CARDIN, OK - This depressed northeastern Oklahoma town is pinning its hopes for a better tomorrow on a new manufacturer of heavy off-highway trucks that move earth and ores at surface mines.
It is fitting that Cardin's chances for recovery come from the mining equipment industry.
For two generations, northeastern Oklahoma's fields and hills gave up their wealth in lead and zinc and byproduct minerals, only to be abandoned and left with giant piles of slag that dot the countryside.
And, early this year, the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Co. manufacturing plant in Miami, which produced giant tires for the heavy construction and mining industry, closed for lack of business, depriving the area of its largest employer.
Now a firm in Cardin is making giant vehicles capable of moving up to 240 tons per load of overburden earth, coal, copper, phosphates and iron ore in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, the copper and iron ore deposits nearby and, one day, the hard-rock mining industry in Australia, Africa and Europe.
Operating from a plant once occupied by Eagle Picher Co. in the heyday of lead and zinc mining, Wiseda Ltd. has produced three $1.4 million rear-dump haulers that load 41 percent more cargo than the industry's standard 170-ton vehicles.
One hauler has been operating in the West for nearly four years for mining divisions of the Sun Cos., a major producer and marketer of oil and natural gas.
Two have been delivered to the Arco Inc. soft coal mines in the Powder River Basin, a major source of soft, low-sulfur coal for electric-generating steam plants, including coal-burning generating plants in Oklahoma. The state's utilities and public power firms use tens of thousands of tons of Powder River Basin coal each week.
Wiseda has a contract to deliver four of the huge haulers to Arco Corp. to handle soft coal from the Thunder Basin Coal Co.'s Black Thunder Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Two have been put into service and two are under construction.
Wiseda has two others under construction speculatively to sell to customers in the United States or overseas.
The payroll of 50 workers in Cardin contributes more than $700,000 a year to the economies of Cardin, Picher, Quapah, Commerce and Miami.
Wiseda buys components from suppliers in the Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas Four Corners. The huge tires come from U.S. companies such as Goodyear and Firestone. Goodrich decided not to increase its tire sizes to fit the larger haulers.
Major mechanical and control components are supplied by U.S. automotive manufacturers. When a foreign market is developed, a good percentage of the components will be supplied by workers in those countries.
Weseda's president is Bill Lewis, an engineer who supervised the designs that increased the carrying capacity of haulers in the mining industry.
His colleagues give him full credit for putting the behemoths in the Western surface-mine fields, asserting that he had enough confidence in the product to put the first one in full commercial operations to work out the bugs, and won the gamble.
Lewis turned out the first KL-2450 hauler in 1982 for phosphate mining in Idaho. Then the hauler was moved to the Cordero Mine owned by the Sun Cos. in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
Lewis said the engineering for such heavy haulers had been tested in locomotive designs but that the 240-ton capacity was a major breakthrough for mining vehicles.
He has been in heavy off-highway vehicle design and production since 1968 and was chosen to head up Weseda when the company was formed. He had experience with Unit Rig Corp. in Tulsa, one of the leaders in heavy truck production along with Euclid, Volva and Dresser Industries.
"We have proved the next development in hard-rock mining and coal," Lewis said. "An operator can realize the 40 percent increase in productivity at a decrease in cost.
Wiseda was bought in 1980 by William S. Davis, who is one of three sons of Fort Worth oilman Kenneth Davis, who owns the parent Davoil Co. William Davis is chairman, but leaves operations to Lewis.
"It was a bad time in the hard-rock mining industry," Lewis said.
"The market was at a standstill. Copper was dead. Iron was down and coal was at a standstill."
The heavy hauler market had shrunk production to 150 a year from a high of 700 units in the 1970s.
But Davis believed it was a good time for developing the product that he wanted the best hauler in the industry. And other manufaturers are recognizing that big loads and big shovels at surface mines are efficient in both operation and cost.
The Wiseda KL-2450 hauler is the largest diesel electric two-axle rear-dump hauler on the market. It is called the "King of the Lode."
The haulers are more than 41 feet long, 21 feet high and 24 feet wide.
They are powered by 2,000-horse-power engines made by Detroit Diesel or Caterpillar. Electric motors for the huge wheels are supplied by General Electric, but buyers can select other suppliers.
Wiseda has manufacturer's representatives available to customers.
The firm has sales and maintenance staffs now under organization for Australia, Morocco, Norway and Yugoslavia.
"Our plan is to respond to the market and be flexible with subcontractors," Lewis said. Overseas buyers will be subject to laws governing local content, but even if rules require up to 30 percent local content, Cardin production and workers will still make well over half of the completed vehicles.
"We see a market growing and we intend to get our share," Lewis said. "We will increase our work force and facilities.
"We have a lot of experience in mining and truck handling and we are going to stay and have a lot of fun." BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 276486