From left, Derek, 13, Alex, 7, Baryn, 5, and Fletch Suessmier look from the top of Trapper Mining's new front-end loader. The loader, created by LeTourneau Technologies in Longview, Texas, is one of five in the world and the largest of its kind. Each tire costs $100,000 and is covered in chains costing $40,000.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

From left, Derek, 13, Alex, 7, Baryn, 5, and Fletch Suessmier look from the top of Trapper Mining's new front-end loader. The loader, created by LeTourneau Technologies in Longview, Texas, is one of five in the world and the largest of its kind. Each tire costs $100,000 and is covered in chains costing $40,000.

Trapper Mining buys $22M worth of equipment

New front-end loader is largest of its kind in the world

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Susan Wilson looks at a massive wheel of the new front-end loader at Trapper Mining during an employee barbecue at the mine Thursday.

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Visitors to Trapper mine walk up and down a staircase built onto one of the mine's four new end dump trucks. Each truck has more than double the capacity of the mine's former biggest trucks.

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Tyler Barrett, 7, walks around on top of Trapper mine's new front-end loader. The machine is part of $22 million in new large equipment purchases at the mine this year.

One rubber tire on the new front-end loader at Trapper Mining costs about $100,000 and carries $40,000 in chains to pull it through the mud.

The loader, which the mine purchased earlier this year, is about three stories high, has a 2,300-horsepower V16 engine and a top speed of about 13 miles an hour.

It dwarfs any other loader at the mine, as it should.

The behemoth built by LeTourneau Technologies, of Longview, Texas, is one of five such machines in the world.

"That's an incredible machine, isn't it?" said Ray Beck, a Craig city councilor who attended an employee barbecue that drew about 500 people Thursday at the mine, including other political and community leaders.

The LeTourneau loader is part of about $22 million in new large equipment purchases at the mine.

In addition, the mine acquired four new end dump trucks, each with the capacity to haul more than twice as much material as the largest trucks at the mine before.

At a time when the federal government seems, at best, ambivalent about coal's future, the massive equipment was a reminder of the strong state of the coal industry.

"We feel real good about the investment," said Ray DuBois, Trapper president and general manager. "Even if the federal government decides today we won't burn anymore coal, it'd be years - decades - before you'd replace it."

Coal provides the country with more than 50 percent of its total electricity and more than 70 percent of electricity consumed in Colorado, DuBois said.

"With power demands going up, that demand for coal is only going to go up," he said.

The new equipment essentially will replace the role of two of the mine's three towering draglines - as seen from Craig working along the ridgeline south of town - in a new mining pit DuBois said he expects will open in about a month.

Employees will train on the equipment in a new section of an old pit until then.

Just as the draglines do each day now, the new equipment will be used to haul dirt and rocks out of the pits, not coal.

"For the last 32 years, all the dirt work has been the draglines," he said. "This will be a change."

DuBois said the reason they bought the equipment dates back to 2006, when a landslide encompassing almost 200 acres closed down a portion of land mine officials plan to tap.

To get back into the slide area, the mine needed equipment that could strategically dump rocks and dirt in a place where it could help keep another landslide from happening, DuBois said.

Draglines can move material about 600 feet.

However, mine officials decided the best place to set excess material would be about a mile south of the mine, on the other side of the ridgeline.

Enter the new loader and dump trucks, which will be able to put dirt wherever anybody wants it.

Despite the size, LeTourneau field mechanic Tucker Johnson said he and a small crew had the world's largest front-end loader built in four days.

He said driving it is fun, if a little different than most vehicles.

"There are some blind spots," Johnson said with a smile. "Just a few."

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