A Tale of Two Shippers

I have been purchasing vintage computer equipment with the ultimate goal of building a computer graphics museum here in Salt Lake City.  When purchasing stuff like this, you occasionally need to use a 3rd party who will pick up your equipment from a remote auction site, pack it, and ship it to you.  More often than not, when you need such a 3rd party service you need to send your equipment by freight.

I had previously used Craters and Freighters in order to have my equipment packed and shipped to me.  The first time was when I purchased a large 3D graphics terminal, the Whizzard 1645 by Megatek (1984).  The terminal was located in Dallas, Texas and would need to be carefully packaged and freight shipped.  It included the original 19″ monitor which made the unit large, bulky, heavy and fragile all at the same time.  They packed everything into a “cardboard crate”, which is a custom sturdy triple walled cardboard crate that they construct on top of a wooden pallet.  The terminal was cushioned with plenty of styrofoam to cushion the monitor and protect it from the occasionally protruding nail or whatnot when things are shipped by freight rather than a carrier like UPS or Federal Express.  The unit arrived in wonderful condition and in a timely manner.

So when I purchased a lot of 19 Tektronix 4105 and Tektronix 4205 graphics terminals from an auction site, Craters and Freighters was the first company that came to mind for shipping.  They lovingly wrapped each terminal in bubble wrap, put each one in an appropriately sized box with plenty of packing peanuts for cushioning.  The boxes were stacked and shrink wrapped onto pallets and freight shipped to me in Salt Lake City, Utah from Hayward, California.  They arrived in perfect condition and in a prompt fashion.

So once again I was out haunting the auction sites looking for items for my computer graphics museum.  This time I stumbled upon an auction that looked like they were liquidating equipment from a television station that had gone under: Abekas digital video recorders, video routing and switching equipment, and some SGI workstations including an Onyx with InfiniteReality 2 graphics and the Sirius Digital Video option.  I won the Onyx and its associated Sirius Digital Video breakout box.  Unfortunately for me, the equipment was located in Reading, Pennsylvania and I needed to get it shipped practically across the entire country — a journey of approximately 2100 miles.  So I started looking around for shippers.  The nearest Craters and Freighters office appeared to be over 100 miles from the auction location.  The auction site had sent me an automatic form mail referring me to a shipping agent called CTS.  I had never heard of them before, but browsing their web site indicated that they provided the same services as Craters and Freighters.

Unfortunately for me, while they provided the same services, the quality of service wasn’t anywhere near the same as Craters and Freighters.  First, they had difficulty taking my order.  I had requested two quotes: one for packing two items for ground shipment and a second for packing and shipping the Onyx by freight.  I received a single email message quoting me a total amount.  Each time that I communicated with Craters and Freighters, I had always talked with the same person regarding my shipment.  However, each time that I called or emailed CTS, I seemed to get a different person and each time they insisted they were the right person to talk with for my shipment.  Because the plastic skins on an Onyx are somewhat fragile, I requested that the Onyx be sufficiently padded to avoid damage to the skins during shipment.  With the details seemingly worked out, I paid the shipping fee and the item was shipped.

What arrived was quite a disappointment compared to my previous experiences with Craters and Freighters.  The pallet that CTS constructed appeared to be made from weak scrap lumber instead of new, sturdy pieces of lumber as Craters and Freighters had done.  Instead of putting padding around the entire Onyx, there was only a single thing piece of styrofoam placed on top.  Instead of packing the two items separately for ground shipment, they had included it in the freight shipment without asking me if this was acceptable or even telling me that they had done so until after the pallet was already shipped by freight.  Because no cushioning was placed between the Onyx, the Sirius Digital Video breakout box and the Octane workstation in the bundle, the Octane workstation case was quite scratched up.  The picture of the Octane on the auction web site showed no such scratches whatsoever — the scratches had all been incurred during shipping.  The whole bundle was attached to the pallet only by shrink wrap placed around the bundle; no strapping had been used to secure the items to the pallet.  The pallet itself was so weak that it practically fell apart as the unit was lifted onto the loading dock by the delivery men.

It so happens that I had purchased another Onyx with Infinite Reality graphics earlier and had it delivered just days earlier to the same location.  This Onyx had been packed by the seller and shipped by freight from San Diego, California.  The seller in this case knew how to package these units for shipment with care.  The unit had been surrounded by styrofoam on all sides, secured to the pallet by a vinyl strap and then enclosed in more styrofoam and cardboard to create a sturdy enclosure around the whole unit.  The pallet was constructed from sturdy new lumber.  This told me that it wasn’t hard to package these units carefully for shipment and have them arrive in good condition.  You just had to be paying attention.

Recently I purchased some more SGI hardware from an auction site.  This time its going to be less expensive for me to take a trip out to pick up the equipment and transport it back to Salt Lake City myself by renting a commercial truck.  However, once again the auction site sent me a form letter from CTS telling me how they could ship my items for me.  Given how poor my experience was with CTS before — they had confused my order, changed the terms I requested on my quote without telling me and poorly packed my items for shipment — I certainly wasn’t going to use them again and I told them as much.  What I received back was a snarky reply about how I was going to regret not using them instead of the competition.  This is just another example of their unprofessional behavior that shows why I wouldn’t use them again.

If you ever need to send something by freight and it needs to be packaged and handled with care, I would strongly recommend Craters and Freighters and recommend that you avoid CTS.

2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Shippers”

  1. Michelle Brewer Says:

    My experience with Frieighters and Craters was a little different, but after reading your experience and what I’m up against as far as shipping, I may have to postpone altogether.

    I had called Frieighters and Craters last week and received an estimate. She told me the most it would be is $350. I did my diligent checking around with different companies and found them to be the most reliable. Unfortunately, when I called back today, the price had escalated $110. “Whoa!” I said, “that is not the number I remember!” Then she told me that quote included the $500 for insurance, since the rocking chair was an heirloom. When I asked her how much it would cost without the insurance, she said it would go down about $30…. ouch!

    Now that I think about it, I believe I’ll be waiting until I visit back east for the rocking chair. Sure, my daughter will be too old to enjoy being rocked in it…. but a 20% increase in a few days is difficult to endure, plus, she told me that isn’t even the concrete price. I’d actually need to ship it before they could tell me for sure. What?

    While I’m glad you had the perfect experience, I wish I had been so fortunate.


  2. legalize Says:

    Sorry you had a disappointing experience, Michelle. Since I wrote this blog post, I’ve used C&F several more times and have always had a satisfying experience. I think with any business that is spread out across the nation like C&F or other freight handlers, that you can have a bum experience. I guess that’s just another way of saying that noone’s perfect.


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