January 26th, 2010 was a great day. The fact that it was even colder than today’s bitter winter Monday didn’t dampen my spirits, as I was on site for the move of the Falkirk Mine’s dragline “Chief Ironsides” from the west side of Highway 83 to the east side. I was being paid to document the occasion, as it happens very infrequently. I’m glad I dressed in layers; while Sunday’s low in the area was -7 with a mean temp of 12, the low that day was -4 with a mean temp of -2. I’m using the mean temperature for the title of this post.
In order for Tuesday’s dragline walk, enormous preparations had to be made. For instance, a gap in the power lines running parallel to Highway 83 had to be made. The machines are simply too tall to go under. The railroad tracks had to be covered as well.
Next, a compacted dirt road several feet thick had to be constructed. This served the purpose of protecting the paved road as well as creating a level deck for the scoop and draglines to traverse.
Crews worked from each side of Highway 83, meeting in the middle. Enormous excavators filled dump trucks, which deposited their dirt at the end of the constructed road on their side. Big dozers pushed it into place, and the biggest grader I’ve ever seen did the grooming.
A bed of shredded straw was placed on the highway prior to the dirt work, presumably to aid in the cleanup. This way the dirt wasn’t plastered onto the roadway below. I got to stand really close to where these guys were doing their dirt work, but at a safe distance. Of course I brought my hard hat, vest, and safety glasses with, and I had an escort the whole time to make sure I wasn’t in danger.
With the road complete, it was time to get the “small” stuff across. The two machines in this shot are on tracks, simply driving across instead of the meticulous “walking” of the big dragline.
This equipment is electric, running with giant extension cords that lead back to the power plant. When they need to take a trek like this, the smaller ones are powered by a generator on a trailer. The truck follows dutifully behind or beside this scoop shovel as it tracks across.
For bigger equipment such as this tracked dragline or the big Chief Ironsides, they operate tethered to their usual power source. There’s a new power cable waiting for them on the other side.
This “little” tractor isn’t so little. Its sole purpose in life is to guide the electrical cable supplying power to the big dragline. It’s got a hoop-shaped guide on the back that is used to push the cable around to where it needs to be.
Weather delayed things a bit, but we finally got going just before sunset. That made for some challenges with shooting video. Stills are one thing in low light, but HD video is another. The main shot I was set up for was a time lapse of the roadway crossing, and the light was changing on me very quickly.
It was quite dark by the time the thirteen million pound behemoth, controlled by a woman named Melody, crossed the road. There was a thick dirt road constructed across Highway 83 just for this purpose, since the dragline needs a level deck for moving. It also protected the highway from the immense weight of the machine.
There was a dedicated crew for this task; the rest of the mine’s operations didn’t skip a beat. Talk about a daunting task: close the highway, build a new road capable of handing a thirteen million pound load, get the equipment across, then remove that road…all within 24 hours. Great job, gang! That’s an impressive day’s work.
I froze myself silly, but I got the shots. I had one HD camera, tucked in the Suburban parked sideways in the median due to wind, doing the 1080p time lapse while I ran around getting other angles and video footage with a second HD camera. Of course I kept my trusty still camera bag with me at all times. Thankfully I dressed really warm, and had a real blast!