Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Freeport McMoRan Morenci Copper Mine

Even though we're back home now, I still have more vacation photos to share. This post documents a special treat I enjoyed during our stay with the Pickle family: Steve showed me around his workplace. This is not just any workplace -- Steve works at one of the largest open pit mines in the world, that not only has a lot of neat machines on site, but a lot of those are Caterpillar machines.

Here are three of the many Cat 793D trucks that haul rock at this mine. You'll see in a later photo that the bumper on the front of these trucks is about 6 feet off the ground, just to put things in perspective. You'll notice the trucks are driving on the left side of the road (like they do in England) even though the drivers sit on the left side of the vehicle. Even though there are huge berms along the sides of every road in the mine, placing the driver next to the edge of the road allows them to avoid unexpected trips over cliffs. These trucks can easily roll over the top of a pickup, so the mine is very careful to control traffic around these vehicles.

The trucks are filled by shovels that clean up material left when the side of the cliff is blown away by explosives, and the trucks carry the rock to sites like this: a large basin where the rock is loaded on conveyors to move to the next processing area. Mining copper isn't like mining coal or diamonds, those materials are distinct from the rock around them and easily separated. Rock that contains copper must be crushed, drawn into solution with acid, and then plated back out of solution with electrolysis. The copper is then removed in sheets and shipped in bulk.

The sloping conveyor in the background has transported the pile of rock you see beneath it, which will be transferred to the cylinders closest to the camera. I believe those pulverize the rock so the copper can more easily be drawn into solution in a later step. The light colored plain beyond the conveyor is the rejected material left after the copper has been removed, aka tailings. It has been spread at that location for decades, and has literally filled a valley.

Steve's department maintains the infrastructure of the mine, supporting the production equipment in numerous ways. One of those ways is offering crane support when the conveyors need to be moved. In this picture, two men on the blue manlift remove caked-on dirt from the conveyor supporting structure so the crane doesn't have to lift more than necessary. The yellow crane on the left is simply managing the support legs, one of which is laying on the slope behind it. The conveyor itself was lifted by a 300 ton crane that is out of the picture behind me.

I've enjoyed trips on trains in the past, but never as a passenger in the locomotive. That experience has now been realized thanks to Steve and his crew. Steve's department also manages the trains that haul cars between the mine and a small railyard in Clifton nearby. In this picture we were taking four locomotives down the 4.5° slope to town where several cars were waiting for us.

Here's a view of the loaded train making its way back up the mountain pulling six tankers full of sulfuric acid and one empty gondola. Lots of curves on the route, and plenty of crossings so the engineers can blow the horn!

Here we are safely back in the yard at the mine where Vince and Jose have safely completed another journey. Most of their trips are uneventful in a good way, although they did share a story with us about a runaway train and derailment one of them experienced early in his career. Not joking, they told me to be prepared to jump out of the train should they instruct me to. I was very attentive the entire trip.

Looming over the massive structures in the foreground is the largest crane in the mine, capable of lifting 500 tons! When we visited this work site the crane was loading the pieces of a large shovel onto trucks so the shovel could be reassembled at another mine. When we left town a couple days later, we saw one of those trucks on the highway with his escort vehicles. The shovel bucket on the right is large enough to drive a pickup inside it, and is probably about the size of my first apartment.

A trip to a mine would be incomplete without a visit to the maintenance/repair building. Several of the 793D trucks were in various states of disassembly in the building, and along with the track-type tractors, made me feel right at home.

Here are the sheets of the finished product. Each bundle weighs about 6,400 pounds, so this image contains about $2,000,000 of copper sitting here waiting for shipment.

The wives and kids joined us for lunch at a nearby park, so here's a shot of the youngsters with the mine behind them.

This is the view over their shoulders. I've stitched together several images to make this one, so it's not perfect, but it does give you some sense of the size of at least one part of the mine. Click on the image to see the larger version of this image. Thanks for visiting!


  1. My goodness, Noah would have loved to visit a place like that! And what fun to take a train ride.

    Speaking of Noah, you might be interested to know that he is going to be starting to mow our yard this week (do you remember our lawn mowing discussions?) A member of our church owns a small motor repair business where they service lots of mowers. Well, his wife came up to me after Wednesday night service to ask me if we'd be home later that evening. And about an hour after we got home, they brought over a lawn mower for us to keep! What a wonderful blessing as you can imagine.

    It was funny too, because just a few days previous to that I talked to the fellow who organizes the church lawn mowing and said that Noah would be happy to come and assist with the lawn mowing... kind of do the grunt work in exchange for being taught the proper way to mow and trim, etc. (He is so excited!) I just thought it was so neat that Noah will be having someone teach him at just the time when he has "his own" mower. The timing is just perfect... God's timing♥

    Well, I've droned on long enough about something that most folks will find pretty boring- lawn mowing! lol! But it's just thrilling to me to see how the Lord works out all of these sorts of tiny "unimportant" details so perfectly. He is so good.

  2. Well, originally I didn't post a comment on this post, not because I didn't think it's interesting -- it is... I just didn't want to get too annoying ;-)

    After listening to Mr. Pickle talk about his work, it really does look like an interesting project they have going down there. It almost seems like an entire city working on one project. And simply taking in the enormous size of the mine is stunning.

    Those 793Ds are awesome!! I was looking at Cat's website with the specs on that model... a 1150 gal. tank for fuel?!?!?! Gross weight of 840000 lbs? Wow, that thing is huge....

  3. Diane -- I was hoping Noah and the other male readers would enjoy this post. Thanks for sharing the good news about Noah's mowing opportunities; we're praising God with you for his grace in putting all the details together for Noah.

    Emil -- We'd much rather be annoyed by too many comments than by a lack of comments. There have been plenty of "wow" moments during my years of working with large construction equipment, but realizing how much fuel those machines burn was one of the most memorable. My personal vehicles might burn 2-3 gallons of fuel per hour, but these machines burn dozens of gallons per hour! Hence the large fuel tanks.

  4. Noah says, "Thank you for putting this up. I love construction! Those trucks are so big they have a stairway to get inside!I actually helped someone build there kitchen. I drove a excavator! It was very small compared to those vehicles. It was still cool though."

  5. Noah -- I'm glad you enjoyed it. I also think it's fun to operate construction equipment regardless of the size. You're pretty fortunate to have operated an excavator at your age, usually you have to live on a farm to have those kind of privileges. In fact, one of our neighbor's boys thinks it's unfair that 8-year-olds can't have driver's licenses!

    Emil -- under heavy use, a 793D truck can burn as much as 60 gallons of fuel per hour. With a 1150 gallon fuel tank, that allows a customer to operate that truck all day (~20 hours) without refueling.

  6. HI I wanted to post to your site as I work at this mine. I am a 35 yr old female, married with 3 kids. My husband and I work at this mine, its a great place. It is never a dull moment here. Right now we are getting snow and rain, it makes for a fun night shift. The mine is constantly changing. I would suggest if you are ever in the area to stop on by and take a mine tour. I enjoyed your post, and the pictures were great too.

  7. I will start working in Morenci´s mine this year. I would like to know any comment about the enviroment for kids in the town, what about the kindergarten and daycare, living in Morenci?
    I appreciate your time to respond.