East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Old Dust

Construction of my layout was progressing without my having one necessary ingredient at hand, which was soapstone dust. Any depiction of a stone quarry and cutting operation would need to be very dusty. I wanted to have real soapstone dust as a primary ingredient in my scenic and weathering applications.

My recollections of the soapstone operation in Schuyler, Virginia go back 25 years to when I first stumbled across the old stone cutting mill. On the far south end of the property stood a solitary building that I learned was a dust mill. Scrap soapstone boulders and cutoffs were milled into fine powder at the dust mill. This powder was very similar to talc, and was used in most of the same industrial applications.

On one of my recent passes through Schuyler, I came armed with a few buckets, hoping to find some old soapstone dust.

The dust mill is still standing adjacent to the old railroad grade, close to the Rockfish River.

The underbrush around the mill is littered with interesting old pieces of machinery.

There is evidence that there once was a long structure that ran along the hillside abutting the mill. The roofline of the missing building is visible on the north exterior wall of the dust mill.

The back wall of the structure is soapstone and still stands, but the rest of the building may have been destroyed by a fire. This long structure may have contained the actual stone crushing equipment. The mill building that still exists may have been primarily for powder storage and bagging.

Inside the old dust mill, I found plenty of dust and "crusher run" sized pieces of soapstone on the floor, where it had settled at least 50 years ago.