Project West: Part 2 – Rust Repair and Painting

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Intro

Plywood timber floor sections of the Easy folding trailer is removed and frame is exposed.
Plywood timber floor panels removed and frame is exposed.

There it was, the solution for transporting two karts to the track, and now it was parked in the workshop. After not much searching, I had managed to find and purchase a nifty, used, folding trailer which would not only do the job of hauling one of the team’s go-karts to the track but had the wonderful feature of being able to be folded up and stored away, out of sight, when not being used. Manufactured by Easytrailer (and know and Harbor Freight in North America), it represented a perfect example of practical karting transportation and compact storage. Unfortunately, the dream had turned into a small nightmare when it came time to pack away, and on closer inspection the trailer seemed more rust than steel. 

Having removed the timber flooring panels, the true extent of rust, hidden under the faded and flaking paint, became evident. It was present on almost every surface of every steel component, some areas being worse than others. The 15-year-old Easytrailer had had a hard life up to this point, and by looks of it had spent most of that life outside, in the elements.

As this trailer was of a size that required registration, that being over 3m in overall length, work was needed to ready it for the impending inspection by the roads authority in Victoria, Vicroads. As any vehicle with rust is highly frowned upon during such inspections and would surely fail to pass, I knew that it would have to be rectified prior to the inspection date.

Fixing the rust was, therefore, the primary objective of the project. A project I had dubbed: Project West. And this is where we are up to in the story 

Trailer Design

Easy folding trailer folded up rolled into in workshop ready to be dismantled, repainted and restored.
Trailer rolled into in workshop in preparation for dismantling and being repainted.

The design of the folding Easytrailer is incredibly simple. Simpler than I originally imagined it to be. Taking possession of one and being able to inspect closer, understand its construction and the way it’s put together shattered my original assumption that this was some kind of heavy duty, over engineered folding trailer. In essences, there are only four basic sub-assemblies, and all being held together with nothing more than a few nuts and bolts.  

These four basic structural sub-assemblies are: the drawbar, flat bed which is divided into a front and rear section, and a mid-section with mountings for the suspension and castor wheels. 

To visualise the how this trailer folds up, picture the front flat bed frame remaining in a fixed position. All other sub-assemblies get bolted onto this front sub-assembly, moving around the static section. The Drawbar bolts on from underneath, the mid-section with suspension components are also mounted underneath but towards the back of the frame and the second half (rear) of the flatbed frame is hinged off the top of the front frame assembly. What this results in is all the components move around, and are positioned relative to, the front frame. The drawbar pivots and tucks under and the rear frame section folds over and on top while the mid-section remains static. 

A majority of the structural components of the trailer are made up of lengths of 2.5mm mild steel ‘C’ sections and then bolted together using 3/8 nuts and bolts throughout. Miscellaneous pieces, such as brackets and mud guards are then bolted in place also using the same standard sized 3/8 nuts and bolts. There are not many parts aren’t held in place with a 3/8 bolt. The more heavy-duty components, such as drawbar swing points and leaf spring suspension are held in with a larger diameter bolts as you’d expect. 

Running the full length of the trailer is a wiring loom, from the plug up near the coupler on the head of the drawbar all the way back to the taillights. The plug on this trailer is a standard round 7 pin plug although only utilising five of the possible pins, not using the reversing lights or service break pins in the plug.

In addition, there are several different styles of mounting brackets ranging in shapes and sizes, either holding guards in place or displaying number plates or intended for use as supports of timber sides. These are dotted all over the trailer’s layout in various locations, each serving a specific purpose.All things considered, nothing too complex about this design or assembly at all.

How Far To Go?

Having removed the timber floor off the trailer, rust on the trailer frame (front passenger side corner) was visible. The spot of rust on the drawbar (lower left of image, adjacent to the cable tie) was the patch that triggered the repair and fixing of rust on the trailer.

Originally the plan was to only to fix up the one spot, on the drawbar, where the rust was first spotted. But this was changing the more time went on and the more time I had to think about it.

Any repairs had to be done properly, and doing it properly meant not just a simply patch up job. In my mind, the project had to grow in its scope of works. At the start it was only meant to be fixing the small area of rust on the drawbar, this turned into painting the whole drawbar assembly. After completing painting of the drawbar assembly, the freshly painted parts were so much brighter than the original and faded red on the rest of the trailer. So much so, it actually made the whole thing look worse than before because of the mismatch of colours. To overcome this, the main sections would also need painting, I originally thought I could get away with simply painting down the sides, quickly going over what was most visible. But there were two problems with this quick fix solution, one: that would paint over the heads of bolts of bolts along the side and two: this would not fix the rust everywhere else. 

There was much internalised debate about how far to go with painting and if all the other sub-assemblies and components should also be painted to the same level as the drawbar. As time was scarce, the turnaround period needed to be as quick as possible and would be a key deciding factor. Would there even be enough time to actually paint everything properly?

Rust on the middle sections of the trailer frame
Rust from underneath the timber floor paneling, located in an area where the front and rear flat bed frames meet.

The question had to be asked: Do I dismantle both the front and rear sections and give each individual length of ‘C’ section the same rust treatment and paint job as I had now done on the drawbars? Or am I too pressed for time to undertake such an extensive and laborious task? 

Myself being the stifler for detail, decided to go all in on pulling the whole thing apart and piece by piece fix the rust and repaint everything. I rationalised my decision like so: “we’ll I’ve come this far, and it would look half arsed to only repaint bits n pieces” So I started taking apart each of the platform frame sections both front and rear. In a heartbeat, the workload grew exponentially.

Fixing Rust and Painting

Frame of the folding trailer being dismantled. A frame and mud guards have been removed at this stage of the teardown.
Frame of the folding trailer being dismantled. Drawbar and mud guards have been removed at this stage of the teardown.

Having made the call to pull everything apart and paint each part separately, I started by breaking down the trailer into its basic parts. Dismantling it to the four fundamental sub-assemblies (drawbar, front and rear flatbed frames, and the mid-section) was a straightforward process, from there each of these sub-assemblies could then be dismantled further into their barest components, mainly comprising of folded steel ‘C’ sections. Once a sub-assembly was completely dismantled, it was then ready to have the rust fixed and then painted.

Easy folding trailer sits having had the rear frame removed and set aside. Wiring loom has also been removed.
Trailer sits having had the rear frame removed and set aside. Wiring loom has also been removed.

Disassembly and painting was done one sub-assembly at a time, starting with the drawbar, then going onto the front frame, rear frame, mid-section and finally any miscellaneous parts in that order. It was done this was as to not get parts and fixings mixed up between the different section, as many of the sub-assemblies have similar or the same parts which could have been interchanged, mixed up and potentially put in the wrong place. By using this method of ordering, a section could be disassembled, cleaned and painted and then reassembled in a few days and without losing or mixing up parts. 

Rust treatment involved removing any big chunks of the existing, flaking and faded red paint, using a scraper, wire brush or course sandpaper; vigorous and sometimes violently brushing with the wire brush to remove any surface rust; then with the old paint and rust gone and bare steel exposed it was given a once over with thinners and other nasty cleaning chemicals to cleanse the bare metal just before painting.

Gloss red metal cover epoxy enamel being used to repaint the trailer.
Gloss red metal cover epoxy enamel being used to repaint the trailer.

A cheap, all-in-one rust prevention paint, requiring no priming, was used for all parts that were red. After the brushing and cleaning of each part, painting commenced pretty much straight way to take advantage of good painting conditions. There was a period of a few days of prefect painting weather, warm and sunny but not too hot either. The aim was to get one light coat and two heavier coats on within the daylight hours and allow to fully dry overnight. 

It was simply a case of repeating the process over and over for each sub-assembly and each component of each sub-assembly. Painting every single part was more work than the small patch up job I was originally planning to do, and a lot more than simply leaving it in the condition which I bought the trailer in, but the end result would be worth it.

Drawbar

Underside of the A-frame sections showing the extent of rust present.
Underside of the drawbar sections showing the extent of rust, bottom gusset (silver part at top of image) can be seen joining the two halves.

While most other trailers use rectangular hollow section (RHS) for the construction of the drawbars, the Easytrailer uses a simpler (and cheaper) design of folded sheet metal profile in 2.5mm thick mild steel. There are two gussets, a 6mm mild steel top gusset and a 3mm mild steel bottom gusset, positioned at the front of the assembly, at the point where the left and right folded channels meet and where the coupler is mounted. Towards the midpoint of the drawbar there is another piece of folded 2.5mm mild steel, this time for mounting the spare tyre. The whole sub-assembly is then bolted to the underneath the front section of the flatbed with two M12 bolts, one on either side. When not folded, it’s held in place with a set of pins, 10mm in diameter, locking it into place at the front of the flatbed. When these pins are removed, the drawbar can pivot, either to be folded under the flat bed for storage or used as a tilt trailer.  

As the drawbars were the first to come off the mighty Harbor Freight trailer, they would be the first be disassembled and repainted. This was a good starting point as the assembly was simple enough to take apart and prepare for paint. Fittingly, as this is the sub-assembly where rust was first spotted, it seemed appropriate that this should also be the first parts to be fixed.

First coat of paint on one of the two A-frame sections.
First coat of paint on one of the two drawbar sections. Motorcycle chock that came with trailer can be seen in the background

Not only this, but as it had the most visible rust, it was a priority to fix first. An inspector would, as I did, easily pick up on this and then surely fail the trailer without blinking an eyelid. If the drawbar’s rust was fixed and I happened to run out of time prior to the inspection at very least the most troublesome rust patch was no longer going to be obvious and in direct line of sight. If time was going to be an issue, all other parts could have waited until after being inspected to be fixed up and painted.

There was a heap of rust on each part of the drawbar, this is most likely due to the fact the assembly closest to the tow vehicle, it cops all the dirt and spray off the tyres just ahead of it. No wonder the paint was in such a dire state. Big sections of the red paint would simply fall off with a light once over with the scrapper and an even more alarming amount of paint came off with the wire brush.Some parts were so badly damaged from the rust and corrosion that it wasn’t worth trying to save. Specifically, the gussets at the front of the A frame, both top and bottom, were in a particularly bad state, with the top gusset being the most rusted of the two. As this part was also the mounting point for the coupler of the trailer, and therefore the main point of attachment for trailer to car, I didn’t want to simply ‘spruce up’ such an important part with a mere coat of paint. I needed it to be strong and structurally sound. The amount of rust present inhabiting this part didn’t fill me with confidence, as a result this part was binned and replaced with a part of my own design (more on this in an upcoming post). As the top gusset shared a bolt hole pattern with the lower, I simply copied from this layout in creating the bottom gusset, albeit without the mounting holes for coupler or safety chains. The original gussets were then shown the inside of a scrap metal bin. 

Front Flatbed Frame

The two frames of the Easy folding trailer detached from assembly. Front frame is on the stand about to be dismantled.
The two flat bed frame sub-assemblies of the trailer detached from each other. Front frame is on the stand about to be dismantled, while the rear frame is leaning against work bench next in line to be fixed. Mid-section is on the workshop floor (image, bottom right).

The front flat bed frame is the main structural sub-assembly, to which all other components are bolted onto. Similar in design philosophy to that of a suspended flooring system, comprising of trusses and beams, a number of folded 2.5mm mild steel ‘C’ sections are arranged in a simple grid and then bolted together, forming a supporting structure to which the floor panels are attached.

Individual front frame sections on the stand prior to rust removal.
Individual front frame sections on the stand prior to rust removal.

Two ‘C’ sections run longitudinally (north/south), one on either side, with a further three ‘c’ sections mounted perpendicular (east/west) to the longitudinal channels, spanning the width of the floor of the trailer. These transverse, east/west sections have a similar folded profile albeit slightly less in height as they slot into the north/south side pieces. Once all bolted together (that’s right, no welding here) they form the frame for the flat bed and measure 1220mm x 1220mm (4ft x 4ft) each. Put two of these end to end and there’s the trailers total bed size of 1220mm wide by 2440mm long or 4ft by 8ft. Reason for the 4ft length is because anything over this length wouldn’t fit on a standard sized shipping pallet, after all that’s how these trailers are delivered: on a pallet, in bits, requiring assembly.

Individual front frame sections on the stand after rust removal, cleaned down and ready for paint.
Individual front frame sections on the stand after rust removal, cleaned down and ready for paint.

There was nothing strenuous or difficult about taking apart this frame. Undo a hand full of nuts at the points of connection and each section comes off without putting up a fight. With all the individual components pulled apart and, on the stand, it becomes apparent how weathered and damaged these parts actually were. The rust originally spotted was only that where the paint had come off already. After a few solid hours with a scraper and wire brush, to remove paint no longer sticking to metal, the true extent of rust was shown. Every face of every section had some form of rust present. Lucky though, none of this was any worse than surface damage, the worst of it caused cratering and orange peel in the most affected areas.

When I first started painting the parts, it was hoped that I could do the whole trailer using only three cans of the special rust prevention paint. As there was more bare steel than I had originally anticipated, this section alone used two whole cans to achieve a semi decent finish. While the painting budget was sure to be going BRRR to the moon unexpectedly, the overall finish was actually pretty good for paint out of a rattle can. There was no escaping a rough looking finish on areas that had been heavily rusted , but other pieces, which previously only had light surface rust, turned out looking better than I was anticipating. The paints finish was flat, consistent and the red was vibrant and bright once again.

Freshly painted sections, which make up the front frame of trailer, drying in the sun.
Freshly painted front frame sections drying in the sun.

While several coats were put down, I cannot be sure how many I actually did on each part. I first started off focusing on areas where the paint had been brushed off, or rust had left bare steel. These areas had ‘spot’ coats just to act as a primer before the top coats were applied. 

Particular attention was paid to any surface that would be outward facing and received more coats of the red spray paint. This ended up being why so many more cans of paint had to be used than was originally intended. To balance out my paint addiction, surfaces that were facing inwards (i.e. under the trailer or covered over by floor panels) only received two coats at most as these surfaces were going to be out of sight a majority of the time and there was no point in using even more paint on areas that would probably not be viewed. Same went for the top surfaces, where the floor panels would be mounted directly on top off, as there would be something covering this face, and never be visible, there was no point in going nuts on these areas and wasting paint that could be better used somewhere else. Despite my stingyness when it came to these later areas, the finish still looked miles better than what was originally.    

folding trailer before and after retaining
The two halves of folding trailer, rear (left) and front (right). Front section has had rust removed, cleaned and repainted whereas rear frame is shown still in the condition as purchased.

Rear Flatbed Frame

Fixing the rear assembly was a carbon copy of fixing the front section, having an almost identical design, comprising of ‘C’ section pieces in exactly the same layout. Only slight difference being the rear has brackets for the taillights whereas the front has a number of welded on brackets for the pivot points and mounting of the drawbar. Apart from these little variations, they are essentially the same.

The Rear frame was in about the same shape to that of the front, that being pretty bad. Plenty of surface rust, flaking and faded paint plus the usual build-up of dirt and gunk from all its year of hauling motorbikes around the place.

Being the same parts and in the same condition it was a case of repeating what I had already done once before. Unbolting each section, attacking the flaking paint and rust with a wire brush, cleaning the surface with thinners and then painting with a few dozen cans of anti-rust red. By this stage I had really found my groove when it came to getting the steel prepped and ready for painting. On this second effort, the attention to detail was at a much higher level. More rust was removed, and old paint cleaned off more vigorously. This resulted in the section actually has a better paint finish, despite roughly the same amount of paint being used as on the front. As with the front, the steel ‘C’ sections had damage from the rust making some areas resemble the cratered surface of the moon. If I was to try and fix these depressions in the steel it would have require filler and bog or welding or a combination of everything, whatever it need to be billiard table flat and smooth was too much effort for what it was being used for and the time I had available. If anything, it would have been quicker and cheaper to have the parts remade from scratch and just scrap the existing, who knows this may still happen in the future if the rust returns and gets out of hand once again. These areas of deep cratering are mainly on the top surfaces, the mounting faces for the flooring panels. Once the floor panelling goes on, they will cover up all this nastiness and won’t be visible. Out of sight out of mind after all.

Freshly painted sections, which make up the rear frame assembly of harbor freight easy trailer, drying in the sun.
Freshly painted sections, which make up the rear frame assembly of trailer, drying in the sun.

Mid Section: Suspension and Castor Wheel Mounting Brackets

Being only made up of four parts in total, there was no need to spend a great deal of time repairing or painting these assemblies. Each side is comprised of two lengths of steel angle, with one being the support for the front and rear flat bed frames as well as the suspension components, the other piece of angle is mounted perpendicular to this and is the location of two small 360-degree castor wheels. Two pieces per side and two sides, making only four pieces total to repaint. 

The parts making up the mid-section were seemingly in best the condition of anything on the trailer. These components had small amounts of surface rust and paint not too badly damaged or faded. There was still rust of course, but the amount was significantly less than anywhere else. As there wasn’t too much in way of fixing and rust prevention, a light clean and then a small number of coats with pov paint was all that was required, just enough to ensure the shade of red matched the other repainted parts on the trailer. Surfaces which were going to be more visible, were given more attention and an extra coat or two of paint. For areas such as inside the channel, where the leaf springs would be mounted, there was no point going overboard with the spray can here, only a light coat of red was applied to save on paint and any remaining rust attend to and fixed. 

Brackets, Mud Guards and Other Bits

There were also the little bolted on miscellaneous items such as mud guards and various brackets also needing some TLC. These parts ranged in size from the large mud guards covering the wheels down to small side stake brackets, and of course, like with all the other components on the trailer, there was much variation in the condition of each part. Although on the whole, most of the parts weren’t overcome by the rust that had infected other areas, there was rust but luckily nowhere near as serve as in other areas.

Mud guards were a bit on the thrashed and bashed side. Small amounts of surface rust, dents and the paint was super faded. The sort of condition to be expected given its positioning on the trailer. The design and build of these guards didn’t help the cause either, made of thin folded steel, with no welds to support the corners and then mounted onto the trailer using a single, relatively narrow and flimsy, bracket, it wasn’t a design to last the ages. Whenever towing the trailer, a common sight in the mirrors, was to see the guards bouncing around, over every bump in the road. This pair is by far the cheapest feeling, and poorly designed feature on the trailer. I really had no faith in these parts and knew they would have to be replaced eventually for something not made from tracing paper. Because of this impending replacement happening in the not-too-distant future, I didn’t go to that much effort in fixing the rust or faded paint. Just enough to make them look decent and better that what they were.

As with all the other parts prior, the process was repeated: brush, clean, paint. For the painting of this pair, I used a cheap gloss black spray paint that I found on sale at the local auto accessory shop. 3 cans for $10 dollar bucks, who cares how shit it turns out being, anything is better than what it originally looks like. My express paint job on the two guards and their mounting brackets would server the purpose fine with the aim again being to remove any visible rust and then to also bring the paint standard up to that of the rest of the trailer.

The remaining parts were brackets including, Side stake brackets, taillight mounting brackets and the number plate mounting bracket. As all were all zinc plated, the condition of these smaller items wasn’t too bad. There was minor oxidation of the zinc plating finish and on a few of the side stake brackets some surface rust on the inside face. This was easily cleaned with the use of thinners, after this each part was given a few coats in gloss black paint. 

Side stake brackets are manufactured from 2.5mm steel and then folded into a simple box like profile. There are two of these brackets on each side of the trailer, making a total of eight. My trailer only came with six with the two at the front being replaced with ‘tie down extension bars’, I ended up ditching these extension bars as they did not fit the purpose I needed for transporting go karts.

Auxiliary components from off the trailer painted black and drying
Auxiliary components painted black and drying

The indented use for the side stake brackets, is for inserting timber ‘stakes’ into the slots, hence the name ‘side stake’, so as to allow owners to be able to construct their own trailer sides, most commonly from timber. It is a simple and practical solution and offers a much cheaper alternative to paying hundreds of dollars for the optional steel sides. There are many great examples of owners of Harbor freight trailers coming up with clever solutions and ideas, utilising these brackets. 

While I doubt I will be using these side brackets for the purposes of making timber sides on the trailer, I still use them every now and again as tie down points. While these are far from the perfect design for tie down anchoring points, for the time being they will remain on the trailer until such a time as I have a viable alternative.

Mounting brackets for the taillights are super simple, being just a thin strip of steel folded at 90 degrees and with holes cut out to match the holes in the sides of the trailer frame and to the original taillights. One of the brackets was bent out of shape, most likely from having hit something while reversing (a broken taillight held in place with masking tape would back up this claim). Fixing was simple, hold in place in a bench vice, then a few persuasive taps with a hammer, in no time at all it was back at 90 degrees. Like with all the other brackets, both these were cleaned an then painted in the same, el-cheap-o, gloss black spray paint.

The number plate bracket was badly bent out of shape and no longer a flat piece of metal. As it was only made from thin steel, it was easy enough to flatten out again using a rubber mallet. This bracket holds the number plate in place and is mounted under one of the taillights, being bolted directly onto one of the taillight brackets. As this trailer came with its number plate on the left-hand side, after being flattened and repainted, it kept it on the side it originally was on.

Wheels, Axle and Suspension  

Leaf springs removed from the axle.
Axle and wheels removed from the trailer.

Up until this point, every single part on the trailer had some form of fixing or painting that was required. The frames for the floor of the trailer having the most extensive and as mentioned previously, auxiliary components such as mud guards and brackets just got a quick spray with the cheap and nasty gloss black. The only remaining parts to still be painted was the underside of the trailer. That being the wheels, axle and suspension.

These parts did not need anywhere near as much attention as the prior parts did. The suspension and axle were going to be out of sight, and the wheels simply needed a good clean to remove years of build-up. 

Axle and hubs having been cleaned prior to being painted
Axle and hubs having been cleaned prior to being painted

A minor detail I opted for was to change the colour of the axle, this channel connecting the two wheels together, was originally painted in red. Problem with such a bright colour being used in this area, is that it is more likely draw a person’s line of sight to it, drawing their attention to the underside of the trailer was not what I really want to be happening. No real reason in particular why I don’t want people looking at the “dirty” side of the trailer, but if there is a visual trick which can be used I will certainly do it. The same gloss black that was used on the mud guards was used to change the steel tube from bright, albeit faded, red to a modest and unobtrusive black. Black by its very nature doesn’t draw your eye to it, hence why it was the obvious choice for this application.  

axle, leaf spring suspension and hubs reassembled and ready to be fitted to the trailer.
axle, leaf spring suspension and hubs reassembled and ready to be fitted to the trailer.

The only other components which were painted were the leaf springs and even this was a half-arsed job to say the least. All that was simply done, was to clean surface dirt and grim with terps and then paint. Whatever crap didn’t come off in the clean, and trust me there was some truly stubborn dirt, was painted. I didn’t have enough time to sit there scrubbing something that was never going to come off, to be put in a location that will never be seen and is going to get dirty and gunked up again simply because of where it is mounted on the trailer. There was no rust to fix either, the spray job was simply to freshen up the original faded paint and bring the painting standard in line with all other components.

Finally, the wheels were chemically cleaned using a specially formulated wheel cleaner, then hosed down and left to dry in the sun. Both inside and outside was scrubbed and unsurprisingly there was a few specs of rust on the surface. Was there rust on the wheels? Yep; Did I paint the rust spots on the wheels? Nope. These spots were less than the size of a five-cent piece each there really wasn’t much in the way of rust that would be considered a problem requiring immediate fixing and repainting. The white fourteen inch Sunraysia wheel turned out better than expected after a good clean, although once cleaned, the paint turned out to be more faded and dull than before the wash, the dirt covering up the UV damaged paint. Some paint had even been rinsed off after the chemical clean, the milky trail left behind was evidence that the paint on these wheels was truly on its last legs.

Final Thoughts

Seeing the bright red lengths of steel drying in the sun it really justified the labour involved with refreshing each part separately. This was especially noticeable when a freshly painted part was placed next to an unrestored part. The original paint was tired, old and faded, falling off in big clumps and starting to show its age in many areas. By taking the time and effort of giving each piece a work over and lick of paint, the red popped as I’m sure it did way back when the trailer was brand new.

There is still much more work to do on Project West, including designing and manufacturing new parts and reassembly of all the components. All of this and more to be covered in upcoming posts, hope to see you then.

If you are enjoying the project so far please share on social media, while you’re there don’t forget to follow me, RB42, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for updates and new releases.

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