By Lindsay Briscoe
Whether you’ve never stepped into a cage in your life or you’ve been working underground for decades, you’ve likely never seen anything like the Mine Fox.
Gordon Martin, Manager of Tramin Mine Services in Atikokan and former underground mechanic apprentice turned mechanical supervisor, says he thinks there’s a niche market for the snazzy, new vehicle in underground mines in Canada.
“At one end of the scale you’ve got a Kubota and at the other end of the scale you’ve basically got Toyotas which start at 100 thousand,” he says. “We just want a basic personnel-hauler so that guys can throw their tool boxes in the back.”
The Mine Fox is a half-tonne capacity, four door crew cab truck with room for four or five people. It has a reinforced frame and body, custom axles designed by a company that specializes in high performance parts for mud boggers and race cars and will likely feature an automatic transmission. Tramin wants the design to be as simplistic and user-friendly as possible.
“You don’t need an instrumentation guy with a diagnostic computer to go down and figure out what’s wrong with it,” he says. “People with basic knowledge should be able to get this thing up and running again quickly…There are circuit breakers all along the dash so that when something blows a fuse you see the fuse pop out and you can trace it back. That way you don’t have to cut open a big wiring harness.”
But apart from aiming for a strong, practical and cost-effective vehicle (the price will likely fall somewhere between the cost of a Kubota and a larger truck typically used underground, like a Toyota), Martin says it’ll look really ‘cool’ too.
“That was a no-brainer. We wanted it to look like something you’d be proud driving on Main street,” he says. “We dressed them up with LED lights and the stuff you’d go to Bumper to Bumper to buy.”
If you make a truck look nice, the driver tends to treat it better.
“When you’re driving it around you should feel good about it and take care of it – not ramming it off the walls.”
Martin first came across the unaltered Genco Mine Service version of the vehicle at MINExpo in Las Vegas about eight or ten years ago. He liked the concept but thought it needed some work. Over the years he saw the Genco vehicle quality and design improve and at MINExpo a couple years back he said he got to crawling inside one, and from there, the Mine Fox project was born.
Genco purchases the vehicles from China and has been supplying them to coal mining operations in the U.S. Tramin has been working for the last few years altering the vehicle to ensure that it has the proper brake and emissions system, that it meets vehicle regulations for underground mining in Ontario, all the while testing them in an old mine in Atikokan. There are between 400 and 500 of them in the U.S. but currently nothing quite like them on the market in Canada.
Martin says they piqued a lot of interest when he first brought them across the border through International Falls.
“They drew a big crowd,” he says. “Hunters especially. They wanted to know where they could buy one.”
Martin says that even though the Mine Fox is currently not for sale in Canada, Musselwhite Mine has shown interest in testing it in a pilot project. During that time, Tramin will be able to determine the strengths and weaknesses and get it ready for the commercial underground mining market.