The following is an article that was published in the Tyler Morning Telegraph Newspaper.
GRAND SALINE — The Morton’s Salt Mine here is a large-scale operation, generating 450,000 pounds of salt for a wide assortment of products each year.
(PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ABOVE PRODUCTION RATE APPEARS TO AN ERROR – my best guess is they produce that amount per day – 450,000 pounds is equal to eighteen 18 wheeler loads. It’s possible the real amount is 450,000 tons per year)
Aside from the 207 employees working at the five-day-a-week plant, the inner workings of the mine are rarely seen by the public.
Ed Fasulo, plant operations manager for the Grand Saline location, said the company quit doing tours of the facility in the 1960s for insurance liability reasons.
“It’s on many people’s bucket lists believe it or not — in this area in particular,” Fasulo said. “There are generations of employees who have worked here, and their families still talk about the nice chance they had to go underground and see the salt mines.”
The chance was granted to 14 people, mostly scientists, who participated in Jarvis Christian College’s Saline Conference in mid-May — and the Tyler Morning Telegraph. The group spent three days studying salt prairies in East Texas and was given the opportunity to see the inside workings of one of two mined salt domes in Texas.
Everything that goes into the mine, including trucks, equipment, explosives and people, has to fit through a 5-by-6-foot elevator. Trucks are taken apart and put back together inside the mine, and any repairs are done underground. Gasoline is piped to underground storage tanks for daily use, said Boyde Parmer, mining supervisor who conducted the tour.
With no moisture inside the mine, the salt acts much like dirt and there is very little rusting to equipment, but once the metal is brought above to moist ground, the equipment rusts almost instantly, Parmer said.
The mine has two shafts, a main one and an emergency exit, Fasulo said. The main shaft was built in 1928 with the emergency one installed a short time later, he said. The plant, which is the second largest salt producer in North America, opened in 1930.
“If you can think of the technology they didn’t have back then, they did an amazing job of developing the shaft …” he said. “A lot of it without calculators, without computer programs, and a lot of it was done manually. They probably overbuilt it, which from a safety stand point we are happy about.”
The elevator works on a double pulley system, and as it brings people and equipment down, it pulls the salt up to the surface, Parmer said. Each trip brings about six tons of salt to the surface for processing.
Underground, the first room of the mine is the oldest and was hand-carved in the early days of mining. When the room was being mined out, the hauling labor was done by donkeys, Fasulo said. There are stories of donkeys procreating underground and animals that had never seen the light of day, he said.
The atmosphere feels like a cave and is about 25 feet high and 75 feet wide. A conveyor system lets out near the opening and fills a 6-ton bucket.
The walls are black, but Parmer said the discoloration is not from the salt, but rather from decades of exhaust from trucks and equipment. That portion is not mined today, but rather serves as a roadway for equipment and the conveyor system as workers mine out deeper parts of the operation.
Mining is done using explosives, Parmer said. And there is a science to it to get the desired size pieces, he said.
Extending from the original 25-foot rooms, workers mined out the ceiling and floor of the rooms, creating caverns of about 88 feet. The original mine stays in the middle, so the salt always travels to the middle of the conveyor system.
Driving down the roadways, salt kicks up much like dirt on a country road, and the roads are lined with piles of waste salt between the thick walls of hard rock.
The salt piles are made of product that was either too fine for use or might have been contaminated in some way. Rather than haul it to the surface, it is used as road blocks, with a 60-foot drop on the other side, Parmer said.
The air is not stuffy or stale because large fans push the air to the deepest parts of the mine. Large tarps cover some caverns, or rooms, to allow for the desired flow of air.
Under the roadways, about 30 feet of salt remains uncarved to provide support for the structure and prevent cave-ins. Fasulo estimated there are about 100 miles of roadways and caverns underground.
Fasulo said the salt in the mine has very few impurities and is one of the purest in the United States.
The level of purity is so high that large grain pretzel salt comes straight from the mine and is sold with little processing. He said if you have eaten a pretzel in the United States, odds are the salt on it came from Grand Saline.
There are varying levels of required purity for the products made out of the halite rock, and generally the salt is boiled using water in a closed system to purify the crystals.
The highest grade is a pharmaceutical grade for products, including medicines for dialysis patients, with food grade sold on shelves as the second grade.
Under those are an assortment of industrial grades for oil field products and agriculture, including salt licks.
The Grand Saline plant is a tiny dot on a large salt formation that lies under most of East Texas and Louisiana. Fasulo said considering its mineral rights on the 600-foot facility, the plant can be in operation almost indefinitely.
The operation has been ongoing since the 1930s, and they are still operating on one level, with the option to go down another 100 feet and start over without compromising the structure’s integrity.
“Someone did the calculation that the salt here could feed the world for a thousand years — it’s a big, big number,” he said.
More Has Been Added About The History Of Salt Production In The Grand Saline Area. (Includes some wonderful photos)
Texas Museum History FB Group: The Salt Palace Museum – Grand Saline, Texas