• A "mule" ferries a "man trip" through the extensive Carey Salt Mine.

Mine environment comfortable: The walls look like dull, unlcean glass

Sunday, July 22, 1979

First you see — as you step off the "skip" from the ground level of the shaft leading down into the Carey Salt mine — the rough, jagged surface of the mined-out walls, like dull, unclean glass.

Walking through the main tunnel running south from the mine shaft, you walk about a mile and then turn west. The mining has reached this point since the operation began in 1923. Since then, says production manager Joe Aid, about one square mile of salt has been removed.

The tunnel stretches north to an inactive mining area beneath the Cessna Fluid Power Division.

Beneath the ground at 645 feet, there appears an eerie candescence. Looking south down the lighted tunnel that leads to the active mining area, you follow rows of track which guide an electric-powered locomotive transporting a dozen or more cars. Each car carries about four tons of salt. Overhead, electric wires run the length of the mine. The walls to your right and left are interspersed every 50 feet by a 50-foot wide room which is also interspersed along its walls with more rooms. It is a catacomb design, what the miners refer to as a "checkerboard."

This checker design is the result of "room and pillar" mining, a method which leaves intact 50-foot square columns of salt to brace the ten-foot high ceiling.

The mining process begins with the blasting the night before. A crew of about 14 miners will arrive the following morning, use a machine with lobster-like claws to gather the salt from the mine floor which is then conveyed to a ahuttle car. The car transports the salt — much of it in enormous chunks - to the "jaw crusher," a massive machine through which boulder-sized chunks are battered into smaller pieces. A conveyor belt delivers the load into the cars pushed by the locomotive.

The cars are transported to the mine shaft where each load is separately dumped into a skip which takes the load to ground level.

The rock salt from the mine is mostly used in de-icing highways, in livestock feed, and for such things as home ice cream freezing.

Table salt is produced in brine plants operated by the three salt firms in Hutchinson — Interpace (Carey), Cargill, and Barton.

The environment in the mine is comfortable. The steady temperature of 68 degrees and the lack of moisture also make mined-out areas most suitable as storage sites.

Underground Vaults & Storage, Inc. is one firm that has taken advantage of mine apace. The company provides storage apace for everything from copies of vintage films ("Gone With The Wind") and a variety of seed stock (in case of blight or other disasters) to the tons of paperwork or microfilmed documents produced by major corporations,

A salt mine in Europe is being used for the storage of low-level nuclear waste, a concept that has been the recent focus of controvery at Lyons