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FARMINGTON — Located about three miles north of Farmington on the La Plata Highway is one of largest suppliers of mining and tunneling equipment in the U.S.

Mining Equipment, Inc., which also does business internationally, was founded by Bob Pope in 1981. Its administrative headquarters, Mining Equipment Ltd., is located in Durango, Colo.

Pope’s sons, Matt and Rob Pope, serve as the company’s vice presidents. They offered a tour of the facility earlier this month.

“We started by selling used equipment, and then we started renting out equipment,” said Rob Pope, adding that the company later began manufacturing new equipment, as tunnel boring machines became more specialized.

“Most of our business now has to do with civil tunneling — strictly underground projects,”

Up until several years ago, the company was also more involved in supplying equipment for gold, silver and copper mining, but since that industry has waned, the civil tunneling makes up most of their business.

“The dollar’s doing well, so there’s not a lot of (metals) development right now,” said Matt Pope.

Equipment exported by the company, which employees approximately 20 people, includes tunnel boring machines, mine hoists, rail-mounted equipment, tunnel fans and silencers, as well as locomotives that are used to deliver construction material into the tunnels and remove waste materials.

One of the larger pieces of equipment at the 60,000 square foot facility is a locomotive tester built on-site, which can test a 4- to 40-ton locomotive by simulating the grade of a tunnel, in addition to the speed, horsepower, and pulling ability of the engine.

The company started in the mid-1980’s when it purchased some used equipment for resale. Currently, 50 percent of Mining Equipment’s sales is made up of selling new equipment, and 30 percent from renting equipment.

“We’re also still buying a lot of used equipment, refurbishing it and selling it,” said Matt Pope.

The equipment sold by the company is used to build inner-city tunnels for water or sewage, or for underground transit purposes.

Matt Pope explained that in big cities after a significant storm, rainwater can inundate sewage treatment plants, leading to untreated sewage overflowing into rivers.

“By building big tunnels, this water can be shut off and treated — it’s cheaper than building a big storage area,” said Matt Pope, adding that the company is currently supplying Indianapolis with equipment for the purpose of building such a water-containment tunnel.

While the company’s customers are mostly located in North America, with a large part of the business coming from inner-city tunneling projects in Los Angeles, much of its equipment sales are also going to tunneling projects in other countries such as Mexico, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and several European countries.

As to why such a seemingly isolated area as Farmington would be chosen for the location of this international tunnel and mining equipment business, Matt Pope said there were several good reasons.

“The Farmington area has been very conducive to the company’s business,” he said. “Farmington has a heck of a good workforce, the weather is good, and there are qualified mechanics and technicians here. Also, you can build things here. There’s an openness to large equipment yards — people are used to seeing (the yards) around here, so we don’t get complaints.”

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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