For flatbed haulers, Tarping is perhaps the most arduous part of the job, the chief reason why Flatbed Driving Professionals command a premium over others. Flatbeds, by their very definition, are open topped. Loads being hauled on flatbeds need to be tarped frequently to protect the load from the elements. Given the significance of Tarps to the flatbed hauler, it is important to understand various Tarp types and Tarping Systems.
Tarp itself is a commonly used term for plastic coated fabric. We can broadly divide Tarps into four categories: Mesh Tarps, Poly Tarps, Vinyl Tarps and Canvas Tarps. Of these four categories, only Poly and Vinyl Tarps are supposed to be totally waterproof. The Mesh Tarp is designed to let water and air pass through but hold back debris. Of the two waterproof tarps, those with polyethylene coating (Poly Tarps) are what one generally finds at Home Depot or Wal-Mart. These are cheaper tarps with reduced durability. Poly Tarps have various uses but are not suitable for Trucking applications. Vinyl Tarps are the most commonly used material for Trucking applications. Vinyl is the best material for Heavy Duty Truck Tarps. They tend to be more expensive but have the necessary strength to handle the strain from exposure to winds on the highway and also the tension from bungees exerted on the D-Rings of the Tarp.
Tarping can be done manually by the driver. Different sizes of finished tarps such as the Heavy Duty Lumber Tarp, Steel Tarp, Coil Tarp, Machine Tarp or a Three Piece Tarp can be kept rolled up above the Headache Rack or in the Toolbox. Once the Steel Coil or other load is placed on the trailer bed, secured with Tie-Downs or 3/8 x 20 G 70 Transport Chains and Ratchet Chain Binder, a Moving Blanket can be thrown on top of the load, the necessary Plastic Tarp Protectors Placed and then the Coil Tarp or Heavy Duty Lumber Tarp can be laid above the load. The tarp is then secured in place with 21 Inch Rubber Bungee Straps pulling down on the D-Rings. This is the most common yet manual method of Tarping a load. It is required for loads of unpredictable sizes, loads such as Machines.
For consistent loads, load of predictable dimensions, Mechanical Tarping systems are also available in the Market:
- Front to Back Tarp Systems
The most common examples of such systems are Asphalt Tarp and Dump Truck Tarping systems. The Tarp has two long pockets along the Trailer length. The system has two metal arms that are inserted through the side pockets of the Tarp. The tarp is rolled up into a cylindrical roll at the front of the trailer. At the time of deployment, the tarp is unfurled from its rolled position and extended out to cover the open area of the trailer. Asphalt Tarps are made of Vinyl while Dump Truck Tarps are made of PVC Coated Mesh. There are other sliding Tarp systems as well available which fall under the category of Front-to-Back systems.
- Side to Side Tarp Systems
Side to Side systems are generally synonymous with Roll Tarp systems. The tarp is fixed on one end and free on the other. The open area of the trailer is covered with bows that act like a system of ribs on which the tarp can roll back and forth. The mechanism drives the free end to roll and simultaneously curl toward the fixed end. Such systems are common on Gran Trailers. For flatbed trailers, a Side-Kit system is used. It is similar to the Roll-Tarp system but the drop height is provided by a combination of Stakes inserted in the Trailer side pockets and 4 foot high panels inserted through the sides of stakes along specially grooved channels.
Automatic Versus Manual Drive
All mechanical Tarping systems can be driven by a manual crank or an electrically automated motorized drive. The automated systems, while more convenient, can be more expensive and complex. Manual systems can be effort intensive, especially during the winter months, but tend to be simpler and robust.