A soon-to-be-operating coal mine a few miles north of here is attracting the attention of coal-producing companies across the nation. The focus of this attention is a huge $6 million piece of mine equipment never before seen in the United States.
Called a stacker-reclaimer, the German-patented equipment has been put in place at the newly developed $165 million Spring Creek open-pit mine of Northern Energy Resources Company, the coal operating subsidiary of Pacific Power & Light Company of Portland, Ore.
The stacker-reclaimer is a product of Weserhutte AG of Bad Oeynhausen, West Germany. It is designed to stockpile coal arriving from the mine at the rate of 3,100 tons an hour and to reclaim the coal for loading into railroad cars at an even greater rate, 4,000 tons an hour. Movement of coal at 4,000 tons an hour will permit loading of 100 coal cars, of 100-ton capacity each, in the rather brief time of 2 1/2 hours.
Coal usually moves from Western mines in what are known as unit trains, consisting generally of 100 cars in a train. The train runs from mine to buyer and then goes back for another load destined to the same buyer.
Even as the massive stacker-reclaimer was being constructed on the site, executives from some half dozen coal companies visited the mine to see the equipment for themselves, and Spring Creek officials anticipate "a steady stream" of other visitors when mining operations start up in a few weeks and the stacker-reclaimer begins its function.
At Spring Creek, protective housing for the equipment is provided by a covered structure, called a barn, of huge dimensions -- 733 feet long, 260 feet wide, and 90 feet high -- in which can be stored 42,800 tons of coal at a time. That's enough coal to load 428 cars of 100-ton capacity, more coal than can be carried by four unit trains.
Looking ahead, the barn has been so designed that the walls and roof can be extended beyond its present 733-foot length, if greater coal storage space becomes necessary. The stacker-reclaimer moves on parallel railroad tracks that extend beyond the present limits of the barn, making any further movement beyond those limits easily accomplished.
Although this is the first installation in the US of the Weserhutte equipment , it is in use at some 50 locations overseas. One major example of the use of the German-designed stacker-reclaimer is found in Parque deBona, Spain, where the 800,000-ton storage capacity of a coal-blending system is rated the world's largest. There, three Weserhutte stacker-reclaimers work in parallel rows.
Weserhutte, with offices in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Spain, and Austria, also has a US office, in St. Louis, under the direction of Hagen Schuelke. The company, founded in 1845, had worldwide sales in 1978 of $200 million. Last January it merged with a company with similar engineering expertise called PHB. The corporate umbrella name now is PHB-Weserhutte.
Coal from the new mine is to be shipped to Houston under terms of a 25-year contract with Utility Fuels Inc. which calls for annual delivery of 7 million tons. Reserves of 184 million tons underlie the 2,000 Montana acres Northern Energy will mine at Spring Creek, and the bulk of that coal will go to Utility Fuels.
Pacific Power & Light has Western coal holdings of some 1.5 billion tons in Wyoming, Montana, and Washington State. Through its coal subsidiary it recently acquired additional coal properties in Alabama. The company's coal properties in Wyoming, Montana, and Alabama are operated by the subsidiary, which, in 1979, was rated the eighth-largest coal company in the nation, with production of 14, 479,328 tons.