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When Daniel Thurston moved to Nevada in the 1970s, he brought a geology degree and desire to work. His background and boots-on-the-ground job searching led to him opening his constructing testing business.

Thurston Testing Laboratory opened in Elko in 1982 and has become the senior lab agency serving northeastern Nevada contractors, including mining operations.

“We have a great variety of clients,” Thurston said, with the purpose “to assure the work the contractor is doing meets project specifications.”

He and his team of four employees – “the test lab family,” as he calls it — operate from a laboratory on Silver Street to provide constructing tests for civil, private and mining work.

The scope of the business spans from the state’s northern borders with Utah and Idaho to Ely and remote areas such as Duck Valley. The lab can perform 25 to 30 types of tests.

“We’re the quality assurance and testing people,” said office manager Kristie Kraft.

A recent project is testing various aspects of construction of the new elementary school being built in Spring Creek. On a mid-January morning, Thurston employee Marsha Kilburn visited the site to test soil compaction, examine placement of rebar and conduct tests for concrete. Her work helps ensure that the ground and construction is solid, and that concrete does not spall in cold weather.

“I’m there every day,” she said. “You begin to feel like it’s your project, too.”

At the lab the same day, lab technician and assistant office manager Amelia Hardin conducted a rock sieve test for Small Mine Development, an underground mining contractor. She classified pans full of the rocky material using sieves. The reports she generates help SMD engineers determine mixes for backfill be placed in underground mines.

“This is all necessary for the mine so they know how much material they need,” Hardin said while dusting excess dirt from the rocks with a paintbrush.

The mines also commission Thurston to test its backfill samples. In the concrete testing room, employee Carson Newby applies a ladle full of molten sulfur clay mix to the ends of a cylindrical backfill sample to create an even cap. The sample goes into a curing tank full of lime-saturated water for a designated amount time before undergoing a compression test.

Kraft then tested the maximum pounds per square inch that the sample can support. The information lets the engineer “see if they got close to what they wanted for a spec,” she said.

To develop the maximum compression, a concrete cylinder is placed under a drop hammer in another common test. The results are useful for understanding backfill requirements or, for civil projects, determining how much cement to put in a culvert so that it doesn’t collapse in a street.

Thurston said he remembers having to determine maximum compaction manually. He lifted up a 10-pound drop hammer that he used to wield by hand until he was sore.

The improved automatic technology helps that test, but for other types of tests Thurston prefers traditional methods, even though people might consider them old fashioned, he said.

To determine soil density, he uses a sand cone because he said he thinks it is more accurate than using a nuclear gauge. The hands-on approach lets him feel for gaps or rocks that might skew an automatic gauge reading.

Whether using technology or tried-and-true methods, everything the team does, Thurston said, is to “ensure that the quality of the construction meets the specifications.”

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Mining Quarterly - Mining, state and county reporter

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