NEWRY — Crews with Canadian commercial trucking firm Enterprises Clément Lavoie Inc. of Coaticook, Quebec, and Newry firefighters spent most of Wednesday dealing with a 53-foot-long trailer that collapsed on Route 26.
That Wabash National trailer, being pulled by a tractor-trailer truck, was hauling 39 rolls of newsprint from Canada to the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Trooper Jeff DeGroot of the Maine State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division said on scene.
Rain-saturated snow and ice caused the trailer’s plastic roof to collapse, which in turn collapsed the fiberglass-reinforced plywood sides of the trailer and broke the bottom frame, DeGroot said. The upper and lower rails on the frame gave way, “and that’s not a good thing,” he said.
The mishap occurred about 8 a.m. in the southwest-bound lane on a curve just up from 901 Bear River Road (Route 26), three miles north of the Newry Town Office.
Jean Gagne, 41, of Magog, Quebec, was driving the 18-wheeler to Lewiston, DeGroot said.
While crews and police were dealing with that and Newry firefighters were directing the single-lane traffic, another Enterprises Clément Lavoie 18-wheeler hauling another 53-foot-long Wabash National trailer to Canada on the same road stopped for traffic. Newry firefighter Alan Fleet noticed that the trailer was starting to buckle and notified DeGroot, who had the driver park it in the southwest-bound lane.
“I’m glad we stopped it before that one collapsed,” Fleet said. “He might have made it up to the bumpy road on the other side of Upton, or it might have happened right over that hump (behind the first truck). Once it starts, it doesn’t take long to go.”
That second trailer was loaded with seven large rolls of lightweight coated paper from the NewPage Corp. papermill in Rumford. Because DeGroot took both Enterprises trailers out of service, their loads had to be removed.
The second trailer was salvageable but had to be babied about five or so miles to Newry Corner, where Routes 26 and 2 intersect, so it could be parked and its cargo offloaded. Its sides were chained together to try and keep it from buckling further.
“Obviously, the weight of snow and ice on the roof, that’s the only explanation we could come up with, because you have two loads coming from two different places and two different trailers,” DeGroot said. “I mean, the only common denominator we have is the roof is collapsing under the snow, so I’ve got to go with that.”
Commercial trucking firms use lighter trailers to save on fuel costs, he said. “It’s just a van box trailer that they use for general freight.”
But trucking firms have no easy, safe and inexpensive way to remove accumulated ice and snow from atop the tractor and trailer. Additionally, there’s no requirement, because “it’s a difficult thing to regulate,” DeGroot said.
“On the highway a lot of times, it will blow off,” he said. “Sometimes not so good, but at least out here, it could have blown off and no big deal. But it didn’t blow off, and it’s really wet, sticky, heavy snow.”
He said Gagne, the driver of the first truck, “made the statement that he felt it pulling and stopped it, and I’m sure that’s when it was collapsing.”
DeGroot said the trucking firm could be cited, but probably wouldn’t be.
“Could they have foreseen this?” he asked. “Well, you’ve got two different trucks and trailers, so no, I don’t think they could have foreseen it,” he said. “You have the problem everybody talks about of cleaning the ice and snow off it, but the flip side of that problem is that for them to get up there and clean it, it’s a safety issue, because the operator could fall through the roof.
“So it’s a safety issue for the personnel to use a broom or tool to clean it,” he said. “Some places have equipment that can clean it, but sometimes those can rip the roof off. So it’s really one of those situations where there isn’t a best solution.”
DeGroot told officials with the Canadian trucking firm to contact all of its drivers and warn them about the problem with the fiberglass composite trailers, which the firm did.
Fleet said the driver of the second tractor-trailer told him that all of the empty trailers parked in the Rumford mill lot were starting to buckle from snow and ice loads.
“He said he went down through them all and got a hard-top one, because they were all starting to look like that,” Fleet said, pointing at the buckling sides of the second trailer.
DeGroot said Enterprise sent a crew down from Quebec with a bucket loader and another 18-wheeler with a steel trailer, into which the bucket loader placed the rolls of newsprint. The rolls had to be carefully pulled toward the rear of the trailer with chains attached to the bucket loader before they could be lifted out, two at a time.
“No injuries, minor inconvenience — well, it was until the second one pulled up and that one doubles the inconvenience — but we’re going to get them off the roadway, and they’ll take care of them from there,” DeGroot said.