- Created: Thursday, 01 January 2009 07:00
- Published: Thursday, 01 January 2009 07:00
Rocking America Since 1929 is the motto of Halquist Stone Co., which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2009. The company has come a long way since that year, when Swedish immigrant John Halquist purchased a two-acre curbing quarry just outside of Sussex, located in southeast Wisconsin. With help from his son Albin, he grew the quarry into what is now one of the largest stone companies in the state of Wisconsin.
At the very beginning, John realized that Lannon Stone, which had been mined in the area since the 1850s, had a good reputation for producing high-quality lime, curbing, paving, foundation and building stone. This reputation helped the company enjoy the postwar building boom, and Lannon Stone became the predominately used material for residential buildings and churches in Milwaukee, Chicago and the northern Midwest.
Over the years, Halquist Stone became an innovator in the industry. The company reportedly was one of the first to use diamond saws, market stone locally from around the country and recycle its waste into agricultural lime and crushed stone, which laid the foundation for what is now a successful aggregate business.
Today, Halquist Stone mines and fabricates building stone, landscape stone, sandstone veneer and cut-stone from quarries in southeast and east Wisconsin. The mix is about 70% building stone, 30% aggregate stone. This article focuses on the Sussex aggregate mining operation, also the location of Halquist Stone corporate headquarters.
SUSSEX AGGREGATE OPERATION
The Sussex, Wis., quarry is a 1,200 ton-per-hour plant, which extracts and crushes rock from a 200-foot deposit of Niagara dolomite limestone. The plant operates four crushers: a Nordberg C160 jaw, followed by a Nordberg 1520 horizontal impact crusher, followed by a Canica 105 HSI and a Pioneer 4030 roll crusher. It produces 15 standard rock products. Although the Sussex plant may not be considered a fractionated plant by today's standards, it is able to blend a number of boutique products.
The plant produces and sells general construction aggregates to the metropolitan Milwaukee market. Its diverse product mix ranges from fine agricultural lime to large RIP/RAP and almost everything in between. The Sussex plant has 14 employees; its hours of operation are 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Operational software includes JWS for ticketing and Ethridge for automation. In addition, the plant recycles 100,000 tons of concrete and asphalt per year.
Because Halquist Stone operates as a family business, it is able to offer a wide range of products on-demand to meet changing market conditions. It delivers most of its product by truck (75% delivery, 25% pick-up).
Its customer mix includes: asphalt plants; grading contractors; asphalt/road contractors; concrete contractors; sewer and water contractors; home builders; mechanical contractors; ready-mixed plants; landscapers; municipalities, farmers and co-ops. About eight years ago, Halquist Stone began supplying one of the area's major asphalt producers. Four years ago, the plant added an air classifier to make manufactured sand.
Tom Halquist, president of aggregate operations, says customer service is the key that allows the company to prosper and expand into new markets. ìEveryone can sell on price,î he notes. ìHowever, Halquist Stone is known for how we take care of our customers. We continue to run our business with the values that existed in 1929. We've been in this business for 80 years; we are a known commodity in this area. Still, for us to differentiate ourselves from larger aggregate producers, we have to provide better service.î
To that end, the Sussex plant uses a fleet of 80 trucks to service the metropolitan Milwaukee market. The goal is to deliver what is promised. ìAlso, I get feedback directly from my customers, not through a sales director,î Halquist says. ìI talk to customers directly. My name is in the phone book; I am accessible.î
During the mid-1980s, Halquist Stone began offering RIP/RAP as a standard product when record-high levels of Lake Michigan prompted demand. The company worked hard to supply this growing market. Today, Halquist Stone stocks every Department of Transportation (DOT) size of RIP/RAP for both Wisconsin and Illinois.
At first, Halquist Stone employed a number of different methods to produce RIP/RAP. It started with simple stationary grizzlies, which worked well with low volume; however, as volume picked up, the company needed to try something new.
ìI've never been impressed by the traditional portable RIP/RAP plantsÖtoo much maintenance, low flexibility and inconsistent product,î Halquist notes. ìThen, a few years ago, a job came along that required tens of thousands of tons and, once again, I knew we'd have to make an improvement if we were going to meet specifications and schedule requirements. So we opted for a large (500-tph) trommel that produces six sizes. We designed the plant to produce spec materials for both Wisconsin and Illinois DOTs.î
In another move to expand its market base, four years ago the Sussex plant added a Buell air classifier to produce sand for its asphalt customers. It now produces 100,000 tons of manufactured sand per year.
ìWe needed to produce large quantities of a cubical 7/16 clear stone product,ì Halquist explains. ìConsequently, we purchased the Canica. Our contractor wanted a great deal of manufactured sand as well. Since the VSI was going to produce large amounts of fines, I had to decide how to make sand out of them. Having run a wash plant onsite and having dealt with the headaches that go with it, I did not want to pursue manufacturing a washed sand.î
Halquist was concerned about moisture problems that can go with air classification, but ultimately decided that the Sussex plant would be able to produce enough sand to meet customers' needs. Because of growing demand, however, the plant added a second Buell (75-tph) unit a few years later. A high-quality agricultural lime is now created as a by-product that is sold to farmers and co-ops. There reportedly is little moisture burn-off at the plant.
A MAJOR EXPANSION
The Sussex plant is now in the midst of a major project that involves moving operations from the north to the south side of Lisbon Road, the county highway that runs through its property. Halquist Stone recently re-routed a nearby river so that it could tunnel underneath the highway and build a bridge to accommodate traffic over the tunnel. The company now moves rock (by truck) from one side of the road to the other through this tunnel.
The reason for the move: Halquist is down to six years of reserves on the north side of the street, with ample reserves waiting on the other side. It took eight years to permit and implement the plan to connect the two quarries. Today, Halquist is extracting rock from the old site and crushing it on the new, larger site.
ìWe have been operating in our current location since 1929 on approximately 150 acres. Those reserves are fast approaching the end,î Halquist explains. ìOver the years, we have been acquiring property across the county highway. We now have 200 permitted and zoned acres with more than 50 years of reserves at the plant's maximum capabilities.î With completion of the open-cut-tunnel-and-bridge project, Halquist Stone is hauling rock from its newer property to the plant in order to relocate the primary crusher to that property. The product is being moved through the new tunnel.
ìWe are in the midst of finalizing a new mine plan and are excited to be working with such a large parcel,î he adds. ìThe old quarry had been acquired over the last 79 years in small pieces and has not allowed us to plan as well as we would like. The 150 acres were acquired in approximately 14 separate purchases.î Halquist Stone's reclamation plan calls for creation of two lakes on the property once the last stone is crushed. That is estimated to be 50 years in the future.
WATER QUALITY ISSUES
The impact of mining on water quality is a big regulatory issue in the state of Wisconsin. The water table in southeast Wisconsin is slowly dropping. During excavation, quarry operators sometimes hit water wells. Older homes in the area may have 70-year-old wells that are 60 feet deep. The old wells are not producing enough to meet the needs of more people that move to the area, which receives no water from Lake Michigan. Also, many areas of the state have local issues with respect to water ó e.g., radium, arsenic and a general depletion of the water table regardless of quarry activity.
Shallow wells are not good water producers, but they are free of radium. Most municipalities in the area use aquifers that go 1,000 to 1,300 feet deep. Wells that drop lower cannot meet federal guidelines for cancer-causing radium. That's where the water is deep but possibly contaminated. Shallow wells offer a solution. However, it's a complicated problem.
ìNeighbors are concerned that drawdown from deep quarries will affect their wells,î Halquist explains. ìIn areas of shallow bedrock, a number of quality issues are related to septic systems and not to quarries, but that is an education issue that takes time to sink in with local officials. Our state association just produced a groundwater fact sheet to address some of these concerns. (See sidebar, page 24.)
ìIt is a hot-button issue. I believe that, since dust and noise issues are handled fairly well by responsible operators, and since older quarries mine deeper, water quality has become a bigger issue than in the past.î
Halquist Stone has been talking to municipalities about converting its discharge water into drinking water, just as Kraemer Mining & Materials in Burnsville, Minn., is doing now. Kraemer has partnered with two local municipalities to create a water utility to utilize some of its discharge in order to create drinking water for local communities.
One way that Halquist Stone reaches out to local residents is through Dozer Day. Held shortly after Labor Day at the Sussex quarry, the annual event has grown significantly ó from 5,000 people who attended the first year (1997) to 30,000 in recent years. Visitors ride around the quarry in equipment such as off-highway trucks, loaders, backhoes, cranes, utility equipment and military vehicles. Other activities include rock climbing, a treasure dig, sand-castle building contests and a pebble toss. Dozer Day is sponsored by the Halquist family and 100 southeast Wisconsin companies. First conceived as a way to raise funds for the Hamilton School District, Dozer Days still functions primarily as a fund-raiser; at this point, though, it's safe to call the event an annual tradition. ìOur public relations efforts really began with Dozer Day,î Halquist explains. ìIt really gives us a presence. It's the largest single-day event in Waukesha County. In recognition, we've won two NSSGA Gold Awards for community service. It's probably the number one thing we're asked about at trade shows.î Here is a summary of recent Dozer Day activities: Haul trucks carry hundreds of people on quarry excursions throughout the day. The trucks are filled with stone and families ride on top. It's actually an enlarged hay-wagon ride except, instead of hay, the guests sit on stone. Kids love it. Food and beverages are available all day, and guests can purchase hard hats, T-shirts, construction toys, a video that describes earth-moving operations, and other souvenirs.
IMPACT OF THE ECONOMY
Switching topics from a fun-filled event such as Dozer Day to the current economic situation is not pleasant, but inevitable. Halquist sees the economy as the biggest challenge of the near-term and long-term future, specifically the need for government to fund construction and transportation projects in southeast Wisconsin. ìWe need building construction to come back; we need government to fund transportation projects,î he remarks, voicing concern over the way the Wisconsin state government is handling federal funds, which may have long-term consequences. ìWith the economy the way it is, I see the federal government finally doing something about infrastructure,î Halquist says, ìnot so much for the sake of infrastructure itself, but as a good, old-fashioned jobs program. Because this initiative will be a reaction to the economy instead of a well thought-out, long-term program, who knows what we'll really get? I doubt anything in the near term will address the overall funding issue.î According to Halquist, the Wisconsin DOT has suffered (funding-wise) over the past several years, as money has been raided from the transportation budget and moved to the general fund. Aggregate producers depend on the federal government for this type of funding. Yet it's difficult to build a case for federal money when the state government spends that money on programs that are not transportation-related. ìOur governor has continually robbed from the transportation fund and with a $5 billion structural deficit going into the next biennial budget, I have little faith that things will get better.î
Despite the current economic meltdown, Halquist Stone has many positive qualities to work with, as it continues to operate into 2009 and beyond: tradition, reputation, a strong customer base, the ability to adjust to changing market conditions and the knowledge gained by processing stone over the past 80 years. ìLike most aggregate producers, we are focused on efficiency and cost cutting to weather this current economic downturn,î Halquist concludes. ìAt this point, it's hard to say just how bad things may get. Still, our company is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. We have weathered poor economic times in the past and are confident that we'll navigate this downturn just fine.î