The Cambrian

Mystery of huge rocket tube on Highway 1 in Cambria solved

The big rig carrying a giant tube — the rig that was parked in a North Coast pullout alongside Highway 1 on Jan. 22 — was indeed heading on an unusual route to Vandenberg Air Force Base, according to the man who coordinated the CHP escort.

Sgt. Bob McAdoo, who was promoted to his new rank Wednesday, Jan. 31, said the payload on the rig was a well-wrapped SpaceX rocket tube, and yes, it was big.

McAdoo estimated that the whole configuration, truck and all, was about 110 feet long and 16 feet wide.

Attention-getting, to say the least. And social media was abuzz that night about the sighting and what the tube was, with guesses ranging from tongue-in-cheek references about aliens to the accurate assessment of something rocket related.

McAdoo agreed that the rig was an unusual sight on the North Coast.

CHP escorts lots of oversized loads to Vandenberg, he said in a phone interview, but rarely heads that way. However, this time, the normal routes were blocked … in Montecito by the mudslide that buried Highway 101 and by accidents on the alternate route of Highway 166.

“We can’t go straight down 101,” from the Paso Robles area, McAdoo said, “because we wouldn’t make it under the railroad bridge at California” Boulevard in San Luis Obispo.

So, the local CHP picked up the transport in Kern County and brought it to the Highway 1 pullout just south of Highway 46, where it sat until about 9 p.m., when traffic volume drops and moving something that big is easier and safer. Five off-duty CHP officers paid by SpaceX (not taxpayers, McAdoo stressed) escorted the rig down Los Osos Valley Road to Foothill. The next night, the rig was escorted to Vandenberg, where it was delivered in the wee hours of the next morning.

The rig and its payload didn’t appear to be top secret, McAdoo said. “It was parked at the side of the road,” after all. However, when a local source stopped to ask about the giant tube on the trailer, saying, “Is this what I think it is?”, a man in black told him to “get back in the car and don’t take pictures,” according to sources who asked to remain anonymous.

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