Most people don't give salt a second thought. It's so plentiful that the salt beneath the state of Kansas could provide the entire world's supply for 250,000 years, at least that's what Cargill Salt – one of the largest producers anywhere – states on its website. The Minneapolis, Minnesota-headquartered company owns salt mines, evaporation ponds and production facilities throughout the United States, as well as Venezuela and the Netherlands Antilles.
At its Northern California site, sun and wind are used to crystallize natural sea salt from the San Francisco Bay, a process that can take from one to five years to complete. These evaporation ponds provide tons of sodium chloride for eventual use in some 14 thousand applications ranging from agriculture and industry uses, to food processing and consumption.
How do you excavate efficiently for processing large quantities of sea salt bitterns (muck laden with sodium chloride, magnesium sulfate and other minerals) from salt ponds that are several feet deep with bay water?
"John Deere helped with a solution for Cargill's Redwood City application," said Mike Pilat, corporate accounts manager with Pape Machinery, Inc., Sacramento. His input helped out in their search for a less expensive way in excavating the ponds. Normally, an excavator would sit atop a dredge platform to do this kind of work.
"Cargill ordered a John Deere 330C LC excavator without the boom and arm, so that a 50-foot long-reach front end, manufactured by Jewell Manufacturing, could be attached," he said. Cargill had already contracted Marsh Buggies, Inc. (MBI), an amphibious equipment manufacturer out of Louisiana to custom build two floating pontoon attachments that transformed the equipment into an Excavator Self-Crawler.
At nearly 43 feet in length, 7 feet wide by 6 feet high, the two high-tensile alloy steel pontoons, each with four track chain runners, can tool along at 1 mph in open water of any depth, or 2 mph over land, according to the manufacturer.
"Cargill removed the 330C LC's standard tracked undercarriage upon its arrival to them," Pilat said. "I had already provided MBI with the technical details and measurements of the rotec bearing on the John Deere machine. It was then just a matter of using a crane to lift the excavator chassis, mounting it onto the newly adapted circular rotating bearing and simply connecting a couple of hydraulic lines. After the new long-reach front end was installed, they were ready to roll."
Although it takes about one day to configure the new gear, it is still an "attachment" setup because the stock land tracked undercarriage from John Deere may be re-connected at any time.