25 March 2024

Buying and moving the Big Merino

| John Thistleton
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Goulburn's Big Merino being transported down the main street

Steady as she goes. Rambo heads to its new home on 26 May, 2007. Photo: Big Merino.

Goulburn entrepreneurs Robert Rampton and Steve Jones recall the idea of relocating the Big Merino to the city’s southern outskirts began while talking over a few beers.

“Do you reckon we should ask those blokes who own the Big Merino whether we can buy it off ’em?” one of them had said.

In 2007 they partnered with another Goulburn man, Frazer Roberts, to buy and move the 15.2-metre-high, 97-tonne giant ram 800 metres to their service station near the Hume Highway turnoff.

They made an unsolicited offer to the Big Merino owner Paul Gallagher. He doubled the asking price and they agreed.

“We had to demolish the existing shop, strip it all back so we could get a truck in underneath it, prepare it to be moved,” Robert said.

They had never done anything like this venture. Robert was in the construction business when he teamed up with his accountant Steve in 1995 to buy ex-housing commission homes for about $50,000, refurbish and sell them. Their partnership evolved from there.

Well before the Rambo idea surfaced they were building 10 units in Penrith when they met specialists in moving massive objects like oversized generators, planes and huge mining trucks.

“We didn’t have any contacts down there (Penrith) and I got Kim Deegan (Goulburn transport operator) to take down a backhoe I had so we could start earthworks,” Robert said. In Penrith looking for somewhere to unload the backhoe he found a suitable site where cranes and trucks were parked.

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“So I pulled in and asked, ‘Any chance we could get you to unload a backhoe for us?’ They said, ‘No problem.’”

The Goulburn partners quickly built a rapport with the company, Rex J. Andrews, a national heavy haulage operator. “When this came up [moving Rambo] I took a trip down and saw them,” Robert said.

The heavy lifters leapt at the opportunity.

“They charged us $20,000, that wouldn’t even cover the cost of the trucks and the escort vehicles,” Robert said.

Fearful Rambo, by now a nationally known attraction, could be damaged, Goulburn Mulwaree Council insisted on $1 million insurance before giving approval to shift the ram. The premium was $16,000 for one day’s cover.

Rex Andrews was confident they wouldn’t need the insurance. He recounted how his son Howard, a mechanical engineer who years earlier had designed a special trailer for big jobs, took charge of all the engineering calculations.

the Big Merino

Raising awareness for everything from testicular cancer, depression to spy festivals, the Big Merino is an ever-ready supporter of Goulburn causes, and a meeting place for many thousands of people every year. Photo: Robert Rampton.

“You couldn’t lift it [Rambo], you had to get the trailer under the foundations, then attach it to the trailer,” Rex said. “The only way to lift was using the trailer’s hydraulic suspension, there was no way of getting hold of it with a crane. Once in position, the trailer’s hydraulics lifted the sheep rather effortlessly,” he said.

On arrival at its new home Rambo was positioned carefully with low tolerance for error, onto foundations already embedded in concrete.

“They welded the Big Merino to the foundations and we drove out from underneath it. It was all very simple when you look at it. It is not a complicated task, it’s just that you have to get it right.”

That took three days of preparation before actually moving anything. “You lift it, drive out the gate and two hours later it’s on the foundation at the other end and you drive away,” Rex said.

Rambo’s new owners had to pay the then Roads and Traffic Authority for road closures, Divalls for building and removing road base ramps, and new concrete and steelwork for the giant ram’s new location.

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Four crews from Country Energy had to take down and reinstall 36 sets of power lines. All up the costs totalled about $200,000.

The Goulburn entrepreneurs engaged a media manager to handle inquiries from news outlets around the world, such was the widespread interest. They gave each resident along the route a $100 gift voucher for the service station shop to compensate for any inconvenience on moving day.

“We all put whatever we had on the line to do that,” Robert said. “It was the biggest development we had ever done. All the service stations, all the major oil companies said it won’t work.”

Steve added: “They said you will be lucky to do 100,000 litres [of fuel] a month. When we leased it 10 years later, we were doing 700,000 litres a week.”

Much like establishing Roses Cafe years later, once Rambo arrived at their service station, they had a new destination for Goulburn.

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