Mark Madson makes a little lime, makes a little aggregate and makes a big impression at ‘The Littlest Limestone Company in the World.’
By Mark S. Kuhar
When Mark Madson was in 7th grade he took the engine off of a lawnmower, put it on his bicycle, and left home for a week. He hasn’t stopped moving since.
Madson, “The Wisconsin Madman,” is also well known for creative stunts such as placing a pick-up truck in a tree; creating a souped-up convertible called “The Green Bay Packer Mobile;” and for his body building exploits. But more importantly, he is the president of Little Limestone Inc., a Clinton, Wis.-based producer of limestine and aglime.
“The Littlest Limestone Company in the World” was started in 1952 by Madson’s stepfather, Hap Little. The business began with a hammermill and small-scale production of crushed limestone. In 1970, he acquired his own parcel and set up a permanent crushing and screening operation.
“It is an approximately 30-acre site, with 75 acres of expandability,” Madson said. “But we have up to 40 years of mining left to do in the 30-acre part. We are currently working on four different benches.
Bringing the Hammer Down
Although crushed stone is the company’s main product line, its specialty is aglime. “We still crush with a hammermill,” Madson said. “It is in fact our only crusher. Now most people will tell you that you can’t do it that way, but that’s how we do it.” Madson is fond of doing things a bit different. One of his mottos is, “Upside down and backwards is actually frontwards.”
The Dixie hammermill at the plant is, in actuality, more than a hammermill. “We have modified it a bit,” Madson said, “so it is really more like a cross between a hammermill and an impact mill. We changed the size of the breaker bars to get it to do what we want. We have them made locally at a forge, and we weld them up here.”
A modified hammermill is only one of the innovations at the plant, all designed to get maximum use out of the equipment with minimum maintenance and top performance. “We use a high-frequency electromagnetic screen imported from Germany many years ago,” Madson said. “You don’t see these in the market today. It is a sharper frequency and takes less power to run than hydraulic vibrating screens.”
The electromagnetic screen allows them to make aglime, which has a tendency to blind regular screens, at a consistency other local operators cannot duplicate, according to Madson. But the company also makes a full range of crushed stone products at the plant.
“We engineered the majority of the plant ourselves,” Madson said. “We built the stacking conveyors, screen boxes and all. We’re a small father-and -son kind of operation compared to the other guys, who are more like Wal-Mart. There are just three who work here other than me: my brother Craig, my son Luke and Tom Inman, a guy who graduated high school with me.”
Equipment at the plant is mobile, allowing them to move easily between benches. “It isn’t mobile in such a way that we can take it out of the quarry, but we do move it around inside the quarry,” Madson said.
Prior to Little Limestone’s crushing segment, material is blasted from one of the four benches. Blasting is performed by Ahlgrimm Explosives Co. of Appleton, Wis. “John Ahlgrimm, the owner of the company, does a great job for us,” Madson said. “We’ll bring down 12,000-15,000 tons of material at a time, crush it and move on to the next bench. Back in the pre-9/11 days, we did the blasting ourselves, but now it makes more sense to turn the job over to a blasting contractor.”
The quarry is located in a rural part of the state, which is an advantage, as it diminishes the possibility of community complaints from blasting and truck traffic. “The blasting company does its job well, so that helps,” Madson said, “but the proof is we have not had one complaint.”
Material at the face is moved by four Cat loaders, which cycle between the face and the hammermill. “We have four Cat 950F loaders that are well maintained. We keep them in good shape,” Madson said. “Regular maintenance is the key to keeping older machines in service, and we do a successful job of that.”
The quarry has a lot of small customers that when you add it up, amounts to a lot of business. These include farmers, municipalities and contractors. “The farmers are our bread and butter,” Madson said. “We actually produce 75 percent road material versus 25 percent aglime, but the aglime is what we are known for the most.”
Little Limestone Inc. has carved out a unique niche that allows it to compete in the local market. “We’re not trying to be the biggest,” Madson said, “we just want to be the best at what we do – on our terms.”
Mark Madson believes in working hard, but he also believes in having fun. “It’s not worth doing unless you have a bit of fun,” he said. You would be hard pressed to find a quarry operator having as much fun as Madson.
Yes, he has put a truck in a tree and built a custom vehicle to celebrate his support for the Green Bay Packers. He has also created a rear-engine ‘63 Ford wheel stander, made videos of cars being dropped from cranes, and can often be found tooling around town in a Dukes of Hazard “General Lee” car. Every now and then, he may host a photo shoot at his operation – featuring women in bikinis.
Madson has chronicled his antics in a book called, appropriately, “The Wisconsin Madman.” All of this caught the attention of comic Larry the Cable Guy, who featured Madson on his History Channel television show “Only in America.”
“The book is about my creations and stunts, but most of all, it is about following your dreams,” Madson said. Madson’s genetic father, Jack Madson, must have passed some his creative genes on to his son. “Jack was pretty cool, and definitely way ahead of his time,” Madson writes on his website. “Jack was a very interesting and innovative metal sculptor, abstract artist and he loved Japanese culture and art.”
It is certainly appropriate given his chosen occupation that Madson is a body builder. With a physique that looks like it has been carved out of one of the benches in his quarry, Madson extolls the virtues of physical fitness. “I used to take 16 aspirins a day to get me through,” he said. “But now I maintain a regular fitness routine that would wither someone half my age.”
In addition to his daily workouts, any physical labor that needs to be performed in the quarry is done by Madson personally. “I’m not going to sit in some air-conditioned office all day,” he said. “If there is something that needs to be lifted or shoveled, I do it.”