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Energy-Rice Lake heart-of-darkness
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Energy-Rice Lake heart-of-darkness

Views: 0     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-08-04      Origin: Site

Caleb Olson and Hannah Martell, technical writer and

graphic design specialist for Rice Lake Weighing Systems, respectively, visited Kaskaskia Valley Scale Co., southeast of St. Louis, MO.

The following is a recollection of their experience.

There are many automobiles that strike the fancy of the male spirit.

As I waited at the Budget Rental car station in St. Louis, MO., I

wondered which of these amazing chariots the kind professionals

behind the counter would select for us. Eyeing us down, I was certain they had correctly estimated our impressive style and would

make a choice worthy of our emanating desire.

“Mr. Olson, your car is ready,” I heard in a slight southern drawl.

I hopped to my feet, snatched the keys, signed a form I will never

understand, and Hannah and I rushed outside, wondering whether

the Dodge Viper or Corvette was eagerly awaiting its new masters.

We loaded our equipment in the back, climbed in, and turned the

key of our Hyundai Santa Fe. Unsure if it was actually running,

I moved the shifter into “D” and gave it some gas, leaving the

Budget Rental car station. Now on the highway, I had become 80%

sure it was running, despite lack of audible confirmation.

Hannah and I were in the St. Louis area on a mission to capture

video and still footage of Rice Lake’s BCi In-Motion Belt Scale

System. With a combined three years of experience in the scale

industry, and both of us spending the majority of our days in front

of a computer (as a technical writer, I primarily write manuals;

as a graphic design specialist, Hannah spends most of her time

photo and video editing) it would also be an adventure into the

“real world.” We were anxious to see in exactly which applications

the BCi was being used.

Finding ourselves moderately disoriented in an unfamiliar city,

ing fertilizer to barges on the Mississippi

River. The fertilizer raced its way across the

belt and, like a mutant waterfall, dropped

a white river of pellets into each barge

container. Today was to be our fertilizer

and aggregate day

(the following days

would be consumed

by coal). We loaded

our equipment and

traveled to Granite

City Terminal in

Granite City, IL.

Here, Hannah and

I witnessed the BCi

again drenched in fertilizer, only this time

it was loading trucks—lots of trucks. In

fact, there were so many that a traffic jam of

awaiting truckers monopolized the nearby

service road; each eagerly inching their way

toward the facility’s entrance when the first

in line was allowed to enter. The busy terminal was utilizing a wheel loader to dump

ammonium nitrate fertilizer through a floor

grate, landing on

a high-speed belt.

From here, the fertilizer elevated through a covered conveyor

until it reached the end of its relatively

short line, positioned directly above a truck.

In a matter of minutes, the truck was completely full and made its way to the facilities

exit. Granite City Terminal reminded me of

a busy restaurant and I imagined the excitement of the next trucker in line when

notified he could enter. It was akin to waiting for a table and being overjoyed, thinking “Ooh, I’m next!” when seeing someone

had just finished.

Now racing against the setting sun, we

made our final stop of the day at Beelman

Truck Co., also in Granite City. One look at

the facility and it was clear that Beelman

specializes in aggregate. A perfectly timed

coordination of crisscrossing trucks and

wheel loaders navigated the large quarry.

In the distance, a mountain of blast furnace slag was being air-cooled. It looked

like remnants of a volcanic eruption, emitting steam as a nearby wheel loader carefully did its work. Bill Emmendorfer, plant

manager, escorted us to a bird’s-eye view

of the facility. From our perch, we could

see an intricate highway of conveyors

leading aggregate over the BCi. The sun

now dipping below the horizon, Hannah

and I made our way back to the hotel.

After a solid night’s sleep, the next morning

we met Todd at his office in Lenzburg, IL.

From there, we traveled to Peabody Gateway Coal, near Coulterville, IL. According

to Peabody Energy, the mine shipped 2.4

million tons of coal in 2006. Most of the

coal is supplied to Northern Indiana Power

Service Company, Tampa Electric and Archer Daniels Midland. The mine has 20

million tons of recoverable coal reserves,

230 employees, and operates seven days a

week, year-round. The coal travels from

the mine via a 1,200-foot beltline to temporary storage and then travels by overland

belt 1.4 miles to the preparation plant.

Toward the beginning of

more ominous visit.) After watching an instructional video on how to use the respirator we would soon be wearing and learning other safety procedures, we fully clad

ourselves in mining attire, complete with

a hard hat/head lamp combination, safety

goggles, respirator, and what felt like a

10-lb battery hanging off our pants. It is

believed British sailors invented the belt

buckle in the 1600s. I thanked them.

Todd “Ring” Leverton, belt line engineer at

the mine and referred to as “Ring” because

he sports an earring in one ear, joined Todd

Dietrich, Hannah, and me as we made our

gradual descent via service elevator. Two

hundred feet later, the dark mine waited

for us. We flipped on our head lamps, and

quickly learned not to look each other in

the eye. The head lamps were like looking

into the sun on a foggy morning, except

the fog was actually coal dust.

I looked around. The scenery looked like

a post-apocalyptic world—devoid of sunlight; strange-looking vehicles; everyone wearing protective gear and covered

in dust; and catacombs as far as the eye

could see. The only thing missing was

murderous robots.

Hannah and I loaded the camera gear in

one of those odd-looking vehicles, a cross

between a miniature Humvee and an oversized golf cart. “Ring” manned the helm

and we were on our way. Periodically, I

would catch a glimpse through an adjacent tunnel and see the massive conveyor.

After a series of turns onto underground

roads that all looked the same to me, we

finally stopped at a dimly lit area of the

conveyor. A 920i, covered in coal dust, was

mounted to a nearby wall. Beneath it ran

a never-ending river of coal, rapidly traveling to escape the mine while the 920i

dutifully displayed the belt speed, current

load and rate per hour.

Todd mentioned, “You see those cables

running along the ceiling through these

tunnels?” We nodded.

“In case something goes wrong, that’s

there so the miners can find their way out.

There are little arrowheads on the cable

pointing toward the exit.”

I didn’t remember that from the video. What

other crucial information had I missed? I

formed my own escape plan.

I was certain I could just hop on the conveyor in case of emergency. Actually, I

wondered if I could hop on the conveyor

just for fun. It would be like a reverse waterslide, I thought.

After capturing enough footage, we made

our way out of the mine. Without “Ring”

driving, Hannah and I would likely still be

down there. It amazed me how he could

navigate the identical tunnels as if there

was a secret system of street signs not told

to outsiders.

After exiting the mine, we traveled to

Kinder Morgan, Cora Terminal Facility

in Rockwood, IL. This terminal receives

coal via railway, uses a larger-than-life

machine to tip rail cars upside down to

retrieve the coal, and transports the coal

via conveyor to awaiting Mississippi River

barges. Again, we were surrounded by a

river of coal quickly navigating through a

long, bending belt system until it reached

its desired position and was du

The next morning, I blew my nose to find

a coal-dust-ridden tissue in my hand. Like

the soreness your body feels the morning

after a hard day’s work, Gateway Mine did

not let me forget where I was the day before. But today was a new day.

With one day and one stop left, the next

morning Todd, Hannah and I loaded up

the Hyundai and left on a 500-mile roundtrip visit to Duke Energy Cayuga Station,

on the shores of the Wabash River in Cayuga, IN. This 1100-megawatt power plant

utilizes a twin-920i setup with matching

BCi scales to accurately monitor its coal

use. In addition, the 920i outputs a serial

audit trail of weight, time and date. Alternatively, it can send an analog output

to a chart recorder or communicate to a

Programmable Logic Controller with a

protocol card. Bob Cooper led us around

the plant, currently expanding its size. He

commented that in his industry, it is of

the utmost importance to maintain accuracy. Overcharging a customer can lead to

severe consequences and undercharging

a customer is bad for business. Accuracy

and reliability — that’s Rice Lake’s best

habitat. The BCi scale/920i indicator combination is used throughout the lifecycle

of coal (among other materials), from the

mine, to barge loading, to its final destination at the power plant. Hannah and I

followed this journey and, for us, it was an

eye-opening experience. I’m just glad we

wore safety goggles. n


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