This is a long post,
…and may only be interesting to people who see the power in rigorous thinking. If you’re someone who likes to operate in “Just give me the answer!” you might want to skip this one!
I’ve learned about business from many amazing teachers: One of the best is my Dad, Bill Condon. He was the first person who trained me in measuring for things that are important.
Dad graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Mining Engineering. (He graduated in only 3 years, after having served in the Navy after high school, right after the end of World War II.)
After moving to California in the late 1950’s, he took a position as an Industrial Engineer at Kaiser Steel in Fontana, California. He earned a reputation as a problem fixer, a trouble-shooter and (sometimes) a pain in the ass, as he tended to address issues head-on that others preferred to “step over.” He brought no-nonsense common sense to situations. He sometimes lacked political finesse and made a few enemies from this.
In 1965, he was offered a position with Hamersley Iron, an affiliate of Kaiser Steel in Western Australia, to help turn around a mining project that was running over budget.
In the early 1950’s, iron ore was discovered in huge quantities in Western Australia. Kaiser Steel entered into a joint venture with ConZinc Rio Tinto to form Hamersley Iron. Hamersley was specifically created to sell iron ore to the Japanese.
Huge amounts of money were invested to get the project up and running quickly, to allow Hamersley to keep its contractual agreements with the Japanese. Time was of the essence. The company was running hell-bent for leather, throwing millions of dollars at the project. The commitment was to do whatever it took to get the mine up and running on time.
As reported in a publication called Mining Engineering 1967 Vol. XIX, in a chapter entitled May 1967 – Aussie Iron Ore Bounds Ahead – Hamersley on Stream, the $400-million dollar project (1966 dollars!) entailed:
- Creating a large open-pit iron ore mine. (This piece of the project alone represented $100 million investment.)
- An ore crushing plant
- Storage and load-out facilities for sized ore
- A supporting township at Mt Tom Price
- A 182-mile standard-gauge railway
- Build a port and loading facilities for a nominal loading capacity of 6000 tons per hour
- Build a port town, on King Bay, with all the amenities needed to support the project and the human beings BUILDING the project.
…all of the above virtually from scratch, in the middle of nowhere. The site is located about 1000 miles north of Perth, the nearest big city.
“On August 22, 1966, just 20 months after writing sales agreements with Japanese steel mills, Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd made its first contractual shipment of 52,000 tons to Yawata Iron and Steel Co Ltd.
As world news, the event was not spectacular. But to mining men it represented an astonishing achievement.” (Added emphasis is mine.)
Source: OneMine.org Mining Engineering 1967 Vol. XIX Chapter: May 1967 – Aussie Iron Ore Bounds Ahead – Hamersley On Stream
One assignment Bill was given came near the end of the project, involving the 182-mile railway: (Note: The next couple paragraphs likely are more than you’ll ever want to know about railroad ties, however are important to the background of the story.) You can read more about the railroad project here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamersley_%26_Robe_River_railway
“The rails of the railroad were connected to wooden railroad ties, called “sleepers.” They were made out of a kind of wood, called “jarrah,” a type of eucalyptus,—really heavy and really hard—wood so dense that it would sink in water.
“A rail sits on a plate. The plate ties the rail to the sleeper. The rail sits on the plate, then the spike goes through the tie plate into a drilled hole in the wood, and ties the rail to the tie plate and the wood. The rail can slip on the tie plate along its length, allowing for expansion and contraction.
“The rails were in about 20ft sections. They’d weld them together and make 1000 foot lengths. The temperature in that area of Western Australia ranged from 70 degrees at night to 140 degrees in hot sun. The rail could literally grow an inch in that heat! It had to be able to slide, or else it could rip the nail right out of the tie plate.”
Map: Mt Tom Price, Perth, Bunbury