CONWAY – It looks like a massive white eel, one person said. An airplane wing, said someone else.
“What is it?” a woman leaning out her SUV window asked.
“A wind turbine blade,” a man in sunglasses who had been there a while answered.
“Huh,” the woman in the SUV replied.
“This blade is 145 feet,” said Sam Johnson, of Buffalo, N.Y., as he leaned against the rear escort car. A small crowd of spectators was gathered around him. It’s made of balsa wood and fiberglass, he said. “That whole load only weighs five tons.”
The truck towing it is rated to carry 40 tons.
“Every once in a while I’ve got to remind the driver the speed limit is 40 mph,” he said.
Johnson looked like he was having fun, answering questions and giving mini-tours instead of driving.
“I’m escorting 280 miles a day,” he said, moving blades and other sections of turbine from Portsmouth to the North Country, where they are being assembled into a 99 megawatt wind farm in Dummer.
Johnson wasn’t alone – the truck driver, Brent Thomas, from Tennessee, and the driver of the lead escort vehicle, Jane Prano, from Bridgton, Maine – were both nearby, standing next to the massive blade in the parking lot of the Northway Shopping Plaza. A mechanic worked among the rear tires nearby.
The truck blew a brake chamber, Johnson said. “The rubber ripped and we were losing air.”
The rip occurred at the sharp bend in Route 16 in Conway, which the team said is one of the most difficult sections of their trip to navigate.
“We have to take it the wrong way,” Prano said.
Once crews realized they’d damaged something they started looking for a space big enough for them to park for a bit. They found a spot in front of T.J. Maxx, where they staged for several hours while the mechanic patched things up.
The team members, meanwhile, answered questions about their cargo and explained how they get from point A to point B.
“It takes a lot of people to move one item,” Prano said. “It takes everybody on the same page.”
Prano, with the help of a State Police trooper, clears the road for Thomas. Johnson comes up third, steering the rear wheels of the trailer from afar.
“It’s just a small box I carry right in the car with me,” he said. “I can turn these rear tires 63 degrees.”
The truck, trailer and blade are 180 feet long, and Johnson and Thomas keep in constant radio communication.
“You know the first law of trucking?” Thomas, said with a smirk. “Never believe your pilots.”
Johnson and Prano burst out laughing.
But once the mechanic finished and the time came for them to pull out onto Route 16, it became clear they were joking. Johnson stood behind the blade, the handheld remote in one hand and a radio in the other. Thomas pulled forward, then moved back, then rocked forward and back again and again as Johnson adjusted the wheels.
Conway Police Cpl. William Strong blocked two lanes of Route 16 to the south, while State Police Trooper Ronald Taylor stopped traffic from the north. It took the team five minutes to navigate the 180-foot unit around to the far lane, where the team members stopped to wait for their escort team to reconvene.
The operation looks like industrial ballet, but to Johnson, who deals with larger wind turbine blades all the time, it’s no big deal. “Those blades are 205 feet long,” he said.
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