Kiln makes a spectacle

Trip: The process of transporting parts for a giant steel furnace from Baltimore to Union Bridge has become a kind of show.

March 08, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Three in place, four to go.

The first house-size section of a new steel kiln arrived at Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge without a problem. The second section became the maker of traffic jams and nightmares. The third arrived this week as if trucking a 49-ton steel tube 40 feet long and 17 feet 3 inches in diameter were as easy as carrying groceries to your door.

If all goes well, the fourth will arrive today. But things don't always go well.

"It's like a parade," David H. Roush, the plant manager, said of the people along the route who last week eg watched the slow progress of a much-delayed truck carrying part of the tube. "It's become a tourist attraction."

The move was supposed to work like this:

A king-size truck would leave the Port of Baltimore at 8 p.m. with part of Lehigh's new kiln, pass through Westminster by 4 a.m. the next day and arrive at the plant about 5 a.m. Traffic would barely be disrupted; almost no one would be inconvenienced by the delivery of the kiln that, when it enters service in 2002, will nearly double Lehigh's cement production to about 5,500 tons a day.

That is how things went with the first section.

A hydraulic lift failed on the truck carrying the second section Friday. The kiln began scraping the pavement near the exit of Interstate 795 on to Route 140. The escort vehicles stopped and checked for damage to the road. The truckers considered calling for a crane, then waited for the hydraulics to be repaired.

That took six hours.

The truck, with a convoy of state police and State Highway Administration vehicles, thus reached Westminster during the local rush hour. By late morning it was within sight of Union Bridge.

Crews eased the town's one traffic light out of the way to provide enough clearance for the truck and its cargo. People spilled from houses and shops, as if a drum major were high-stepping through town.

"It's nice to see people out of the house, looking at something like this," said Donald D. Wilson, president of the town council and a Lehigh employee.

"It's coming," someone called.

"So is Christmas."

Lehigh will assemble the seven sections into a single 260-foot long tube lined with insulating bricks, but the preparations are not simple. The kiln will rest on concrete piers that stand on a concrete foundation lying atop concrete pillars anchored in bedrock. It will operate 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

"You just don't turn that off on Friday night and come back and turn it on," Roush said. "It takes 24 hours just to start again."

The kiln will be more efficient than the four it's destined to replace, thanks to being fed by a tower that preheats raw limestone to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit before the rock falls into the giant tube. At 2700 degrees, the limestone becomes "clinker" that -- powdered and blended with various compounds -- emerges as different kinds of cement.

Roush said Lehigh hopes to have the new kiln operating by early 2002.

That depends, of course, on the other sections arriving safely by truck. Two more sections of welded Spanish steel were to be delivered this week, and the last two sections next week.

"A lot of things have to happen," said Roush.

"Right now, there's just a big steel tube sitting on the ground, then another, then another, then another."

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