Lightload: Cargo of historic proportions

by MM&D staff

DETROIT, Michigan and VISTA, California—One of the great things about the Internet is it puts forgotten, hidden or formerly unfamiliar bits of history right in front of our eyes.

MM&D found two wonderful websites that look at innovative shipping projects that took place a number of decades ago. The first belongs to Roadrunners Internationale. It tells the story of how aircraft manufacturer Lockheed shipped A-12 airplanes from the skunkworks factory in Vista, California where they were built, to the infamous Area 51 in Nevada where the flight testing, additional development and pilot training would occur.

During the early 1960s, the planes were boxed up, and put on trucks and transported overland. According to the website:

“The carriage trailers were under construction alongside the A-12 airplanes in the SkunkWorks. Two carriage boxes were built to carry the pre-built airplanes. The larger box would carry the main part of the airplane, while the smaller box was sized to carry the removable outer wing/nacelles pieces as well as the rudders, forward fuselage section and assorted small bits and pieces.

“Both boxes used a steel framework to mount the carriage wheels and tow system. The large box was 105 feet long with a width of 35 feet, truly a wide load by any standard. Both trailer boxes were designed to be towed by Lockheed furnished tractors. The large box featured steerable tail wheels by a local operator on either side of the carriage.

“Close-up detail photos show this unique feature, remotely similar to the rear wheel operation on a hook and ladder truck from your Fire Department this allowed maneuvering the carriage through difficult turning situations discovered while driving down the transport route of travel.”

But even better than the description are the dozens of photographs that accompany the story. The series begins with pictures inside the manufacturing facility and progress to shots of the planes being unloaded after arrival. There are also plenty of photos of the planes on the highway, including some of the mishaps along the way, and some of the alterations—shaving the sides of mountains so the trailer loads could fit—that were made to the route.

The second website shows examples of a more recent delivery system. GM Authority has a brief write-up about the 1970s Vert-A-Pac railcar.

Rather than loading cars the conventional way onto a railcar—wheels down—the Vert-A-Pack slotted them in on their ends, nose-down.

The website has posted a handful of photos of some Chevrolet Vegas being loaded into the railcar and describes some of the engineering and design work that had to happen to make the shipment method possible:

“[C]ertain aspects of the vehicles were designed specifically for this type of shipping process, including an oil baffle in the engine, a special anti-gravity (just kidding) battery, and even a repositioned windshield washer reservoir.”