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Liebherr LTC 1045-3.1 winds its way through the ‘medieval’ streets of Carcassonne

Liebherr LTC 1045-3.1 winds its way through the ‘medieval’ streets of Carcassonne

A crane job inside a medieval town. Narrow gates in the fortress walls. Long, narrow streets and tight bends around the old walls. A mobile crane wound its way through historical Carcassonne on rough cobblestones, often just a hand’s width between the crane and the cen-turies-old buildings.

Heavy load contractor and crane operator Hugon based in the South of France has purchased a Liebherr LTC 1045-3.1 compact crane specially for crane jobs in towns like Narbonne and Perpignan which have narrow streets. But driver Fabrice Bresson’s greatest challenge for maneuvering his crane through winding old town’s narrow streets came in a village built 800 years ago as an annex to a fortress on the edge of the Pyrenees – the medieval town of Carcassonne.

He brought the compact crane to a halt in front of the massive town walls just before six in the morning. The world famous bastion was completely asleep and tourists were still at their hotels. Fabrice Bresson, on the other hand, had already completed the 90-minute journey from Narbonne. French crane drivers actually bear the fine-sounding title of “grutier” (pronounced groutieh), derived from “la grue”, the crane.

The driver had a few things to take care of before driving into the citadel. First of all Fabrice moved his cab almost into its working position. After this the storage box on the front of the vehicle was attached to the crane hook, removed and placed in front of the walls. This reduced the length of the vehicle by more than 120 centimeters.

Later, in the winding streets of the old town he will need every centimeter of this reduction. The flashing light on the ballast block was unscrewed and the telescopic boom lowered. The exterior mirrors were also moved in and then Fabrice, the grutier, moved his two and a half meter power pack towards the first gate.

Thumb and forefinger moving ever closer

He had brought two marshals with him to help him maneuverer through the medieval town, including Christophe Vergès, a member of the technical staff at Hugon. The passage through the outer ring of the fort, the “Porte Narbonnaise”, is around 25 meters long and consists of four gates. Because the last of then is offset at an angle of around 45°, the most demanding obstacle for the driver is a tight S-bend right at the start of the course.

So the three men had no time to warm up. Instead, the crane was set to crab steering speed, all-wheel steering and independent rear axle steering. A total of five steering programs give the vehicle great maneuverability and extremely small turning circles. As it passed through the final stone gate, the crane seemed to move in slow motion. All the time Christophe Vergès was using his thumb and forefinger to show the distance to the massive walls. His digits moved closer and closer together. Finally he stopped the 45-tonne crane which looked as though it was wedged. The men discussed the situation briefly. Then the LTC passed the point carefully without touching the stones.

The crane braked again at the second town wall in front of the smallest and lowest gate into the citadel. The pointed arch of the old gate starts to narrow almost at the bottom. A low-hanging lantern was swinging in the wind. From here the clearance height in Carcassonne is limited to just three metres. To achieve this, Fabrice telescoped his driver’s cab forwards into the lower road position. He also retracted the cylinders on the hydro-pneumatic suspension by a hundred millimetres. Lowered in this position the crane slipped through the dark gate as if it was bent double.

“We simply cannot touch the walls.”

“Carcassonne is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Making a mistake like touching the walls was simply unthinkable”
– Christophe Vergès

Now the road leads steeply upwards. Tavern signs, sun awnings, road lights and extending parts of buildings now dictated the vehicle’s speed. The three men continued to concentrate hard on getting their 36-tonne vehicle through each narrow point. More than once the cheeks of the two marshals were tight against walls on both sides of the crane.  At a small square it was overtaken by crafts men’s cars and lots of small delivery vans. The city crane would block a major route for the whole day. Everybody had been informed and were hurrying to get through before the crane started work.

Thirty minutes after entering the citadel the compact crane finally reached its destination. It had traveled around 400 meters during this time. The small erection area at the site was just big enough for a vastly reduced support base. The actual crane job was a good deal less spectacular. Two distributor boxes weighing around one tonne had to be raised on to a flat roof and the old ones had to be taken down. Hardly a massive job. But the fitters on the roof had problems with the installation work which appeared to take forever. A storm had been forecast for the night and a strong wind had already started to blow. The grutier gave several worried glances towards the sky. His crane had to be out of the medieval town by evening because his license was limited. The craftsmen were already waiting in their cars impatiently for the narrow streets to be clear again when the crane finally retracted its telescopic boom. The Hugon team packed everything away.

The return route was a little more troublesome than the initial trip in the morning. The shops were still open and lots of visitors were moving around the narrow streets of the town despite the wind and low temperatures. That means that the two marshals not only had to help the crane driver but also had lots of other things to do. Souvenirs were cleared from the cobblestones, boxes of vegetables had to be removed and sun awnings retracted. And despite the four accompanying policemen, curious tourists continually walked in front of the city crane, taking photographs and filming the incredible scenes.

It was not until late in the evening that Fabrice, out grutier finally parked his crane in the Hugon yard in Narbonne, bringing a long, unusual working day to an end.

Update Also see the video:

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