The Four Corners area is replete with minerals other than oil and gas. In the area surrounding Farmington and further south and west are some of the largest coal reserves in the Western U.S., both aboveground and underground. It’s no surprise that if on the one hand large coal-fired power plants are in abundance then on the other hand fuel will be needed to feed the voracious coal eaters.

Surface coal mining is a multi-step process. First the soil and rock layers covering the coal seams must be removed to provide access to the coal. The chosen tool for that job is a modern drag-line, only super-sized. These giants walk and dig their way across the landscape following a carefully plotted course as they lay bare the coal-rich seams. Actually, walking is almost an exaggeration – the machines are only capable of speeding along at something approaching an eighth of a mile per hour…whoosh!

Amazing to watch in action, the skilled dragline operators accomplish an almost ballet-like grace as they swing the boom and actually “cast” the bucket in a non-stop performance. First they swing the boom, cast the bucket and then drag it back toward the machine to fill it with rock and soil, called overburden. That doesn't actually sound too impressive until you consider that the little bucket holds in excess of 100 yards of material, an amount equal to four big dump truck loads and the boom is longer than a football field including both end zones.

Also mind boggling are the haul trucks, each capable of transporting enormous loads of overburden or coal on their six to ten wheels and tires, each over 16-feet in height. Wouldn't you love to have one of those in rush hour traffic? These big movers transport the coal to the milling facilities and then later play a part in returning the landscape to its original condition and contours, typically with better than original native plants and grasses.

All of the mine equipment must be maintained, every weld on every machine inspected on a schedule, repaired as needed and then, in turn, inspected. In some cases cracks or weld faults may be monitored for months by our technicians to assure that the equipment may continue to be safely operated until a scheduled “outage” when the huge machines are taken down for major repair and maintenance.

To the south and west into Arizona are huge copper deposits and numerous surface mines and the entire Four Corners area was home to most of the uranium mining and refining activities during that mineral’s boom years in the late 40’s and early 50’s. Today mining and refining continues but to a much lesser degree, but both mines and mills require constant maintenance, repair and inspection.