Construction on wind farms has dramatically increased the number of oversized loads coming through Pratt on a daily basis.
Heading in every direction, these heavy haul trucks and their oversized loads make frequent trips through Pratt on U.S. 54 and U.S. 281. The east bound loads are headed to wind farm construction in Kingman County while the southbound loads are going to a wind farm in the El Reno, Okla. area.
Leading and following every truck are escort services whose job it is to make sure the trucks get through town and to their destination as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.
Each truck requires an escort in front and behind each truck. The front vehicle has a tall pole attached that is the same height as the heavy load. If the pole clears an overhead object, the truck and its load will clear too.
These vehicles have to run interference when getting through towns especially if they have to make a turn. Escorts clear traffic and get vehicles to back up if necessary to give these long loads enough room to make the corner.
Because of their size and weight, these loads are restricted to the route they can take from place to place. Those routes are determined by Kansas Department of Transportation, said Bill Thornton, heavy haul truck driver for ATS based in St. Cloud. Minn.
When a trucking company is hired to haul wind generators, the company is responsible for contacting the state department of transportation to get an approved route to haul the equipment. The company then notifies the drivers who in turn inform the escort service the route they have to take, said Thornton who is currently hauling loads to the wind farm construction site in Kingman County.
During construction of the NextEra Energy wind farm in the southeast quadrant of Pratt County and the ongoing construction in Kingman County, the heavy haul trucks pick up their loads at a staging area at Garden City then head east to Kingman County.
Wind generator sections arrive in Garden City by truck and rail. The various sections of a wind generator can come from companies in the U.S. and overseas. The hubs and turbines Thornton was hauling were coming out of a production plant in Pensacola, Fla.
Loads can only be hauled during daylight hours so loads have to stop for the night at other staging areas if they don't reach the construction site during the day.
In Pratt, trucks have spent the night in the industrial area just north of U.S. 54 and east of K-61 and in the old Paso Junction parking lot. They have also parked in an area on the south side of town beside the old train depot on U.S. 281.
Part of the route decision is based on load weight and wind generators are very heavy. A gear box is 65,000 pounds, blades 26,000 pounds, the tower sections from from 100,000 pounds for the bottom and 80,000 pounds for the top, the turbine nacelles (the generator) comes in at 125,000 pounds for the GE model Thornton hauls. Weights can vary depending on the manufacturer, Thornton said.
Thornton has been hauling wind farm loads for the last 12 years but has seen a noticeable increase in last couple of years.