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Diamonds And Dust: 51 - Powder Load

Malcolm Bertoni tells of a load which almost broke the trailer's back.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

G_ also told me another amusing incident that happened to him. He was working in the vulcanising shop at the time and often had to do some fairly weird jobs. One day he is told by the foreman to take the low-bed trailer and truck and fetch a load of ferrosilicon from Luderitz and bring it back to No 1 plant – a distance of about 150 kms or so.

Ferrosilicon is a powder consisting of about 85% iron and 15% silicon and is used in the heavy media separation section of the treatment plant to separate the heavy diamonds from the lighter gravel. As a consumable it gets used up and so has to be replaced regularly. In those days the stuff itself came in nondescript grey drums which were only about 20 inches in diameter and about 36 inches tall – about half the size of a 44 gallon drum. The stuff was damn heavy – each drum weighed 125 kg or about 275 lb in the old scale. So the drums were very heavy in relation to their size.

So G_ gets to Luderitz, goes to where the drums are located and a crane loads the low-bed. They fill the trailer and stack the drums on nicely and G_ proceeds to take a leisurely drive back to No 1 plant. The road between Luderitz and Oranjemund is a dirt one, but in good condition although it is a bit windy with lots of undulating hills.

After a few minutes G_ notices that the truck is really struggling up the hills and he has to change right down and really pour on the power to get over them. The steering also feels heavy and the truck seems to be wallowing through the bends. This continues for a little while longer until G_ decides that there must be something wrong. Perhaps one of the tyres is flat. So he stops and gets out to have a look. He can’t find anything wrong with the tyres. The engine seems ok. Plenty of fuel. He checks the drums and they are all secure and so he checks out the low-bed. Strange. Did it always look like that? He looks more carefully and yes. There is a definite bow in the trailer.

He climbs up and checks the weight of the drums. 125 kg each, multiplied by one, two, three, four….. He does some quick mental sums. Jesus. He had virtually double the maximum load capacity of the trailer. No wonder the trailer was bent in the middle. They hadn’t taken into account how heavy ferrosilicon was and had over-loaded the crap out of the poor trailer. It was surprising that an axle didn’t break or the whole thing self-destruct.

So G_ radios back to Luderitz and they dispatch a crane to come rescue him. They unload half the drums and leave it on the side of the road – they sure as hell weren’t going anywhere. The low-bed looks a lot straighter and G_ drives off again and the truck feels much happier. He gets back to No 1 plant without incident and returns the next day to collect the rest of the drums.

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