It’s early morning, and despite the sun making its presence known, the humidity hanging in the summer air shows no sign of dissolving with the fog. As trucks roar to life and hit the quarry roads, a fine dust complements the haze, creating an otherworldly scene amongst the rock and rubble. While the sight may be foreign to the average Joe, this is every day to many a miner — and only scratches the surface at Linwood Mining & Minerals Corp. in Davenport, Iowa.

While the company covers a tidy 0.25-square-mile space above ground, its underground operations unfold into a sprawling checkerboard of rooms and pillars entailing a surprising 2.5-square-mile area. Cool, pitch black, and eerily still, it stands in stark contrast to the action outside.

Without the proper safety briefings and understanding of signage, even the most experienced miners are likely to lose their way in the cavernous moonscape of a maze. If the lack of light, tight quarters, and limited airflow aren’t enough, the daily blasts make safety Linwood’s top concern in this man-made cave.

THE MAN FOR THE JOB
Mark Klimek, safety manager for Linwood, got his start mining coal in Kentucky, where the underground ceilings are low and the stakes are high. “It’s dark, you’re incredibly far underground, there’s dust everywhere, it’s cramped, and the lingering risk of an explosion doesn’t do much to ease a person’s mind,” Klimek explains the gravity of the situation. Then, with a shade of levity, “Plus, I’m pushing six-feet tall myself — all these nicks in my hard hat aren’t from dropping it out of the truck.”

His experience, aptitude, drive, and genuine care for employees make Klimek the ideal person for his role at Linwood. Like most safety guys, he’s down to business — but Klimek insists he’s not there to bust any chops, rather make sure no one loses them. “Going from underground coal to this limestone mine was a natural transition. Other than being a lot more open here, the engineering and safety sides of things are very similar. If someone gets hurt, that could affect them and those around them for the rest of their lives. Making sure everyone leaves with the same number of fingers and toes as they had coming in is first and foremost.”

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THE CLEAR CHOICE
Although the technology is vastly different than in the canary days, maintaining proper air quality is a top concern for all underground mines — especially those with heavy equipment operating in
them. Good thing Linwood is putting a 944K Hybrid Loader to work. “Since we’ve had the 944K, ventilation hasn’t been much of a concern at all — especially compared to older machines. We’ve been very happy with the emissions.

“Safety-wise, I can tell you our operators feel safe in the cab. That’s important, because if they don’t feel safe, they’re operating distracted, which makes accidents more likely. On top of that, they’re comfortable — which makes them that much more productive.”

FROM THE TRENCHES
Operator Justin Voss readily backs up Klimek’s claims. “Oh, the 944K makes my job a lot easier. I mean, it digs nice and loads trucks quickly.” The major game-changer for Voss? “The biggest thing is the power difference. The 944K has constant power all the time — other machines seemed to lack that. Plus, the joystick steering controls make it easy to operate. That’s huge when you’re working 12-hour days in the dark. I couldn’t think of another machine to have down here — it does what we want it to and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

FROM THE TRENCHES
Operator Justin Voss readily backs up Klimek’s claims. “Oh, the 944K makes my job a lot easier. I mean, it digs nice and loads trucks quickly.” The major game-changer for Voss? “The biggest thing is the power difference. The 944K has constant power all the time — other machines seemed to lack that. Plus, the joystick steering controls make it easy to operate. That’s huge when you’re working 12-hour days in the dark. I couldn’t think of another machine to have down here — it does what we want it to and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

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DELIVERING MORE
As a company that produces and stands by its high quality products, Linwood appreciates vendors who do the same. “Our old loader was a different brand, and if anything broke, it was bad news. It was like pulling teeth just to get ahold of someone to come diagnose the issue, and then it took months to finally get the part. No one can afford that kind of downtime!“ With Martin Equipment and this 944K, it’s the complete opposite. We haven’t had any issues, but knowing we can get parts the next day and feeling like we’re taken care of as a company — that’s huge.”