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Universal Outdoors takes trailering to a higher level

I am not a trailer person. I just have never had the knack to back up anything in a straight line that is connected to the bumper of my truck. As a kid brought up in an aerial crop dusting business, I had plenty of opportunities to jackknife a trailer and bend the tow bar. Try as my dad might I was dangerous when trying to back up a trailer. Now, going forward was something else.

Outdoors enthusiasts use a lot of different kinds of trailers for a wide variety of tasks. During the opening weekend of deer season you cannot count the pickup rigs jetting up and down the interstate highways pulling a host of trailers loaded to the gills with ATVs, tree stands, hunting gear in big plastic boxes or hunting camp preparation gear. Trailers are everywhere.

Trailers certainly add a tremendous flexibility to haul a lot of extra stuff that does not always conveniently fit inside a vehicle or into the bed of a truck. They are especially popular for use with big people-hauling SUVs. Put the family in the cab and all the gear in a trailer. Park the trailer at camp, unhook, and go. Trailers offer a lot of options for all types of outdoor pursuits.

Zero turn haulers

A what? Universal Outdoors is a subsidiary of Kustom Machine and Sheet Metal Inc. in Forest. They have designed and engineered a unique type of towing trailer different from anything you have likely ever seen before. Traditional trailers hook up to a hitch and ball on the rear bumper and the trailer wheels are fixed in position. All of the turning of these trailers is done as the trailer tongue pivots on the hitch ball.

Zero turn haulers work completely different. They are still connected to the vehicle’s rear bumper via a hitch, but the trailer has two locking strut bars attached to a tow bar hitch. This locks the front of the trailer in tow behind the vehicle. Then, and this is the unique part, all turning is accomplished by two rear wheels mounted on the trailer that are capable of pivoting a complete 360 degrees as needed. Talk about heaven on earth for backing up. This is the cat’s meow for us trailer-backing challenged folks.

Made of aircraft grade aluminum in both the frame and the body, the “ZTH” model can carry up to 750 pounds of ATV, golf cart, mower, dirt bike or whatever. The trailer sports a ground clearance of 18 inches. Access is gained up a ramp from the side of the rear, though a new rear-loading model is now available. The ramp is completely retractable. An added feature is an aluminum diamond plate lockable tool box designed into the rear end of the trailer. Trailers are complete with rear lighting and the strut locked hitch mechanism.

Old fashioned Mississippi ingenuity

Universal Outdoors is owned by Jimmy Jones and Larry Crimm. According to their Web site, their wives Debbie Jones and Ronena Crimm make up the office staff. The engineering staff includes Paul and Shane Henderson with Chad Henderson doing the marketing. It’s a small close knit group that can function well in a small shop environment.

This type of environment fosters a fluid exchange of creative idea thinking quickly turned into product development and production. This explains the innovative ability of Universal Outdoors to thrust their Zero Turn Hauler into the trailer marketplace in a relatively short period of time from conception to production.

Brainstorm innovation continues

It seems to be the natural ebb and flow of small business entrepreneurs to constantly be on the search for ways to expand their horizons, hence new business development. It would have been a lot easier for the likes of a Hartley Peavey to just make one kind of speaker or guitar, but then he might still be working out of his garage.

Will Primos might have been just as satisfied just cranking out a few turkey calls every year and not bother trekking all over the country making world-class hunting video programs. Not. Jones and Crimm follow this route, too.

Far from content in just producing a fine product like the ZTH trailer, Universal Outdoors scanned the trailer scene to come up with some additional new ideas. Some new products are not hauling trailers at all. At their Web site www.universaloutdoors.com, the whole line up can be reviewed. They even have a video segment of their ZTH trailer posted so interested consumers can see how it really works.

New to the line up is their Cycle Hauler, which is a traditional trailer design, but the front end is arrow shaped narrowing down to a wheel chock designed to lock a motorcycle wheel in place. This unit is also fabricated from diamond plate aluminum. Another quite unique trailer is their new Smoke Wagon Grill. This is a self-contained cooking machine on wheels complete with storage boxes and a pull-out work/dining table. One of these would look stunning parked in The Grove at an Ole Miss football game turning out chickens and ribs.

Another new item is the “Lil Ole” Smoke Wagon Grill. This is a portable grilling unit made to be carried along for any outdoors event, family reunion, church group cookout or hunting camp. Again it is made of the same durable diamond plate aluminum like the trailers.

Small companies like Kustom Machine and Sheet Metal’s Universal Outdoors are the backbone of small business development in Mississippi. Tiny ideas that grow into major custom products generate additional jobs and secure futures for a lot of people in this state. At the same time in this case the company makes a variety of handy products serving a need for people on the go that love the outdoors.

John J. Woods of Clinton is an award-winning outdoor freelance journalist. His column appears monthly in the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at johnjwoods@hotmail.com.

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