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Making the BIG move

AYR, Ont. - Super heavy hauling is like no other kind of trucking. It includes anything that's tall, wide, heavy or long. And the equipment required to move everything from construction machinery, to drilling or mining equipment, to those giant...

AYR, Ont. – Super heavy hauling is like no other kind of trucking. It includes anything that’s tall, wide, heavy or long. And the equipment required to move everything from construction machinery, to drilling or mining equipment, to those giant windmill blades and towers, is equally as specialized.

“These are not generic trailers,” says Jason Dutton, equipment accounts manager at Glasvan Trailers, the Ontario distributor for Etnyre heavy-duty trailers. “The guys that buy this equipment have it specifically engineered for what they’re hauling. I had one customer who needed to get a 90-tonne rock from Wiarton to Kitchener.”

At the low end of the scale are float trailers spec’d to haul construction equipment 35 tonnes and upward (a series 385 excavator tops out at 85 tonnes). The units operate on a yearly permit and are usually dedicated to moving excavators or bulldozers between construction sites.

These are gooseneck trailers that can be detached mechanically or hydraulically so the equipment can roll on and off the float. Some have rear hydraulics so equipment can be loaded from either end. The hydraulic controls can be operated from the tractor’s PTO or by a hydraulic power pack installed directly on the gooseneck. Thirteen to 27-hp Honda hydraulic packs are popular for this kind of application. BWS trailers of New Brunswick offers a detachable option that operates pneumatically instead of hydraulically, using the tractor’s air line.

Super heavy hauling also includes weights up to, and sometimes exceeding, 100 tonnes. Most heavy haulers have yearly permits that allow them to pull 65,000 kgs. Anything beyond that requires a special permit, which can involve a good deal of route planning and pilot cars. Special permits have to be okayed by the Ministry of Transport and restrictions might be placed on the times during which a load can move. Extendable trailers with 200 feet of wind turbine paddles might be problematic during rush hour in a major city.

Heavy-duty tractors with at least 500 horses and three drive axles are the norm in this kind of heavy trucking. Going up a steep grade in the mountains, you might see a three-axle tractor pulling a load while a tandem tractor snugs in behind to help push.

The load-bearing units are modular in nature, often with interchangeable, detachable and extendable sections. “You make the weight by adding axles, something like a Meccano set,” says Dutton. “For one thing you don’t want to come back on a permit, so you have to fold up various components and put them on the back of the float when you’re finished the job.”

The platforms are usually low-profile, double-drop decks, as height is a major consideration: low bridges, hydro wires and overhead signs must be taken into consideration.

Axle configurations can vary up to 19 axles. The configurations usually include a “jeep” and a “booster.” The jeep is a multi-axle dolly which connects between the tractor and the load, while the booster does the same job at the tail end.

Depending on the length of the load, the rear axles can be steered by way of a hydraulic turntable which can be operated automatically, remotely from the pilot car, or by a handheld control. The old style of having a pilot sitting at the back on top of the load doing the rear end steering is largely passe these days.

The burgeoning wind turbine industry has posed some interesting challenges for the industry. The blades themselves are not heavy but they are extremely long, up to 165 feet. The solution to this is an extendable trailer which can stretch that far and accommodate two blades at a time.

But the towers of the windmills pose another problem. These are heavy cylinders of large girth. The solution is the “Schnaubel” trailer, a European invention where front and rear trailer sections function as bookends to which the tower is directly bolted, so the tower itself becomes part of the trailer.

Equipment Express or Ayr, Ont. has been moving wind farm products for over 10 years and the company did pioneering work in bringing the Schnaubel design to Canada.

“We looked at what the Europeans were doing and then worked with engineers and trailer manufacturers to develop a product for our own needs,” says wind manager Jack Wilkinson. Today, several manufacturers are making Schnaubel-type units, including Trail King and Temisko.

The towers sit over 15 feet high so part of the challenge is finding the most direct route which does not go under any bridges.

“The biggest tower we ever moved was 100 metres long divided into four pieces. The bottom base section was the heaviest, weighing 127,000 lbs,” says Wilkinson. “Nowadays they usually cut them into four pieces instead of three, so it makes our job a little easier.”

Bob Fedderly of Fedderly Transportation in Fort St. John, B.C.  also thinks that smaller is better. “We’ve had gas plants here (northeastern B.C.) for over 50 years. They used to ship in smaller pieces and there’s something to be said for that. In some cases it might be easier to do the welding and assembly at the site. I encourage all my customers to ship regulation-sized loads if possible. Once you get into the oversize stuff it adds exponentially to the cost.”

Another consideration for Fedderly is purchasing equipment that will be compliant across several jurisdictions.

“I buy equipment that will work in the west, from Saskatchewan westward,” he says. “The super haul business in B.C. is up and down. You have to have enough equipment to service customers. If someone calls and has 40 loads to deliver, you’re going to get all of the business or none of it.”

Equipment haulage is difficult to get into because of the speciality equipment required. It’s a capital-intensive business that requires a major investment. To this end, many haulers share equipment and rent it from each other. The equipment is so specialized that it might be constructed for a particular product but have limited applications afterwards. For instance, a carrier that invests heavily in extended trailers and Schnaubels to haul windmills might be left stranded should a contract dry up or get cancelled.

As can be imagined, the materials going into the manufacture of heavy equipment must meet extremely high tolerances. High tensile steel is used in the fabrication, and top quality manufacturers like Etnyre uses robot welding at its Oregon, Ill. plant.

Heavy equipment manufacturers in Canada and the US are proud of the robustness of their products. Some Canadian firms ship their products as far away as Australia.

But getting the equipment may be a problem in itself. The manufacturers currently have long waiting  times – up to 10 months – for delivery of equipment. The sector drew back during the last recession and is having difficulty meeting the increasing demand. The plants are in the process of ramping up, but at the same time certain industries, like forestry, are beginning to get busy.

“Loads seem to be getting bigger and bigger,” says Bryan Watson, sales representative for Transit Trailer in Kitchener, Ont. “Guys are spec’ing up to 20 axles. But the big problem right now is the long lead times.” 

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