Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Morning Run To The Mine

Sorry folks, this one’s a bit longer than normal.

Most construction jobs start at 7 am; that’s why my company expects us to have our pretrip done and be in the dispatch room at 6:45. By 7, we’re all on our way to the slag yards to load up and get product to the sites. (I need to learn to call them “stone yards,” since slag is a rare commodity, now that little iron and steel are made in this country. Sand has replaced cinders and limestone has replaced slag in this day and age.*) Since the site that I was hauling to Monday was on the far side of the mine, and in the next county, it made sense to pick it up there, rather than load at the local yard and haul the weight the extra distance.
It had rained on Sunday, so the well-sites would be too muddy to deliver to, thus most companies were scrambling to fill orders that didn’t depend on the weather, until the mud dried out in a day or two. Many were filling various Department of Highway orders for supplies that the DOH keeps on hand in their own supply yards. The drive east on the modern four lane version of the old Northwestern Pike consisted of driving into what I call “bright fog,”—fog thin enough that the sun was back-lighting it, but thick enough that you couldn’t easily see through it. My clip-on polarized sunglasses helped cut down the blinding glare. In the distance, I saw the lead truck in our little five-truck flock turn on his signal, one by one, those of us following did the same.

I was surprised how dry the access road was already, after rain the day before and the current fog. Guess good ditching and a deep bed of limestone helps. Going in, I saw not only the usual native pioneer plants on the roadsides, but a few non-natives as well. Multiflora rose abounded, as did autumn olive, what appeared to be pampas grass, and several young specimens of pawlonia tomintosa or “princess tree,” a native of China. They had apparently sown ceresa lespedeza soon after the road had been graded in years ago, for it was thick everywhere. The native boneset plants were thick in a couple spots, but they were probably covered with diesel-laden road grime. Most days, they’re also covered with a thick layer of limestone dust from the road. I swear there were little puffs of dust coming up from the wheels of the trucks ahead of me. By noon, the water truck from the mine would probably be spraying the road to keep down the dust. He never seems to be able to keep up, however. Even though he sprays all day, I’ve seen times when clouds of dust swallow the truck in front of you, and the dust cloud over the little valley that they reamed out to form their yard looks like pictures of smog hanging over Los Angeles.

I soon pass the gate, with its signage telling me what the place is, that they have security cameras, that there’s a $10,000 fine for getting out of your truck, that they monitor CB channel 3, and that the speed limit on the grounds is 10 mph. All that concern for my safety makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy inside. Arriving at the scale house, I see probably 50 trucks lined up waiting their turn to get their “tare” or “lightweight,” the weight of their truck when it’s empty. Most are in little ranks and files of about 10 trucks, often at different angles to the other groups. They count on the honesty of each driver who started each group to be certain that everyone stays in order. Of course, 50 sets of eyes and CB radios would keep them straight, too.

After weighing again when loaded, they’ll know the weight for which to charge the customer. They usually just get a tare weight on Monday of each week, and use that weight all week. When you’re dealing in tons, a few pounds here and there don’t matter. Today, though, many of the trucks are hauling to various DOH sites, and they demand a tare FOR EACH LOAD. I’m sure the government bean counters don’t realize that the time the trucks sit in line has to be covered by dollars charged in the contracts, while the practice saves them a few pennies, at most. My grandfather used to talk about folks who’d spend a dollar to save a dime.
If you know where the material is located that you want, you simply back up to the pile so that the loader man can load you from the driver’s side. Otherwise, you can ask him on the CB and he’ll tell you where to find them. Many “gravels” are classed by numbers like 57’s, or 467’s. That isn’t just a random number, but shows that shows that the pile is a blend of sizes 5 and 7, or 4, 6, and 7. I haven’t yet figured out how those numbers correspond to inch measurements, but I will. The big end-loaders have scoops that can load over 10 tons at a time, so sometimes the 22 ton loads we usually carry are only two scoops. Usually, though, they have to add a partial scoop, as well. I think they have a somewhat inaccurate scale built into the loader, but it puts you in the ballpark, at least. When you’re loaded, the loader man will either tell you on the CB or give you a thumbs-up, at which time you can either give him a wave of thanks and acknowledgment, or tell him thanks on the CB.

They have little signs directing those exiting to do so by basically driving the perimeter of the yard. On the berm around the yard are strewn stones of light brick red, dark grey and golden brown. I assume them to be color variations of limestone, since the texture looks the same from my truck cab. If it wouldn’t cost me 10 grand, I’d stop and get a sample of each to take home and examine. (I notice that they use the stuff themselves, but they don’t seem to include it in the product they sell. Uniformity of color is a selling point, no doubt.) After getting my truck weighed again and a receipt for the customer showing that weight, I head off to make the delivery. I retrace my route coming in from the hard road, put my cheater axle down when I get there and start my first of several deliveries for the day. The fog is beginning to burn off as I head east on the Northwestern Turnpike, and it looks as if it might be another good day to be on the road.

*I think it’s ridiculous that we have allowed our smelters and foundries to close, put our ore mines, ore boats and trains out of commission (usually scrapping them), are selling all of our scrap iron overseas, and have closed our steel and iron casting and milling operations. Not only will we be held hostage to prices charged by other countries, but if prolonged war ever comes, we not only will no longer have the facilities for production, but will have let the knowledge of operating such things die as well. Furthermore, I read the other day that ALL of the “smart” parts used in our current weaponry are manufactured overseas. It’s a heck of a way to run a country! © 2014


Chickenmom said...

Like your tales of life in the cab! Glad to know the CB is still being used, too. And you are right about having everything imported. It's a big, big mistake.

Gorges Smythe said...

Glad you enjoy them, Cm. I was surprised how much the CB IS still used, though nothing like it was when I was on the road 30 years ago. I think if the Lord delays His coming, we'll regret sending those technologies overseas someday.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

An interesting story that I could hear nowhere else. You are picking up well and will have valuable experience should you have to find another job one day. You never can tell when some fool will find a reason to outlaw what you do to save the planet, just like how they got rid of all the other business. They did nothing but move the problem to the other side of the world where they don't try to prevent pollution.

Gorges Smythe said...

The Lord has done a good job of looking after me so far, despite my whining, so I'm sure He'll guide me should things turn sour, SF.

Sixbears said...

I used to do a lot of trips to the local gravel pit. My pickup could handle a ton of material. The loader guy could just about hit it right on the money every time.

We just might have to restart industry from nothing someday. It won't be easy, quick or pretty.

Gorges Smythe said...

You've got THAT right, Sixbears!