Rock Products 120th Anniversary – Part 6

26 120YEARS 150


In This Issue, We Cover The Years 1950-1959.

26 120YEARS 400As the 1950s began, the rock products industry, as well as other road-building groups, intensified efforts to increase federal funding for highway construction. “Most of the main highways were built 20 or more years ago when the commercial use to which they were to be subjected wasn’t even anticipated,” wrote Rock Products Editor Bror Nordberg. “That fact isn’t fully appreciated by an apathetic public which has lost faith in highway building because the then-called ‘permanent’ roads gave out too soon.”

The Bureau of Public Roads reported that deficiencies in 37,800 miles of the national system of inter-state highways required more than $11 billion for correction. At a projected $500 million annual rate of construction, the task would take 20 years.

Proposals to solve highway deficiencies varied widely. In 1950, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) asked Congress to increase federal aid for highway construction to almost double the then current amount of $450 million per year. AASHO also wanted the federal government to pay 75 percent, rather than the usual 50 percent, of the cost of constructing an interstate highway network. The network was essential to national defense, the group said.

The American Road Builders Association in 1952 proposed a 10-year, $3 billion-per-year highway program.

But, although public support for road construction was growing, Congress lacked support for a long-term financial commitment to highway construction. In 1954, it approved a highway bill authorizing $966 million over two years.

Road-building proponents, however, found support from recently elected President Dwight Eisenhower. Citing needs to increase production efficiency in the nation, to cut the highway death toll, and to meet the demands of national defense, President Eisenhower proposed in 1954 a 10-year, $50 billion program.




Crushed Stone

Sand & Gravel














































Source: US Geological Survey   million short tons

But the trend of increasing public spending – for construction as well as for other programs – denoted growing government control and concerned some in the industry, even those supporting some type of federal highway program. “Everyone seems to be yelling for a reduction in the spending of the federal government, but at the same time, all are trying to get their feet in the public hog trough by insisting that their particular project is essential to the nation’s welfare,” wrote Rock Products Associate Editor Walter Lenhart after spending 46 continuous weeks on the road visiting aggregate and cement operations across the country.

“Government can’t level out the four phases of the economic cycle – inflation, recession, depression and recovery – without throwing us into socialism,” said T.E. Popplewell, president of the National Sand and Gravel Association (NSGA), at its 1950 annual convention. “Deficit spending during times of peace is totally unnecessary.”

States Look Elsewhere

Unwilling or unable to wait for greater federal funding for highways, several states undertook construction of toll roads. In 1953, construction began on the New York State Thruway. The 430-mile highway was considered the biggest road-building program in American history. By the end of 1953, Ohio had $323 million worth of contracts signed for construction of the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike.

A growing number of highway and road projects pushed aggregate demand higher every year through the early 1950s. Production in the U.S. grew from 622 million tons in 1950 to 965 million tons in 1954, a 55 percent increase. The aggregate industry’s goal immediately following World War II had been to increase production. Now, although demand continued to grow at a phenomenal rate, the industry struggled more with cost control, new competition – especially from operators with portable plants – and product quality.

63 120TH 400Government price controls were still in effect; however, competition was so stiff that many producers reported they couldn’t raise prices even if controls were removed. In fact, aggregate producers in some areas did not raise prices to allowable levels out of fear of losing business to portable-plant operators.

In addition, the shift from rail transport to truck transport that began in the late 1940s continued. Shipments by truck had increased from about 40 percent of production in 1938 to almost 60 percent by 1950. The shift geographically restricted market areas for many producers, intensifying local competition.

Highway agencies continued to tighten specifications for aggregate. In 1953, a sand equivalent test was required for some California projects. “If the test is universally adopted,” reported Rock Products, “it means that practically all sand and gravel as well as all crushed fine or coarse aggregates will have to be washed.”

Many sand and gravel operations began installing heavy media separators to remove deleterious materials. This trend intensified throughout the 1950s, particularly as new, higher-quality sand and gravel deposits became harder to find and to permit.

Aggregate particle shape also received attention from specifying agencies, and producers experimented with different types of crushers to create fewer elongated particles. Buried in the new products section of one issue of Rock Products in 1954 was a new crusher developed by Adams Engineering. The 4-ft.-wide cylindrical impact crusher, called Tornado, handled 40 tph and operated at 1,200 to 1,600 rpm. It resembled a vertical shaft impactor in appearance, but operating details were not available and no further mention of the machine was found.

Cement Production

In contrast to the aggregates industry, U.S. portland cement production increased only 20 percent from 1950 to 1954, from 41.9 million to 50.5 million tons. Advances in cement production technology focused on improved methods of feeding raw materials to mills and kilns; closed-circuit crushing and screening to better regulate particle size of the feed to raw grinding mills; and increased use of kiln-control devices.

Allentown Portland Cement’s Evansville, Pa., plant installed the first suspension preheater system in the United States. Using a multi-stage counterflow process to preheat raw materials with exit gas, the Lepol dry-process kiln provided better thermal efficiencies, producing cement at 600,000 Btu per barrel. The dry process, however, required better mixing of raw materials.

64 120TH 400In 1950 and 1951, short supplies of cement created a “gray” market where prices were three times higher than the normal market. Cement was often stolen from construction sites during this time. Also, some cement imported from Europe to eastern seaboard markets sold for 50 percent to 100 percent above the price of domestic cement. Price controls were still in effect.

By 1953, when price controls were finally lifted, cement demand had moderated, but prices were still expected to jump about 10 cents per barrel. Also in 1953, the Federal Trade Commission reversed its ruling on the basing point system of pricing, allowing cement producers to once again competitively bid projects by absorbing some freight costs.

Taxation Talk

The rock products industry sought relief from federal taxation in the early 1950s in the form of depletion benefits. Efforts were successful. The government granted percentage depletion allowances of 5 percent for sand, gravel, and crushed stone and 15 percent for chemical-grade stone.

But relief on the tax front was offset by growing pressure on the industry to clean up operations. A southwestern U.S. cement plant fought complaints that dust from the plant “kills cotton, strips autos of paint, whitens trees, makes corn pullers sick, sheep noses run and housekeeping difficult.”

Rock Products Editor Bror Nordberg warned in 1951, “We have come to the time when dereliction on the part of the industry will not long be tolerated. The public is critical of sloppy-looking plants, hazardous conditions which are permitted to exist, marring of the countryside, loss of land values, noise dirt, stream pollution and the indifference to the rights of owners of adjoining properties.”

Good reclamation and public relations were deemed necessary to obtain favorable zoning rulings for expansion in order to maintain adequate reserves. In addition, stream- and dust-pollution laws were being enacted in some areas.

65 120TH 400American Aggregates, at the time the world’s largest producer of processed sand and gravel with production exceeding 7 million tpy, was considered to be at the forefront of reclamation efforts.

Another Ohio company, New York Coal Sales Co., was recognized as the only company in the rock products industry that was diversified enough to produce portland cement, crushed stone, agricultural limestone, sand and gravel, concrete products, ready-mixed concrete, and asphaltic concrete. The company structure was indicative of the direction the industry would head in the last half of the decade.

Waiting for a Windfall: 1955-1957

Construction spending in the United States continued its upward climb through the mid-1950s, as did aggregate and cement production. Mortgage money was readily available and industry planned large capital outlays for new capacity. The construction industry accounted for about 15 percent of the Gross National Product.

Efforts to pass a long-term highway construction bill failed in 1955, but a second attempt the following year resulted in a program that Rock Products said surpassed “any construction project ever undertaken by the United States.” The Highway Act of 1956 established a 41,000-mile national interstate highway system to be built in 13 years. The federal government would provide about $2.2 billion per year, with the states funding the remaining costs.

The first paving work paid for with funds from the highway act was reported by the Portland Cement Association (PCA) to be the placement of a section of concrete on Route 40 near Topeka, Kan., on Sept 26, 1956. In general, however, the interstate program got off to a slow start. Many state legislatures failed to appropriate matching funds in a timely manner; right-of-way acquisition was slow; and there was a shortage of trained highway engineers.

While the rock products industry eagerly anticipated a windfall from interstate construction, realization of the scope of the project caused concern over the increased requirements for men, material, machines and money. And technology, it was thought, could only provide limited assistance. “Electric computers are fine,” commented a Rock Products editor, “but they cannot do the thinking or the layout to meet ideas as fast as they will develop from the field once the road program gets under way.”

66 120THA 400Cement production capacity in the United States continued to be a problem. Since the end of World War II, plant capacity had been expanded at an average rate of 18 percent a year. But with the prospect of significantly increased highway construction, some companies were considering expanding capacity an additional 30 percent to 50 percent over the next few years. “Capital investment to be made will be of unprecedented proportions,” Rock Products reported.

Huron Portland Cement undertook a second major expansion at its Alpena, Mich., facility, already the world’s largest cement plant. A capacity increase from 7 million to 9 million bbls per year meant the operation was producing 150 percent more than it did at the end of the war. It used 24 rotary kilns and 1,000 employees to produce and ship 26,000 bbls per day.

On the West Coast, dramatic growth in the use of ready-mixed concrete led to increased use of bulk tank trucks to haul cement to ready-mix plants. In some cases the trucks back-hauled fuel oil to the cement plants.

Suburban Sprawl

In many parts of the country, particularly older industrialized cities in the North, the concentration of residential and infrastructure construction was shifting from the central city to surrounding suburbs. For the rock products industry, this was a mixed blessing, bringing both increased demand for its product and increased opposition to its operations as residential developments gradually surrounded existing operations.

The NSGA and the National Crushed Stone Association (NCSA) established public relations committees “to meet the challenge threatening the existence of many producers.” Restrictive zoning was becoming a problem at the exact time many producers faced the need to expand.

“The problem is being exaggerated by small organized pressure groups exerting their influence on planning commissions,” Rock Products reported. “Their efforts are most fruitful where producers have failed to clean up their operations and to reclaim exhausted excavations.”

Aggregate producers continued seeking methods and technology to increase production and cut costs. In 1955, Rock Products noted a “unique” way to estimate tonnage in stockpiles by using aerial photographs. The new method “cut weeks of work to days.” The editors also predicted that data would be handled in the future by “an electronic brain” such as the IBM 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine.

66 120THB 400Trends in aggregate-plant design included use of central, push-button controls; emphasis on sand gradation; and fines recovery with “liquid cyclones.” Some operations were grinding material with rod or ball mills to meet tighter specifications for minimum fines content.

Among the most significant advances for quarries in the mid-1950s was the development of ammonium nitrate-based explosives. At the American Mining Congress coal show in 1955, Robert Akre and Hugh Lee of Maumee Collieries presented a paper on a new do-it-yourself explosive they called Akremite, a mixture of 94 percent fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate and 6 percent carbon black. Further experimentation resulted in use of an ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO) mixture. This development of a significantly cheaper explosive revolutionized quarry blasting within a few years.

Road to Prosperity: 1958-1960

Following a short-lived and mild recession in 1957 and 1958, the rock products industry entered into an era of highway construction that promised to fuel growth for at least the next decade. Spending for highways, streets and roads was expected to increase 14 percent in 1958 to a total of $5.5 billion, including a 240 percent increase in spending on interstate construction from $250 million to $850 million. Less than two years after passage of the Highway Act of 1956, $10 billion of additional projects were being added to the already ambitious program. Additions consisted primarily of urban expressways to handle the increasing commuter traffic to and from the growing suburbs.

The Bureau of Public Roads estimated that 77 million vehicles would be in operation by 1961 and predicted the number would grow to 100 million vehicles by 1970. Freight shipments on the nation’s highways also were increasing significantly. The number of trucks operating on U.S. highways had increased 120 percent since the end of World War II, from an estimated 5 million in 1945 to 11 million in 1959.

As the highway program geared up, local and regional shortages of aggregate began to develop. Rock Products urged producers to “take a broader look at aggregate sources and redouble efforts of conservation of existing sources.” One highway agency director warned that to meet the highway program’s estimated demand for 9.7 billion tons of aggregate over the next 13 years, producers needed to get into the “roving rock business.”

Rural highway construction, in particular, needed portable operations that, if not provided by aggregate producers, would result in contractors entering the rock business. During the 1958-to-1960 period, Rock Products reported that about half of the aggregates used in highway construction were produced by highway contractors rather than purchased from established aggregate producers.

67 120TH 400The first sections of interstate highway built under the 1956 program opened late in 1959. But continuing construction at the same pace was threatened by a rapidly depleting balance in the highway trust fund. The rock products and transportation industries’ efforts focused once again, therefore, on establishing additional funding to keep the program on track. In response, Congress raised the federal gasoline tax from 3 to 4 cents per gal. with the provision that the tax would revert to 3 cents in July 1961.

Perhaps partially in response to the growth opportunities in the rock products industry created by the federal highway program, merger and acquisition activity heated up in the late 1950s. In 1957, Vulcan Materials Co., which had formed the previous year with the merger of Birmingham Slag Co. and Vulcan Detinning Co., acquired Lambert Materials Co. and Union Chemicals Co. Vulcan continued its growth in 1958 and 1959, buying W.E. Graham & Sons and several of the smaller construction materials producers.

Also in 1959, defense contractor General Dynamics merged with Material Service, one of the largest aggregate and concrete producers at the time. Later in the year, American Marietta – forerunner of Martin Marietta – purchased Superior Stone and Concrete Materials & Construction Co. According to Rock Products, Concrete Materials pioneered in the development and use of portable crushing plants.

The U.S. rock products industry gained the interest of other large companies. In 1958, Holderbank established a firm – Dundee Cement Co. – in Dundee, Mich., to operate a planned 4.5 million bbls per year plant. Holderbank already operated tow plants in Canada from which it planned to supply cement for construction of the Michigan facility.

Lime Industry

While the cement industry continued to expand capacity, however, the lime industry faced several challenges. Increasing use of drywall cut into the demand for plaster, which contained lime. In addition, a strike in the steel industry during the second half of 1959 had lime plants operating at about 76 percent of capacity. As lime markets shrank, a relatively new pyro-processed material in the United States, lightweight aggregate, began finding new, growing markets, particularly in precast structural concrete.

Several technological advances in the late 1950s helped the rock products industry keep up with growing demand. Many producers tried new drills to improved productivity. At a NCSA meeting in 1960, Julian Parton, General Crushed Stone, detailed the company’s costs drilling 9-in. holes in a quartzite quarry:

  • A churn drill penetrated 1.81 ft. per hour, at a cost of $7.57 per ft. or 10 cents per ton.
  • A rotary drill penetrated 8.2 ft. per hour, at accost of $2.50 per ft. or 4.1 cents per ton.

68 120TH 400The explosives industry also was undergoing significant development. Despite a National Safety Council warning that blasting with ammonium nitrate explosives could be hazardous because of their newness and lack of facts on the safe use, interest in and use of ANFO continued to increase. And the first slurries were introduced in the United States in 1959. They contained 65 percent ammonium nitrate, 20 percent TNT, and 15 percent water with guargum and sodium borate providing a soft-gel consistency.

Secondary breaking took a step forward with the introduction in 1959 of hydraulically operated rock breaker. Developed by International Research and Development Corp. and demonstrated at the Marble Cliff Quarry Co. in Columbus, Ohio, during the National Crushed Limestone Institute’s annual convention, the 4-x-4 x 2-½-ft. device was mounted on a wheel loader and delivered a 90-ton impact.

Wheel loaders continued to gain in popularity and to grow in size. Some machines used buckets as large as 6 cu. yd. Case introduced its Terrloader, a four-wheel-drive loader with rear wheel steering. Caterpillar introduced its first wheel loader: the 2-cu.-yd. 944.

An advertisement for Kockring’s Skooper – a 1 ½- to 2 ½ -cu.-yd. shovel with hydraulic crowd and bucket operation – first appeared in Rock Products in 1958. This early version hydraulic shovel established the technology that would eventually revolutionize face loading in mines and quarries. The company claimed the Skooper could load stockpiled material at 400 tph.

In other developments, Buell introduced its gravitational inertia air-classifier for dry separation of fine-grained particles. And many sand and gravel producers still touted the use of heavy-media separators for beneficiating their products.

Next Month: Steady growth comes to an end in the 1960s.

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