Energy Blend: Q&A with David Barnhart, electrician for Trapper Mine
To gain an inside perspective of employment in a local mine, we caught up with Trapper Mine electrician David Barnhart, who spoke about his job, the importance of area mines and the future of the mining industry.
What does your job entail?
The maintenance of the big draglines that are working in the pits there and the big Komatsu dump trucks. That keeps us awful busy. That, and all the power systems in all the shops and the offices. I’ve been there a little over seven years. I was a mechanic for five years.
What do you feel is the most important part of the work done by area mines?
Providing affordable energy for America. I think one of the common things that all powerful countries have in common is the availability of affordable power. If our factories can’t operate effectively without going bankrupt over their power bill, that’s not good.
How do you feel people in the industry see the future?
It’s hopeful. The morale is definitely a lot brighter than it was a few years ago, but we know there’s still a war on coal. You never know what’s going to happen, because one signature could end all coal mining. Just throughout Craig and Northwest Colorado, there was a lot of uncertainty a few years ago, so we all try to keep our heads up and stay hopeful. You kind of have to focus day-to-day and make the best out of it.
About how many people do you work with directly each day? What’s a typical day like?
There’s about eight of us in the electrical department and maybe 35 in maintenance. Starting at 5, 6, 7 (a.m.), we’re working different shifts — day shift, swing shift or graveyards — and keeping busy eight, 10 or 12 hours. Every once in a while, we’ll have a long day, but it’s a great place to work, and they won’t force you to work a tremendous amount of hours. The planning out there reflects that. There’s not a very high turnover; they take care of their people.
With a position like yours that requires a great deal of training, do you feel you’re given the tools you need to do your job well?
Definitely. It’s a real technical job, and we’re always in some kind of training. Next month, there’s a few of us going to Texas for an electrical conference, and we’re always off training somewhere or having people come do in-house training.
How much interaction is there between your department and other crews?
I work fairly close with the production crews, and we do a lot with the draglines. Whenever they have an issue, we’re up there troubleshooting with them trying to get them back up and running.
What do you think is the biggest public misconception about mining?
I think a lot of people think it’s just a downright grungy, nasty job, and I can’t even tell you the last time I touched a piece of coal. (Laughs) It’s all surface, and we use big machinery to excavate and haul it, so it’s a safe and clean job. Everything’s done from a cab with advanced electronics, creature comforts and making it safe and comfortable for everybody.
Any other things about the industry you feel are misunderstood?
I think we’re all on the same page — we don’t want to wreck the environment. There is such a thing as clean coal, and I think, as a community, we should strive to exceed that expectation.