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Published August 11, 2014, 09:50 AM

Touring a coal mine

Jayme Boeshans’ pride and passion are crops and cattle. But the 27-year-old Beulah, N.D., farmer and rancher, takes his other career seriously, too.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

DAKOTA WESTMORELAND’S BEULAH (N.D.) MINE — Jayme Boeshans’ pride and passion are crops and cattle. But the 27-year-old Beulah, N.D., farmer and rancher, takes his other career seriously, too.

“If you’re going to work here, you need to get into it,” says Boeshans, a full-time diesel mechanic at the Dakota Westmoreland Corp.’s Beulah Mine.

Boeshans took his father, Jerome, and Agweek on an off-duty tour of the mine earlier this summer. He began working there as a laborer in 2011.

The sprawling 7,500-acre surface mine complex produces about 2.9 million tons of lignite annually. It supplies coal for the adjacent Coyote Generating Station and the Heskett Station, 74 miles away.

On the evening of Agweek’s visit, Jayme exchanges friendly greetings with several on-duty mine workers. He chats briefly with them about the work they’re doing and the equipment they’re operating. He speaks knowledgably; he’s done most of the jobs himself, and he’s operated or repaired most of the machines.

Some of the mine equipment is huge, dwarfing Jayme and the other employees. Jayme and Jerome, who worked 25 years at North American’s Coteau Mine near Beulah mine, tease each other about which mine has better equipment.

Signs emphasizing safety seem to be just about everywhere.

Jayme drives a company pickup. It rattles over a beat-up unpaved road, reflecting hard use by heavy equipment and coal trucks. Puddles of water stand here and there, the result of rain squalls earlier in the day. Even so, vehicles kick up clouds of dust.

A field of grain grows near one of the open pits being mined. Coal beneath the field already has been mined, with topsoil later restored and the land returned to cultivation. As Jayme notes, reclamation is an important part of the mining process.

Near another huge pit being mined is a long-vacant farmstead. Jerome attended barn dances there when he was in high school.

The tour over, Jayme Boeshans returns the pickup to its stall and asks his visitors what they think of the place. He nods when told that the mine seems an interesting place to work.

“Everybody here knows how I feel about farming and ranching,” he says. “But I spend a lot of time here, and this is important to me.”

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