Power lift

by Carroll McCormick

By road, then barge, then road again, a half-million pound transformer reaches its new home at a remote Hydro Quebec outpost after a nearly one-month journey.

transformer copy
Two Mack trucks and a specialized trailer were required to move an oversized transformer to northern Quebec.

This August, after months of planning, Watson Transport’s Jack and Slide Team eased a massive transformer onto a Goldhofer hydraulic modular trailer for the first short leg of a long journey into Canada’s north. 

The trip began at Hydro Quebec’s Varennes Research and Testing Laboratories (IREQ), a huge black building not far from the junction of the A-30 and A-20 east of Montreal. The transformer measured 18 feet, 11 inches high, 32 feet, 10 inches long, 16 feet wide and weighed 531,335 lbs.

The trailer itself weighed 170,415 lbs, was 73 feet 10 inches long and had 16 hydraulic axles capable of steering movement of plus or minus 60 degrees.

With two Mack tractors attached, one to push and one to pull, the entire package, from the rear-most axle of the pusher Mack to the front axle of the puller Mack, measured 159 feet long.

“The biggest challenge is to coordinate all people involved: permit office, power line owner, etc.,” says François Prince, technical specialist and estimator for Watson. It took a team of 12 to do the move, including a pusher driver, puller driver, trailer operator, supervisor, four pilot car drivers, one mechanical technician and a flatbed driver.

For the first, short leg of the trip, the Mack tractors, each with 500-hp Cat engines, moved the transformer eight kilometres, at speeds reaching 30 km/h, to a boat launch area in the community park in Varennes. The load reached the park in seven hours, over the course of one night. Watson took Hwys. 229 and 132, as they were the only roads on which the culverts and bridges could handle the weight of the trailer and transformer.

There were no overhead obstacles such as bridges to interfere with the load, but two high-voltage power lines had to be taken down, and some smaller power lines needed to be lifted with bucket truck, according to Prince.

Waiting at the shore was the barge Kaligak, owned by Nunasiavut Marine, and operated by McKeil Marine. There are no docking facilities for such a ship at the community park, so Watson used 50-ft. ramps to move the transformer onto the barge.

The Mack tractors and the trailer stayed behind.

The barge and its load headed down the St. Lawrence River, up the coast of Labrador, west across the top of Quebec, and south across Hudson Bay to its unloading point in the village of Chisasibi on the eastern shore of James Bay. The marine leg of the move took 24 days.

Awaiting the transformer in Chisasibi was the Jack and Slide Team, Goldhofer trailer and two Mack tractors, which had travelled overland to Chisasibi.

The Watson Transport team unloaded the transformer off the barge and onto the trailer. Along roads that were 75% unpaved, Watson moved the transformer 650 kilometres to Hydro Quebec’s Albanel outpost in the James Bay territory. This road trip took six days.

No bridges needed to be strengthened. However, says Prince, “Five culverts needed to be jumped using a 50-ft. bridge jumper.” 

After delivering the transformer, which will serve as a spare at the Albanel outpost, the Jack and Slide Team loaded its hardware onto a convoy of 10 flatbed, removable gooseneck and step deck trailers and headed home.

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