Life is funny sometimes. Just yesterday I was whining about having to go to work next Monday. Ha,ha,ha. Today was a train day. Train days are work- just work of a different color. Truthfully most of the work to load a train must happen before the train arrives.... well, let me talk you through it a bit and I will even add pictures for free today. I will load them small but they are get bigger pictures so feel free.
First the coal is brought in on tri-axle trucks. Each truck holds about 25 ton of coal. Today we loaded 105 train cars so if you do the math- ok I will do the math this time- It takes 420 truckloads to fill the train. This is not really true because when the coal is warshed as we say here in W. PA there is reject stuff like sulpher balls and pop cans, roof bolts and hammers, meteorites and clinkers that get sorted out from the coal and ... well you get the picture... it takes a whole lot of trucks passing my scale.
The coal is put on convyor belts and run through the warsh plant where we use lots of Tide and water to clean up the coal- coal has a different float sink ability then say the boney that goes onto the reject pile- oh yeah the popcans and hammers and meteorites never make it this far. We have a really large magnet at the beginning of the conveyor belt to stop that stuff because face it a hammer or wrench can do some serious damage to the crusher rolls that reduce the size of the coal before the warshing process.
After the coal is made all clean and shiny it travels a bit farther on conveyors and is finally piled from the bottom up on tubes. There are 7 underground chutes and this coal piles up on top of these chutes which funnel the coal into feeders that shake the coal onto another belt and send it up into the air where it is poured into a bin that holds one and one half car loads of coal at a time.
The train is pulled under the bin and a door opens allowing this wonderful clean coal to drop into the train and when things go like they should and everyone is working well together we can put together a 10,000 ton train in less then four hours. Not too bad for a facilty that was designed on a napkin without the help of engineers and then put together with company man power.
While I have given you the very basics of what we do at our plant - ok I did lie to you back there- we dont really use Tide but we do warsh the coal. There are parts of this job that I can not fully describe to you. As I stood high about the loadout watching the coal pour into the bin I breathed in deeply and wondered how to put that steamy acrid smell into words that would make sense. Because coal is conbustible as it sits piled up and exposed to the air and weather it begins to heat up. That process causes the coal to steam as it pours into the bin where it is once again exposed to cooler air. It has a bit of sulpher smell but is pretty much a smell unto its self. As I watch it drop into the train cars I am reminded that perhaps this is what worked for money smells like.
There is a rhythm high atop the coal bin also. It is loud, very loud with the motors that turn the conveyor right there and the sound of the train very slowly pulling along the track- really the only sound from the train is a soft pft pft which comes from the brakes. As the door to the coal bin slides open it gives a subtle jerk and you can hear the coal rushing into the empty train car. The floor where I stand is pretty much on top of the world and it has its own vibration, one that gently rocks, and the rollers on the conveyor make their own whirl, whirl sounds. You learn to know the feel and the sound of everything running properly.
Today things seemed to run properly in most areas. We usually use 1 small bulldozer and 2 highlifts to keep the coal piles pushed toward the feeder chutes. As we near the end of the train it becomes harder to keep the feeders full because the coal must be pushed further. Today we developed one problem about 60 cars into our train. It seems that an oil seal cracked and began spraying oil onto the turbo charger. That meant that we had to rev up the backhoe to help finish up the train. As I watched, it began to look like a dance these rather cumbersome yellow beasts were preforming. They would bow and curtsey then raise arms and back away only to bow and come together once again.
From my vantage point I could easily spot my very favorite car on the train- it is that last one. Walter,my partner in crime asked why we couldnt have my favorite car upfront and my response was that "then I couldnt stand up on top of the world and smell that hard worked for money smell." Cha-ching Some days work is more fun then work. Ain't life funny that way.