By Evelyn Pyburn

So how do you move a 148,000 pound dump truck with 9-foot tall tires from a mine site to the fairgrounds?

In pieces.

And, using other really big trucks and a crane.

The CAT 777F that Westmoreland Mining Company is bringing to Dig It Days at Montana Fair cannot just be driven down the highway. A vehicle that is 20 feet wide, 35 feet long and 17 feet tall is too big and heavy for even an interstate highway. And, even to be transported in pieces requires special permitting from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).

T&E crews will be breaking the CAT down and then loading it, using a crane from Hogan Corp Services, and then transported by a crew from Maxim Crane Works, 185 miles cross country, to be reassembled at Montana Fair in Billings, by the T &E crews.

Cody Calonge, Billings Operations Manager for Maxim Crane Works, explained that it will take two other really big trucks, one with 13 axles and with 100 ton capacity to haul the chasse, wheels and motor, and another truck with a 54-foot lowboy to haul the truck box.

In total the vehicles will be moving 215,000 pounds of machinery.

The CAT 777F alone weighs 148,000 pounds when it’s empty, and it weighs 360,000 pounds loaded. It has a bed capacity of 105 tons.

With the goal of being able move the truck on Monday, August 16, Calonge has been working closely with MDT, providing them with truck dimensions, weights and maps of possible routes, to get permitted. After long hours of ironing out the details, the route has been set from the mine at Colstrip to move along Highway 39 to Forsyth  and then to Old Highway 10, to Highway 12 through Roundup and down Highway 87 – right through Main Street in the Heights— to Metra Park.

Three pilot cars with drivers will be needed for each unit because of their size.

A trip that would be about a 3-hour drive for a normal vehicle will take between six and eight hours to move the CAT. Calonge said he hopes to be on the road by 6 am and arrive in Billings between 2 and 3 p.m.

The whole process of moving the CAT 777F calls upon the skills and knowledge of a lot of different roles in the construction industry.  It is a microcosm of the opportunities that exist in the industry for all kinds of jobs and careers, of which there are so many that most construction businesses in Montana have open positions that they have not been able to fill for months because of a shortage of job-seekers.

According to Calonge not just any heavy equipment operator can move something like a 13-axle load. You need truck drivers who specialize in moving over- sized equipment. It’s a specialty in which the operator has to have much expertise usually acquired by years of experience, starting out with driving smaller trucks, and graduating to operating larger and larger vehicles. A specialized truck driver can earn $30 to $35 an hour.

A crane like the one that will be used in placing the truck box on the trailer also requires a highly-trained and skilled worker. A crane is probably the most dangerous piece of equipment operated in the construction business, said Calonge. Cranes are becoming more and more sophisticated with computerized systems, that while making their operation versatile and easier, also require more knowledge and training than in the past.

The mechanics who tear down the CAT 777F must be extremely good mechanics and be very familiar with the truck, realizing that it too is a very sophisticated piece of equipment. The mechanics will have a lot of pieces to keep track of in moving the truck. They must know where each piece goes when it comes to reassembling, which will probably take four to five hours.

Even the pilot car drivers have to “have their wits about them,” said Calonge. The pilot car drivers are responsible for managing traffic, setting up road blocks to allow the trucks to use the entire width of bridges, warning on-coming traffic of a wide load, getting through intersections, etc.

The management, orchestration and oversight that Calonge brings to his job is another dimension of the construction business. Tending to details and scheduling the many teams involved is a daily challenge. Just getting the permitting was a challenging undertaking.

The possible routes are built on computers and researched as to potential problems and barriers that must be negotiated.  The utility companies, telecommunication companies and officials of the counties through which they travel must be notified and consulted regarding potential obstructions and problems that must be overcome.

And, there are a host of technicians related to the construction industry who are called upon to help them resolve problems. And still within the industry there are many less visible roles to be played in sales and management, human resources, legal and financial.

When one considers all that is involved in the project of getting the CAT 777F to Dig It Days, so that many people who have never had the opportunity to see such an amazing piece of equipment, it must be realized that this is indeed a great gift to the community being made by Westmoreland Mining and all the other companies involved .


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