Touring Carts Have a Purpose

So you wanna be a rock star? Or more accurately, you want to provide video for rock stars. You’ve just ordered your fresh batch of zero point zero pixel pitch LED. It's on its way to your shop and Larry (your shop guy who normally maintains the line array), says, “Hey Boss, the Pat Benatar show we’re doing next week needs video.” Larry wants to bid his first video job. Yay for Larry. Larry has been hanging and stacking speakers since Simon & Garfunkel were cool, so he’s got experience around the stage. The shiny new zero point zero arrives and Larry goes to put it together and fly a small screen from the shop truss. It takes he and his crew a little while to unwrap the tiles from their toxic plastic fish wrapper, and they’re off and running. They attach their unrated, plastic headers to the tile, then they attach the headers to the truss with the unrated (but seemingly free) Chinese steel that randomly showed up with the order even though it wasn't on the invoice. After wiring it incorrectly six times, and figuring out the power, they finally have the screen hung. Its got no signal, that's another few hours. Anyway, after someone’s high school kid comes in and figures it out for them, they’ve got it up and showing some YouTube clips. How cool is that?  A couple of audio guys lit up a screen. They are officially part of the vidiot nation they have been ribbing for so many years. 

As the crew dances around in a circle to celebrate their new found skills, something is amiss. Larry isn't joining in the fun. He seems a little worried. The boss man asks Larry, “Larry, whats up? Whats wrong?” Larry points out all of the unrated stuff in the assembly, then adds that it took them 3 hours to build a 9 x 16 wall. Larry knows whats missing from the zero point zero order….touring frames. Whaaaaaaa??? After Larry spent 10 years on the road mixing side fills for Journey and before he took the shop gig with Big Time Audio, he did a quick tour with some act he had never heard of called Cold Play, and he distinctly remembers Cranky (the production manager) bitching that the video walls were taking too long to get flown. He also distinctly remembers that it was only taking the crew 38 minutes to hang three massive walls the size of typical roadside billboards. What was the difference between the new zero point zero and that heavy ass stuff they were hanging on that weird tour with the British kids blowing yellow confetti in the air after every song? Touring carts, my friends. Cranky (the production manager) was bitching that his touring carts weren't allowing for the 35 minute hang they were allotted. 

If you haven't figured it out by now there are a few obvious reasons for touring carts. The first and most important is that they allow you to hang large walls quickly. Time is money. The second is, they allow you to transport large quantities of tiles with less truck space. Truck space is money. Thirdly, and let's not dismiss this as trivial, they just look cool compared to massive piles of big ass road cases. Listen, at Upstage Video, we’ve got plenty of LED that lives and travel in road cases, but we’ve also invested heavily in proper touring carts for all of the reasons above. (Mostly the third reason.) Anyway, if you’re still reading this, (God bless you), I’m going to give you a little (very little) history of touring carts, and an overview of some of the products you can expect to see this month at LDI. 

Screenworks, circa 1992. (This info is sourced from Danny O’Bryen.)

They needed a solution to tour some Sony Jumbotron for a Genesis Tour. The product was not ready for quick build, quick dismantle, so they sourced a solution on their own. This led them to TAIT. TAIT was already building big stuff designed to roll around stages, rig fast and fit in trucks. Fast forward a couple of decades, and TAIT still fabs some frames from time to time, but more often than not it is for a one-time custom set piece rather than a touring solution that will reside in a rental company’s inventory for years and years. 

Eventually, LED manufacturers took notice of the relevance of touring carts and decided to become more closely involved in the design process so that the tiles married to the touring frames more elegantly. Some of the larger touring houses like Screenworks and XL would continue to innovate their own solutions, but the Chinese were paying close attention, and we now have some very refined choices available right off the shelf. ROE has a very popular touring frame/cart combination with their MC7 and Vanish series. The hardware is properly engineered, and documented and dare I say it is rated in most countries. InfiLed and DigiLed have responded to customer requests and come to market with some great options. One of the lesser known, but well-designed solutions out there is the 5.9mm Touring product from VISS, a division of Absen. CreateLED has a great setup that I would recommend checking out. ACCASS systems, from Omaha, have developed their own solution (including LED.) When you see their product, you know these guys have real-world experience of flying heavy stuff over stages.  Of course, one of the more talked about solutions this year has been the Spaceframe system from PRG. They have figured out a way to pack a lot of support into a typical sized touring cart. The main difference is this system does not require extra truss or pipe in the rear of the screen, hence, less truck space, less labor. You sensing a theme here?  I would love to see them selling this system but I’m pretty sure they are going to hold on to it until someone does their best effort at copying it. 

Remember XL Video? One of the gents who was there at the forefront of touring video was Kristof Soren. Kristof and Isaac Campos (of Oracle LED Systems) recently teamed up to design and release what I believe to be the most refined touring cart solution yet. Oracle is currently offering a 5.9mm solution with touring carts and frames that absolutely delivers on every ask. Truck space, check, fast rig, check, 90-degree corners, check, concave and convex curving, check, it’s the complete solution. Chances are if you ask them “can it do this or that?” the answer will be a resounding and proud, “Yes.” I have spoken to Isaac extensively about the design and manufacturing process and I can tell you that he put a huge amount of effort into delivering something that wasn't half-baked. He readily admits that Kristof’s role in the design process was invaluable. 

I asked Kristof how long it took to come up with this new design, his response was pretty clever.  (I wouldn't want to correct any of his answers. I know there is a little bit of broken English going on here, but he's from Belgium, and I think its kind of cool)

“I would say 20 years of making dolly’s and carts, each year changing to better ideas. Most important thing is finding the balance between weight and strength. Everyone wants light, but experience learns that most people actually want a strong dolly. It saves a lot of money during the ownership of the gear. Another thing we have learned is that the wheels must be the “ best “ quality only. Never use cheaper wheels ” 

What is more important in your opinion, a lightweight solution, or strength?

“My main concern over the last year has been weight versus strength, there has been a downward spiral on weight per sqm. Every manufacturer has gone down this road because they have been pushed by the market, but this is a very dangerous path and we have seen several issues. We have to consider that LED screens in the rental market are a day to day build structures and they are hung in all kinds of conditions. Safety is the number one priority and we should not give up on structural integrity. An example of this is that using Magnesium Alloy for touring frames is a mistake, it’s brittle and the dynamic forces build up, the wind loading and so on makes it the wrong choice of material. It’s a battle I have to do each day with rental companies and manufacturers to explain why some ideas don’t work. It might look nice but it’s not the best choice for safety concerns.”

The products that I have touched on in this article are all strong choices, but I’m sure we’ll see a few more companies showing some viable options. My advice to you would be this, don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Figure out if you really need a touring cart solution. If you do, then spend some time checking out the many choices on the floor at LDI. Some really smart people have spent a lot of time, money and effort designing and fabricating their solutions so that you don't have to.


Doug Murray

President of Upstage Video

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