Rock Products 120th Anniversary – Part 10

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In This Issue, We Cover The Years 1980-1989.

26 120YEARS 400With the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president in January 1981, the U.S. aggregate industry began to see a positive change in both production figures, which increased during the entire eight years Reagan was in office, and in government policies that affected the industry. Aggregate producers and associations were optimistic that the Reagan administration’s approach to the environment would be moderate.

Economists predicted that federal outlays in 1982 would exceed the proposed budget by about $20 billion. Nonetheless, they regarded Reagan’s proposed budget for that year as an historic one that would reverse a 50-year trend in the growth of the federal government. (In 1987, President Reagan produced the nation’s first trillion-dollar budget.)

The down size of the times was that the first signs of double-digit unemployment appeared in early 1982, and by November the highest unemployment rate since 1940 – 10.8 percent – was reported. For the month, an estimated 11 million citizens were without jobs.

One sign that the new president might be helpful to the industry was the administration’s attempt at getting cost-benefit restrictions attached to Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) regulations.

In early 1981, the rock products industry was switched back to Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) jurisdiction. President Reagan signed the continuing appropriations bill for FY1982 with an attached amendment denying MSHA funds for regulating certain sections of the surface mining industry. But by the end of 1982, Reagan returned surface aggregate operation to MSHA’s supervision.




Crushed Stone

Sand & Gravel










































Source: US Geological Survey   million short tons

Reagan spoke to a packed house at 1984’s Con/Agg show in Chicago where he said he would, if re-elected, attempt to increase government efficiency, broaden the tax base and decrease the budget deficit. In November of that year, Reagan was elected for his second term as president in the greatest Republican landslide in history, carrying 49 states.

MSHA scored points with the aggregate industry once again in 1984 when it issued penalties to a producer and its blasting contractor after the death of a quarry worker killed by fly rock during a blast. “It is MSHA policy to hold the independent contractor responsible, as well as the producer,” said an MSHA spokesperson.

A committee studying the proposed merger of the National Crushed Stone Association (NCSA) and National Lime Institute told the NCSA board of directors in mid-1983 that the merger would be beneficial to the industry. By November, the merger proposal, with a co-presidency contract and an agreement that no staff would be terminated, was submitted to the membership of both groups. The merger was approved in September 1984, and the National Stone Association (NSA) was created (but did not officially take effect until Jan. 2, 1985) with its headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Department of Transportation presented to Congress a five-year highway plan in 1981 that made completion of the Interstate System more realistic by transferring some items from “interstate” to “rehabilitation” status, reducing costs by more than $22 billion.

Another big aggregate customer, the Tennessee Valley Authority, ordered 1.5 million tons of crushed stone over a five-year period beginning in 1982 from the Scottsboro, Ala., unit of Vulcan Materials Co. for flue gas desulfurization. The order increased the plant’s output from 100,000 to 450,000 tpy.

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Land Use

Land use became an issue of major concern in the early 1980s. Increasing local control of land and ever-more parochial attitudes made the permitting and zoning process more arduous. Zoning hearings became quasi-judicial with the results often being that applicants were prevented from cooperative work with a planner.

One example of this trend was chronicled in Rock Products in 1984, when a farmer and former wrestling coach told “pencil-necked” lawyers for then-Martin Marietta Aggregates that he would wrestle them to keep the company’s quarries away from his farm.

A series of Rock Products articles appeared in 1982 on the growing pressures on aggregate producers – which continue today – to “soften” the appearance of operations during extraction and to find end uses for the property. Causes for this initial push for reclamation included inflation, which increased land values; citizen’s groups and the growing number of regulations at state and local levels.

At the NCSA meeting in 1981, there was serious discussion about using computers as effective management tools for aggregate companies of all sizes. Scale house transactions were the first tasks improved using computers, with additional overhauls taking place in areas such as tracking customer credit, pricing, product blending, weighing, hauling schedules, and storing maintenance data and other production information.

Also in 1981, Rock Products profiled George F. Pettinos Inc. and its president, Lewis Pettinos, highlighting his use of a computer to collect, track and analyze a variety of energy-related data. Occasionally, the company found flaws in the billing process of its energy supplier.

In 1984, Rock Products ran a lengthy article on the inner workings of computers, complete with a glossary of frequently used computer terms.

The cement industry was entering a rough period in the early 1980s. In 1982, the chairman of Kaiser Cement pointed to foreign investment in the American cement industry and the growing number of cement importation terminals in the United States as representing a “new era of internationalism.” In congressional testimony, he charged that foreign cement was being sold in California at dumped prices and that California ports were missing their tax-exempt status unfairly to subsidize foreign cement manufacturers.

In early 1983, the International Trade Commission’s (ITC’s) report on its initial investigation of alleged dumping of cement in California found a “reasonable indication that the cement industry had been material injury by reason of imports of portland cement from Australia and Japan sold at less than fair value.” However, in its final analysis of the situation, the ITC determined that, while the two nations were dumping cement, at that time the product was not causing any actual injury to the domestic cement industry.

One bit of good news for the industry at the time: The U.S. Bureau of Mines, after extensive research, reported in 1982 that cement kiln dust was not a hazardous waste. The bureau examined 113 samples of dust from 36 states, and all but one passed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Extraction Procedure toxicity test.

The first mention in Rock Products of the possibility of destroying PCBs and other hazardous wastes specifically in cement kilns was in 1981. Researchers at EPA’s Industrial Environmental Research Laboratory discussed a PCB-burning test in which samples were collected and no differences were detected between background stack emissions and emissions with PCB injection. A smaller proportion of fossil fuel was required for cement manufacturers using these materials.

An industry-approved Clean Air Act failed to pass Congress in 1982, providing one of the best indications that environmental groups had gained significant strength by using the media coverage, if not the facts, to their advantage. At the 1983 National Sand and Gravel Association (NSGA) annual meeting, environmentalists were described by one speaker as “the most powerful economic force in the nation, dead set against strengthening American industry.”

Concrete recycling gained momentum in the early 1980s because it helped solve aggregate shortages, solid waste disposal, and energy problems while reducing costs.

The largest concrete recycling job to date began in late 1982: 124 acres of abandoned airport runways near Ft. Worth, Texas. The Molesworth Contracting Co. used conventional aggregate crushing equipment and techniques to remove, crush and size about 585,000 cu. yd. of concrete to be used as pipeline bedding and base material.

New Equipment

New equipment developments included the first railcar shaker introduced by Hewitt-Robins in 1982, which took the place of hand vibrators or clamp-on devices and men inside the car with spades and prodding bars. In the same year, laser technology was brought into the cement kiln industry for checking refractory alignment.

Beginning in 1983, a prototype of a computerized crushing and screening plant worked the dayshift at Genstar Stone Product Co.’s quarry near Mariettsville, Md. The operation ran at 220 to 250 tph.

The first electric-powered excavator, converted from diesel, also debuted in 1983. It did not actually travel, but simply unloaded material from barges to a plant’s main hopper. Electricity was conveyed via 2,400-volt overhead powerlines.

Electrostatically charged spray of minute water droplets began being used in 1984 to control dust as raw material was fed into a primary crusher hopper.

Falkland Mining Co. added polyurethane linings to its shovel and dragline to prevent material from clinging to them.

A conveyor belt system used in 1984 reduced energy and maintenance by “floating” the conveyor on a layer of air, eliminating troughing idlers and reducing friction.

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Government regulation: 1985-1989

With the worst of the energy crunch officially behind the country and booming aggregate production figures (from 1.6 billion in 1981 to 2.2 billion by 1988), rock companies were prepared to turn back to expanding and upgrading their facilities. However, government regulation and foreign investment forced the rock products industry to make major adjustments, whether it wanted to or not.

To combat some of these issues, a groundswell began building by 1986 for a single organization to represent the interests of crushed stone, sand and gravel producers. Some called for the merger of NSGA and NSA. Others suggested that one or the other simply open its membership to producers of all products. In 1987, the board of directors of the NSGA voted to open its membership to all aggregate producers and to change its name to the National Aggregates Association (NAA).

In 1988, there were early discussion about a proposed merger of NAA and NSA, and special committees were appointed by both groups to discuss the possibility.

In urban areas, construction aggregate sales grew moderately in the late 1980s, while the bottom dropped out of the agricultural markets. Following the release of Interstate Cost Estimate funds in 1985, most of the money was funneled into resurfacing and overlay projects. Renovating acidic lakes and streams using limestone gained popularity in this period, after years of research determined that high-calcium limestone was a safe and cost-effective remedy.

A study released in 1985 showed America’s highways had almost 56 million potholes, requiring about $224 million and 20 million tons of material to fill them.

Land restrictions were still an issue, and several aggregate companies, faced with space constraints and the need for steeper conveying angles, switched from traditional fabric belts to bucket conveyors. In addition, there was a trend toward in-pit crushing and conveying due to decreasing space and increasing labor, fuel, and maintenance costs.

With computerized automation ready to take off, the late 1980s seemed like the perfect time for growth. Rock Products even began a short-lived bi-monthly column on microcomputers.

By the end of the 1980s, computers were being used to: plan blasting patterns; design quarries and crushing layouts; and design three-dimensional images to show how a completed reclamation project would look from all angles.

Cement Stability

The cement industry saw some stability in the late 1980s, but manufacturers were still unable to secure an equitable price for their product because of foreign cement being either subsidized or dumped, according to some. “There’s a glut of cement on the world market and everyone sees the U.S. as their outlet,” said one economist.

During this period, the driving forces in the cement industry were an increase in world production, the changing pattern of world consumption, an unprecedented flow of imported cement into the United States, a corresponding decrease in domestic cement production, a significant increase in foreign ownership, and the relationship of the weak U.S. dollar to other world currencies.

In early 1986, Cemex formed a joint-venture company with Southwestern Portland Cement Co. of Phoenix. Under the agreement, Southwestern imported cement from Cemex’s
Mexican facilities.

Mexico, as a whole, was showing extreme aggressiveness by 1987 in making marketing alliances with U.S. cement producers in shipping cement into America. Mexico also pursued forging business relations with American stone producers to develop quarries on the Yucatan peninsula. By 1988, the national trade association for the Mexican cement industry became a part of the Portland Cement Association.

Several U. S. cement producers began to ensure their markets and sources of supply of raw materials by acquiring ready-mixed concrete and aggregate companies in the late 1980s.

In 1986 and 1987, the ITC determined that there was no reasonable indication that the U.S. cement industry was hurt by reason of imports of portland cement and cement clinker from Columbia, France, Greece, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Spain and Venezuela. Shortly thereafter, the Federal Trade Commission issued subpoenas to most members of the American Cement Trade Alliance in its investigation of counter-claims by cement importers that domestic cement companies were conspiring to frustrate the importation of foreign cement.

Also in the cement arena, there continued to be rumblings of interest in hazardous wastes as fuel for cement kilns. Tests were being performed on products such as waste oil, waste solvent, chlorinated hydrocarbons, garbage/refuse, pot linings, coal waste, lignite, charcoal fines, rubber tires, battery casings, graphite dust, pet coke and waste pitch.

In 1986, Lafarge Corp. acquired Systech Corp., a company engaged in locating, obtaining and testing liquid industrial waste materials for disposal as fuel in cement kilns. Lafarge said at the time that it planned on adding waste fuel installations at plants in the United States and Canada.

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By 1988, MSHA had ordered a study of waste products used as fuel in rotary kilns and tests of the exposure risks involved to industry employees. At the same time, the EPA announced plans to change its regulations for burning waste-derived fuels in industrial furnaces and boilers.

As for new equipment, one company unveiled a non-explosive chemical breaking agent in 1985, which fractured stone by expanding pressure produced by a chemical hydration reaction. Rocks were broken silently and without vibration or fly rock. The downside, however, was that this expansion took 20 to 30 hours.

The popularity of dewatering blastholes using compressed air and plastic liners instead of waterproof cartridges increased greatly in the late 1980s.

Another conveyor innovation was released in 1986. Goodyear introduced a wrap-around conveyor belt made with specialized hinges that fastened to the cover flaps at each edge of the belt. The load became completely enclosed while being conveyed.

A study released in 1986 outlined the uses of rubber as protection of metal parts against wear by abrasion, impact, and corrosion. The study also found that rubber reduced noise and conformed readily to many shapes and surfaces.

During 1987’s Hillhead exhibition in England, a 38-ton articulated all-wheel-drive truck with 26-cu.-yd. payload was introduced with rear-wheel steering on the trailer and was said to be impossible to jackknife. Also at the show, a railcar unloader was displayed, mounted on a truck chassis and rated at 1500 tph.

In 1985, the U.S. Bureau of Mines developed a vest restraint system for the safety and comfort of operators of large mining equipment. The vest contained pockets and clips for personal equipment, so the driver’s hands would be free when climbing the ladder to enter or leave the cab. Rings were sewn into the webbing of the vest for use in attaching it to clips on the back of the driver’s seat.

In 1988, the Bureau also introduced a concept (although not an actual vehicle) for a front-dumping, mid-engine, 170-ton-capacity truck design, which was said would improve safety. The new design was said to prevent overturning, bouncy rides and collisions. The front-dumping method was chosen to afford the operator a continuous view of the dump area. The unit was never built.

In the home stretch of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan ended his eight years as president when his vice president, George Bush, was elected in 1988 to take his place. Along with Bush’s entry into the presidency in 1989 came a brief but severe downturn in aggregate production.

Also, as Reagan was ending his term and Bush was starting his, a young magazine editor, who was recently graduated from Ohio University, began writing about the aggregates and concrete industries as an employee of Edgell Communications, a business-to-business publishing company based near Cleveland. Today, Mark Kuhar is the editor of Rock Products. 

Next Month: The 1990s and the growth market.

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