A truck carrying a giant shipment of German aluminum rumbled along Baltimore's streets last night, looming about as long as half a football field and weighing as much as about 25 elephants.
The high-maintenance, high-tech, high-profile load -- a piece of a huge cement kiln -- moved ve-e-e-e-ery slowly, with no fanfare, pulled by a 75-ton "super truck."
"This is the maiden voyage; this is the Titanic," said John Lutz, a truck enforcement investigator for the city's Department of Public Works, which escorted the shipment.
The city raised 91 traffic signals, trimmed trees and towed cars to clear the route. It also restricted parking on many city streets and planned to ticket and tow any cars in the way.
And this is just the beginning: Six more pieces of the rusty-clay-colored kiln will be hauled the same way over the next three weeks.
"You can't move them by train, and you can't airlift them, they're too heavy," Lutz said. "There is no other way to move them."
Each kiln piece weighs 49 tons, is 17 feet 3 inches in diameter and is 38 feet long. Something that big requires a super truck to haul it -- one that stretches 168 feet, is about 20 feet wide, and has 58 tires.
"It looks like a piece of steel pipe, only it's as high as a two-story house," said Jeff Gelety, manager at Robbins Motor Transportation Co. of Eddystone, Pa., which is orchestrating the haul.
Harry Quade, 27, was standing on the corner of Clinton and Boston streets about 9 p.m. when the convoy passed by.
"I was at the bar and came here to see what the heck this was about," he said, watching the load go by. "I've never seen something that big on a truck before. It don't even look like it would fit under the light. It looked like something from a nuclear plant."
The kiln pieces -- which arrived at the port of Baltimore from Germany last week -- are being hauled 58 miles from Transcom Port Lines on Clinton Street to the Lehigh Portland Cement Co. plant in Union Bridge, Carroll County.
Once assembled, the kiln will be 260 feet long and 17 feet in diameter.
Moving about five mph, the first piece left the port at 8: 42 last night and was expected to make the overnight journey in 10 1/2 hours, arriving at the cement plant about 7 a.m. today.
The truck was driven by 20-year truck-driving veteran Joe Crothers, who slept all day yesterday to prepare for the big night.
Two people were steering the trailer, and six other people went along in cars in case something went wrong.
And the convoy took its sweet, careful time.
Crothers said the journey was a normal night's work for him.
"The key to moving something this size? Patience," Crothers said.
"You could walk faster than that truck," Gelety said. "But you don't rush a job like this. There's too much opportunity for something to go wrong."
A few dozen officials and others were working last night to minimize those opportunities.
All costs to the city relating to moving the kiln are being picked up by the moving company.
One city employee working last night was Charles Chamberlin, superintendent of transportation for the Mass Transit Administration light rail, who stood with his arms folded, gazing at the huge drum before it left the port.
"It's just about as big as I want to deal with," he said.
Chamberlin's job was to make sure the shipment didn't get anywhere near a light rail train.
"It's close. We're going to measure it again before it gets to the light rail" at Fayette and Howard streets, he said.
Gelety said the first shipment of a kiln piece was experimental. Once he feels comfortable with the mammoth piece traveling through Baltimore, he might move two pieces next trip.
The other six shipments are scheduled on Monday and Thursday nights over the next three weeks. "We're not crazy about tying up the city," Gelety said. "There's no other way to get this done."
The kiln was escorted by seven city police officers last night from Clinton Street to Reisterstown Road to the city line. About 1 a.m., Maryland State Police officers were scheduled to join the convoy and escort it to its destination in Union Bridge, west of Westminster, the Carroll County seat.
They planned to close roads temporarily as they traveled.
The Baltimore route went north on Clinton Street; east on Boston Street; north on Conkling Street; west on Bank Street; north on Highland Avenue; west on Orleans Street; south on Aisquith; west on Fayette; north on Paca; west on Druid Hill Avenue; north on Auchentoroly Terrace and north on Reisterstown Road to the city line.
Together the pieces of kiln cost about $10 million, delivery included, said Art Walsh, construction manager for Lehigh. The kiln is part of a $250 million upgrading project at the plant.
"It's cutting edge," Walsh said. "It's the best kiln we could find in the world."
The oven will be used to bake limestone into cement at Lehigh Portland Cement, owned by the German company Heidelberger Zement. Under previous owners, it had been in business in Carroll County more than 90 years.
Other objects of similar size and girth have moved through Baltimore in recent years, but nothing quite this high, Lutz said.
Last year, it was a cryogenics cold box that was longer than the pieces of kiln, but not as high. A few years ago, there were 128-ton fans that went to a dam in Egypt.
"I think this is the largest truck that's ever moved through the city," Lutz said. "It has to be very, very carefully executed."