View Full Version : A few questions about Trailer Haunts

08-12-2009, 05:19 PM
I have been told that Rich Strelak is back from Canada and may, amoung others, be able to answer a few questions I have about trailers. I have mine ready to go and would love to get started but first thing first is SAFETY so here it goes:

1. Do you remove the tires and lower the trailer

2. Or do you jack up the trailer a bit so the tires are off the ground

3. Do you sercure the trailer to the ground and if so how

4. What do you suppport the trailer with if you do jack it up

5. What is the best method to connect the trailers together

I know I may be missing a few questions that I have not thought of so please don't hesitate to add your suggestions. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Again thanks loads everyone!

Again I am not opening until 2010. Thanks ahead of time for all suggestions!!

08-12-2009, 05:46 PM
If you are talking about semi trailers they have legs (not sure of the right name for them) that drop down and then the semi truck pulls out. That is if you are making it so that it can be moved every year. Good luck, I have always want to make a haunt in trailers.

08-12-2009, 05:56 PM
Yes, these are semi trailers 45 feet long. They rest on 8 tires on the back and landing gear on the front that can be "cranked" to any height. I really do know how to spell "among" just not a great typist. lol

08-13-2009, 12:27 AM
Let me get the pro Rich Strelak to come to your rescue... he knows all about this subject. I'm calling him right now and letting him know about this thread!

If you come to Transworld 2010 we'll open up our trailer haunt for some kind of tour so people can really get a look at them. We have really been trying to renovate them but remember this is what the crooks broke into.

Oh well. Calling Rich now.


08-13-2009, 12:39 AM
I've been seriously looking into this myself and would like to hear what the experts say. From what I have found so far (in my area, and I think where you are and who you have to deal with are the most impoertant things) you want to leave the wheels on so that it is considered temporary. Once you start making it permanent, building codes come into play.

Mad Wax Sculptor
08-13-2009, 01:44 AM
you know ive been told that once they are in place you can block them like mobil homes. You want to use only the i beams as supports. I wouldnt raise the tires off the ground or remove them its extra support. level them and block them with cinder blocks

The Doctor
08-13-2009, 07:34 AM
I don't think here in AL they will let us use anything that obstructs escape and it not be sprinkled. They came down real hard here in AL on all haunted houses for building and fire codes.

08-13-2009, 01:32 PM
Let me ask a question that boggles at least my mind...
How can you pass and inspection with a Trailer Haunt? Fire protection or electrical?
Is is ADA (American Disability Approved) accessable?
Just curious... Thinking of opening a traveling haunt type circus that I can pull behind and place at any given mall or supermarket lot...

08-13-2009, 03:23 PM
When I worked with my parents in the early 90's setting up and working at a couple charity haunts that's all we had was trailers. We had 3 trailers in a "U" shape. The trailers were pulled from a semi-trailer storage lot by a local trucking company to the site where we would setup. The trailers were backed into place as tight as possible by the trucking company. The trailers were left with their wheels on the ground and we cranked the legs down to the ground for additional support. This kept them solid and in place. We built ramps and stairs that would lead up to the entrance and exit (the exit always had a ramp because it was safer if guests ran out).

IF the trailers needed a bit of tweaking to get them closer/tighter together we did something I wouldn't recommend as it's not the safest thing to do, but we used two different jacks (one a 10 ton and the other an 8 ton) and used the biggest timbers we would get and jacked them up and into the trailer at an angle (depending on which direction the trailer needed to go in) then kept cranking the jack until it pushed it as close as we needed. This was done before the legs were cranked down and if at all possible you'll want to get the company you hire to get them as tight together as possible. The jack method is dangerous.

In order to connect the trailers we built small ramps and walkways in between each trailer that started in one trailer and ended in the nest then built around the ramp sides and a roof. We tried to make that as tight as we could to keep out water when it rained. The trailers were wired so that we would hook each trailer together using male and female generator plugs. (Our plugs were located in the ceiling and the plug was locked in place so it wouldn't fall down. Getting locking plugs is important so that one doesn't accidentally come unplugged and put a pause on your show). The type of plugs you'd need would depend on what type of generator you'd be using. We used both Homelite and Honda generators and the Homelite was easier to start, more reliable and easier & cheaper to fix when it needed work done on it. You may be able to get the city to help you hook up electricity directly to the trailers and wouldn't need a generator though. Wiring the trailers is something that would depend on your needs and city electrical codes.

As for the questions about meeting safety guidelines, we always met ours. Of course codes vary from region to region so you'd need to find out what requirements you'll have to meet first. But ours we had sand paint on any ramps or steps to provide traction, we also had glow in the dark paint on the floors showing the way to emergency exits (we had one emergency exit located at the back of every trailer with a staircase leading to the ground. These emergency exits were located right next to where people would cross over into the next trailer and in our last trailer the exit served as the emergency exit.), battery-powered emergency lights that would turn on as soon as power failed and our last year we even added a sprinkler system that ran along the roof of all our trailers. Our walls had to be cut down about 2 feet from the ceiling (this may vary on your safety code) to allow the sprinkler heads enough room to spray in the event of a fire and the local fire department loaned us the wrenches and hoses to connect them together and to the hydrant. We had to have our own regulator custom made for the hose to connect to and feed the sprinkler lines so that's something you'll need to talk to your fire marshal about. To pass fire inspection all of our walls were painted with latex paint that had fire retardant mixed in with it. Our fabrics, foliage and props all had to be sprayed with the same retardant that was approved by the fire marshal. Our haunt was not wheelchair accessible. I'm sure there are some haunts that allow room for a wheelchair but at the time that was not a big deal. Making it wheelchair accessible will cut quite a bit of your space out but if you're creative you can come up with ways to get around that obstacle. This would also eliminate and stairs in favor of ramps.

The nice thing about our trailers was that the back trailer had walls that were on heavy duty hinges so that at the end of the season we would pull these walls back against the trailer wall and lock them in place and it allowed a generous amount of room for storing ramp pieces and other big items. Everything we had was stored inside 3 trailers.

This is just my experience with trailer haunts. I hope this helps answer some of your questions and be sure to talk to anybody you can who has experience with these haunts as well as talk to your city inspectors and find out just what requirements need to be met. You want to be well-prepared before opening night, even if it is a year away.

08-13-2009, 04:02 PM
Thank you all so much for your help with this. The trailers are on solid ground (soil) and are fairly level. I was concerned with the tires holding air for several years. They will be shielded from the sun but I would hate for one to lose air after years of just sitting. My haunt will not be accessible to any wheelchairs. My haunt is on 4 acres in a pasture with uneven pasture ground. I will have emergency exits at both ends of each trailer and everything will be sprayed with flame retardant. I will also have a ramp at the exit. I was told if I follow all safety "rules" I will not have to put in a sprinkler system. I guess my main concern was do I jack up the trailers to get the tires off the ground or do I leave the tires touching the ground. Also do I need to tie-down the trailers like a mobile home. As you probably guessed I am out in the country and I only have to worry about the fire marshall. Please if there are anymore suggestions out there post them. I want to start build the deck this weekend. Thanks again.

08-13-2009, 04:36 PM
Ours were on pavement in a parking lot. We didn't anchor our trailers down like you would a mobile home. I'm not sure if you can even do that with semi trailers but if you can and your area is prone to high winds then that might be an option.

Who "told you" that you wouldn't need a sprinkler system? You need to get this information directly from the fire marshal or you could end up with a huge last-minute sprinkler job just to get your doors open. Some trailer haunts don't need them but others do. It all depends on where you're located and what your codes say.

08-13-2009, 06:40 PM

I havent seen you on here, or heard from you lately. How have you been?

And how's everthing coming along for you?

08-13-2009, 08:33 PM
I had a thought/question in regards to fire safety and this could apply to some building haunts as well as trailer haunts. Has anyone ever dealt with the fire problem by making almost everything out of stuff that doesn't burn?

We all know about the trailer haunt that was apparently constructed out of only stuff that would burn, or at least smolder. There are some trailers (and buildings) that are basically just metal, with no wood or insulation. If you made your wall panels out of steel/aluminum and fireproofed all of your props you might have a persuasive argument for the fire marshal to give you some leeway. Any thoughts?

08-13-2009, 10:04 PM
Well, you are right. The sides are all metal the only thing that is wood is the floor. The fire Marshall told me if I fire retard everything and have exits at each end which would be every 22.5 feet and limit the number of people in each trailer at one time I would not have to put in a sprinkler system. All of my electrical conduit will be brought in from underneath the trailers so no wires will actually be inside the trailers. thanks for your suggestions.

RJ Productions
08-14-2009, 02:47 PM
Hey Guys,
Rich here, just got back from Canada!!

Looking over the thread (Larry called, so I guess it's either response or continue to get calls!!!)
I'm running out right now but will respond later tonight when I can have more time!
Just wanted to make an acknowledgement so no one thinks I'm just avoiding it!!

Love the subject! (working on my haunt now!!)


08-14-2009, 04:41 PM
terrormasue,RJ will be a big help, he has huge trailer haunts that are mobile. I have HauntWorld #1 and #2 that have articles about his haunts and then later another article was done about them. If it was done in a trailer, he'll know how to do it.

Hey Guys,
Rich here, just got back from Canada!!

Looking over the thread (Larry called, so I guess it's either response or continue to get calls!!!)
I'm running out right now but will respond later tonight when I can have more time!
Just wanted to make an acknowledgement so no one thinks I'm just avoiding it!!

Love the subject! (working on my haunt now!!)


RJ Productions
08-15-2009, 03:27 AM
WOW. Lot’s of questions and good comments! You guys want all the secrets!!
How I’m I ever going to make a buck as a consultant!! OK. I’ll try and answer some of the questions anyway:

First let me address Terrormasue:
1.Do you remove the tires and lower the trailer?

NO too much work, possible damage to the trailers

2. Or do you jack up the trailer a bit so the tires are off the ground.

Not necessary. Between the tires and the landing gear (the “legs that lift the trailer to get the truck under it) it is secure enough.

3. Do you secure the trailer to the ground and if so how?

Only mobile homes are required to use hurricane straps.

4. What do you support the trailer with if you do jack it up.

Again, you don’t

5. What is the best method to connect the trailers together?

Trailers are never actually connected. You move the trailers as close as possible, then you utilize a walk-plate between the trailers in case there is a small gap so no one catches a heel or trips going from trailer to trailer.

Here’s few other questions and comments:

Removing wheels…Once you start making it permanent, building codes come into play.

Correct. In most cases you will not even deal with the Building or Electrical depts.. By staying on the wheels you are not a “building”. Not to say that you don’t want to follow as many of the codes as possible. I would wire it as though it was a building, just be aware you may never see an electrical inspection.

How can you pass and inspection with a Trailer Haunt? Fire protection or electrical?
Is is ADA (American Disability Approved) accessible?

As I stated, most trailer haunts would not have an electrical inspection but you build it as though you would. Everything in conduit. Utilize watertight connections between trailers, a breaker box to your main connection (either regular power or a generator). Fire protection will be a normal inspection. They will test your smoke detectors, when activated all confusing lights and sound much shut down and emergency lights must activate. You need an emergency evacuation PA, depending upon jurisdiction it may be a simple as a battery back up manned PA to an automatic announcement system. They will look for fire extinguishers, we do NOT mount the extinguishers in the pathway to be accessible to the general public (the normal procedure in a public space) we place an extinguisher at every actor location away from the public. Reasoning is the first year they required them marked and in the open. We had 3 extinguishers fired off by customers the first week! I explain the problem and tell them they are placed WITH each actor so they are a manned unit. If you want ask them to come in before you open and train your people how to use an extinguisher.


We had ADA problems one year. Then one Haunt Owner checked the regulations and threatened to take the Fire Dept to court. ADA refers to PERMANENT structures, not temporary structures. Remember the trailers are 48 inches off the ground. Following ADA you need 1 foot of ramp for every 1 inch of height so you need 48 FEET of ramp. You can’t go more than 30 feet without a switchback and you can’t ramp directly into the structure so you also need two platforms. Now you have to duplicate it for the exit!!!

The thing that always got me was that you need the ramps for egress and exit, but you could have stairs for the emergency exits!!!

Speaking of exits: the requirement will be either 50 or 75 feet to an emergency exit. Now this is walking feet along the path not the length of the trailer. I would do 50 (we had our at the required 75 feet, then the FD changed and switched to 50 feet!! Had to cut 2 new exits which required moving walls, changing electrical adding emergency lights!!!!) so you can have the doors 100 feet apart (if you are exactly between them you are never more than 50 feet to the nearest door.)

Hsmag had a lot of good comments, check out his post. However jacking over the trailer IS dangerous. If you can’t get a driver that can get them close enough then get a forklift. Depending on where you’re at there may even be a business nearby that already has one, a couple of free tickets and they can “bump” them for you. Just remember to get the guy to separate them for you also!!

Terrormause is concerned about being in a pasture. I would be worried about sinking. Does the area get very wet? I friend back east put his trailer in storage. He came back in the spring and a couple trailers had sunk the landing gear into the ground!! I might drive the trailers onto sheets of plywood and place plywood under the landing gears.

Fire retardant: I go through and spray EVERYTHING…EVERY YEAR… I had the Fire Inspector a packet it contains forms that I have made that state when the batteries where changed in the smoke detectors, the MSDS sheets for the fire retardant, and a form that states when and who applied the retardant. I usually wait until the day before inspection to do a final spray. That way during the inspection it still smells like retardant!

Shawnc on building with only fire retardant materials:
This always frustrates me! Tell me ANY onther business that has to have EVERY piece of equipment fire retardant?? Just go to your Fire Dept’s main office…. Let’s see desks, files, curtains, flags, displays…the list goes on. I’d stake my entire attractions that NOTHING has had a flame retardant applied!! Again, spray the crap out of everything, focus on the EDGES of curtains, furniture, etc. Fires hardly ever start in the middle!

SPRINKLER SYSTEM: is dependent upon the square footage. If it’s under 1,000 square feet you don’t need a sprinkler. If there is a 20 foot separation between 1,000 sq. ft sections you don’t need a sprinkler. If you are over the 1,000 feet or too close to another section or another structure you will need a sprinkler. If an Inspector states you do not need a system, ask him to put it in writing!! First year the Chief Inspector looked at the plans before I purchased the first unit and said I did not need a sprinkler. Said I didn’t need it in writing, he would go to bat for us. Set up and ready to go, he came to us and stated he found out he was wrong and we needed a sprinkler!!! Get it in writing or install a system!

Here’s a TIP that could save you a big hassle. Make sure something goes wrong!! I usually have one emergency light that doesn’t work. The fire inspector “finds” the bad light. I explain that I always have spare batteries on hand, send someone to get a new one and change it before he leaves. Now he’s happy! He found a problem (he’s doing his job) you addressed the problem immediately, everyone’s a winner!

The Trailer Haunt Style has its advantages and disadvantages. As with any haunt style the trick is to capitalize on the strengths and offset the disadvantages. Now of course I haven’t given away ALL my secrets, but this gives you a good idea. Re-read the articles in Hauntworld and you will have a good background!

Good Luck!! Well back to the Haunt, it's actually going to cool down to 98 degrees!!!


08-15-2009, 01:25 PM

Thanks so much for the info. I so appreciate it. Where do I send the check, money order, homemade cookies or my first born? You might not want him though, he eats to much. Anyway, again thank you and thanks to everyone that posted. Very valuable information. So, off I go to build my porch!! Happy haunting everyone. I will try to take pics of my progress and get them posted. I am glad I have 13 months to get this whole thing done, I will need every day of it.

08-15-2009, 01:58 PM
Thanks for the props Rich. Your post expanded a lot on my earlier post.

As for jacking it up with hydraulic jacks, we were short of time and in the parking lot of a banquet hall so a forklift wasn't available. That is a GREAT idea though.

I don't recommend jacking them up as one wrong move can result in permanent damage to the trailer or something busting or flying back and hitting you, causing serious injury or death. I knew of some people who got killed while working on the underside of a semi-trailer. I was merely stating what we had done at the time. Of course, 15 years ago, working for a charity haunt, the safety guidelines weren't as strict (at least with us it wasn't) and we didn't know nearly as much as we know now.

Another thing I want to add to this (and this applies to ANY haunt. Not just trailers) is: know who your current fire marshal is and keep communication with them. We ended up in a bad situation in 2000. We had one fire marshal for years and he loved our haunt and was lenient with us because the proceeds benefited the community and we had been helping out the fire dept for years. In the middle of September of that year (just before we moved the trailer onto the lot to setup) the fire marshal retired and a new guy took over. He made it clear that he hated haunts and didn't want to see us open. We had to jump through hoops just to even open. He said we needed grip paint on any sloped surface and the battery powered exit lights in order to open. We got those done then he said we'd need to rebuild all the staircases for the emergency exits to his specifications. We did that then he said we'd need a sprinkler system added to every trailer and all the wall panels would need to be cut down 18 inches from their current height to accommodate this system. We were only about a week from opening night. As daunting as this was we got it finished right around the day before we opened. Then he said there would need to be glow in the dark arrows painted on all the floors showing the path. We worked up until about 2 hours before we were opened and he came back to inspect and reluctantly let us open.

The point is, know your fire marshal because they could retire or transfer at any time and you want to talk to the new fire marshal as early as possible if this happens. They may not be as willing to work with you as their predecessor and you need to give yourself plenty of time to get things in order so that you can appease the new marshal.

RJ Productions
08-16-2009, 01:11 PM
I agree with the Fire inspector comments. What realy pisses me off is the fact that it is almost a universal attitude. 90-95% of inspectors do not like haunts!! Then they do everything in their power to keep you from opening! They request things that are not curent codes, but things that THEY want. And it doesn't even sem to be a safety issue, to some it up I actualy had an inspector state ".. I don't like Haunted Houses! I don't thing it's fair that I work all year and you only work for one month." I wish I would have had a tape recorder, I would have been getting him fired! I politely explained all the work involved in the off season, all the money that it takes, etc. I joked about how people see big lines on Halloween and think we have those kind of lines from day one( I wish) and he mellowed slightly.

Now our attitude is much different. We are always very polite, but we know the rules. If the requests are way out of line we try and rectify them with the inspector, if not we respectively take it up the chain of command. Remain as professional as possible.

Maybe what we need are some collected facts we can present in our presentations. Because in actuallity Haunts are a VERY safe business. We have fewer incidents that most businesses out there. I explain that in ten years we have not had a single incident with our insurance (knock on wood). We have an excellent safety record. Why ? Because we proactive NOT reactive. IN the ten years all haunts combined in our county have only had one fire issue. It was last year and it was arson. But because we all use fire retardant and have systems in place the damage was confined to one small space which was repaired and they opened that night! Name another business which such a track record?

It is a real joy those odd times when you have an inspector who doesn't cop an atitude, whose real concerns are actually safety. Then like you said you just hope he doesn't transfer or retire!!

08-17-2009, 12:38 PM
I actualy had an inspector state ".. I don't like Haunted Houses! I don't thing it's fair that I work all year and you only work for one month."

That's a real shame. They don't realize that MANY haunters work their day job 9-5 Mon - Fri, then AFTER they get home from work they're working on stuff for the haunted house until late at night. In addition, on the days of operation, haunt owners are usually there all day working anywhere from 8-12 hours just to make sure things are ready to open, the show runs smoothly and everything gets locked up at the end of the night.

And those haunters whose main job is the haunt are putting in those long hours nearly every day of the year.

More often than not, people think running a haunt is EASY and that you just show up, scare people and make money but there's so much more that goes on behind the scenes. Haunting can be a fun job, but it can also be extremely time consuming and stressful.

It seems the only ones who truly appreciate all the work that goes into these events are fellow haunters.