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Oil line is no longer a 'pipe dream'

Managing editor

After much anticipation, they are coming by train carloads to the usually quiet Florence depot.

Giant pipes, weighing 13,000 pounds each, began arriving this past week during the night with 8 to 12 pipes per car.

Beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, a large excavator with an enormous vacuum literally sucked pipes off stacks and gingerly moved them to waiting truck trailers.

The “vacuum lifter” can lift or suck up to 25 tons of weight. By using this type of equipment, workers are not put at risk with cables and swinging pipes.

As if moving precious gems, the equipment put the operator’s skills to the test, making sure the outer covering of each pipe was not damaged.

“The (outer) coating is the life of the pipeline,” Field Supervisor Robert Doyen said Saturday, “because it stops external corrosion after the pipe is laid.”

And the longer the pipe can be used without maintenance, the better.

The pipe is transported from Canada and is brought every night from the Newton train terminal. A smaller engine pulls the dozen or so cars to cause as little damage to the older rail tracks as possible.

This is only the first step in a nearly yearlong process by which TransCanada contractors will lay pipe across Marion County.

This pipe hauling operation will continue for the next 45 days, weather permitting. Eight to 10 trucks will haul only three of the 80-foot joints at a time to a pipe yard on 290th Road, west of Lincolnville.

The largest unloading company in the U.S., Pe (pronounced “pea”) Ben USA Inc., of Houston, Texas, is handling the operation.

Watching a truck trailer maneuver the roundabout at Florence was an unbelievable sight because the back axle of the trailer pivots in a manner similar to that of a fifth-wheel camping or horse-type trailer.

There is a steering mechanism on the back trailer, which is steered by cables. When the truck turns, the cable is pulled, steering the rear axles while the load stays stationary.

“These trucks can make a square turn,” Doyen said.

Truck drivers and all workers on this project must be part of professional unions, Doyen said.

Only highly experienced drivers are hauling these valuable pipes.

He made it clear that the company was not hiring anyone at this time.

“Our goal is always to have the least amount of impact on an area that we’re hauling from and to,” the supervisor said.

Employees will work six 10-hour days, Monday through Saturday.

“We’ll be staying in local communities, eating at local restaurants, and cashing our checks at local banks,” Doyen said.

Rock in the loading areas came from Florence Rock Company. Cardie Oil Company of Tampa will deliver fuel to a tank on a regular basis since the hauling trucks have 200-gallon tanks, an excavator uses 100 gallons per day, and a forklift 50 gallons per day.

Many of the workers yet to come for the next phase of the pipeline construction will stay in campers.

“Anyone with trailer sites could make a fortune right now,” Doyen said with a smile.

Last modified March 3, 2010

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