How to Roll a 340-Ton Boulder Through the Streets of Los Angeles

By Andrew Tarantola on at

How does one move 340 tons of solid granite from a quarry in Riverside county, through some of the busiest streets in the country, to the grounds of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art? This mammoth trailer is certainly a start.

Michael Heizer pioneered the Land Art movement — one that expresses its art through landscape design. His latest project, Levitated Mass, involves situating a 340-ton granite boulder atop a 4.6-metre deep, 139-metre long trench on the LACMA grounds so as to appear almost floating when viewed from below.

The problem is LACMA's roughly 60 miles away from the Stone Valley Quarry where the rock is located, and it's a HUGE rock — one single piece of granite, 6.4m tall.

The installation project actually began five years ago when the boulder was blasted out of the surrounding bedrock — it has simply just taken this long to slog through the bureaucratic morass of Southern California's various cities, counties, and unincorporated townships. The move is expected to take place on October 17th and is being handled by Emmert International, a heavy moving company that helped move the Hubble before it launched.

Since the rock is so enormous, it has to be first jacked up using hydraulic lifts before being set in a steel-trussed "cradle" that rests upon a modular tractor with 22 axles, each with its own set of brakes — a total of 196 wheels. With the rock, the tractor tips the scales at 550 tons. This weight is evenly distributed among the axles, reducing the load each bears to about 25 tons.

The tractor itself measures 90m long by 8.2m wide — nearly three lane's worth — and requires a crew of 12 to operate. In order to make turns, the massive trailer acts similarly to a caterpillar, with the front of the rig moving independently from the rear. And while the trip is 60 miles as the crow flies, the quality of LA's infrastructure necessitates numerous bypasses to avoid weak roads and bridges, making the total mileage nearly 85 miles. And, given that the trailer can only travel about 10 miles an hour, its journey will take close to ten days, rather than the average 90 minutes, to complete.

The total cost is estimated to be just under £6.3 million, though Govan is coy as to the total price of the permanent installation. He says it's in "single digit millions, more than five and less than 10." Luckily, most of the cost of producing this artwork has been paid through a combination of private and corporate donors including Terry and Jane Semel, Robert Daly and Carole Bayer, and Hanjin Shipping -- a Korean shipping company. The exhibit is expected to open mid-November, permits willing.

[New York Times - LA Times - LACMA - Top art courtesy of Monica Almeida / The New York Times]

Monster Machines is all about the most exceptional machines in the world, from massive gadgets of destruction to tiny machines of precision, and everything in between.