• Granite column: Industry has recycled granite for decades
    April 07,2014

    Image courtesy of Paul Wood Cross-section of a jaw (or vibratory) stone crusher with eccentric drive shaft (36), toggles (7), movable jaw (2), and gap-adjusting wedge (10).

    Editor’s note This article, the latest in a monthly series on Vermont’s granite industry, is provided courtesy of the Vermont Granite Museum.


    A major market for crushed stone is railroad construction. The unevenness of unballasted rails is caused by the shifting of the earth beneath the ties in wet weather. During a rainstorm, the water settles under the ties and when a train passes rapidly over them each wheel depresses the tie, suddenly ejecting the water and mud and leaving a cavity underneath into which the tie sinks. This sinking is increased with every train. If the ties rest on crushed stone ballast, the rain water drains away from the ties and no cavities are formed. Thus the tracks remain level and railroad patrons enjoy a smoother ride and the rolling stock is spared much wear and tear.

    Crushed stone that will pass through a 1½-inch-diameter ring is the most common railroad ballast. Crushed stone has superior durability and stability and drains well. It is more expensive and more difficult to handle than gravel but once the ties have become thoroughly bedded in the crushed stone it requires less maintenance for fast and heavy traffic lines. For Class A track, the crushed stone roadbed consists of a 12-inch deep layer of stone laid on a firm well-drained subgrade of soil sloped 1:24 toward ditches on each side. The ties are laid directly on the stone. In 1913, crushed stone ballast cost from 45 to 75 cents per cubic yard (fob) at the crusher.

    The first crushers on Millstone Hill probably went into operation in the 1890s. The earliest known photo showing a crusher dates from circa 1904. Crushers were often part of larger quarrying operations on Millstone Hill. For example, in 1925 Rock of Ages had a small crusher close to their quarry. Wells-Lamson had the largest and longest running crusher operation. The exact construction date of the old Wells-Lamson crusher is not known but must have been in operation in 1927 since a report on an accident on October 26, 1927 involving a horse-drawn lumber wagon said: “Near this highway the defendant maintained and operated a stone-crushing plant, with which and the noises made by it when in operation both Mrs. Johnson and the horse were familiar.” Starting in the early 1930s, Wells-Lamson had the only crushing operation on Millstone Hill which ended only a few years ago when Pike Industries (that had purchased the operation) closed the crusher in Websterville. This crusher processed grout from the Wells-Lamson Quarry.

    The old Wells-Lamson crusher plant had a small derrick close by that probably was used to handle pieces of grout that had to be broken apart to fit into the primary crusher. Crushing operations produced lots of airborne dust which, after 1937, had to be eliminated by either suction devices and dust collectors or by “wet suppression” (water sprayed on the crushed stone). Wells-Lamson Quarry Co. was still listed as a provider of crushed stone in 1949 by the Directory of Vermont Manufactured Products and Industries. The old crusher was probably torn down in the late 1950s or early 1960s after the new crusher that supplied material for the construction of Interstate 89 went into operation. The old crusher no longer appears in 1965 aerial photos of the Wells-Lamson quarry.

    The Wells-Lamson crusher stockpiled the crushed stone material in piles close to the crusher. Starting in 1935, Wells-Lamson used one of their International trucks (acquired to replace their old and worn-out truck fleet) to transport the crushed stone to a long wooden ramp that had several gates in the center through which the stone was dumped. This operation is shown in the 1940 film “Granite — A Saga of Stone” made at the Wells-Lamson quarry. A small powered shovel for loading the stockpiled material into trucks can be seen on a 1939 aerial photo available on the University of Vermont’s Landscape Change Program website.

    Combining granite block quarrying operations with crusher operations makes sense since all the stone quarried can be processed. However, quarrying for blocks produces large blocks that, if deemed unsuitable for monument production, are usually too large to be crushed. Quarrying for just crushed stone is normally done by blasting with high explosives. This yields smaller-sized pieces that can more easily be loaded by front-end loaders and are better suited for crushing without a preliminary breaking down. There were several small derricks in the immediate vicinity of the Wells-Lamson crusher that were probably used to lift grout boxes from the trucks to dump their content into the crusher hopper and to handle larger pieces in need of further breaking up. 

    In 1957, the Wells-Lamson Quarry opened a new $500,000 crushing plant. This was one of the largest stone crushing plants in New England and was set up to produce eight sizes of stone, ranging from individual 300-pound pieces down to fine dust for use in all phases of road- building. The company’s grout piles, furnishing raw material for the plant, were estimated to contain from 3 million to 4 million tons of rock. Plant capacity was expected to reach 1,000 tons per day according to Maurice L. Kelley, president of Wells-Lamson. All the crushing equipment, including two “Hydrocone” gyratory crushers, screening equipment, electric motors, and V-belt drivers were furnished by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee.

    Between 1958 and 1962 Wells-Lamson produced crushed stone for the Interstate 89 project by processing granite from the old grout piles along the road leading past the Wells-Lamson Quarry. According to a circa 1959 Times-Argus article, iron wrecking balls weighing 9,000 pounds were dropped onto larger pieces to reduce their size. A front-end loader loaded the fractured stone into two 18-ton trucks that then transported the material to the crusher that could process blocks up to 3 feet in size. Whereas the old Wells-Lamson crusher could only load wagons and trucks, in order to transport the high volume of crushed stone for road construction projects such as Interstate 89, the new crusher was designed to load the material directly into railroad hopper cars.

    The smallest stone from the operation of the new crusher was transported to the poultry grit plant where it was processed and bagged in four grades of poultry food additive — a fine grade for baby chicks, medium grade for pullets, coarse grade for laying hens, and large grade for turkeys. The company charged 85 cents per ton for this stone. The Wells-Lamson poultry grit facility was an enlargement of the Websterville crusher plant that had produced various granite aggregates for road and building construction. The new facility was officially opened on Nov. 18, 1942. Besides the existing large crusher, a grinding room was constructed with three Allis-Chalmers stone grinders that could produce 100 tons of poultry grit in one eight-hour shift, as well as a sacking room, a loading room, and a storage building. Whereas the old large crusher broke up the grout between compressive steel jaws, the grinders employed rotating abrasive wheels to produce four grades of grit.

    Some of the crushed stone was needed for the quarry itself, including quarry road foundations, fill and ballast for quarry railroad beds, level surfaces around the quarry for block yards, and backfill for retaining walls. In the June 17, 1965 issue of The Times-Argus, an article on Wells-Lamson byproducts reads: “Under this phase of the operations, the discarded granite goes into crushing, asphalt and transit mix plants producing well-known products such as ‘Granite Crete,’ ‘Granite Mix’ and ‘Staymat.’”

    They also made special aggregates for concrete mixes for precast concrete and exposed aggregates. Aggregates for exposed precast construction were shipped to Canada, New England and New York. Precast septic tanks and other precast products, including insulated “Granite Crete” sandwich panels for building construction, were also produced by the byproducts division.

    Using granite grout to produce crushed stone has a long tradition in Vermont’s granite industry, going back over a century. Today’s crushing technology allows the processing of much larger pieces of stone and provides a solution for the over 80 percent of quarried granite that today has to be dumped because it does not meet Barre’s high quality standards. However, transportation costs still remain a stumbling block for wider use of crushed granite, just as they did 100 years ago.

    Paul Wood is a researcher and writer who contributes to The Times Argus each month.

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