Daily photos by Gary Lloyd|
Leon Sheffield fifth-graders Spencer King, Trey Cowan and Joey Chiriotti take a moment to rest while at the bottom of the rock quarry in Trinity. They and classmates toured the Vulcan Quarry and had lunch at the bottom.
look at Vulcan
Tour for fifth-graders not bad way for investors to learn about quarry
By Eric Fleischauer
If you want to understand a company like Vulcan — its innermost workings — spurn its annual report. Bypass the analysts’ spreadsheets.
Instead, go on a fifth-grade tour.
Leon Sheffield Elementary School students recently toured the Vulcan quarry in Trinity, and The Daily got to tag along. Read carefully; a quiz may follow.
The most striking revelation in entering the Vulcan facility is how well it is camouflaged. The view from its Alabama 20 entrance is unremarkable. A few hundred yards south, however, are spectacular 300-foot limestone cliffs rimmed with vegetation, trickling waterfalls and a lush pond.
The crater, which was flat land when the first ammonia nitrate charges went off in 1955, was created for one purpose: excavating limestone.
Plant manager David Lee said in 50 years, Vulcan probably will have pushed the quarry to 400 feet.
Below 400 feet, limestone excavation is not feasible because of chemical changes in the rock.
To excavate the rock, Vulcan drills up to 40 holes, each 61/2 inches deep, and inserts explosive charges. After the detonation, a massive front-end hauler takes it to a rock crusher. (If you’re in the market, the hauler costs $900,000. Its tires are $14,000 apiece.)
Vulcan has seismographs set up in neighborhoods near the quarry to monitor blasting. Vulcan’s limits are half those mandated by the state.
“We need to be close to the market, but still be a good neighbor,” Lee said.
The crusher squeezes the rock, breaking it into different sizes. Some customers buy individual rocks that weigh over a ton. Smaller rocks are used for erosion control, such as those along the causeway. Much of it ends up as gravel for asphalt or concrete. Farmers buy rock ground into a powder, called agricultural lime.
Students from Leon Sheffield Elementary School recently toured the Vulcan rock quarry. To excavate the rock, Vulcan drills up to 40 holes, each 6½ inches deep, and inserts explosive charges. After the detonation, a massive front-end hauler takes it to a rock crusher.
Vulcan uses lots of water. Rock going into asphalt, for example, must be washed or the thin layer of powder will prevent a good bond. The company constantly waters the dirt roads through the quarry to reduce dust.
Location is everything for a quarry, explained Charlie Vines, Vulcan’s North Alabama sales manager. Limestone costs between $8 and $11 per ton, and delivery trucks max out at 25 tons. That means shipping is a significant part of the cost, so all sales are within a 50-mile radius.
Vines said he has to keep bids on rock low because of a competing quarry in Hoover. That quarry, however, must add up to 75 cents a ton to ship its product to the Decatur area.
“We have to be where the people are,” said Vulcan geologist Mac White.
Most limestone is formed at the ocean bottom — which is where North Alabama was many years ago — from precipitate. Enough pressure turns the precipitate into limestone. More pressure turns it into marble.
There is no limestone south of Montgomery, so development on the coast relies upon rock moved by barge. The Trinity quarry used to be a major source of that rock, but it was hampered by its distance from the river.
Trucking it across Alabama 20 added expense. In 2002, Vulcan acquired a quarry in Pride on the banks of the river. Since then, the Trinity plant has discontinued its barge shipments.
Vulcan has 18 limestone quarries in Alabama.
The fifth-graders were entranced by the quarry. Big rocks, ponds and gargantuan trucks. What more could a child want?
“Can I have an application to work here?” asked fifth-grader Chris Joiner.
“Yes sir,” said Lee. “You can’t fill it out until you’re 18, though.”
Another student, awed at the size of the quarry, commented that Lee must get paid a lot to supervise the operation.
“I get paid much more than I’m worth,” said engineer Lee. “This is too much fun. They shouldn’t have to pay us at all.”
Hopefully, his Birmingham supervisors are not reading this. If so, they should ignore it. Despite massive machinery and multi-ton rocks 300 feet high, Lee’s charges have not had a lost-time accident in nine years.
Fifth-grader Simone Clopton did not want to be left out. She asked numerous questions about whether women could work at a quarry. Lee assured
her that many do, some driving the oversized Tonka toys that cart limestone from one part of the quarry to the other. That, she grinned, would be grand.
No quiz (unless you are a Leon Sheffield student), but a parting comment. Said student Spencer King, through a mouthful of Vulcan-provided pizza: “I didn’t know rocks could be so fun.”
Rocking the Valley
Vulcan’s Trinity quarry is a driver for area development. Whether it’s residential driveways or industrial foundations, Vulcan usually plays a part.
A typical concrete driveway uses 50 tons of stone.
Nucor is pouring 50,000 yards of concrete at an ongoing expansion. Each yard requires about a ton of Vulcan stone.
While working on the Beltline Road extension, contractors discovered soft spots where the new lanes were planned. The solution was to dig out the dirt and replace it with large rocks from the Vulcan quarry.
Daikin uses rock in treatment ponds. The alkaline limestone neutralizes acids from the manufacturing process.
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