Monday, August 8, 2011

Salt mine recollections

In my old-timey RSS feed today was this article about going into the depths of a mine. Reminded me of my own trip to a mine. Sadly, long ago and there were secrets, so it wasn't a photo free-for-all anyway. But some recollections: By the time I graduated, I was already working as a graphic designer for my dad's little agency. One client was a large distributor of belts and hoses and bearings and so on. We made a promotional magazine for them, and distributed it a few times a year for a while. I was the art director, and got to lay out the whole thing, do press-checks, design stuff, and sometimes go tour the facilities. I missed the chicken plant, and Lake City my did went to, but I got to tag along to some of the cool factories. And, the salt mine in Hutchinson. I am disappointed to find that part of it is now a tourist attraction, but I visited when it was decidedly not, and I recall we went down to the bottom most level, so rather deeper than these guys. The surface looked like any factory, or warehouse really. Not a lot going on, and just big piles of stuff, and storage buildings. A few shops, and a rather small building that is the offices, locker rooms and led to the minehead. There wasn't much of a safety lecture, but we were required to wear a helmet, and keep a "self rescue unit" with us at all times. This was a little plastic box (on a belt) which apparently had a mask and CO scrubber, so we could stay alive a few days with minimal airflow. If you like to worry, then you'll love how they get you out in an accident. There are two large flat areas near the surface structures, one with a tractor shed next to it. The one area is a helipad, so they can land air ambulances. The other is for drilling to get you out. See, if there's a collapse, the elevator is apparently likely to go, so they need to drill you out. And to that end they have (are required to have, actually) a boring machine. Which is what's in the shed. How long does that take? Oh, a couple weeks probably. The elevator would be a nightmare for anyone not excited about crowded spaces, noise or feeling safe. Because it's an afterthought. The elevator is really this heavy bucket, and we ride on a little cage stuck to the bottom of it. When does it go up and down? When they have to haul a load of salt up, and pretty much no other time. That also means the cage is barely there, and there's fairly little underneath you. And nothing on the sides. Sure, railings, but no cage. You can stick your arm out and touch the walls. Which is the only time I got told to not do something. Went to touch the wall, while we were stopped (more to prove that it was open than to actually touch the wall) and was told that it's open, and we go real fast, and salt is abrasive, etc. so that's a good way to loose a hand. The mine itself was pretty uninteresting after that. More alien than overtly impressive. Dead quiet, even with machinery running not very far away. White! Huge. Mostly unoccupied so just dark caverns, but occasionally there would be a light at the end of a room and you'd figure out it's a vehicle, or a string of lights, at least hundreds of yards away. And they carved all this out. The archives were one of the more interesting stories. And, being not on our own we got to see them, more or less. Boring gray shelves in a room with a cage around it and a sign. They store all sorts of stuff, and notably the originals of all the Disney epics. See, there was film back then. Funnily, the only thing they will not accept for storage are film projectors. Really. Disney insisted on that, presumably because they don't trust anyone to not just thread up their movies. If I find photos of it, I'll try to post them also. But I am not sure where to find them fifteen years later.

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