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Annie Tooley

Joe Kalkus


As a kid, Joe was lucky enough to grow up around Big Iron and a whole lot of dirt in Washington state. He remembered, “We grew up on 50 acres. We had bulldozers, tractors, and backhoes growing up. I’ve been around dirt for my whole life.”

Joe got his first job as a welder when he was still in high school.

“The welding job was great. My dad actually ran the terminal. I worked there through high school and college. I got my CDL there, and I learned a lot of basic skills to go forward in my career. It was decent money, and my dad was pretty flexible with my schedule during school," he said.

Becoming a coal miner

In the mid-2000s, Joe accepted his first position at a mine in Centralia, Washington.

“My first mining job was at a surface coal mine. They also had a power plant there. They closed down in 2006 and laid off 600 people. They had a big job fair, and I knew I wanted to get out of Washington, and I wanted to try something different. That’s when I moved to Arizona,” he said.

When he got settled, Joe took a job with a contractor in Chandler, Arizona, but he had his eyes on Capstone Mining.

He said, “I had talked to Capstone about a supervisor job, but my wife didn’t want me to start doing shift work. By the time I was ready to look for a new job, there weren’t any supervisor positions available, so I started with Capstone as a truck driver. I did that for a little less than a year before I moved up to my supervisor job. I was the drill and blast supervisor for Capstone.”

Joe loved his job with Capstone, partially because there was so much variety from day to day.

“There was always something to do. At a supervisor level, there's always something you can fix, something you can improve, a project you can go after. My position was just doing everything. I didn't have any direct reports. I was more or less a facilitator or coordinator of the blasting program," he explained. 

Joe’s advice to people who are starting out in mining

“Don’t be afraid to start on the bottom. Every job I’ve come to, I’ve always worked my way up. I started on the ground level, and as long as you’re a hard worker with the right attitude, and you can work safely, you can always go up. I know guys who started as laborers five years ago. Now they’re in their mid-20s, and they’re filling supervisor roles. They went from $20 to $33 an hour in five years," Joe said. 

He also got a new perspective on how you can get a foot in the door, now that his daughter entered the mining industry, too.

Joe recommended, “I would also say that people should look into internship programs. My daughter and eight other kids were summer interns at Capstone, and it was $20 an hour. That’s a huge foot in the door. For that young kid, they can say they have experience on a mine site. Most of the companies have programs, too. They’re available.”

If you're interested in a mining career—or if you've heard negative things about this industry—head over to the Dirt Talk podcast to learn all about gold mining and find out what coal mining is really like

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