Family plays an important role at Debra Lynn Coals Inc. of Middleboro, Kentucky, so it seems only appropriate that the business is named after the daughter of the company’s founder.
“She works in the office taking care of the books,” said Debra Lynn Coals owner Tommy Evans.
In addition, Evans’ two sons and a couple of grandsons are part of the team for the company, which began as an auguring and surface-mining operation more than 30 years ago. Evans said at one point, Debra Lynn Coals owned and operated five mines with as many as 150 employees. Today, 26 employees manage the surface-mining operation at one location in Middleboro, producing about 15,000 tons of coal per month. Most of that is then sold to Bell County Coal and Kincaid Mining for processing.
Evans said Debra Lynn has been mining at its current location for 17 years and will probably continue there for at least another five.
“We decided to cut back into a smaller, family-run operation,” Evans said. “This is a good size for us — I don’t see us growing back to the size we were before.”
Beginning in business
Evans said Debra Lynn began work at its first mine in 1974 near Harlan, Kentucky. At that time, Evans said the company involved him, his eldest son, and four or five other employees.
“I was first exposed to surface mining when I got out of high school and hauled coal from surface mines,” he said. “I went from hauling to working on surface mines and then decided to go into business for myself.”
Today’s mining often requires going back to areas that had been mined years ago, and that means moving more yards of earth per ton of coal. Doing that requires larger machinery than 30 years ago, and Evans said he can count on Brandeis Machinery & Supply Company Sales Representative John Estill and Product Support Sales Representative Larry Jones for his large equipment needs.
Debra Lynn has a number of Komatsu machines in its fleet, including two D475 dozers, two WA500 wheel loaders, a WA800 wheel loader and a PC600LC excavator. “They’re durable machines,” Evans commented. “They’ve held up well.”
In fact, Evans said his Komatsu machinery usually operates at 95 percent to 98 percent availability, which is vital to the success of his business. “One of the best things about the Komatsu machines that we’ve noticed so far is the working time,” he said. “That’s what we want to see.”
Debra Lynn Operator Paul Sneed said the Komatsu PC600 excavator is a reliable performer. “I think all of Komatsu’s excavators are solid machines. The PC600 is really stout, so I can use a good bucket with it because it’s a good-size machine.”
Evans’ grandson Thomas Evans also operates equipment for Debra Lynn. He said the Komatsu WA800 wheel loader compares well to other brands. “It has a lot of power and it’s smooth. The WA800 seems to be a little bigger than some of the other brands I have run. We’ve had it for a year and it didn’t take very long to get comfortable with it. It’s a great machine to work with.”
Debra Lynn’s newer WA500 wheel loader is at work in the pit, loading coal. Tommy Evans says he’s always used WA500s to load coal and still has the first one he bought 12 years ago. “It’s a backup machine but it still runs well and has its original tires,” he noted.
Debra Lynn mechanics handle routine maintenance issues, such as servicing, fueling, greasing and changing oils. But when more complex issues develop, Brandeis is quick to lend a helping hand.
“I’ve dealt with Brandeis for 18 to 20 years,” Evans said. “They’re good, local people who provide good service. In fact, it’s one of the best service departments I could ask for.
“Working with a good service department that has parts availability when we need parts is crucial,” Evans added. “That’s one thing about Brandeis, if they don’t have a part, they can usually get it that day from other branches close by. If not, they’ll have it the next morning, and that’s really important.”
Also important is the safety of Debra Lynn employees, Evans emphasized. All employees are required to participate in a safety training program every year.
“Each man has to go through eight hours of safety training,” Evans said. “New miners receive 24 hours of training before we can hire them. We’ve been blessed when it comes to avoiding serious accidents on the job. We’ve even received awards from the MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) for going a number of months without any time lost to accidents. MSHA comes out and does the safety inspections on all our equipment and we work really well with them.
“When we can accomplish our work without losing any time to accidents or other safety problems, that’s where we want to be.”
Reclamation is important
Once an area has been safely mined, Evans said important reclamation work needs to follow. “Our final gradings put everything back to its original contour,” Evans said. “It’s expensive, but that’s part of the cost of mining.
“We follow our permitted plan for reclamation. We put up a bond for the reclamation work and then we get it back in three phases. Phase one is after grading and seeding. We get another percentage back after phase two, when we have a certain amount of cover and trees growing on the property. In phase three, we remove ponds and other methods used to catch silt and other runoff. After a mining area is finished, the process usually takes anywhere from five to seven years.”
Persistence pays off
Such work takes patience and persistence, the same qualities that have played a key role in the longevity of Debra Lynn Coals.
“Persistence and the challenge of the work keep me going,” Evans stated. “Mining gets in your blood and it’s hard to get away from once you get into it.”
When he founded Debra Lynn Coals, Evans admitted he didn’t envision he’d still be running the company more than three decades later. But even at age 66, Evans is out on the job every day and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I enjoy getting out and working every day so I’ll keep doing it as long as I’m able,” he declared. “Seeing what we’ve accomplished at the end of the day — making it all come together — there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”