East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Stone Industry

Working Quarry Photos - 2

When I first started visiting soapstone country in Nelson and Albemarle Counties, there were still many steel guy derricks at the quarries. The tall steel towers rose above the treeline in the woods around Schuyler and Alberene. There were so many that I did not take many photographs of them, thinking they would always be there. Thankfully, Jack Brown did an excellent job of documenting a steel guy derrick at a small quarry operation in Ohio. I have learned a lot from studying his photographs.

My recollection is that many of the derricks at the soapstone quarries were larger than this one Jack photographed, but they operated the same way. An interesting detail of this derrick is that the mast is rather seriously bent. I imagine the guy wires that normally carry the load stretched over time, and were not routinely retightened.

The derrick was controlled from the hoist house. This primitive shed did not provide the hoist operator much protection from the weather.

The operator apparently sat on an old metal tractor seat upholstered with a burlap sack. The control stand for the electric motor and the levers that worked the drums were all close at hand.

Wire rope led out of the front of the hoist house to the base of the derrick. The cableway was protected by a simple fence. Apparently, normal operation of the derrick was to have the boom working an area back in the direction of the hoist house. Consequently, the hoist house had to be beyond the scope of the boom.

At the base of the derrick is a bull wheel. A cable around the perimeter of the wheel would rotate the entire derrick on a pedestal. The cables operating the boom and main sheave ran into the base of the derrick.

Working Quarry Photos - 1

My field trips to soapstone country normally include visits to quarry sites that have long been abandoned. Alberene Soapstone has a few active quarries, but they are not extracting stone the same way it was done 75 years ago. Quiet, flooded quarries have their own appeal, but they are far removed from an active industrial scene that would provide detailed modeling information.

When local model railroader Jack Brown found out that I was interested in modeling quarry scenes with steel guy derricks like the one
Doug Barry built for me, he sent me a page of Kodachrome slides he took in Ohio back in the 1980s.

Jack’s photos are of a small limestone quarry that used a steel guy derrick. The operation is small and straight forward.

A shovel was used to clear overburden and expose the stone.

A relatively small Euclid dump truck was used to haul away the overburden, and move broken stone to a dump pile.

A stone channeler, short stretch of track, air compressor, and tool box sit on the edge of the quarry.

Boscobel Plant

Back in the 80s I had a favorite hiking destination for long walks along the James River.

Luck Stone had a beautiful rock crushing and sizing plant on the south rim of their quarry at Boscobel.

In typical Luck Stone fashion, the machinery was in top shape and the site was swept clean. I would have liked a little more genteel decay for character, but the plant was still very interesting.

Slate in Buckingham County

The Buckingham Branch Railroad leaves the old C&O mainline at Bremo Bluff, crosses the James River, then runs southwest through large slate deposits.

Down close to the river is a Solite Plant, where slate is milled into granules and then dehydrated. The granules are the “cinders” in cinder blocks, and are also used on roofing shingles.

The Buckingham Branch turns away from the river after passing the Solite mill, and winds between old slate quarries on its way toward Arvonia.

Old stone handling equipment used to be left abandoned in the woods around the quarries. A fallen stiff leg derrick gave me a view of the bull wheel that is rarely seen.

An old aerial tramway had once been used to move slate out of the quarry.

As interesting as these artifacts were, at the time I had no idea what I was looking at or how rare they were. I wish I had taken more pictures, but getting Kodachrome processed was a strain on my meager budget.

Riverton Lime Kiln

This lime kiln once stood up close up to the Norfolk & Western’s Shenandoah line near Front Royal, Virginina.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that the operation used a narrow gauge tram to charge the kilns with limestone quarried nearby.

The narrow gauge tracks were on a high, narrow bridge, with several sections apparently set up to dump carloads of limestone into storage silos.

The tram reached the high bridge by way of a steep incline. I imagine a cable was used to get the cars up and down this steep grade.

The tram ran on 30 inch gauge track to connect the kiln to the quarry.

It was powered by this small Plymouth Diesel locomotive.

The lime was hauled in these small side dump cars, which appear to be homemade.