Super sleepers

| December 12, 2008

The Ringelstetters’ kitchenette includes a large refrigerator/freezer, regular and convection microwaves, a two-burner electric stove, a double integrated sink
and a widescreen television.

Larry and Pat McCann of Graff, Mo., rely on their 110-inch sleeper as they haul supplies for the U.S. Army.

Stopping anywhere to eat or sleep away from the truck can be difficult because they must maintain a constant watch on their load.

The McCanns cook full meals in their kitchenette. A combination shower/porta-potty takes care of hygiene. Final touches in the $40,000 sleeper include a generator, a flat-screen TV and a laptop with wireless Internet capability.

“People think this is a luxury for a truck, but it is a necessity for us,” Pat McMann says, showing off the Indiana Custom Trucks-built sleeper on the back of a 1999 Peterbilt, leased to Landstar.

The McCanns are not alone in their dependence on a tricked-out sleeper. More buyers are getting features that used to be rare or, not too many years ago, unavailable in a sleeper.

In addition to the basics of bed, cabinets, closet and table, sleepers have many add-ons, especially in team operations. A flat-screen TV with satellite hookup, DVD player and surround sound is common. It’s not unusual to find sleepers with showers, toilets, kitchenettes and microwaves. In larger sleepers, you might even find single-unit washer-dryers, says Elwin Eash, one of ICT’s founders. In light of growing anti-idling laws and rising fuel costs, generators and auxiliary heaters have become more cost-efficient; gen-sets are especially useful for the sleeper packed with electric appliances.

Eash says sleepers are not built to be exotic. “Some of the options might seem that way, but they really do save the trucker money if used properly,” he says.

Given the 14-hour work provision of the current hours-of-service, downtime is more costly than ever. So when a driver visits a truck stop to shower, eat and do his laundry, he’s not only spending money, he’s losing time on the road and efficiency. Having a sleeper with a full range of appliances, especially in team situations, can reduce truck stop time.

Until sleepers came on the market in the 1970s, truckers had to squeeze into a small compartment just behind their seat to snooze. The first sleepers were smaller than 60 inches. Their popularity grew in the 1980s as the array of options increased – first a wider bed, then a small refrigerator, then kitchen and bathroom accessories.

“In the early 1980s, the first showers appeared. We all giggled about that,” says Rod Lantz of sleeper maker American Reliance Industries Co. “We thought, ‘What would you do with a shower in a truck?’ Nowadays you would have to be nuts if you did not put a shower in your sleeper.”

ICT’s sleepers range from 96 inches to roughly 230 inches – nearly 19 feet in length. The former cost in the $30,000 range, while the 200-inch models surpass $100,000. American Reliance’s sleepers range from 97 inches to 144 inches, the former starting at just under $30,000. Prices from competitors, including Double Eagle Industries, are similar. Custom designs cost more than pre-built models.

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