Sometimes really interesting things happen right near home. A few weeks ago I was on a Sunday jaunt with my wife and a granddaughter, driving through Sunbury in central Ohio, about nine miles from where we live. We spotted something big and heavy being moved through the village on a trailer that seemed to have a hundred wheels.
First nine “lines” of wheels are hydraulically steered left and the last nine are steered right as the trailer makes a sharp left turn onto a parking lot.
I circled around and parked near where the vehicle with its towering load had paused on an otherwise ordinary street. Turns out there were 336 wheels under a German-built Goldhofer self-propelled platform. It was accompanied by a crew of guys wearing white hardhats, yellow vests over blue coveralls, and concerned expressions on their faces. Some walked alongside and two others were aboard the platform.
Goldhofer self-propelled transporter has entered a T intersection and its crew prepares to maneuver it into a turn with a series of up-and-back moves. There are 336 wheel-and-tire assemblies under the double-platform rig to carry a gross weight of 825,000 pounds.
There were two escort trucks with black-on-yellow “oversize load” signs and flashing amber lights, plus two State Patrol cars and two more cruisers from the village’s own police force. The police kept about 100 onlookers at bay as the transporter struggled to find footing on an upgrade. Some of its tires were slipping on the pavement and one of the guys threw sand under them in an attempt to add some traction. Eventually it needed a strong pull from a pair of heavy four-wheel-drive forklifts to make it up.
I surmised that this was an electric transformer because AEP Ohio, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, is building a new substation east of Sunbury, and the load was heading in that direction. An AEP supervisor observing the operation confirmed the load’s identity. It had been built near Montreal, Que., Canada, and had come down by rail to a siding southwest of here, and this was its final leg. He said the total weight of the trailer and its load was 850,000 pounds.
He wasn’t far off. The gross weight was actually 825,000 pounds, according to Dan Cain, corporate safety risk manager at Edwards Moving & Rigging, a Kentucky-based heavy haul specialist that was doing this move. We talked by phone a couple of weeks later and he had some other information: This was one of four transformers being taken to the job site, and each weighed 472,000 pounds. A fifth transformer built overseas will be coming up on a barge from New Orleans, and will make its way here via the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and then by rail and road.
Crewman “drives” the rig with a remote control box and confers with spotters over a walkie-talkie. “Talk to me!” he barked at one. “How close am I to that wire on the pole?”
The transporter consisted of two platforms connected side-to-side, and measured 21 feet wide and 123 feet long. Each platform had its own 700-horsepower diesel-hydraulic power plant which sent pressurized fluid to turn each of the wheels underneath. This configuration had 21 “lines” and 84 axles, each having four wheel-and-tire assemblies, for a total of 336.
My calculator says the per-axle weight was 9,822 pounds and weight per wheel was 2,455 pounds, or about 1,800 less than what’s carried by one of the eight wheels in the tandem of a typical fully loaded semi. The transporter’s length and width also spreads the gross weight over a large area, protecting pavement and bridge structures.
Even so, one of the forklifts took heavy steel sheets from a flatbed tractor-trailer and placed them over sewer and water lines underneath to further spread weight, then, after the transporter had moved by, picked them up and placed them back on the rig.
Cain from Edwards said engineers had been working for 14 months to plan the move. “We coordinated with counties we’re going through, all the communities, mapped where water mains would be crossed over, mapped where we’d cross over live (active) rail lines and ramps leading up to them, where without preparations we would otherwise bottom out,” he explained.
The load had been carried on a multi-axle railroad car from Quebec into the U.S., and to a siding in Lewis Center, north of Columbus. It was moved off the rail car with a hydraulic jack-and-slide system and onto the transporter, where the crew tied it down. It then began its 21-mile road trip on county and state highways and village streets. At its destination, the load was removed and set down by the jack-and-slide mechanism, which is more stable than using cranes, Cain said.
Transporter makes the final swing onto Ohio 37 and, now reversing, begins rolling out of town. The 472,000-pound transformer’s destination is a substation several miles to the east.
On the transporter the transformer stood 20 feet, 7 inches tall, and the two guys riding up there looked for overhead lines and other obstructions. One had a pole that he used to boost wires onto wood-and-plastic slats that eased them over the load as it passed underneath. Other lines were taken down, then put back up, by utility crews who led and followed the procession.
Tree trimmers quickly removed branches that were in the way, and municipal crews moved several over-hanging traffic signals, Sunbury’s Village Administrator Dave Martin later said. Counting all police units and the tree and utility people, there were eight crews involved in the move, Cain said.
At a T intersection, the transporter moved onto a filling station’s asphalt lot as its wheels were steered to turn the platform to the left. Then the vehicle reversed and it was steered to the right, as it made the turn onto the connecting street. It took two slow swings to make the maneuver.
One of the Edwards men “drove” the transporter with a wireless remote control box hung on a strap around his neck and resting against his belly; as he manipulated joysticks, the transporter’s engines roared and the machine moved, then stopped as he backed off the throttle. Over a walkie-talkie he conferred with spotters to learn what clearances existed at the far end of the vehicle.
“Talk to me!” he barked at a spotter as he inched the transporter in that direction. “How close am I to that wire on the pole?” He meant a guy wire that he could’ve stretched and broken if he had hit it, probably pulling down that pole and others and the utility lines they were holding, and making a mess. “About 15, 20 feet yet,” the guide replied over the ‘talkie. The driver backed the transporter a few more feet, then moved it ahead for another swing.
Soon it was on the intersecting street, which is also State Route 37, and headed east out of town. Police diverted traffic away from the highway because the transporter took up both lanes. From a distance it looked like a circus parade, with a huge elephant being followed by keepers and fellow performers, everything and everyone trudging toward a big top on the other side of the hill.
It was a Sunday so a circus would’ve been a fun place to go, though this alone was a spectacle for the citizens hereabouts. It couldn’t be any other day because the Ohio Department of Transportation didn’t want it impacting heavier traffic. Another move is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 13, Martin just told me in an e-mail. I think I’ll watch it again.