One of the important aspects of plant use is in the quarry. The development of plant machinery, especially over the last 100 years, has had a huge impact on the industry. It has enabled quarries all over the world to streamline their processes and get their products to customers more efficiently. John Wainwright & Co is an example of such an enterprise. Formed in the late 19th century by an auctioneer who spotted a growing need for production materials in an industrial age, a word often associated with Wainwright is 'longevity'. Purchasing Moon's Hill Quarry near Stoke St Michael – their main site – in 1897, Wainwright's have continuously operated quarries in the Mendip area for well over a century.
On the 3rd of September, Wainwright's opened Moon's Hill to the public to celebrate 125 years of continuous operation. Whilst the weather could have been better, there was much to entertain people, including tours of the quarry, rides in the basket of a crane, live demonstrations of the quarry machinery and also opportunities to climb on top of and into the machines themselves.
James Dawson has been working for Wainwright for over a decade. Having previously been at the Benninghoven asphalt surfacing plant over the road, James joined Wainwright in 2002 and is now quarry foreman. Plant machinery, he says, is an integral part of the industry and the maintenance of the machines is part of the job.
Interestingly, James says that theft of plant machinery isn't too bad around the Mendip area. "The thieves are looking for the small items that can be easily moved", he notes. The theft of diesel vehicles such as the transport lorries is much more common. During James's time at the quarry, security and deterrent measures at the quarry have increased markedly. Levels of security for the big machines - such as the 25-tonne wheel loaders - have also become more sophisticated; the introduction of electronic codes means that it is now significantly more difficult to steal the machines.
This is a sentiment echoed by his colleague Tony Betty, also a quarry foreman, who has been working for Wainwright for 24 years, ever since training in their analysis laboratories. Tony recalled a recent occasion where the primary operator of a Volvo L150H wheel loader had gone on holiday without notifying his colleagues of the specific code to start the vehicle, meaning they weren't able to get it to start first time! Whilst electronic security systems can complicate things occasionally, they have certainly played a large role in reducing the levels of large-vehicle thefts in recent times.
Wainwright's long history and the development of new technologies and machines also go hand in hand with the continuity of use of plant machinery in the industry. On display were old machines using steam power to crush large rocks into more manageable sizes. Whilst those machines are now defunct, of course, it was interesting to see the continued reliance on machine power at the heart of the quarry. We were told that one man on 'the face' – as the location of initial quarrying is known – has been working there for over 40 years as a face excavator. Even the quarry foremen James and Tony admitted that since they began working at Wainwright's, the technology and innovation of plant and quarrying machinery has been continuous and impressive.
Wainwright also takes its environmental responsibility very seriously. Aside from the obvious attractions such as the machines themselves and the quarry tours in a tractor-trailer, the Somerset Earth and Science Centre was also on display. Wainwright has set up this ecological centre to promote the sustainable use of the environment. Moon's Hill Quarry is also a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest', due to its geological properties.
Of course, it goes without saying that the use of plant machinery in the quarry is only a means to an end. Whilst plant is used throughout all sorts of smaller industries such as farming, their use in quarries is a vital component of larger industries such as the building of the infrastructures that are so important in today's societies.