The Department of Public Works (DPW) transportation crew is charged each year with the delivery and removal of virtually all of Black Rock City’s infrastructure, materials, and equipment. This task requires a great deal of resources, concise logistics, and most importantly, the hard work and dedication of the crew, composed primarily of DPW personnel and local contractors.
The transportation crew’s work for the 2003 event began August 11 with the delivery of containers and materials for the Center Café, Playa Commissary, and DPW depot. For the first several days of transportation, the crew worked long days, with most of the shipments consisting of containers and office buildings loaded on tractor trailers that were driven by local contractors. Loose materials and smaller hand-loaded items were assembled by the DPW crew and loaded onto DPW fleet vehicles for delivery to the playa.
The tractor-trailer rigs were able to make between 6 and 10 trips per day, and the DPW fleet vehicles were able to make between 2 and 5 trips per day. This difference was due almost exclusively to how quickly large containers and buildings could be loaded versus the time required to find, load, and secure smaller items. With the exception of containers and office buildings, most of the materials and equipment intended for transport were not prepared for loading or travel—a lot of equipment was not staged logically for transport or was not legal to transport as it was built. Because of the limited amount of time available to prepare loads and organize the area used for loading, transportation was accomplished by managing each load as it was loaded, a problem that resulted in a slower process overall. In one instance, wood for the Temple base that should have been in the first load to the playa was staged behind almost every other piece of material for the Temple. Obviously, this presented a problem not only for the transportation crew but also for the Temple crew. Overall, the first 3 days of transportation were long and labor intensive, but all on-playa crews received the materials and equipment they needed to begin construction.
In the days that followed, our focus switched from large items on tractor-trailer rigs to primarily loose items and personal dwellings. August 15 was the last day that the local contractors were used on a full-time basis, although they were used as needed throughout the event and after. At the morning meetings, the transportation manager solicited transportation requests, which also came in throughout the day. These requests were organized into load lists, which were distributed periodically to the crew by the transportation manager. The average turnaround time from request to delivery was approximately 6 hours. Factors affecting this figure included seek time (the time required to find an item requested), loading time (the time required to find a Hyster and operator, to find a crew to hand load the truck, or to load a truck by oneself), and the playa delivery process—because of a lack of specific delivery information, many items were simply delivered to 1 of 4 drop points on the playa. Upon receipt of delivery instructions, the items would then be transported within Black Rock City or made available for pickup. The resulting delivery time for some of these items exceeded 1 day. Although there were problems with some aspects of transportation processes, overall, we received positive feedback about our performance.
The second week of pre-event transportation, beginning on August 18, saw the delivery of the remaining personal dwellings, trailers, and materials. Our involvement with the tractor trailers at this point was limited because we only had access to a single rental vehicle with the proper hitch for towing them. The Art Support Services crew had possession of the other vehicle with the appropriate hitch. This second vehicle was the primary mover of trailers, both to and from the playa. At various times, it was suggested that certain DPW vehicles should be used to move trailers; however, the majority of senior staff trailers as well as many others were beyond the capacity DPW vehicles functioning at the time. Other items moved at this time included stored materials requested by theme camps, which often required hand loading because they were not properly or completely prepared for travel, and other items that needed to be moved within Black Rock City, which ranged from t-stakes to dumpsters.
The first week of post-event transportation, beginning September 1, was similar to the first week of pre-event transportation in that most of the items we were asked to move were not ready for transport. The majority of the first day was spent assessing the readiness of the various containers and buildings, and staging those that were ready. We also moved items that were never used from the depot and other areas. It was recognized early on that a plan for the placement of materials at the ranch was still in progress, a factor in the selection of items to be placed on load lists. By September 4, most of the containers were loaded and staged near the playa commissary. On that day, we moved approximately 75% of them back to the ranch. It was at this time that we encountered one of our biggest problems—there were no qualified Hyster operators available. We solved this problem by obtaining our own keys and loading our own trucks. During the next several days, we cleared the playa of about 80% of the largest objects and about 50% of the smaller items.
The second week of post-event transportation began on September 8. Our contract drivers remained on call and active throughout the week, primarily because the box van and flatbed loads, which only they could haul, were not ready for transport on time. As might be expected, we moved more material off the playa than we brought, with items ranging from pallets of unused firewood to entire theme camps. The transportation crew completed the removal of a vast amount of material and equipment not related to the infrastructure of Black Rock City all that week. That week, we also removed all of the items we delivered to the playa . By September 14, the material remaining on the city site was limited to a small quantity of barrels containing ash and debris, which were located near the larger burn areas such as the Temple of Honor and the House of Cards. At that time, DPW transportation for the 2003 event was deemed complete.
Transportation for 2003 went very well. According to other departments, it was our best year with regard to our efforts. This success can be ascribed to 3 key elements: 1) the incredible effort made by the DPW transportation crew; 2) the greater use of shipping containers by the various departments and theme camps; and 3) the close direction and supervision of the operation. By focusing on these 3 elements in the future, the transportation process can become a much more efficient operation in the DPW.
Travis Stone (aka DJ Blankit)
DPW Transportation Manager