Imagine a bucket that, when placed on the back of a semi-truck, sits 20 feet high, requires power lines to be lifted and traffic lights to be removed in order to move it. 

You don’t have imagine it, just head to Elgin, Texas, to see it for yourself. That is where the massive dragline bucket now sits and is being used for the first time at a coal mine. 

“This bucket size was 106 cubic yards and was designed for a coal mine in Texas,” says Johan van Jaarsveld, vice president of sales and manufacturing at VR Steel. “The biggest we have done is 133 cubic yards for a mine in Queensland, Australia. These are only two of over 60 dragline buckets in production worldwide by VR Steel.” 

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Bucket’s voyage

South African equipment manufacturer VR Steel outsourced the making of its first U.S. dragline bucket to manufacturing companies C&C Metals and Mackanan, both based out of Conroe, Texas, and Buffalo Industrial Supplies in Buffalo, Texas. 

The massive bucket, weighing in at 63.4 metric tons, is one of the biggest dragline buckets in its class in the world, according to VR Steel. 

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It took seven hours to transport the bucket from Conroe to its new home in Elgin — a 130-mile trip — and required a small army of contractors to help move it. The bucket was first loaded onto the back of a semi-truck at C&C Metals by two giant cranes. 

According to van Jaarsveld, the dragline bucket was put into use for the first time on Dec. 11. Mike Moehnke, another vice president for VR Steel, and Justin Martens, VR Steel’s chief design engineer, commissioned the bucket earlier in the day.           

An emerging U.S. company

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VR Steel plans to build more mining tools in Conroe, using parts manufactured locally and in South Africa. 

“We see ourselves as a major contributor to the North American mining industry with our groundbreaking equipment design for surface mining,” van Jaarsveld says. 

Van Jaarsveld and Moehnke were appointed in September 2012 as vice presidents for the U.S. operations and received the first order for this dragline bucket shortly after.   

C&C Metals and Mackanan each hired about 10 more employees to work day and night shifts to finish putting the excavator together. The companies may add 40 to 50 jobs next year to fill more orders for mining tools. 

The next excavator is scheduled for fabrication early this year in Conroe. 

“We have received confirmation for another dragline bucket in North Dakota and there are various bids in the USA and Canada that we are waiting for adjudication,” van Jaarsveld says. “This is for our full range of equipment designs and includes face shovel buckets, electric rope shovel buckets and off-highway truck bodies.”


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