Neil Perkins could be forgiven for understating what he means by “big, heavy things.” The president of Northfield, MN-based Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting is referring to transporting extreme dimension and super-heavy cargo—payloads that generally weigh between 100,000 and 800,000 lbs.—and have included things like steam turbines, bridge beams, and even gun mounts for naval destroyers.
“Typically, our cargo is too heavy for conventional highway transporters up to and including 19-axle combinations,” Perkins explains. “It also cannot be cleared for dimensional rail transportation and is too heavy to lift by helicopter.”
In 2011, Perkins began handling its largest load ever, transporting the first two of four steam generators it was contracted to haul over more than 950 mi. from a power plant in California to a storage site in Utah. Each generator measured 47 ft. long by 15 ft. wide by 14 ft. 9 in. high and weighed in at 804,000 lbs. Loaded, the rig stretched 399 ft. and had a gross combination weight of 1.5 million lbs.
For Perkins, finding and retaining good qualified field operations personnel is the number-one issue the company faces today. That includes highly trained drivers and crewmembers, escort operators, and supervisors. “The primary reason is that in this business our people can be on a project for extended periods of time,” Perkins notes. “Four to six weeks away is not unusual.”
As much a contractor as a trucking company, the firm focuses as much effort on having the right equipment as it does on employing the right people. “We have seven full-time engineers in-house who design our vehicles and work with suppliers to plan exactly how the equipment will be specified,” says Perkins.
Trailer equipment in the Perkins operation can be configured in over 4,000 different combinations. Suppliers include Goldhofer, Trail King, Aspen, XL Specialized and Talbert Manufacturing, as well as other manufacturers.
A fleet of 26 tractors used for both pushing and pulling loads has been specifically designed by Perkins to handle extreme weights under all types of road and weather conditions. “We review our tractors on a five-year rotation because it’s a very involved process,” explains Perkins. “About a year before we’re scheduled to replace tractors we’ll start reviewing specs and asking manufacturers for proposals.”
In general, a tractor in the Perkins fleet weighs 34,000 lbs. empty, about double the empty weight of an over-the-road tractor designed to handle general freight. The price difference is also significant—each Perkins tractor costs about $400,000. Currently, the newest tractors at Perkins are Mack Titan models. Customized in the New Vehicle Options Center at the OEM’s Macungie, PA, plant, the Titans feature 605-hp. Mack MP10 engines, 4-spd. auxiliary transmissions, and rear-engine PTOs to run hydraulics systems. Each tractor has triple frame rails, 70,000-lb. rear axles, and customized front-frame extensions. There is also one Titan with an Allison 4700 automatic transmission.
From equipment design, to staffing, to project planning, every move at Perkins is engineered and planned, including preparing detailed sets of hauling configuration drawings. Gearing up for the biggest haul in its history, the company spent two years studying the route, analyzing 50 bridges and shoring up two of them, and designing systems to move the generators. The carrier also secured permits and notified government agencies and communities along a route that would take three to four weeks at a top speed of 25 mph.
“We focus on hauling big, heavy things and we don’t do anything else,” Neil Perkins says. “We have the right equipment and people so we can meet any challenge. That’s what’s made us successful.”