Energy Blend: Q&A with Josh Slaight, heavy equipment operator for Colowyo Mine
To gain an inside perspective of employment in a local mine, we caught up with Colowyo Mine heavy equipment operator Josh Slaight, who spoke about his changes in the mining industry, misconceptions about the industry and planning between various departments at the mine.
What does your job entail?
I’m a shovel oiler, which means taking care of the area around the shovel, making sure all the rocks are cleaned up (and) the trucks are running safely. I work with a 495 Bucyrus series; it’s a 240-ton truck with a bucket capacity of 80 tons. I’ve been around it for about 10 years and an oiler for about five, but I’ve been at Colowyo for 15. I’ve run everything from the haul trucks to dozers, scrapers, blades, loaders, shovels, track hoes — just about everything in the mine.
What first got you interested in mining?
My dad, Darrell, has worked at Colowyo for 36 years, and I always saw what he did and wanted to follow in his footsteps. My mom, Cindy, worked out there, too, for about seven years as a haul truck driver. We all want to make sure our families are taken care of and the community. It’s probably the best job I’ve ever had. I enjoy the people and the atmosphere and running heavy equipment.
Do you feel as if mining is a job that spans generations?
Yeah, I do. A lot of it is the equipment — a lot of people who are intrigued by the big stuff and want to go play in a big sandbox. I think the first time I was out there, I was 6 years old, climbed up on that equipment and just was in awe. It wasn’t even near as big as what it is now. It’s pretty amazing, once you get to see it and see how big that stuff is.
What’s a typical day like?
Basically, it’s just taking care of my work area and the trucks, making sure everything’s safe for the truck drivers and my shovel operator. There’s a lot to look out for, making sure everything’s good for everybody.
About how many people do you work with directly each day?
Probably 95 percent of the time, I work with the same people every day, and there’s about 25 to 30 people per crew. It’s kind of like a family, since I see them as much as the family I have at home. You bond with them and have some pretty strong friendships through the years.
How much planning takes place between different company levels?
It’s kind of both ways. They’ll ask us for our input on what we’d like to see at the new pit, and they have surveyors and contractors building all the roads, but there’s nothing really top secret. They’re pretty good about communication. They come to all our meetings and let us know what’s been approved and how everything’s been moving, and what it’s looking like for timeframes.
How have you seen mining change since you first began?
Definitely a lot safer than what it used to be. Everything’s about safety versus production. They would rather see things shut down to make everything safe rather than looking past it. I used to see a lot of things happen that don’t happen now. People don’t realize how much safety goes into mining.
What do you think is the biggest public misconception about mining?
I think a lot of people think it’s dirty, and we’re just trying to tear the environment up and get coal out of the ground and move on. There is 10 times more that goes into reclamation versus production. We’re currently in a process of reclaiming tons and tons of property that had been mined previously. It’d be interesting for people who think we tear up the environment to see that reclamation, because we put a lot of time and money and energy into that, alone. Nobody realizes what we do when we’re done. It’s not just a big, open pit that we leave.
How do you see the future of mining?
Everything’s looking a lot better. We’re expanding and getting ready next year to move to a new pit (the Collom expansion), and everything’s a lot better than it was two years ago. It’s supposed to be a 30-year pit, and I’ve got about 30 years left, so I’d like to see it continue on from there. If my kids want to be miners, and that’s what they’re into, that’s what I’d like to see in the future.