Trailer Talk

WD-40 Among Tools Used by Edwards Crew to Move Massive Transformer

November 4, 2013

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Since its initial haul of a transformer to a new electrical substation in Ohio (“Count the Wheels Under This Heavy-Haul Trailer,”), Edwards Moving & Rigging has delivered three more of the huge and heavy pieces of equipment. There’s one more to go.

Crew uses extended-boom forklift to place rails under the load on the railcar, which has been jacked off its springs for stability.
Crew uses extended-boom forklift to place rails under the load on the railcar, which has been jacked off its springs for stability.

It’s a massive project requiring strong men and equipment, but among the tools are cans of WD-40 lubricant, as we’ll see.
 
The latest move, done on Sunday, Oct. 27, involved the heaviest load, at 525,800 pounds, about 53,000 more than each of the others. This transformer was built by Hyundai in South Korea, and came across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal, into the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, then up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It was transferred to a 12-axle railcar at an Ohio River port and moved in a special train to a siding at an AEP Ohio substation in Lewis Center, north of Columbus.
 

Crewmen assemble the transporter from modules, each with three axle-lines and 24 wheels, carried to a Lewis Center substation and rail siding. Transformer waits on railcar in the background.
Crewmen assemble the transporter from modules, each with three axle-lines and 24 wheels, carried to a Lewis Center substation and rail siding. Transformer waits on railcar in the background.

That’s where I found it the week before last, as foreman Jim Hobbs and a small crew were preparing to transfer it from the drop-deck railcar to a Goldhofer self-propelled, multi-line transporter, the same one used in the move I described in my earlier story. Crew members, using extended-boom, four-wheel-drive forklifts, were linking modules together to form the 336-wheel trailer that spreads out the load’s weight to protect pavement and bridge spans.
 

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Transporter’s power module is licensed in Kentucky as a truck-trailer.  On previous moves the multi-wheel platform had two power modules, but a Hayes prime mover would assist on this haul.
Transporter’s power module is licensed in Kentucky as a truck-trailer.  On previous moves the multi-wheel platform had two power modules, but a Hayes prime mover would assist on this haul.

Even with the heavy load aboard, weight on each wheel is actually “too light,” Hobbs said, and causes traction problems like I observed on the first move in August. Then, some of the powered wheels lost traction on an upgrade in Sunbury, a village it passed through on its trek to the new substation. Two big 4WD forklifts had to help it up the modest hill.
 
On that move all the wheels were hydraulically powered. This time only 48 wheels in three of the transporter’s 21 axle-lines would be hydraulically powered, Hobbs said. The powered lines were closest to the diesel engine-hydrostatic transmission pack hung on one end of the transporter.
 
Just one power pack was there, instead of the two used on the first move, because a “prime mover” – a Hayes extra-heavy-duty truck-tractor – would assist the transporter on inclines along the route. On all moves, wheels steer left or right as needed to adjust the transporter’s position and go through tight turns.
 

Sliding on Teflon feet and oily rails, the 525,800-pound transformer moves toward the transporter. Foreman Jim Hobbs operates the hydraulic rams with the power pack to his right, and can adjust the transporter’s height using the remote control box sitting on the deck to his left.
Sliding on Teflon feet and oily rails, the 525,800-pound transformer moves toward the transporter. Foreman Jim Hobbs operates the hydraulic rams with the power pack to his right, and can adjust the transporter’s height using the remote control box sitting on the deck to his left.

On the Friday before, I came to watch the transformer being transferred from railcar to transporter. Brett Selinsky, the project  manager, let me in the gate and led me toward the activity farther back on substation’s premises. The load was waiting aboard the heavy railcar (empty weight: 291,000 pounds) with its six wheel-and-axle assemblies (called “trucks” by railroaders) with 12 axles and 24 large flanged wheels.
 
As before, the transfer this day used Edwards’ hydraulic jack-and-slide system, which Danny Cain, safety and risk manager, called “a mini railroad.” By phone he described the process:
 
First, the crew jacks up the railcar to take weight off the springs in the car’s trucks. This keeps the car from springing up and upsetting the load as it moves away. Then the crew jacks up the load and, using the forklifts, begins installing the rails on which it will slide from the car to the transporter. This eliminates the use of cranes and greatly lessens the possibility of dropping the load. (“Drop” is one word that people in this business don’t ever want to use.)
 

With 21 axle-lines and 336 wheels, the transporter easily shoulders the heavy transformer. Two days later it moved 17 miles to where it’ll work, at a new substation near Sunbury, Ohio.
With 21 axle-lines and 336 wheels, the transporter easily shoulders the heavy transformer. Two days later it moved 17 miles to where it’ll work, at a new substation near Sunbury, Ohio.

At the site, the hard-hatted men worked quickly but carefully, setting the rails as level as possible and checking alignment. Stout steel pedestals supported the rails at several points. Hobbs futzed with a portable power pack that would pump hydraulic fluid to strong rams to push the transformer along the rails on Teflon-faced shoes beneath the load.
 
“It slides on Teflon?” I asked Cain.
 
“Yes, and they spray WD-40 onto the rails to make them more slippery,” he said. “There are similar oily products that they sometimes use.”
 
The makers of WD-40 out in San Diego once sponsored a contest that encouraged customers to send in all the uses of the product they could think of. There were hundreds more than the “40” in its name, but I wonder if anyone ever wrote, “Moving half-million-pound transformers.”
 
As the work progressed, I walked around the area, eyeballing the railcar and then looking at the German-built Goldhofer’s power pack as its diesel idled, waiting to work. Though it’s nothing like freight-hauling semitrailers, the power module had a Kentucky “truck-trailer” license plate.
 
I wandered toward the transporter’s center and happened to look up and whoa – the transformer was moving! There was no shouting or horn blowing to announce it. Hobbs had checked everything one last time, and had manipulated controls that sent pressurized fluid to the rams to begin the move. It slid a couple of feet at a time as the rams extended; when the rams’ pistons were close to their limits, men reset their bases into notches on the rails from where they could push again.
 
I quickly moved around shooting pictures. They show that this was literally a big deal, but they cannot amply convey the tremendous weight involved. Does it sound like I was impressed?
 
Another engagement kept me from watching the 17-mile cross-country haul on the following Sunday. But I’ll return for the last move to see how the crew builds ramps to get the transporter and its load over two sets of railroad tracks nearby, and how they eventually set the transformer down at its destination.

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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