In the sky above, the Space Shuttle making its descent is an awe-inspiring spectacle. On the seas, the Queen Elizabeth II oceanliner commands attention. But on land in northern Nevada - as far as transportation goes, perhaps the most jaw-dropping sight is the 240-ton haul truck that prowls the grounds at Newmont Mining Corp.’s Gold Quarry openpit mine in Carlin.
Melanie McGarver, a trainer at Gold Quarry, proudly introduces her “co-worker” Katie, the CAT haul truck, to tour groups, knowing that there is nothing else about the mining operations that can top the visual impact of this mechanical behemoth made of steel and rubber. Katie, like the dozens of other trucks here, is 23x21x42 ft, about as big as an average two-story house.
McGarver’s first statement of caution to the tour group underscores the magnitude of this piece of equipment: “Please don’t walk underneath the truck,” she says. Emphasizing safety, she also asks visitors to be mindful of the tripping hazard presented by the truck’s ruts in the soil. She assures that the trucks are perfectly safe, even featuring red lights on the front to indicate when they are in “park” mode. “But even when they’re parked, you still don’t want to walk under them,” she warns.
For all the sophistication that James Bond enjoyed among his enviable vehicle choices, he never drove one this imposing … or this indestructible. Katie weighs about 800,000 pounds empty … and without its six 12-ft.-tall tires, each of which weighs 12,000 pounds. The truck’s engine is a V-16, so one might suppose that only a superhuman could operate it, right? Nope.
Almost anybody can drive one, explains McGarver, who has logged a respectable number of hours behind the wheel. She notes that the truck’s cab is not too dissimilar from that of a Toyota Corolla. So it’s easy enough for a driver to contribute eight hours of drive time within a 12-hour shift, driving about 33 mph in sixth gear, picking up raw ore and hauling it to the mill, and then returning to do it all again. “We’ve had teachers, people with master degrees, nurses, mechanics, ranchers and others (driving the trucks),” she said.
Katie, the CAT, is one of 55 haul trucks that Newmont owns in the region. Operated around the clock, each rig goes in for regularly scheduled maintenance after about every 10,000 hours of use. Careful operation and diligent upkeep have allowed the vehicles in the current fleet to keep running reliably for more than a decade.
If you happen to visit the Gold Quarry mine sometime over the next few years, chances are good that you’ll see Katie still in action. Just be sure to keep a safe distance if she’s on the move!