By Faith DeAmbrose, Ellsworth American

BAR HARBOR — Nearly minute by minute, area residents tracked the last 45 miles of a 1,400-mile trip to deliver a 200,000-pound building to Mount Desert Island Hospital.

Those last 45 miles took nearly 10 hours to complete, but when the driver, Mike Saxton of Trans-United Trucking, reached his destination July 15, much to his surprise, he was met with applause and admiration for a job well done — even after holding up traffic at the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and again for four hours in Northeast Harbor.

Saxton began his journey in Hartland, Wisconsin. There, he loaded a specially reinforced, lead-lined building and began his trip to Maine. Despite being delayed in Ohio and being rerouted in Kentucky, it was mostly smooth sailing until the Penobscot Narrows Bridge to Verona Island. The trailer got fetched up there July 14 while trying to take a left-hand turn onto the bridge and was stuck for a few hours. Maine law does not allow a driver with an oversized load to travel after dark, so once freed, Saxton continued to a weigh station on Bucksport Road, where he spent the night before continuing to Bar Harbor.

MDI Hospital President/CEO Chrissi Maguire explained that the route the driver had to follow was dictated by state and local transit officials. But last-minute changes were made to accommodate a large construction project in Brewer at the highway 395 off-ramp, forcing the truck to take secondary roads to Verona Island.

Maguire, like others in the community, saw images of the truck stuck at the bridge last Wednesday and said she wondered why it was there.

“That wasn’t the original route,” she said, which had been arranged “months ago.”

After the truck and building left the weigh station, they made it through Ellsworth and Trenton without incident. When they reached Somesville, Saxton had to get out and remove a road sign from a center median, but then continued unimpeded until he reached Northeast Harbor. There, power lines had to be adjusted and a tire on the trailer had to be changed before the truck could continue its journey.

According to Judy Long, manager of communications and brand with Versant Power, a crew was sent to adjust the wire tension on a pole, which allowed room for the unit to pass beneath. The crew stayed with the driver for the remainder of the trip, said Long, “to make sure it did not encounter any height-related issues with electrical infrastructure on the rest of its journey.”

Along the way, passersby took photos and shared them to a popular Facebook page that tracks local traffic conditions. Hundreds of people joined the conversation and shared information, most sympathizing with Saxton, who had a nearly impossible task. One person even brought Saxton doughnuts while he was stuck for hours in Northeast Harbor.

When Saxton finally made it to the delivery point — the ball field on lower Main Street — the building was placed on cribbing so he could remove the trailer underneath. A second truck from Dagan Trucking then maneuvered under the building, the cribbing was removed, and the building was backed onto the hospital campus where a crane moved it to its foundation.

Once construction is complete, the building will attach to the hospital and will allow for access from both inside and outside of the main hospital building.

Because of the specific requirements of the building, Maguire said it could not be built on site but added that local contractors were used for all the associated construction needs. She also said the hospital had hoped to make this move earlier in the season, but construction and weather delays kept pushing the project back.

Maguire said the actual MRI unit will be delivered in approximately three weeks and will be lifted by crane into the building through a special hatch built into the roof. After installation, the unit will be tested and then inspected by the state before staff training begins. Maguire said she expects the MRI to be fully operational at the end of August, possibly the beginning of September.

The MRI machine, once installed, will allow for state-of-the-art scans, said Maguire, noting that “there is nothing like this in the region.” She said it is less constrictive than MRI machines of the past and will allow for partial scans to be done. The current MRI, which is housed in a trailer on campus, is leased and will be returned at the end of August.

“I can’t express enough thanks to everyone who pitched in to make this happen,” Maguire said.

As for Saxton, who had been on the road for almost two weeks, the hospital put him up at a hotel in town and paid for his dinner Thursday night. And if that wasn’t enough hospitality, a group of island residents are trying to make sure his only memory of MDI is not of being stuck over by the Asticou Inn. A GoFundMe account was established by Molly Damon with the express purpose of bringing Saxton back to the island under better — and more leisurely — circumstances.

“Let’s get him a proper vacation,” said Damon, in the fundraiser’s description. As of press time, $2,500 of the established $3,000 goal has been raised.