Take a trip around the world as we explore some of the biggest and best abnormal load transport tasks ever attempted

By Martin Phippard

‘Challenging’ is the word most often heard in the world of heavy specialised transport. Let’s face it, moving general freight by road is a business already beset with more than its fair share of obstacles and legislation. Move into the business of hauling overweight, over-dimensioned loads that can be anything from a nuclear reactor to a millionaire’s yacht and the challenges accelerate away faster than a Formula One Ferrari.

Specifying and acquiring the right equipment is a vital part of any transport operation but the almost limitless diversity of loads qualifying as ‘abnormal’ means that it is impossible for an individual company to operate units and trailers capable of moving anything and everything. Nevertheless some companies do operate a bewildering and extensive range of prime movers and trailers designed and built to move anything from a modest piece of plant to a truly massive electrical transformer.

There are other challenges too. Some heavy haulage companies are obliged to conduct their exacting business in Arctic conditions where the ambient temperature can plummet to minus 30-degrees C and road surfaces are packed with ice and snow. Others meanwhile haul oilfield equipment through the deserts of the Middle East over terrain that is neither hospitable nor predictable. In Austria and Switzerland massive loads are miraculously manoeuvred over precipitous mountain passes and around the world wind turbine sections are hauled to the top of some of the highest peaks to be found. The level of expertise and ingenuity in all such cases is nothing short of mind-blowing!

The physical movement of a heavy load from one location to another is one thing. The tasks of loading and unloading are quite another. All loads have to be positioned aboard the trailer not only in order to comply with legislative requirements but also to ensure optimum stability while in transit and minimise the risk of damage. And loads such as transformers or industrial buildings have to be positioned with pinpoint accuracy during the unloading process. In the simplest terms there is never one second when the situation can be taken for granted.

In Europe special vehicles from the stables of MAN, Mercedes, Scania and Volvo dominate the field of heavy haulage tractor units several of these being fully kitted out for their specialised duties at the factory of origin. In North America and Australia these duties generally involve big hitters Kenworth, Mack and Western Star and while these trucks may be customised to some extent they are often just heavy-duty versions of a standard model albeit with a reinforced chassis frame and lower gearing..

There are also many companies still operating vehicles that first hit the tarmac back in the 1970s and which have been resurrected and granted a new lease of life in the slow lane. Examples include Hayes, Mack, Pacific, Oshkosh and Autocar in North and South America and FAUN, MOL, OAF and Scammell in Europe. A small number of these leviathans retain the original engine, gearbox and drive axles while others may have been re-built not just once but several times.

In recent years many of the largest and heaviest loads on record have been moved aboard Self-Propelled Modular Transporters (SPMTs). But while these clever, complex and highly sophisticated machines capable of steering, levelling and being controlled remotely by one person undoubtedly have a role to play they somehow lack the appeal of a combination comprising a ballasted prime mover or two and a chunky girder trailer. And of course an SPMT is never going to produce the symphonic splendour of several Cummins KT-600s or mighty Mack V8 E9s working in harmony and at full song!