Gary Swanson

When a trucker is hauling four 8-ton slabs of concrete he does not want to come to a sudden stop, as Gary Swanson found out a few years ago on a cold stretch of highway near Grand Coulee.  It was 2 A.M and only 10 above when Gary hit the brakes to avoid a deer, causing all hell to literally break loose from atop his flat bed trailer.
“I was headed downhill and the slabs broke their straps and hit the back of my cab so hard it picked the truck and trailer up and carried it 70 feet ,” Gary said recently, sitting in the shade next to his backyard pool.  “I landed on the other side of the highway in the ditch and looked out next to me and saw a couple of the panels going by doing cartwheels  along the side of the highway.”
The panels broke off the thick aluminum cab protector and crushed the 4′ sleeper behind Gary’s cab ramming the ¾” bed board through the crawl way all the way to the dashboard. The impact tilted Gary and the cab ahead nearly a foot but Gary walked away without a scratch. “I called the State Patrol and he takes forever to get there and then he just looks around, writes me a ticket and leaves,” Gary said, shaking his head. The ticket was for an unsecured load. Amazingly, he was able to drive his cock-eyed truck and trailer back to Spokane but by the time a crane was paid to come out and the panels were recast, the total cost of the accident was around $50,000.
While that hairy night was an unusually dangerous event for Gary, who has been hauling pre-stress panels and beams for Central Pre-Mix since 1998, every day on his job would seem high stress to most of us but for him it’s just what he does. Take the Davenport Tower project for example.
For 8 months, 6 days a week, 10 hours day, Gary and his partner hauled more than 3,000 loads, transporting the 18 story building from Central’s Broadway plant in the Valley to the downtown jobsite one piece at a time. “I just kind of forget about the traffic,” Gary said. “If someone gets in your way, you just stop and they figure out they have to back up and then I just keep going.”
“I get flipped off, yelled at and honked at all the time,” says the low-keyed Gary. “But I never get excited or flip anyone off. It’s just part of my job.”  One time Gary lost a 40′ beam that blocked all traffic on Highway 14 along the Columbia River for 4 hours.  “When they finally started letting them by, those people would look at me like ‘you dumbass trucker’,” Gary said laughing.
But in reality there is nothing dumb about a guy who can transport a 180′, 200,000 lbs. beam from Spokane to Lake Stevens driving a 1986 Peterbuilt with only an average-sized, 400 horse engine.  To move such heavy freight, known as super loads, the front end of the beam sets behind the truck on a short trailer with the other end resting on a steer car behind. Sometimes a second driver rides in the steer car and drives it through the slow tight spots, but most of the time Gary drives it hydraulically from the cab. In affect he is driving two vehicles at once.
Going over the passes and up steep grades is a test in patients and shifting.  Crawling along at 7 miles an hour with 2 transmissions and 20 gears at his disposal, Gary always knows he’ll get over the top eventually. “It’s not about the size of the engine,” he said. “I have enough gears, I’ll make it.”
Then there is the matter of break downs. Gary is such a good mechanic he installed the auxiliary transmission himself which allows him to crawl an inch at a time during the tedious unloading process.  “I’ve gone through four engines and replaced almost every single part on this truck,” he said. “There’s only a few original pieces left.”   Whenever possible, Gary does repairs such as broken drivelines on the side of the road.
Gary, who drove regular trucks for several years before getting into hauling pre-stress concrete found it to be a whole new ball game. “There really is no comparison between this and regular trucking,” he said. “It’s because the loads are so long and heavy.”  Each trip he makes with the long beams requires a special permit. The one for the beam going to Lake Stevens was the heaviest load ever hauled in Washington. Counting the truck and equipment the total weight was 300,000 pounds and 225 feet long, just 75 feet less than a football field.
That permit cost $3000, bringing the total cost of the trip to $10,000. He finds it ironic that the state charges so much for permits on state jobs. “It’s like here’s your money, now give it back. I don’t know why they don’t just waive the permits and save all the paper work.”
On one  job, Gary and his partner hauled 119 loads for a state project between Pasco and Yakima. Each permit for the 75 mile trip cost $650 for a total of more than $77,000. Another time they needed special permits to haul heavy beams over a 200′ tall suspension bridge in Mt. Rainier Park.
“It was a bridge with a load restriction of 80,000 pounds and our loads were 167,000 pounds.” he said. “It took the state engineers 6 months to inspect the bridge and finally gives us the permits”  That job turned out to be a little more nerve racking than most of us would care to undertake.
“There was a sharp left turn coming onto the bridge and a sharp right turn coming off the bridge and so you were pulling the steering car at a right angle coming off,” he said, explaining that the old bridge creaked and popped and moaned as they slowly drove 3 miles an hour over the old bridge to reduce stress.
The force of pulling the steer car sideways off the bridge put a huge strain on the bridge. “You could literally see the bridge lean out,” he said smiling. “My steer car driver got out and kissed the ground when we finally made it over.”
While some of his experiences would make the Ice Road truckers shiver, and the rest of us freeze up at the wheel, Gary just keeps on trucking the super loads down the road day in and day out.

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