Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - June 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Bridging the Mississippi
Elk River Machine Company’s signature Hydra-Steer trailers transport sections of the new Hastings Bridge with ease.
Senior Designer Paul Gill stands next to the eight-axle Hydra-Steer trailer of his design.
If you’ve traveled between Elk River and Hastings in the past few months, you may have spotted trucks carrying some extraordinary cargo. Forty-five enormous pre-stressed concrete bridge beams, called girders, are making their way to the Mississippi River, where they’ll form the new Hastings Bridge.
The four-lane bridge on Highway 61 is scheduled to open in 2014 and will replace its two-lane steel trestle predecessor, which was constructed in 1950 and is considered functionally obsolete. Its main span, a 545-foot, free-standing arch, will be the longest in North America.
Manufactured by Cretex in Elk River, the bridge girders are record-breaking length among bridges constructed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The largest weighs 212,000 pounds and measures 174 feet long. Paul Gill, senior designer at Elk River Machine Company, a division of Cretex, is the principal man behind their transport.
In his 26 years at Elk River Machine Company, Gill estimates he has helped design approximately 250 Hydra-Steer trailers for bridge beam transportation, ranging from two to nine axles in size. The custom manufacturing company, which began in 1961 as a small blacksmith shop, started making Hydra-Steer trailers in the 1970s when bridge beams grew longer than 80 feet, exceeding what a typical stretch hauler could handle. The trailers are unique because they are controlled wirelessly and completely independently of the truck, each sporting its own gas engine and hydraulic power source.
Gill’s latest Hydra-Steer trailer design, an eight-axle model, was developed specifically for the Hastings Bridge project. It features three fixed axles and removable and self-steering front and back axles, as well as multiple drive options for controlling groups of wheels separately or together, giving it enough flexibility to handle the curves and turns on the one-hour journey from the manufacturing facility to the bridge site. Once at the bridge site, a barge carries the truck and trailer into the Mississippi River to meet another barge carrying a pair of cranes, which unload the girder and place it into position on the bridge supports.
Larry Ebert, sales manager, says the drivers transporting the beams are extremely experienced -- “some of the best in the country” -- because they are driving both the truck and the trailer simultaneously.
“We get a lot of excitement out of just watching our equipment at work,” Ebert adds. So, too, does the general public. At last check, YouTube videos featuring the eight-axle trailer have amassed more than 9,200 views.
Gill agrees, and says seeing the trailer in action is rewarding.
“For me, it’s just [about] working on a project and being successful and going down the road. It’s that simple for me,” Gill says.
To learn more about Elk River Machine Company, go to www.ermc.com
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