A Mexico trucking agency specializing in oversized transport has, for approximately four months, transported aircraft and other displays from the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., to its storage facility in Chantilly, Virginia.
The museum needs to transport aircraft and other displays while it is being renovated over the next seven years.
The first exhibits — “America by Air,” “Sea-Air Operations,” “Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” “Golden Age of Flight,” “World War II Aviation,” “Jet Aviation” and “Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air” — closed in January.
More recent closures include “Early Flight” and “Exploring the Planets.”
Toalson Enterprises received the contract earlier this year. The prior trucking company reportedly didn’t meet expectations, Ron Toalson said. He and his brother, Russ, are a two-man operation who coordinate oversized transports, and Ron Toalson has taken the lead on the Smithsonian project.
Iconic exhibits, such as the "Spirit of St. Louis," the airplane Charles Lindbergh flew on the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927, and the Apollo Lunar Module are staying in the museum. The museum is remaining open during the renovations and the first reopened exhibits are expected sometime in 2022.
The Toalsons first started working with United Van Lines out of St. Louis in the 1980s. United Van Lines has a division that moved boats, trailers and other non-household items. "They spun-off to a little company called Safeway Logistics," Ron Toalson said.
Crozier Fine Arts, the lead contractor, reached out to VIP Transport after mistakes were made by a different shipping company, Toalson said. VIP contracted with Safeway, who then called Toalson Enterprises, which is an agent of trucking company Greatwide/Dallas Mavis, and asked if they would be interested in putting in a bid.
"I called one of our drivers who I know handles super loads — wide, tall, heavy — and just spoke with him and we came up with some rates," Toalson said. "We've hauled everything from spacecraft to World War II planes to the X-15 (rocket plane)."
The company conducts a route survey ahead of transport to know it can safely move the aircraft. They drive the intended route with a pole car to make sure any taller goods will not get hit by over roadway signs, bridges or other interchanges.
Toalson also had to coordinate with the District of Columbia police and Virginia State Police to establish transport times. Shipments are up to 85 feet long, 25 feet wide and 14 feet tall.
Toalson Enterprises has conducted approximately 25 transports in four months.
The Washington, D.C. and Virginia permit offices "tell you what day you can move, and then we have to load at 10 p.m. because a crane is blocking the roads,” Ron Toalson said. “We get loaded up by 2 to 3 a.m. and then deliver until the next load comes up.”
Shipments require up to four company escort vehicles and two Virginia State Police escorts. Toalson does all the project coordination from Mexico. He said he has thought about traveling to Washington a couple times, but that is more difficult to do since he is working in a two-man business operation with his brother. The driver of the shipments is from Tennessee.
Rigging the planes to prepare them for the trailer takes seven to nine people, he said. "It's been a good project."
Several planes are suspended from the steel structure above the ceiling of the museum, he said, which means they first have to be safely disassembled, lowered and finally put on the transport trailers. The next transport is happening this week, when they will move a 42-by-25-by-13-foot Douglas D-558 jet plane fuselage.
"You just have to work with the weather, their crews whenever they can get things down,” Ron Toalson said. “It's kind of a last-minute thing when they say we're ready, you gotta be ready to go.”