Lending a helping hand

Walter Sprague

Photo by Walter Sprague/NLJ

RMS Cranes crew carefully inspect the staging area for moving a massive generator, making sure it will be safe and steady after removal from a trailer that broke down at the intersection of U.S. Highways 85 and 16 during the week of Nov. 8.

Walter Sprague

Art and Culture Reporter


During the week of Nov. 8, the right lane of northbound U.S. Highway 85 was blocked for a few days. While driving a big rig with a large generator on a massive trailer, Tom Free, who was taking the oversized load to a wind farm in northern South Dakota from Texas, had to come to a stop at the intersection of U.S. Highway 16 and U.S. 85. Following behind and remotely steering the back tires around sharper curves was John Schram, also from Texas at the moment but who called Hillsborough, Ohio, home. 

“Near the front, the trailer broke and was scraping the road,” Schram said, “This was at the top of the hill.” 

He pointed to a rise about a mile south of Newcastle.

The team had to pull over and call in the incident. And there they were, stuck, not allowed to leave the load.

According to both men, they felt incredibly blessed that the trailer broke where it did.

“There’s the real story,” Free said, “We could have broken down in a more remote area or a town or city that wasn’t very friendly.”

Free said that the outpouring of hospitality and kindness was tremendous. Once people found out what had happened, that the drivers were not allowed to leave the truck and trailer, the town’s folk came to make sure they had food and their other needs met.

“Some women would come when it was dark,” Schram said, “All by themselves, and they gave so much food to us that we started having to turn some of it away.”

The 142,000-pound generator is just one part of a wind turbine that will generate enough electricity, 3.2 megawatts, to power up 900 homes. With the whole thing assembled, it will weigh in at well above 200 tons. 

“The parts are built somewhere in Scandinavia,” Free said, “I’m not sure exactly where. But the parts get shipped into a port in Texas. From there, we follow specifically planned out roads that can handle the load.”

Schram said that if they veer away from the planned course laid out by each state they have to travel through, the fines could be over $100,000.

On Thursday, Nov. 11, a massive crane from RMS Cranes, also from Texas, came to lift the generator off the trailer. About a dozen workers arrived to plan and execute the operation. First, a large forklift placed substantial pallets along the path the crane needed to traverse so that it would not dig up any more road or the grassy area on the U.S. 85 frontage area west of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building. Then the work of strapping the generator and carefully lifting it off the broken trailer finished. Crews watched and manipulated the generator the entire way to ensure that no one was injured and that the generator and grounds remained undamaged.

They towed the trailer to the Gateway Travel parking lot, where it sat for a few days until it could be fixed. Then it was reloaded so it could complete the journey to South Dakota.

While the work was a significant distraction for Newcastle, and a complicated and lengthy process to complete, it was the care that the citizens of the town gave, unselfishly and just because a fellow human needed some help, that impressed the two drivers the most.

“Like Free said,” Schram noted, “That’s what made this a ‘great.’”

He said it wasn’t about breaking down or the massive size of the equipment. It was the love. Schram noted that he’d been broken down before in other areas. He was so glad it happened in Newcastle this time. He only wished he had more time to drive around and get to know Newcastle better.

“This is about as good a place as I’ve seen,” he said. “I’m very grateful to everyone who helped.”


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