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!