Ron Hite started in underground mining in 1977 while attending West Virginia University. During his freshman year, US Steel Company offered a co-op program for mining engineering students and during the summers and holidays Hite worked in their #50 mine in Pineville, West Virginia.
“This mine was their biggest at that time, it was a very good bituminous coal, high gas and the coal seam ranged between 40in to 60in. During those summers I worked a variety of labour jobs and occasionally worked with the survey crews. We started with 25 co-op workers the first summer and there were three of left at the end of the first summer. The work was tough but it taught me many lessons of what mine labours go through and it paid for my college education,” Hite recalled.
He graduated from West Virginia University in 1980 magna cum laude and went to work for Shell Mining Company which was building its first underground mine in Elkhart Illinois. After six months in the Houston head office he transferred to the Turris Mine in Illinois just completing construction. Hite began as the mining engineer, but when mining began, he moved into operations.
“During my six years at Turris I worked through all the line management positions, belt and power move foreman, belt installation foreman, track installation foreman, shift foreman, production face boss, shift mine manager, mine manager and superintendent.”
Shell transferred Hite to Wolf Creek Collieries in 1986, consisting of three underground operations and a small strip mine. He started as the manager of technical services and six months later was promoted to operation manager of the complex. In late 1986 the #4 mine installed a longwall system, which had the first high voltage Joy shearer in the US. During 1997 and 1998 it was the most productive longwall in the world per meter of coal seam.
In 1993 Shell Mining was bought by Zeigler Coal Company, and Hite remained as VP for about six months, before starting a consulting business dealing with mining companies on organisational effectiveness and management training. After a year of consulting he moved his family back to their home town of Syracuse, New York, and started a construction company.
His favourite hobby is golfing, but since moving to China in 2001 has only played six or seven times.
ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?
RH: The first day working underground in mine # 50, getting out of the mantrip in 40 inches of coal then walking two kilometres. I then realised why people wore leather back straps.
ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?
RH: I started in petroleum engineering, when I had the opportunity to co-op with US Steel and worked in the mine, I felt the challenges, the people, the overall mining culture was how I wanted to spend my career.
ILN: When was your first underground visit?
RH: June of 1977, when I visited the Maidsville Coal Company in Morgantown West Virginia.
ILN: What was your favourite job in a coal mine?
RH: Face boss (production foreman). To me it was like having a sporting event everyday, working with your crew daily, and measuring your results against the other crews, the competitiveness was fun.
ILN: What was your least favourite job?
RH: Pumping water and moving slurry into the longwall gob.
ILN: Who, or what, has most influenced your mining career?
RH: John Dickerson the mine superintendent of the US Steel Mine in Pineville WV was tough as nails, and was perceived as mean and hard, but he took time with me often to explain why he did things that sometimes I did not understand. Those life lessons are how I look at an operation daily currently.
ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?
RH: The start-up of the Daning Mine.
ILN: What do you see as being the greatest mining development during your career?
RH: Development of mine monitoring systems, methane detection instruments, SCSR’s and the safe use of high voltage underground.
ILN: Do you hold any mining records?
RH: 1987 and 1988 Wolf Creek was the most productive longwall in the world. Developing first mining JV in China.
ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
RH: To own and operate an underground mine.
ILN: What was your most embarrassing moment in a coal mine?
RH: Having a group of old mechanics watching me trying to weld a bell on a rubber tired mantrip with a DC welder using the mantrip frame as a ground. I heard about that for many years.
ILN: What was your scariest time in a coal mine?
I was walking the bleeder entries in Wolf Creek alone, I walked into roof bolt plate and broke my cap lamp. Sitting in the dark for a shift and hoping someone would find me was my scariest moment.
ILN: What is your worst memory of coal mining?
RH:A 23 year old shield operator some how got his head between the shield canopy and the roof in 1988 and was killed. I went to his home to tell his wife while she held her three young sons. That picture in my mind now, seems like it was yesterday.
ILN: Do you think that the day of the fully automated remotely operated face is near?
RH:I think the technology is available now, but it is the experienced eye that technology cannot replace. But I do think running shift by shift with minimal people is a step away.
ILN: What major improvements would you like to see on longwall operations?
RH: The cost of the equipment and the cost of the replacement parts come back into a more reasonable range.