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It's all about diversity. That's why we call the tractor a multipurpose machine

Josef Pappenreiter, Managing Director VA Erzberg GmbH - 1050 Vario

It's all about diversity. That's why we call the tractor a multipurpose machine

Uphill. Downhill. Good luck!

Large stone terraces that turn pink in the morning sun. Surrounded by a picturesque mountain landscape with sunny alpine pastures, dense mountain forests and pointed church towers – this is the Erzberg mine in the Styrian village of Eisenerz. Here, where ore rock has been mined for more than 1,300 years, the largest Fendt tractor is the smallest machine of all. But the Fendt 1050 Vario has an important role.

At exactly 9:50 am, a siren blares out across the entire valley. The sound is as deep as a cruise ship horn. Unmistakable. It lets everyone know that they're blasting at the Erzberg ore mine. The Erzberg is the largest open-cast rock mine in Central Europe and the most important ore deposit in Central Europe. “Due to the large production volumes, which have increased by 50% in recent years, we work here for 12 months a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day,” explains Josef Pappenreiter, Managing Director of VA Erzberg GmbH. “On average, we have to keep about 40 km of road clear every day for our work. This means that in the summer, the paths have to be irrigated because of the drought and buildup of dust. In the winter we need to plough snow and spread salt. That's why it is critical for the productivity of our mining industry to have the right equipment to maintain the road."

13 heavy-duty trucks, affectionately called 'haulies', four wheel-loaders and a Fendt 1050 Vario are used here in northern Styria to mine 12 million tonnes of rock every year. Of these, only about 3 million tonnes of pure fine ore are delivered to the blast furnace in Linz and to the Donawitz steelworks. "Economic and energy efficiency are essential for our ore mine. With only 33.5% iron content, we can only be economical by being better – that is, both generating high productivity using equipment more efficiently. Just to as a comparison, Australian deposits have an iron content of 65% to 68%,” says Josef Pappenreiter, explaining the challenge at the Erzberg mine. Having been with the company since 1984, he knows what he's talking about.

The Fendt 1000 Vario joined the miners' workforce in March 2018. You have to do a double-take when you see the tractor driving through the levels of the mine. It looks tiny against the backdrop of this gigantic mine – almost dainty next to the powerful 1200 hp yellow 'haulies'. But the “Little One from Erzberg” has a big responsibility. "We thought long and hard about what kind of machine would suit our road maintenance tasks, and we made the right choice. It's all about diversity. That's why we call the tractor a multipurpose machine,” says Josef Pappenreiter. “In the summer, the tractor works constantly to wet the roads. But it's also used in road construction. I'm particularly happy in the winter, because we can clear the 40 km of road using the right equipment combinations."

And snow falls in swathes here. Last winter was epic. New snowfall measuring more than 200 centimetres had to be managed in the mine. That's when the 517 hp tractor kicks into action with the snow plough and spreader or snow blower. Now, in summer, dust is the biggest challenge. Klaus Taxacher is currently pumping water from a specially designed mine lake into a 30,000-litre barrel. Driving up and down the mine roads with his team, he's bringing out water to try and prevent the dust from building up when the rock is excavated. No-one wants the iron ore mine to disappear under a cloud of dust. This work used to be done with converted heavy-duty wagons, which could be loaded with 70 m³ of water.

But with a net weight of 80 tonnes, this is in a poor ratio to the payload – regardless of maintenance costs and, above all, the fuel consumption. “The Fendt 1050 Vario is lighter, more agile and can also drive faster,” explains Klaus Taxacher. “The big dumper guzzles 70 litres per hour. The tractor has a fuel consumption of about 18 litres per hour. So, it's much more efficient and also more economical."

Klaus Taxacher then laughs and tells us why he likes his job: “The level of comfort is incredible. The all-round view is perfect and the air conditioning works great. The cab is very spacious. I have a radio, a cool box for my drinks and snacks. And I like not having to switch gears, or use the clutch. All you have to do is go forwards or backwards, accelerate and brake.” This lets Klaus Taxacher concentrate on the task at hand and on the mine. He sets off in his tractor, climbing additional 300 metres. Against a colossal backdrop – whatever time of year. Good luck!