C&E Concrete’s Articulated Haulers Key to Production at Rock Dust Operation.

The parched earth of central New Mexico once yielded uranium for the country’s nuclear power generation. While uranium mining has been dormant for decades, today a more common mineral is quarried to produce a cleaner and safer form of energy.

Grants, N.M., is a 90-minute drive west of Albuquerque into the high desert. C&E Concrete Inc. is extracting a pure form of limestone just south of Grants that is ground into rock dust, which is used by coal power plants to scrub exhaust emissions and for dust control in underground coal mines to prevent explosions.

The DNA of this specific deposit of limestone, known as the Tinaja Pit, is 98 percent calcium carbonate, making it a super-effective agent to absorb sulfur and fine particulates from the air. (In Spanish, Tinaja refers to a large, porous water jar).

At the heart of this high production, high corrosive environment is a fleet of Volvo wheel loaders, excavators and articulated haul trucks that move 4,000 tons of rock each day.

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The Tinaja pit also supplies an assortment of C&E Concrete sub-companies whose products include ready-mix, asphalt, crushed stone and gravel and sand. More than 700,000 tons of stone is extracted every year.

Long Haul

It’s a long haul from 1974 when a few concrete trucks and a batch plant were the core of Walter and Norma Meech’s business venture.

Governmental regulations and public wariness shifted American views on energy in the early 1980s. This opened a window of new opportunity, said the couple’s son and current president, Walter Lee Meech. The Clean Coal Technology Program was an early driver of greener power generation. For older coal-fired power plants this included installing scrubber systems in the smokestacks to filter sulfur from the exhaust.

“In 1985, Plains Electric built a power plant in nearby Prewitt, N.M., and the project manager needed a source for limestone that would pass the qualifications required for the power plant emissions,” he said.

Walter Meech Sr. turned to the local unemployed uranium geologists to help scout a source. One day while he was driving near the Tinaja pit, he noticed limestone being used for a Bureau of Land Management road job. Meech Sr. scooped a sample and took it to the power plant chemical engineer for testing. The limestone was almost pure calcium carbonate. It was gold for C&E Concrete, who purchased the 1,600-acre property and set up full-time quarry and crushing operations.

“The upper grade of this formation is about 85 percent calcium carbonate, but the lower part, which is the bottom 35 to 40 ft., is as high as 97 to 98 percent calcium carbonate, and that is what makes it such a valuable commodity for power plants to use in scrubbers to remove sulfur,” said Meech.

Ultra Fine Grind

More recently, C&E began supplying an ultra-fine grind of rock dust that is used by underground coal mines to neutralize coal dust and reduce the risk of ignition. To achieve this level of quality, C&E uses a custom Raymond roller mill, which can produce up to 20 tons of rock dust per hour.

“As we increased volumes, using wheel loaders to move the stone down the mountain and load the crushers was not effective. So we purchased six Volvo articulated haulers, size 25 to 40 tons, and now use those trucks to haul the rock down to the crusher,” Meech said.

The Volvo haulers range from an A25C to A40D. Working at 7,500-ft. elevation on 21-percent grades puts added stress on equipment. “We found that the Volvo haulers are just beefier and the braking systems are better. We tried competitor haulers and they could not hold the loads on a hill; the trucks wanted to roll. The Volvo haulers do not do that,” he said.

“We could put more material into the trucks, but right now we’re limited by the capacity of the Universal Impact 4454 crusher,” which is permitted for 600 tph. “We estimate based on current limestone consumption that the volume of life here is about 400 years,” Meech said.

C&E Concrete operates 18 Volvo machines to load articulated and tri-axle trucks at its quarry, batch and asphalt plants. They also push material and build pads, each averaging 2,000 hours per year.

At the Tinaja pit, a 2015 L350F is the primary loader for the end dump. Fitted with a 10 cu.-yd., spade-nose bucket, it carries 26,190 lb. on average. While the L350F is the youngest fleet member, it is already earning its keep and then some, averaging fuel savings of 40 to 45 gal. per day.

“When we did the research on the L350, we were looking at saving $1,000 month just on fuel. Plus on our older L330D loader, we were spending $2,000 per month in maintenance, so by buying a new piece of equipment it was making its own payments. It’s a huge savings on our part,” Meech said.

Ed Morlan is the crusher superintendent at the Tinaja pit. “The crusher environment is harsh for a number of reasons. One is the dust; the dust is hard on engines, it’s hard on bearings and the crushing machines. It eats and tears things up. We have to have equipment that can withstand all of this. Reliability … we have equipment here with almost 40,000 hours and we are still running,” he said.

Continuity Amidst Change

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Meech’s family has owned Volvo equipment and its predecessors since 1969. “Our first piece was a 1955 Michigan loader. We have just had good luck with the Volvo equipment. We have an L150D with over 35,000 hours and the L330 has 41,000, all on the original engines and transmissions,” he said.

Through four decades, the Meech family has stayed equally loyal to their local Volvo dealer.

“The way we always look at it, anybody can sell iron – it’s all about the service side of it. When you break down, it’s always at the worst time and you need to get back up as quickly as you can,” Meech said. “I have had [other equipment manufacturers] tell me they would be out in two weeks. Golden Equipment and our account rep, Flavio Salazar, have been real good at taking care of us. They come out when we need them and they understand what our needs are.”

Someone who has also been there for Meech is his father.

“My dad is turning 90 and he comes up here twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. Someone with more than 70 years of experience in this industry is a wealth of knowledge. You will never be able to get that from anybody else,” Meech said.

Family Connections

The family connections are now stretching to a third generation with his son, Chris, taking an active role in the company.

C&E Concrete is an outlier in an aggregate industry that is dominated by mergers and conglomerations. Their strong personal stake in the success of their operation guides them to stay independent and be faithful stewards of their land.

“We have a lot of agencies we deal with today,” Meech said. “When my dad set up his first batch plant in 1969 you didn’t have to have any permits, you could just set up and go. Now, you need an air-quality permit for the crusher, stormwater permits and you deal with MSHA safety requirements. You have to keep pace with governmental statutes to know what changes you need to make.”

For every acre that C&E taps, they reclaim another acre via a replanting project. “It’s our way of making sure that, when we do business, we do it in a manner that ensures future generations are able to enjoy the land that has given us so much,” he said .

Information for this article courtesy of Amy Crouse, Volvo Construction Equipment.