EAST MANATEE — Imagine you are in a truck hauling a 900-pound steel beam collected from Tower 1 of the World Trade Center.
Imagine word gets out that you are carrying an important piece of American history and motorcycles begin to surround your truck and your trailer like drones around a queen bee, intent on escorting you back to your hometown.
Imagine that every moment you look outside as you hit your home state you see strangers waving American flags at you from overpasses and firefighters hanging on hook and ladder fire trucks, saluting you as you roar past.
Imagine you are expected to arrive in your hometown at 8 p.m. but due to a flat tire you arrive exactly at 9:11 p.m.
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Imagine all this is a dream or fantasy and you would be right about 99 percent of the time.
But it actually happened to four Manatee County men as they wrapped up Sunday night the transport of a piece of World Trade Center steel from a warehouse in New York to Bradenton.
Brad Ranney, fire commissioner of Southern Manatee Fire and Rescue, along with his son, Bradly , architect Dallas Leitner and firefighter Ryan Kaliher arrived at Firkin & Fox Restaurant on Manatee Avenue East in Bradenton at exactly 9:11 p.m.
They received a hero’s welcome at the restaurant, where about 300 had gathered to take pictures of the beam with their cell phones and generally be close to it.
“This is a great day for Bradenton and for our fire departments,” said Bradenton mayor Wayne Poston.
“It’s all kind of neat,” said Gary Norman, who drove his motorcycle from his home in Sarasota County to meet the beam in Daytona and drive back with it.
“It’s amazing we pulled in at 9:11. They couldn’t have known that. They were just pushing hard to get home.”
The beam they brought is scheduled to be the centerpiece of a memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which brought down the World Trade Center towers, including this rusty beam.
“You have no idea what we are feeling right now,” Brad Ranney said by cell phone from their white GMC pickup at about 7 p.m. Sunday, when his team was hitting Orlando, still a couple of hours from home.
The 14-by-7-foot enclosed trailer they were hauling had pictures on both sides that told a patriotic story, one that people driving by reacted to, the men said.
“The whole side is an American flag,” Ranney said of the trailer. “It explained it was part of a fallen hero memorial ride and included the words, ‘Official transport World Trade Center Steel future monument.’
“Right now, I got probably 30 bikes in front of me and when I look in the rearview mirror, I don’t see the end of it, just a field of headlights. The feelings are overwhelming.”
“We feel the patriotism,” Ranney added, commenting as the truck rolled along. “I’ve seen men waving flags. I saw a police officer standing on the side of the highway saluting. We’ve drawn a lot of firefighters to ride with us as well as law enforcement. But there are also people of all kinds.”
The memorial is to be dedicated on the ninth anniversary of the attack, which is in less than two months.
Designed by Leitner, the memorial will have two vertical elements representing the fallen towers with the Pentagon in the background and an airplane angled on granite.
A flat tire in Georgia pushed the arrival of the beam and its motorcycle entourage back.
Leitner also felt the pulse of history in the making.
“The whole trip has been emotional,” he said. “You are not really sure what you should feel. This beam was supporting a window column in the lower portion of Tower 1 where people lost their lives.”
While Ranney’s crew fixed the flat tire, the motorcycles sat by the roadside in the hot sun to wait.
“They could have gone home, but they waited for us,” Ranney said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.