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Wed, Oct. 23

Local inventors prepare to launch their product for towing storage containers (VIDEO)

Gary Gates (left) and Chris Christiansen stand next to a storage container they just turned into a trailer using their new invention.
Photo by Max Efrein.

Gary Gates (left) and Chris Christiansen stand next to a storage container they just turned into a trailer using their new invention.

Tri-city area residents Gary Gates and Chris Christiansen have invented a way to pick up, move and drop off any size ISO (International Standards Organization) shipping container with nothing more than a tow truck and a few of their own small inventions.

Commonly used for general storage purposes by businesses and regular folks, these sturdy metal containers can weigh anywhere between about 3,000 and 11,000 pounds depending on the length and height.

“[Shipping containers] are the best shed you could ever buy,” Christiansen said. “They’re made so strong that they’ll basically outlive any of us.”

For decades, these containers have been moved using a flatbed trailer and sometimes a forklift or even a crane to make the loading and unloading process smoother.

Christiansen, a longtime tow truck driver and operator, one day decided he could come up with a better way of accomplishing this task.

The first thing he did to start the project was turn to his old pal Gates.

Gates doesn’t have such a clear-cut title, but Christiansen refers to him as a fabricator (someone who can make just about anything out of scratch).

Now, more than four years into the research and development phase, they believe their hard work is about to pay off.

The result is a customized tow truck equipped with a container dolly, heavy-duty center stands and a metal device that hooks onto the tow truck’s hydraulics system and locks into a shipping container’s industry standard corner castings.

“We essentially turn [the shipping container] into its own trailer,” Christiansen said. “No one has ever done this before.”

Christiansen has been field testing the prototype equipment using a tow truck provided by his employer, Tri-City Towing, for about seven months. At Christmas, he brought 25 40-foot containers to the area for Black Friday and Christmas layaway by himself.

The key issue Gates and Christiansen’s design overcomes is a restriction on how quickly, easily and affordably a container can be placed in a desired location.

For example, say someone wishes to put a 40-foot container in their driveway. To do so, storage container companies require at least 100 to 120 feet of clearance in front of the container so that the truck and trailer hauling it can pull away after dropping it off.

If such clearance is not available, the company will instead drop the container where it can near the desired location and leave the rest up to a separate crew of forklift and crane operators to maneuver the container into that spot. The same goes for loading a container.

These additional steps require more time and money.

Such clearance isn’t necessary for this invention.

“I can load this container right here, pull out on the road, back it in, set it down and leave,” Christiansen said pointing to a 40-foot container and an adjacent driveway with limited clearance. “We’ve just taken existing technology and used it to solve a huge problem.”

With all of the pieces of their invention currently patent pending, the two entrepreneurs are just a couple weeks away from having their prototype manufactured by a local company.

Once everything is finalized, the two entrepreneurs intend on marketing the specially-fitted towing vehicle to towing companies throughout the country.

“This creates another revenue stream for any towing company in any city in any state,” Christiansen said.

As soon as the word gets out about what they’ve created, they anticipate a large company will eventually decide to buy their patents.

“Without a doubt, there’s going to be somebody, somewhere in the U.S. who is going to say ‘we are going to relieve you of the responsibility of having to do this for this much’ and we will probably say okay,” Christiansen said.

They both prefer taking this route rather than continue to market and sell the product themselves, which, if done right, requires a good amount of money and time, Christensen said.

“We’re in it for the money,” Gates said.

Not to mention the two of them have other projects in the works they’re excited about and need sufficient time to fine tune as well.

“Granted this is taking all of our attention at this point, but there’s going to come a day here at the end of this year where we’re going to develop another idea because of this,” Christensen said. “It’s going to be cool and you’re going to want one.”

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