News & History

Six Days on the Road: Following the journey of the Veolia waste incinerator

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

GUM SPRINGS, Arkansas — “The Eagle has landed” were the words Neil Armstrong famously communicated to NASA Mission Control when the lunar module (allegedly) landed on the moon.

Fast-forward 54 years and the whole of Arkansas seemed to be watching — not from their televisions, as they did in 1969, but from their smartphones — as local history was made in a small town just 5 miles south of Arkadelphia. An incinerator weighing 300 tons (600,000 pounds) made it to its final destination after a month-long barge journey across the Atlantic Ocean, a couple days up the Mississippi and Ouachita rivers and six painstaking days along Arkansas highways.

The kiln arrived just before 1 p.m. Monday, May 15, at the Veolia-North America hazardous waste treatment facility near the Clark County Industrial Park. The drivers let out one final deafening blast of the rig’s horn before stepping off the trucks, their first steps reminiscent of astronauts walking from a shuttle that just landed on earth. It arrived at the plant months ahead of schedule and will be moved from its trailer bed on Tuesday, but will not be put to use until late 2024.

“It’s kinda wild that people have [so] much interest in it.”

A crane will free the hauling system from its load before the Memphis-based Barnhart Crane and Rigging packs up and heads to its next job — transporting steel mill equipment for an Osceola company. For now, the 50 or so power company linemen essential to this operation will return to their homes.

The kiln has raised many questions from those taking interest in its transport. What really is this thing? What will it burn? (answer: not lithium car batteries) How much did it cost to get it here? Why couldn’t they build the thing here? What is Veolia? and, our favorite, Who cares? The list goes on. We’ll ask those questions and more once the dust settles, but for now, here’s a chronological rundown of the trip from Crossett to Clark County.

Crossett to Strong: “Tough maneuvering” on first leg of trip, says kiln hauler

PORT OF CROSSETT — A convoy of power company trucks, highway police and Department of Transportation crews pulled onto U.S. Highway 82 on Wednesday morning, beginning a six-day journey across four South Arkansas counties.

“It was real tough maneuvering today.”

— Rick Umfress

Scheduled to hit the road at 8 o’clock sharp Wednesday morning, the multi-vehicle escort and the two trucks hauling the kiln were an hour and a half behind schedule because of a malfunction in the dolly’s hydraulics.

Countless power company vehicles and at least a dozen Arkansas Highway Police units drove ahead of the hauling operation, as linemen leap-frogged the load to raise or remove low-hanging power lines as the massive kiln — standing at 20 feet tall on the moving equipment — moved at speeds no faster than 20 mph along the highway.

An escort vehicle passes under a power line. | Leslie Kent/The Arkadelphian

Several spectators stood along portions of the highway shoulder as the operation exited the port, documenting the historic occasion. One local, an 82-year-old who asked to be identified as “Old Man Welch”, said he “ain’t seen nothing like this” in the 46 years he’s lived in Crossett.

“People will stand out [in front of their homes] and watch.”

The Arkadelphian lost sight of the convoy as it crested a bridge spanning the Ouachita River. The crew ended the first part of their journey north of Strong, which is just 20 miles west of the port.

Despite some tight squeezes through curvy, narrow stretches of highway north of Strong, the first leg of the trip went “pretty good,” said Rick Umfress, senior project supervisor for Barnhart. The driver at the back coordinated steering maneuvers with the towing driver because of the curves, as the dolly filled the entirety of the roadway. There were also several low-hanging power lines that had to be taken down to make way for the convoy. “It was real tough maneuvering today,” Umfress said.

While 50 or so crew members and escorts rested at El Dorado hotels, the furnace spent Wednesday night near the junction of federal highways 275 and 63. The operation will resume Thursday morning in a northwesterly fashion toward El Dorado via U.S. Highway 63. Those involved with the haul will also spend Thursday evening in El Dorado, followed by two nights in Camden hotels. The final two nights will probably be spent at inns in the Arkadelphia area.

James Escue, a licensed drone photographer from Arkadelphia, provided aerial footage for this report. Contact him at

Strong to El Dorado: Kiln convoy makes quick work of Day 2

Although thunderstorms slowed the operation a few times Thursday morning, crews made quick work of the second day of hauling the kiln across Union County.

The operation left from Strong on time, at 8 a.m., and stopped in El Dorado halfway through the lunch hour. The day was short thanks to wider highways and higher utility lines than what the crew encountered on the first leg of the trip, said Umfress.

“Other than having to deal with some thunderstorms, it was real smooth today,” Umfress said. Power company linemen are unable to move or lift lines during strong storms. The weather forced them to hold off “just a couple times” on Thursday.

So far, the haul has caused no damage to roads or private property: no bridges or culverts have collapsed, nor have any mailboxes fallen victim to the way-oversized load.

On Friday morning it would head north on U.S. 167B and skirt just south of Camden, ending the day in Stephens, in Ouachita County. The convoy will have spent nearly half its journey in Union County, the largest county in the state, geographically speaking.

A 600,000-pound tube of steel stretching nearly 60 feet long is an unusual sight as it crawls through rural areas of the state, so It’s no surprise that people are wanting to catch a glimpse of the action. It draws “a lot of attention,” Umfress said. “People will stand out [in front of their homes] and watch, or pull up to the end of their driveways waiting on us to come by.”

A 300-ton kiln awaits transport. It was parked Thursday in El Dorado. | Leslie Kent/The Arkadelphian

Stephens to Rosston: Railroad crossings and celebrity status

Slowly but surely, the kiln is making its way to Gum Springs.

Saturday marked the fourth of the six-day terrestrial haul as the kiln crawled from Stephens to Rosston. Expected to make one final rest in Gurdon, the load will first pass through the quiet Nevada County hamlet of Prescott before taking an eastward hop along state Highway 24, then head north on Highway 53. It’s just a few miles north of this intersection that the haul will cross the Little Missouri River into Clark County.

Discussing the trip in a telephone interview with The Arkadelphian, it sounds evident that the trek has been an exhausting one for the crew. “They’re hanging in there,” Umfress said through a yawn. The convoy has a 38-mile trip ahead of them Sunday, followed by the 15-mile final leg north on U.S. 67 to Gum Springs, where the kiln will be offloaded at Veolia.

The crew made it 28 miles in about seven hours Saturday, ending their shift at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Umfress said state Highway 57 was a “tight little stretch squeezing through the bridges” but noted it was smooth sailing once they reached U.S. 278. The turn onto 278 drew a crowd of doubting spectators, Umfress said, admitting that the intersection was “pretty snug; it was real close.”

As part of the process for beginning or ending each day, the crew checks pressure on all 96 tires of the two dollies that distribute the rig’s weight. They also inspect the two hydraulic pumps that run the system responsible for steering and raising/lowering the bed. The bed will have to be lifted hydraulically to cross the Union Pacific rail line in Gurdon before it turns onto U.S. 67.

As for crossing railroad tracks, Umfress said a crew member communicates with the rail company, calling in their provided load identification number before proceeding across the tracks. “They’ll tell us if they have a train coming. If there’s a train coming, we wait, and once the train passes we talk to them again to make sure we’re clear.” They notify the rail company once the load clears the tracks.

Despite this major operation, railroad traffic still took precedence. This train, as photographed in Gurdon, passed by just as the kiln arrived at the crossing. | Leslie Kent/The Arkadelphian

The journey has been photographed and highly documented on social media — so much so that anyone in L.A. (Lower Arkansas) who hasn’t heard of or read about this operation is probably living under a rock the size of the incinerator. Asked whether the widespread attention makes him feel like a celebrity, Umfress chuckled. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “But it’s kinda wild that people have that much interest in it.”

Those involved in the operation remain energetic about the job. “Everybody’s holding up pretty good,” Umfress said. “Good attitudes, good crew.”

The Veolia-bound kiln makes a pitstop Saturday in Rosston, Arkansas, before passing through Prescott and ending in Gurdon on Sunday. | Courtesy photo/Sherry Wright

Rosston to Gurdon: Tire trouble and bridge maneuvering

WHELEN SPRINGS — Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the kiln that is just miles from its destination is one big mother. But it was no match for the curved bridge spanning the Little Missouri River and connecting Nevada and Clark counties.

The river crossing drew more than a dozen spectators, most of them from nearby Whelen Springs. Some of those who spent Sunday afternoon at the Reed Barringer public access to the river doubted the bridge could hold the kiln’s weight, especially considering the pressure of the flooded, swollen river against its concrete piers.

The convoy pulled the massive load into Clark County at about 4:15 p.m. and stopped for the evening, several minutes later, on the side of the road near Red Martin Country Club, just 3 miles south of Gurdon. It would have 15 miles left.

Capt. Ross Batson, commander of the overweight permit section for Arkansas Highway Police, said the operation wouldn’t be allowed to be on the highway until 8 o’clock sharp. It would also take quite some time for it to pass through Gurdon, cross the Union Pacific railroad tracks and enter U.S. 67.

As with other stretches of South Arkansas highways, motorists were urged to avoid stretches of highways along which the kiln was traveling. Batson anticipated the kiln to arrive in Gum Springs sometime around 1 p.m. — so long as the trip went smoothly.

The rig stopped twice Sunday afternoon for tire blowouts, which Batson said only takes about 15 minutes to replace by a specialized pit crew. The first blowout happened on the first day of travel, between Crossett and Strong.

Gurdon to Gum Springs: Close call on railroad, tight squeeze onto 67

GURDON — The main thoroughfare in downtown was quieter than usual when we arrived at 8 in the morning to await the action, with hardly a sign of life aside from a handful of early birds itching to greet the kiln.

It wouldn’t take long before the crowd grew as scores of folks gathered on either side of Highway 53 for a front-row seat. The waiting crowd laid eyes on the massive haul once it rounded the curve at Main Street. It would take whole minutes for it to reach the Union Pacific rail line, where the operator would phone the rail company for clearance to cross.

Did we mention clearance? Thanks to the rig’s hydraulic system, the kiln was lifted an additional 4 feet higher to make the railroad crossing possible. It was still a close call, however, as the trailer cleared the tracks by only a foot.

Rick Umfress watches as the bottom of the load barely clears the railroad crossing in Gurdon. | Leslie Kent/The Arkadelphian

The nail-biting crossing a success, the driver contacted UP a second time to notify them the load was across.

Like the final level of a video game, the next challenge lay just yards ahead: maneuvering a tight intersection to enter U.S. 67. A utility pole close to the street caused quite the headache for the crew. It would take a full hour for the kiln to travel through Gurdon.

The crew watches as the load barely clears a tight turn onto U.S. 67. | Leslie Kent/The Arkadelphian

A few miles north, an estimated 250 spectators watched from the sides of the highway in Curtis as the load headed toward the last straight-stretch to Gum Springs.

Leslie Kent contributed to this report.

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3 replies »

  1. Thank you for the footage. We are from Arkadelphia but are truck drivers and are in Detroit Mi tonight. Wished we was home to see in person but this is the next best thing. Keep ‘‘em coming !!!