Rick Colton’s job is not for the faint of heart. Seated in a small vehicle called a “steer car” with no brakes or turn signals, he helps transport massive airplane parts on the highway that sit inches above his head.
“It’s pretty tight under there, like sitting in a covered go-cart,” Colton said during a pause in his work one day recently. “You’re close to the ground going at pretty high speeds.”
The steer car is attached to the back of a long truck that hauls large structural components for wings about 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Boeing’s Fabrication facility in Frederickson, Wash. to its factory in Everett.
“It’s all about teamwork,” Colton said. “I trust my teammates and that keeps me confident.”
Colton is part of a three-person long-load crew. Its members rotate between three positions: the truck driver; a pilot car driver who travels in front of or behind the truck; and the steer car driver who maneuvers the back end of the load around corners and when changing lanes. All three drivers are in constant contact.
“From the time you leave to the time you get up here there’s really no relaxing,” said Jeff Shimko, a long-load crew member. “You’re always paying attention, listening and working with your co-workers.”
Four other Boeing crews, all with Boeing’s Site Services Licensed Transportation team, also drive long loads up and down Interstates 405 and 5 in Washington state to deliver wing parts for 747s, 767s and 777s. They make at least five trips a day. The crews know they attract attention.
“It’s tough not to notice us. Our loads are longer than 100 feet (30 meters),” said Kevin Glover, a long-load crew member. “This is an icon of the Northwest.”
The crews have worked diligently to standardize their transport process, to be in perfect sync with each other for safety. Colton said the well-planned maneuvers have been described as a “ballet on the highway.”
Driving trucks is a dance Colton’s been doing for 36 years, 12 of them with Boeing. He just reached a career milestone of 3 million miles (4.8 million kilometers).
“I love working on this team,” he said. “We’re building a strong culture with great camaraderie.”