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Jumbo loads

BELOEIL, Que. - To hear it told, transporting oversized loads is just good fun. "It is like a vacation for me, going down the road with an oversized load. You feel special when you are hauling somethi...

BELOEIL, Que. –To hear it told, transporting oversized loads is just good fun. “It is like a vacation for me, going down the road with an oversized load. You feel special when you are hauling something special,” says Ken Harrison, safety and compliance supervisor with Beloeil, Quebec-based Transport Watson Montreal.

However, adds company co-owner and vice-president Yves Dupuis, “It takes a special class of driver. The driving demands a lot of attention. It is a constant stress.”

To qualify for the job, which can include hauling loads ranging from aircraft fuselages to giant boilers, applicants will want at least 10 years of experience, a tolerance for trips lasting as long as two to three weeks, eyes like hawks and the patience of a saint. Yet Watson has no trouble finding drivers. “We have never had to advertise. There is always someone knocking on our door. They hear of us by word of mouth, like when our drivers talk to other drivers at truck stops,” says Dupuis.

Yves Dupuis and his brother Martin run the company, which their father Andre purchased from Frere Watson in 1989. At the beginning, when they had just 10 trucks and 10 trailers, Andre worked in the office and the boys worked behind the wheel. But now les Dupuis have more presidential responsibilities: the company currently has 28 trucks, 100 trailers and 28 drivers.

The youngest driver isn’t less than 35 years old and the senior driver, Jean Claude Vegiard, is a gnarly 66. Vegiard recently drove a rig to Vancouver, picked up a wing for a Bombardier CL 300 Challenger business jet and hauled it back to the Dehavilland plant in Toronto. It took two days just to reach the Alberta border, because oversized loads can only travel in British Columbia at night, and eight more days to reach Toronto; he was away over two weeks -a long time in a sleeper.

About 85% of the company’s business is oversize loads: about 95% of the jobs are negotiated directly with 65-70 regular clients and the rest are assigned by load brokers. The walls of the Watson offices and the company Web site are plastered with photographs of their rigs hauling bridges, beams, vessels of all shapes and sizes and giant packages wrapped in bright blue plastic.

The heaviest loads weigh in at about 65 tonnes. The longest one was a 125-foot long bridge beam. Load widths generally do not exceed 20 feet, but one load was 30 feet wide and 30 feet tall. It takes about a week to plan a trip. Sometimes the provincial and state departments of transport know the maximum size of the corridors. Other times it is the escort companies that supply this information.

Crossing the border isn’t so tortuous, thanks to C-TPAT and FAST, Dupuis says, although there is no fast lane for oversize loads. “We have a guy in our office who works only on the border papers. It is Okay. The inspections for us are less frequent at the border.”

Last year Watson won two contracts for regular hauls for Bombardier: One is to transport car bodies from Bombardier’s La Pocatiere plant to Plattsburgh, where the cars are finished. Then Watson hauls them to Chicago. The other contract is to bring completed trains from Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant to Toronto. Watson had Saint-George de Beauce-based Manac build 10 trailers, and Trail King Industries in Pennsylvania build six more, for the Thunder Bay- Toronto journeys.

Custom trailers do not come cheap, which is why Watson decided not to buy into the growing windmill- moving business. It would cost $150,000 to build a single trailer for that work, and Dupuis is happy to leave that niche to other companies.

Almost all of the loads Watson moves are manufactured in the Montreal-Quebec City corridor for export to the US. Some loads head to Ontario, like the 1930s vintage Lockheed Martin Super Constellation Watson moved on six trailers in 1985 from a little aviation museum in St-Jean Port Joli to the now-closed Constellation Hotel in Toronto. There are some northbound oversized loads too: a Mexican transporter called Fitzley moves Challenger 850 business aircraft fuselages from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas, which Watson then brings to Montreal.

Watson also picks up aircraft fuselages that Bombardier ships from Ireland to Baltimore and Newark, delivering them to Bombardier plants in Dorval, Mirabel and St- Laurent. Dupuis does not drive anymore, and Harrison has little time to get behind the wheel. But it’s a good gig for the right drivers, says Harrison. “We have the challenges. There is always something new, different. At any time you can learn something new. You may be thinking you have done something big, but you can do bigger than that.”

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