Hauling an oversized building halfway across the country — especially through winding Maine roads choked with summer tourist traffic — is tough.
But a midwestern trucking crew never dreamed that this week’s delivery of a magnetic resonance imaging building to Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor would also be unforgettable.
In a good way, that is.
Even though the big rig and its cargo got hung up on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge in Prospect on Wednesday afternoon and again near the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor on Thursday, Mainers greeted superload driver Mike Saxton with donuts, cheers and appreciation rather than impatience and anger.
“I was born into this industry. It’s all I’ve ever done,” Zak Fleming, the Fleet Manager at Trans-United in Burns Harbor, Indiana, said Friday. “We’re used to being the ones that make people late to work, that cause the frustration. I’ve never, ever remembered a time that we’ve been cheered on like this.”
Mainers can be a considerate group, but heavy summer traffic does not usually bring out the best in anyone. We have long memories, too. Many on Mount Desert Island still remember when traffic there came to a standstill for hours after a billionaire summer resident transported a 20-foot-tall apple tree in 2003.
It’s likely that this time around, the driver’s warm welcome had to do with his skill and coolness under pressure, and also with what he was hauling — a piece of high-tech equipment that may help save lives at the rural hospital.
Saxton’s trip began in Hartland, Wisconsin, on June 30 when the MRI building was loaded. It was destined for Bar Harbor, as a replacement for the temporary MRI trailer that has long been a fixture of the hospital’s parking lot.
Bringing something so large across the country required about two months of planning, Fleming said. The company even sent someone to Maine in a pilot car with a height pole so they could get an idea of where they could and couldn’t go, then worked with state officials to get the best route for something so large.
Between the building and the truck, the rig weighed in at just under 200,000 pounds. It was 140 feet long, 15 feet wide and 15 feet tall — or about four times longer than a full-size school bus.
The fact that it took more than two weeks to get from Wisconsin to Maine was not surprising, Fleming said.
“It’s something slow moving, especially up in Maine with smaller roads,” he said. “It’s not cornfield land.”
Getting hung up was also not a surprise, Fleming said, adding that they always have a wrecker on standby to hopefully reduce the time it takes to clear the road and get the rig going again. Traffic was rerouted for hours Wednesday after the truck bottomed out while making the turn onto the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, and then delayed again the next day when it had a flat tire in Northeast Harbor.
“That stuff is kind of part of it. As weird as it sounds, it’s kind of expected. We learn to expect the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
What was unexpected, though, was the kindness of Mainers, both along the route and on social media. On the Downeast Maine Traffic & Road Conditions Facebook page, commenters were supportive instead of peeved.
“The driver used great driving skills making this difficult delivery. Wonderful job, sir!” one woman wrote.
“He was an amazing and patient driver,” another chimed in.
On Thursday, when Saxton and the building were stuck in Northeast Harbor, he called Fleming and told him that despite the ensuing traffic jam, a lady gave him donuts.
“There were people following his trip all through Maine, supporting him. It was pretty cool,” Fleming said. “When he got to the job site, people were coming up to him, offering him dinner and lobster, all sorts of stuff. It was nothing we’d ever seen.”
Hospital officials appreciated Saxton’s safe delivery of the MRI unit, too.
“We can’t express enough how thankful we are to our exceptional delivery driver, Mike, our local public safety team, state police, the Maine Department of Transportation and our entire community who rallied around us to bring this vital piece of equipment home,” Chrissi Maguire, the hospital’s president and CEO, said.
The hospital put Saxton up in a hotel room with an ocean view Thursday night, and picked up the tab for a lobster dinner. And on Friday morning, lots of people wanted to take the driver out to breakfast before he left to go back to Indiana, Fleming said. One woman even started a GoFundMe to raise money to bring Saxton back to Maine, but this time for a vacation. By Friday afternoon, people had donated nearly $1,600 for that cause.
“Me and him are kind of just laughing,” Fleming said. “You hear about this kind of stuff, but you never think it’ll happen to you. It’s totally different. We’ve never experienced that before.”
If — or when — Saxton does come back to Maine, Fleming said, it’ll probably be in something a bit smaller.
“Maybe in a car, or on his Harley,” he said. “Probably not in a semi truck.”