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One of the biggest freestanding cranes in the world is at Flint Hills now

The massive crane at Flint Hills Resources is one of the world’s largest free-standing land-based cranes. It can lift up to 4 million pounds. Star Gazette photo by Chad Richardson

The equipment at Flint Hills Resources is hard to miss. Located at the junction of highways 55 and 52, the site is big enough – and equipment stands tall enough – to be seen from miles away, even from some sites near Hastings.

But all that looks almost small compared to the newest piece of equipment at the refinery. It’s one of the largest free-swinging, land-based cranes in the world.

The crane, a Versacrane TC-36000 lift crane, weighs 7 million pounds and can lift up to 4 million pounds (about 50 fully loaded semi-trucks). It uses about nine miles of cables.

It took 120 to 150 truckloads to get the crane into the refinery, and 15 of those were “super loads,” those over-sized loads that often have a separate vehicle following with caution lights, said Flint Hills Resources’ director of public affairs, Jake Reint.

The crane is only a temporary installment. It’s there for some maintenance work being done at the refinery, Reint said.

Maintenance work is always under way in some way at Flint Hills Resources.

“This facility is one of the largest continuous construction sites in Minnesota,” Reint said.

The particular project being done with the crane involves disassembling units to conduct preventative maintenance.

The units at the refinery have to run for years at a time, Reint said, so every so often they need to be shut down, taken apart and rebuilt to make sure they can continue to function properly. It’s sort of like rebuilding a car engine, he said.

The refinery is still operating; only certain units are shut down for maintenance.

The massive amount of work being done also means more people. The current project involves as many as 2,500 contractors working on site on any given day, in addition to the more than 1,000 regular full-time employees.

The massive crane will be on site for at least a few more weeks, Reint said, but a number of projects will keep the activity level up at the refinery throughout the next few years. He said the refinery expects to have an average of 1,000 to 1,500 contractors working on site even after the crane is taken away.