Wheeler open house: Jobs for local people
It may seem that the area's economy is in a bit of a doldrums because of what many call the "War on Coal." But in some ways that has been a fact of life ever since coal was discovered and started being mined in the area. The coal industry has always been volatile.
Also affected by any downturn in the area, are the suppliers of equipment and materials to mines. If a coal mine closes or slows down, those in support business feel the impact too.
But while that may be a fact, many companies have begun to expand their operations outside the area, while keeping their base facilities in Castle Country. That also keeps jobs in the area.
Recently, what appears to be the final transition of a company that moved a few years ago from the Carbonville area to Huntington, was finalized.
Once known as DBT in Carbonville then Bucyrus in Huntington and then as a Caterpillar company operation, the mining equipment repair facility that is located on the north end of Huntington has now become Wheeler, which is well known as a dealer in the intermountain area for Caterpillar. The company held an open house to introduce the public and businesses to the new operation which will continue to do things it has done before; repair and refurbish mining equipment.
What took many by surprise as the tours were conducted was the fact that most of the work done in the shops there does not originate in the coal regions of eastern Utah. Instead displayed pieces of equipment being rebuilt or worked on came from other states all the way from Illinois to New Mexico. The operations there are not confined to the U.S. either. Plant employees are rebuilding machines from Canada and Mexico as well.
"These pieces of equipment and their repair keep jobs here," said Facilities Manager Steve Martinez.
The operation sports some of the newest innovations in the repair of mining equipment. Two 50 ton cranes above the shop floor give the facility a leg up on many other similar repair facilities.
"We can lift up to 100 tons with those," said Martinez, "We have done that on a number of occasions."
Huge pieces of equipment are used to handle such things as removing parts from mining machines. But besides the size of what is being dealt with, the efficiency of the operation has also reached new stages of development.
In the parts department, where repair systems are stacked three stories high, computerized shuttle equipment is used to select parts that are needed, even full kits for a rebuild of one system or another.
"For years we used this to pick the parts we needed," said Martinez as he pointed to a rolling ladder that sat stuffed away in a corner amongst huge drawers in cabinets that stood two stories tall. "There was a lot of ups and downs."
Then he took the tour over to a rack where parts appear from a huge machine that is controlled by a computer. The operator punches in the numbers of the parts needed and in a few minutes they show up as a door opens and the entire compliment of what is needed lays on a tray.
The shop also repairs the finer points of equipment used in mines. In the last 30 years electronics have become more and more involved in the operation of mining equipment. For instance the first long wall machines were controlled entirely by using levers and switches and were basically manual in operation.
Now computers control them. In fact a coal seam that rolls, one that is not even or a vertical seam can be mined by a long wall, and that machine will follow the contours of the coal and rock.
This guidance is similar to what a missile uses to keep its trajectory correct.
The advance of equipment in all forms has led to more highly trained maintenance personnel. It continues to be an advancing field which bodes well for good paying jobs in the operation.
Best of all, much of the money that comes in for repairing equipment, comes in from outside the area and that pays salaries to those that work and live here.