Project West: Part 1 – Introduction

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Let me tell you a real shaggy dog story about a little red trailer which I just bought.

You may have read recently that my brother and I had taken up go karting, forming our own team – Beeblebrox JBC – the intention being, attending race meetings on a monthly (or there abouts) basis, taking part in race meets with our two karts. The plan was to load up both the karts into my brothers Toyota Hiace, affectionately known as the Party Van. We’d been planning for this two kart operation well before the Party Van came onto the scene, using it as the primary transport tool for getting to the race meets. It seemed, in our minds anyway, it was a perfect plan with no draw backs, however did you think we would have confirmed two full sized karts could in the back of a 2000 Toyota Hiace? Nope. And guess what, even getting just one in was a squeeze, let alone two.  

Beeblebrox JBC karting team, pit box setup at the track

Sure, with enough time, and playing around with ramps and brackets and shelving and supports there probably could have been solution engineered to get around the problem and have both the karts fitting into the minuscule van. But when getting even a single kart in is in itself a tight fit what chance did we have with two? Not to mention, we would still have to find room for all the spare parts, sets of tyres, tools, cameras and filming equipment, pit garage stuff such as a gazebo, chairs and work bench/table and then our own person gear like race suits, helmets and change of clothes. Even before the kart is loaded in, there is a load of stuff that must also be brought along to the track for a day of racing. With limited time and limited willingness to actually design a solution for the van, an alternative solution was needed.

A trailer was the logical next step for solving our transportation woes. The most common and ideal trailer solution for karting is a dedicated, enclosed, two kart trailer with all the previously mentioned bits n pieces packed away, ready for whenever there is a meet on. Just hitch the trailer to the car and off to the track we go. This was obviously the most preferred solution. A compromise was to have one kart in the Party Van and the other being towed on a smaller, single axle trailer. However, as commonly happens in life, a significant roadblock presented itself as an obstacle to these options. That being neither of us, myself or my brother, had the garage space to store a trailer. Back to square one, bummer… 

two go kart trailer
example of a typical two kart trailer

At this point I was about to concede the only option may have to be hiring a trailer each time it was a race day, which had its many obvious drawbacks. It takes time to book, pay for and go collect a trailer from the local service station. Not only this, what if the trailer I need was already booked out? Then I’d have to try source one from somewhere else. So much time, which I don’t really have, would get chewed up with running around trying to rent a usable trailer. On the night before race day, I would have to go pick it up and then, in order to have the deposit refunded, have it return by the same time the following day. This could turn out to be a real rush, getting it back in time and rushing around is the last thing I would be wanting to do after a long, full, physical day at the track. Hiring a trailer, therefore, was going to be just too much effort and not realistic either. In the end, as karting is going to be a long-term commitment, the cost for hiring, week after week, would eventually overtake the cost of just buying a trailer for the purpose, and the lost time could be better used elsewhere. 

Luckily for me, and thanks to the wonders of targeted online advertising, I remembered seeing a pop-up advertisement for these handy little red trailers. Not only were they cheap to buy but also had the added advantage that they could be folded up, moved around on small, 360-degree castor wheels and fit through standard doorways. Perfect, say for, storing down the side of the house when not in use. Already half sold on the idea, this was going to be the most likely and realistic solution: one kart in the van, the other on a trailer. When there’s no racing on, fold the trailer away and store out of the way. This was perfect! So where to start? What size to get? New or used? How much should be budgeted for such a trailer? 

Easytrail/harbor freight folding trailer landing page
Website for Easytrailer folding trailers

These folding trailers are manufactured in Taiwan and then sold in Australia through the company Carlex, with the trailers themselves being called Easytrailers. In North America, these trailers are exceptionally popular and are called Harbor Freight trailers, other than the names they are exactly the same thing, in fact the names are interchangeable (apologies in advance if I start off calling them Easytrailers and then later on refer to them as Harbor Freight trailers).

8ft x 4ft folding trailer as advertised on the Carlex/Easytrailer website8ft x 4ft folding trailer screen shot from the Harbor Freight website
Comparison between the 8ft x 4ft folding trailer, from the Easytrailer and Harbor Freight websites

Unlike most trailers, Easytrailers are delivered in kit form. When you buy one from the retailer, they are sent out as a flat pack kit which you assemble yourself. This is one of the reasons the price is as low as it is, you have to put the thing together yourself, like a big Ikea kit.

There are several different sizes and variations available in the Easytrailer range, starting from a teeny, tiny 4ft x 3.5ft (1220mm x 1016mm) foldable variant, all the way to a larger 8ft x 5ft (2440mm x 1525mm) non folding, rigid option. For karting, an 8ft x 4ft (2440mm x 1220mm) was going to be the best choice of size out of the range, as it’s the largest of the folding models and can handle the size of a full sized kart just fine. The rear wheels of the kart overhang by about 100mm off each side but this wasn’t going to be much of an issue. While it would have been better to have the 8ft x 5ft, this way having no rear wheel overhang, as it has a rigid frame and can’t be folded for storage, it’s utterly useless to me.

8'x4' - 2440mm x 1220mm folding trailer specs off easytrailer website
8ft x 4ft (2440mm x 1220mm) folding trailer specs from Easytrailer website

Buying a brand new trailer was not out of the question as the retail price isn’t too unreasonable. An 8ft x 4ft (2440mm x 1220mm), the size I was considering, starts from $850 dollar bucks. Though for this price, the kit is pretty sparse and is just the frame of a trailer with not much else. Features such as Formply flooring panels is an optional extra and adds $200 to the price, removable sides are also an extra which will again add a further $300. Before you know it, a fully optioned trailer up can end up costing close to one and a half grand. While this was still within the budget, I’m always on the prowl for used alternatives, as you never know your luck in the big city.

What I was hoping to find, on the used market, was something which already had all the bits and pieces such as floor panels and sides. Luckily for me I managed to stumble across a used example fair quickly. As I do with most used things I buy, the trailer was on the classified site Gumtree. Pricing wise, it was less than half of that expected to pay for new, also included with the sale were the sides, plywood floor and as an added bonus, a motorcycle chock, another optional extra. While I don’t even own or a bike, it’s nice just to have it there as who knows, maybe the moto situation might change in the not too distant future.

Image as posted from the original add on gumtree.
Image as posted from the original add on Gumtree.

The seller was located in the regional Victorian city of Bendigo, a two hour drive from where I am in the ‘burbs of Melbourne. I could not easily go and inspect it, have a day or two to think it over and then make a well thought over decision about whether or not it’s worth the asking price. I was going off the good faith that what was being sold to me was as described in the classified add. What this meant was that the if I did ultimately make the decision to go for the drive up the highway, I would most certainly be going to make the trip solely to buy it. Spoiler alert I obviously did. 

Having never been to Bendigo before this trip, it was a leisurely drive up north, to the old gold mining town which is full of charm and character. As I was only there for a short time and for the sole purpose of buying the trailer, I didn’t have any opportunity to stop and check the place out properly. On my next adventure out to this part of Victoria, I will definitely be sure to spend a good day here. The only stop I did make on the journey was to the bakery. This, for me, is the best part of traveling to regional towns, getting stuck into pies, pasties and cakes from these old school, main street, independent bakeries is always a highlight of an otherwise boring car trip. Now before this post descends into something that is found on a travel blog, I’ll get back to the topic at hand. The trailer.

The cash was handed over, the trailer hitched to the back of the Hilux (my ute, not the Party Van) and I trundled off down the highway, back to merry old Melbourne, with a big dumb grin on my face “what a piece of equipment! And what an amazing price!” I thought to myself. Little did I know, all the fun was about to begin.

Easy folding trailer as purchased. Sides on and motorbike wheel chock in centre.
Trailer as purchased. Sides on and motorbike wheel chock in center.

Going off the manufacturers plate, the trailer was manufactured in 2006, and by looks of it, in those 15 or so years it has seen plenty of wear and tear. But it was cost peanuts to buy, was else was I to expect from a cheap used trailer? The important thing was that it was mine!

I had just arrived back from Bendigo and wanted to get it ready for storage, still feeling extremely smug in the fact this trailer could actually be folded up and rolled away out of sight, even bragging about this fact to my rubbernecking neighbour who had noticed my latest purchase. However, it wasn’t long before I got hit in the face with a dose of used trailer reality. While unbolting and taking off the sides, I noticed a relatively small patch of rust on the drawbar. “Mmmmm” I thought to myself, that will need fixing before getting the inspection done for registration, knowing full well many inspectors from the transport authority will fail a vehicle when there’s even the slightest bit of rust, they have the uncanny ability to smell rust on a vehicle from 100 yards away after all. As I continued on with getting the trailer ready to store away, my curiosity got the better of me. “if there is rust here (on the drawbar), what about under the timber floor panels?”. Removing these panels proved my hunch to be correct. Rust. Rust everywhere. On every single piece of steel under the timber. Most of it was being concealed by flaking red paint, but it was obvious that there was rust underneath, trying to push through. It was at a scale which was a significant problem.

Sides and motorcycle chock from the trailer
Sides and motorbike chock taken off the trailer

After removing some more components from the trailer it became even more clear that almost every part would need some form of attention to fix the rust or, due to the damage caused by excessive rust, be replaced altogether. The only parts not requiring any work were the coupling, jockey wheel, wheels and tyres, axle and suspension. Every other part made of steel such as the frame, drawbar and mud guards would need fixing. The wiring loom, indicator lights and taillights were in bad shape also, and would need to be replaced as they were being held together by electrical tape and not much else. And, for the sake of totality, the timber floor panels were in less that pristine condition and would need replacing sooner rather than later.

What started out as a small rust patch on a single isolated part had snowballed into what would become a complete and total rust repair job, this just to ensure it would pass the roads authorities mandatory inspection for registration. To add a bit more pressure into the mix, the clock was ticking.  

Having removed the timber floor off the trailer, rust on the trailer frame (front passenger side corner) was visible.

The karting team, Beeblebrox JBC, was planning to attend a practice and shakedown day, scheduled for two weeks after picking up the trailer, a week after that, it was going to be inspected by Vicroads. As there was no way I could get all the rust fixed in the lousy week between the practice day and the inspection, the call was made and dismantling of the unsuspecting little trailer started immediately and treatment of the rust shortly after. 

This was a project I hadn’t intended or planned to spend any time or effort actually doing but out of necessity turned into a rather comprehensive and laborious series of tasks. If the price of buying this trailer wasn’t so cheap, I would have considered it an overpriced heap of shit. Luckily for me I didn’t pay too much, so these works could be (somewhat) justified. While I did not end up sinking as much cash into this as I would have with buying a new trailer of the same or similar specs, it still cost me in time. 

Sides of the Easy folding trailer removed as the dismantling process begins
Sides of the trailer removed as the dismantling process begins

When this scenario plays out, i.e. buying something cheap and then spending a significant number of hours fixing it up, it’s always positive to view it as an opportunity. An opportunity to make things better than they were from the factory. If parts are damaged and need to be repaired or replaced, and if those parts were only ‘meh’ to begin with, why not design and make my own replacement components which are superior and better suited to what is needed? 

This is what I ended up doing with the Easytrailer. It is a cheaply made product, manufactured with bare minimum quality components, all of which could be upgraded and made better. While replacing an entire rusty frame wasn’t a realist option, I could still repair it and replace other worn-out parts. Items such as the timber floor panels, mud guards, taillights, along with a host of other components could all be changed and made better than how they came standard from the factory. Some with off the shelf items, others with parts of my own design, but still there was the prospect of making something better than it was before.

This project was by no means meant to be a restoration and I have been careful not to call the project, along with its related works, a restoration, this wasn’t after all the scope or type of work carried out. A restoration is, typically, much more stringent with the aim of trying to make something as close to factory condition as possible, involving higher levels of detail and stricter standards for the finished product. What I have done is simply “refreshed” the trailer, nothing spectacular but still much better than what I started with. My own workmanship is certainly not the best quality, but for what the final objective was, it’s enough to ensure this particular Easytrailer will last for another ten plus years of trailering action. To borrow a line from the Krusty brand seal of approval “It’s not just good, It’s good enough!”.

As every project should have a cool sounding project name, the name I’m working with is Project West. Why Project West? Every time I have typed out ‘Easytrailer’, which is probably 5 million times by now, I keep being reminded of Yeezy, similar sounding to the easy in Easytrailer. Yeezy is, of course, Kanye Wests nick name (at least it used to be before it became a line of over priced sneakers), so hence the name Project West.

So there you have it, the introduction to Project West: The Easytrailer/Harbor Freight trailer refresh project, how it came about and why I’m doing it in the first place. This is part one in a multi-part series of posts over the coming few weeks. The series is a look into how I took this rusty little trailer and made it something less shit and not resembling scrap metal. Each subsequent post will focus on a particular point in the progression of the project, detailing the methods used in its rebuild, along with information about replacement parts used for the build, either bought or designed myself. Additionally, I’ll be sharing the unique and bespoke designs used for the project and go into detail about the design considerations and challenges with making my own customised Harbor Freight trailer.

Keep an eye out on the blog for updates and future posts relating to the project. You can follow me on the socials: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, to keep up to date when a new post is published.  

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