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Tow by Numbers
16 steps to moving your big excavator to the jobsite on time

As loggers diversify to stay productive, they are finding new expertise in areas related to the field, such as road building. The job requires, among other things, moving large pieces of equipment to the site. Moving heavy, big-boy excavators can mean a rude introduction to the world of permits, specialized trailers, bridge heights and weights, curfew hours, weather restrictions, and increased liabilities.

Plus, those flags on your tractor and trailer are like waving a red cape in front of a bull — everyone knows no self-respecting DOT or law-enforcement official can resist at least a cursory walkaround inspection of a “wide load.”

To help you navigate safely and legally on the highways and byways, Hitachi has compiled 16 steps and some sound advice from industry experts and heavy-equipment haul-truck drivers.

In order to select the correct trailer, you need to answer some questions: How big will your largest load be? How much does it weigh? What about transport width and length? Remember the transport width for an excavator is different than the operating width. Large excavators usually have a retractable undercarriage that narrows the machine width.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you must choose the correct mode of transportation: a three-axle tractor with a drop axle, a two- or three-axle jeep, a three-axle trailer, and maybe a stinger axle on the trailer. The gross combined weight of your heaviest load determines the option. The most popular type of trailer is the detachable gooseneck. Most drivers prefer a wooden deck to a metal one because the tracks don’t slide as much, and the planks are great for lining up the tracks during loading.

1. Expect inspections.
Make sure you have the basics covered: Truck and trailer inspections, driver time log, and a clear knowledge of your route and its restrictions.

 2. Get your permits and know curfew hours, weather, and weight and height restrictions. Regulations vary by state and even by city and county, so check your DOT’s website for specifics and scout the route yourself. Some areas issue an annual permit that requires additional filings for machine — and trip-specific permits if you exceed the equipment specifications in your original filings.

“If you are hauling, you are supposed to know the law,” says veteran hauler Aaron Lightfoot of ROMCO Equipment in Dallas. “If you’re stopped, you cannot plead ignorance. Tickets go on your record and make your company look bad. Don’t think you can haul a big machine without a permit, because you can’t.”

3. Position your trailer in a level, easy-to-work-in area, with plenty of vertical clearance. Disconnect the tractor from the trailer. Make sure your trailer surface is clean.

4. Before cleaning, drive the excavator up to the front of the trailer. Find an experienced operator, if necessary.

5. Rotate the cab, boom, and arm so they are over the side or perpendicular to either track. Push downward until the track rises off the ground. Rotate the track to shake off mud and dirt. Repeat on the other track. Clean the undercarriage and tracks with a shovel and a broom to remove all “unsecured cargo” — as the DOT likes to call anything that can fly or bounce off.

Don’t take any shortcuts on this step. Debris that comes off the excavator or trailer while in transit can, at the minimum, get you pulled over and fined, and at the worst, cause a serious accident.

6. Drive the excavator onto the trailer, being careful to keep it centered. Go “slow and steady.” It is critical that the rollers are on the edge of the trailer on both sides. Position the bucket and arm so they are tucked in as low and as tight as possible, then put them over the rear wheels so the counterweight faces the truck. This is easier on gooseneck trailers because the excavator is loaded from the front. Many trailers have a cutout over the rear axles to allow the boom to set down lower. Take the hydraulic load off the system, kill the engine, remove the key, and lock the cab on the way out.

“Large excavators require careful positioning on the trailer since part of the tracks may protrude out from the side of the trailer bed,” advises Matthew Hendry, Product Consultant, Hydraulic Excavators, Hitachi Construction and Mining Products.

Don’t move attachments or extra buckets with the excavator. Adding items like attachments makes it a multiple-piece shipment. They add much more weight and are probably illegal for the type of permit you have, so transport those separately. Excavators over 100,000 pounds require removing the counterweight, the bucket, and/or the stick components — these should be transported as separate loads.

7. Before you chain down the excavator, hitch the trailer to the truck so you’re securing the load for travel. Now, secure all four points of the tracks — left and right front, left and right rear — to the trailer. Prevent the chain from breaking or slipping by hooking it onto the middle of a track section instead of to a crack between the sections.

Lever binders are approved, but ratcheting binders are preferred. Check your chains, hooks, and binders for wear; replace any damaged parts. That goes for the attachment points on the trailer, too. Make sure all the chain/ binder tie-downs are rated for 50 to 80 percent of the weight of the unit being hauled. (Percentages vary between states.) A binder at one rating paired with a chain at a lower rating (or vice versa) will count at the lower rating.

8. Fasten the cab and use one chain over the boom near the bucket or across the inside of the arm and attach to the frame rails or chain eyelets on the side of the trailer. Avoid the cylinders and hoses. When hauling a new machine, or one with a nice paint job, protect the body with something like an old mud flap to pad the chain.

9. Secure the front and the back of the excavator with four chains that crisscross.
Manufacturers have attachment points on the undercarriage, two in the front and two in the back. Tighten them down on opposite sides of the trailer.

10. Place flags on the tracks if they stick out three inches or more. Use a full flag on each track on the back of the excavator, closest to the tractor, so they go around the corner of the track. Use a half flag on each track that’s toward the rear of the trailer so they flutter in the wind.

11. Now that you have the excavator in position and secured, double-check for mud and loose dirt, and if necessary, sweep again.

12. Fold in the cab mirrors. Place tape over the excavator exhaust pipe to prevent it from being clogged with foreign objects during transport.

13. Unfurl your wide-load banners at the front of the tractor and the rear of the trailer. Unfurl your front bumper flags.

14. Measure the height of the load and make sure the route will accommodate that height. Do one last walk-around.

15. After you’ve pulled away from the site or yard, stop a few blocks down the road and double-check your rigging. Check your mirrors often. If you are driving a long distance, pull over after a few miles and check the rigging again. Also, keep in mind that few people on the road realize how wide you may need to turn or how long it takes you to stop.

16. Finally, don’t rush things. Most accidents happen because the driver was in a hurry. You don’t want to be the guy who lost an excavator off a trailer because he was only going a mile down the road, so he put it on the trailer sideways without any chains or flags. And you sure don’t want to be the guy who hit a bridge because he didn’t bother to measure the height of the load.

“A lot of hauling is common sense,” says Lightfoot. “Take your time and don’t get in a hurry. If you do something illegal, it hurts everyone. You always need to be thinking of what can go wrong.”

“Hauling large excavators requires an experienced driver and pre-planning,” adds Hendry. “Do it by the numbers, and the haul will likely go well. Cut corners, and you invite disaster.”