Over two nights, several semi-trucks and a giant-sized trailer hauled a transformer along a carefully choreographed 47-mile route in Klickitat County. The entire extravaganza had 48 axles and a combined weight of nearly — but not quite — 1 million pounds.
Each year, the state issues 600 to 700 “superload” permits for trucks, meaning they’ll be pulling over 200,000 pounds. The weight includes both the truck and actual item being transported.
But an object that was hauled over two nights on Klickitat County roads, down by the Columbia River near the Oregon border, stretches the meaning of “superload.”
Three semi-trucks — one in front and two pushing from behind — were used to move a giant transformer for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) from a rail siding to a site east of Goldendale. The combined weight of the rigs and the transformer is a jaw-dropping 944,800 pounds.
During Monday night’s first leg of the journey, the transformer was moved very, very slowly, at 15 mph, sometimes up a 6 percent grade, from a little place called Sundale. By early Wednesday morning, it had completed its U-shaped 47-mile trip, keeping traffic disruption to a minimum.
“We’ve delivered many transformers of that size to the BPA in Oregon and Washington,” says Joe Locke, director of logistics for HICO America, out of Pittsburgh, a South Korean power-equipment manufacturer that is contracting out the work for the move. “In the last five years we’ve done it 15 times.”
The transformer traveled by ship from South Korea to the Port of Longview, where it was placed on a rail car for the trip to Sundale.
There is no denying this is a big, big shipment, near the top of heavyweights, says Mohamad Al-Salman, bridge engineer for the state’s Department of Transportation.
On the agency’s website, you can see photos of “fatigue damage” from decades ago when an overweight truck tried crossing a bridge that couldn’t take the load. They just crumble.
Hence the paperwork — and planning.
The company that did the actual moving is Omega Morgan, of Hillsboro, Oregon, which specializes in large-scale transportation. Its projects have included moving a 4,000-ton barge, a 55-ton bridge crane and even an antique trolley car.
Omega Morgan had to itemize the entire route along State Route 14 and U.S. Highway 97 that the transformer was to travel — from guardrails to power lines to the two concrete bridges it will cross.
And the Washington State Patrol weighed the truck to make sure the actual weight was what is listed in the submitted permit application.
A sampling of ”superload” permits issued by the state includes 220,000 pounds for a drill rig; 225,000 pounds for an excavator; and 227,000 pounds for an Army tank moved from the Washington-Oregon border to Seattle.
The $2.6 million transformer in this particular move weighs 460,000 pounds.
Then the trailer rig to move it comes in at 484,800 pounds.
The reason for all that latter weight is that a 360-foot trailer, with 48 axles, was needed to spread out the weight of the transformer.
It sits in the middle of the trailer that’s the length of a football field, a rectangular, 25-foot high, 13-by-17 foot, sci-fi-looking rig with giant knobs and bolts.
Then you add a Kenworth C500 semi with 550 horsepower to pull the whole thing. And for good measure, you put two Kenworth T800 semis, each with 550 horsepower, to push the trailer from the rear. Concrete blocks were placed on the semis to aid in the traction for pulling and pushing.
“But 460,000 pounds doesn’t sound as cool as 1 million pounds,” says Erik Zander, director of sales for Omega Morgan.
The BPA says the transportation costs for the move are $400,000. Big equipment, big costs.
One reason for the extensive trailer rig, says Zander, “Highway 14 does not have the best subgrade. Because of this we had to work closely with the state and our engineering department to come up with a configuration that would not damage the road.”
The transformer ended up at the BPA’s Rock Creek substation, about 17 miles east of Goldendale, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
But it is close enough to the hundreds of windmills that have sprung up in this area in the last decade.
The wind farms take advantage of the gusts up to 30 mph that are created as cooler, moist air from the west side of the Cascades funnels through the Columbia River Gorge into hotter, drier air,
The BPA says wind farms connect to its electricity transmission grid through the giant transformers. In this case, the transformer will be tested and then will just sit there as a backup.
From his office in Pittsburgh, Joe Locke wondered what the big deal was.
A million combined pounds, he says: “It’s old hat for me.”
For the rest of us, three Kenworth semis pulling and pushing this thing: Whoa, that’s like the real deal.