bulkhead provides a surface area capable of absorbing and dispersing the energy of moving cargo. Thus, a bulkhead prevents cargo from getting the momentum it needs to do damage to the tractor.

Easy to Remove

The suggestion to use railroad ties and chain to build a bulkhead is not coincidental. The design is intended to create a bulkhead that is easily removable when it is not needed or it might be in the way. It’s a lot easier to remove chains and railroad ties than to break the welds of a permanently affixed bulkhead system.

If you know you have a month’s worth of loads that do not involve any timber, you can quickly remove your bulkhead and go on your way. The same goes if you have to take an oversized load that needs a few extra inches off the trailer. It only takes a few minutes to reinstall the bulkhead when you need it again.

Here at Mytee Products, we sell a variety of headache racks in different sizes and configurations. Headache racks are great tools for protecting your truck and providing a bit of extra storage at the same time. For those loads when your headache rack may not be enough to protect you, consider building a quick and dirty bulkhead using railroad ties and chains. This simple but effective fix could make a difference in protecting both you and your truck.