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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: North
Robert Ashley
Thursday, September 19
Thursday, September 19, 2002. 8:00 Pioneer Park, on Green River.

“Hold onto your hats,” said Pat, our guide, as he punched a button on the wall of the large elevator, plunging our group downward on a ride that would stop some 850’ beneath the earth’s surface. The hat was a hard hat, equipped with a light on front attached by cable to a heavy battery on my belt, all supplied by OCI, a mining company owned jointly by Korean and U.S. business groups. Also on my belt was a breathing apparatus. I had signed in at three stations, strapped plastic protectors on over my shoes, put on safety glasses, and watched a 10-minute videotape on mine safety. We were on our way to another adventure-and another example of how the interesting geology of southwestern Wyoming has been converted to “food on the table” for many area residents. We were in a trona mine!

Trona?

I had never before even heard this word. Trona? Sounds like the freeze-dried food of alien invaders, maybe, or an industrial-strength coffee pot cleaner. Nope-neither. Trona is soda ash, laid down in a relatively pure 10-foot seam about fifty million years ago when the prehistoric lake dried up. It is rather unique, too, as it occurs only in a few other places in the world, notably China. The OCI mine is the shallowest of the half-dozen similar enterprises in southwestern Wyoming; others are twice as deep. The mine has been operating continuously for about 40 years and can do so for probably another 60. Today we watched one of three mining machines equipped with grinding wheels studded with 4” carbide-tipped steel teeth eating away the soft gray material, spewing it by conveyor to a low-bodied truck at the rate of 18 tons per minute.

“Our goal is to average 10 tons per minute,” said another of the OCI guides. The material is soft (3 on a scale of 10), but the teeth of the voracious feeder must be changed on a regular basis; repositioning the machine accounts for more down time. Walls must be stabilized, massive electric cables must be run, lights must be installed. It is an enormous operation.

Okay, fine. But why do we want this stuff?

“Trona has lots of uses,” I was told. About half is used in glassmaking, as it lowers the melting point of quartz, and it is widely used as the “starting point” for making other chemicals. Detergents, for example. “Detergents are soda ash and perfume, basically,” Pat explained. It is also used to make baking soda, caustic acid, sodium cyanide, and elemental sodium.

Jobs pay well. There is plenty of trona. Judging from the crowed trophy cases that line the reception area walls, safety is a primary concern. My Midwestern bias of judging the prosperity of an area by looking at farming operations and resources like water and vegetation requires adjustment. Wyoming’s wealth comes from within the earth.
for Thursday, September 19
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: North
Robert Ashley
Bob Ashley poses with school children at the Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Exposition 2002
. Robert Ashley is a teacher from Illinois.
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List of All Journal Entries
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Thursday, September 26
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, September 24
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 21
Robert Ashley
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Friday, September 20
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, September 19
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, September 18
Robert Ashley
Kemmerer
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Tuesday, September 17
Robert Ashley
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Monday, September 16
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, September 15
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 14
Robert Ashley
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Friday, September 13
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, September 11
Robert Ashley
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Monday, September 9
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, September 4
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, September 3
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, September 1
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 30
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 29
Robert Ashley
Stoddard Creek (F.S.) campground
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Wednesday, August 28
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 25
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 23
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 22
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 21
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, August 20
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, August 17
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 16
Robert Ashley
Meyer Hill
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Thursday, August 15
Robert Ashley
Aspen Grove
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Wednesday, August 14
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, August 13
Robert Ashley
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Monday, August 12
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 11
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 4
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, August 3
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 1
Robert Ashley
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