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Big load makes its destination to switchyard


Curious about a million-pound rig making its way to Grand Coulee from Coulee City May 31, locals find the 346-foot load parked alongside Banks Lake with its big electrical transformer payload. - Scott Hunter photo

A 20-foot-wide, 346-foot-long load weighing about a million pounds made it to its destination after a two-day trip from Coulee City to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's 230-kilovolt Switchyard early Thursday morning.

The big rig carrying an electrical transformer had to be driven in the middle of the night in order to block as little traffic as possible and stopped at a pullout along SR-155 across from Steamboat Rock on Wednesday.

The sight and a post on the state Department of Transportation Facebook page inspired discussion among enthusiasts about arcane details such as the exact weight carried by each of the tires on the rig's 32 axles and what the color of the engine on the lead tractor meant. Two semi tractors were also attached at the rear to push.

Workers are still installing the new unit that is replacing one that ruptured March 23 just north of Grand Coulee. The old transformer, manufactured in 1971, performed as designed when a relay system shut the transformer down as it ruptured, said USBR Public Affairs Officer Lynne Brougher.

The new transformer came from Vancouver, Washington, and cost $3 million, plus another $3 million just to move the unit and install it at its new home. It was shipped by rail from Vancouver to a siding outside Coulee City, where it waited for an extra week as details were worked out on weight distribution.

The "emergency" move took about a month to plan, according to an official with Omega Morgan, a Hillsboro, Oregon, company. It finally arrived Thursday morning after moving about 10 miles an hour starting about 1 a.m.

"The move was completed this morning," Omega Morgan Project Manager Mark Richardson announced simply in an email at 5:13 a.m.

Brougher said the unit failure in March did not affect the larger electrical grid and was contained at the switchyard, a result that might have been different had it happened during a time of heavier load on the system, such as a hot summer day.

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