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Massive beer vats moved by heavy-lift specialist firm

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by Pat Brennan

It looked like a massive Saturn 5 rocket on its way to a launch pad to carry man to the moon.
40-tonne beer vats sits on the side of eastbound Highway 5 in Burlington, Ont
40-tonne beer vats sits on the side of eastbound Highway 5 in Burlington, Ont

It looked like a massive Saturn 5 rocket on its way to a launch pad to carry man to the moon.

It wasn’t. It was a convoy of huge beer vats on their way to a Molson Coors brewery in Etobicoke.

The vats hold more than six million bottles of beer and now stand tall outside the brewery close to Toronto International Airport.

Barend Schuering and Gord Gilchrist both like beer, but vowed not to have a cold one until they moved the vats from Hamilton Harbour to the brewery. The kilometre-long convoy of 40 vehicles, including 20 police cruisers, rolling at walking speed was to complete the 68-kilometre trip over four cold nights in January.

It took 10 nights.

Moving such a huge load up and over the Niagara Escarpment in the depths of winter, created logistical challenges. But facing the challenge of moving huge loads over long distances is not a new to Schuering and Gilchrist. They work for Mammoet, the world’s acknowledged leader in moving heavy loads.

Their office in Ayr, Ont., a village just west of Kitchener, Ont., handles all of Mammoet’s lifts in Eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. And huge lifts they are.

The six beer vats looked very impressive crawling along the highway and drew hundreds of spectators, even at 4 a.m. They’re 45 metres long, eight meters high, seven metres wide, weigh 40 tonnes each and catch the wind.

But their weight was never intimidating for Schuering and Gilchrist, the two Mammoet managers in charge of moving the vats from dockside on Hamilton, Ont.’ s harbour to the brewery.

They’ve moved loads 10 times heavier, but not necessarily along Canada’s busiest roadways.

Their convoy was only permitted to move between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and required removing and replacing more than 1,600 overhead wires and cables, plus traffic lights and street lights at some tight corners.

“Climbing up the escarpment on slippery Highway 6 we had to put extra tractors up front for more traction,’ said Schuering. “And some nights the winds were too high for us to move.”

Another reason the trip took six extra nights is because freezing temperatures greatly reduce the efficiency of bare fingers working with wires. “The electrical linemen need bare hands to do a lot of their work and at -20C everything takes longer than you anticipated,” said Gilchrist.

Only wolves and caribou were watching when Mammoet moved a 250-tonne transformer across 200 kilometres of wilderness on dirt roads with 10-degree grades to install it at the Churchill Falls hydro generating station in Labrador.

This summer, Schuering and his crew will pick up a 900-tonne concrete bridge with their self-propelled trailer rolling on 432 tires spread over 108 axles and move it into place to carry Highway 417 (The Queensway) over Carling Drive W. in Ottawa.

They’ll carry away the old bridge, bring in the new bridge and do it all in five hours overnight with minimal traffic disruption.

Engineers at the Ministry of Transportation estimate they’ll save $12 million and reduce construction time by a year by using Mammoet’s articulated trailer rather than traditional construction methods to replace four bridges along 417 in urban Ottawa.

Mammoet is a Dutch company with offices and a fleet of cranes, trucks, trailers, floats and crews throughout the world. The largest single load it has moved by truck is an 11,000-tonne North Sea oil rig with a hotel attached.

Schuering, a mechanical engineer and native of Holland, was sent out from head office near Amsterdam on a three-week foreign assignment five years ago. He has yet to return home. He has been posted in Cuba, Germany, Houston, Alberta and Ayr.

Schuering was the project manager/engineer on the installation of 86 wind turbines on Wolfe Island in Lake Ontario off Kingston, Ont. to create Canada’s second-largest wind farm.

Mammoet’s red-coloured trucks emblazoned with it the company’s famous elephant icon, have been a common sight on the roads of Southwestern Ontario as they delivered and installed the wind turbines at Melancthon, near Shelburne, Ont. Canada’s largest wind farm.

In March Schuering’s Mammoet crew will install a 300-tonne reactor at a Sarnia, Ont. refinery in a confined space. To do so, they’ll bring in one of Mammoet’s huge, stationary cranes currently employed near Chicago.

The ring crane has a lifting capacity of 1,600 tonnes. It will require 144 tractor trailers to transfer it to Sarnia and take five weeks to assemble.

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