Re-Emerging U.S. Stone Industry: Pennsylvania stone producer continues to expand
August 1, 2006
With 25 to 30 company-owned trucks on the road at any given time, the size of Meshoppen Stone Inc.'s operation can be gauged by the amount of material it ships around the nation. The company, which was founded in 1960 and today has 100 employees, delivers Pennsylvania Bluestone and a broad range of other materials to all 48 contiguous states in the U.S.
Based in Meshoppen, PA, the company supplies stone products such as natural flagstone, architectural flagstone and stack stone. Material is processed into pavers for patios and sidewalks in a variety of colors, textures and formats - including irregular patterns as well as tiles. Stone is also used for architectural elements such as steps, walls, fireplaces, pool copings, driveways, garden ponds and waterfalls. Recently, the company began producing thin stone veneer, which is cost competitive with the faux stone alternatives in the marketplace, according to William Ruark, the owner/president of Meshoppen Stone.
Located in the Pennsylvania Bluestone belt, Meshoppen Stone quarries local stone products - including material from two quarries adjacent to the fabricating operation and offices. One of these quarries provides cleft stone and flagging, and the other is used for rubble stone. Meshoppen Stone refers to the rubble material as â€œColonialâ€ stone, and it is sold as a flat flagstone used for applications such as retaining walls.
Although the majority of the material supplied by Meshoppen Stone originates in Pennsylvania, the company also supplies stone from locales such as Maryland, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, California and Vermont. Ruark explained that since the trucks are on the road delivering stone to these locations, it makes sense to bring material back so the trucks are not traveling empty.
The company has approximately $3 million worth of material in its inventory, and some of the most popular products include natural cleft flagging and irregular paving, according to Cheryl O'Rourke of Meshoppen Stone.
Stone productionMeshoppen Stone owns and leases 12 quarries, and the extraction process is quite different than the methods used for quarrying marble or granite. A quarry site typically has 20 to 40 feet of overburden, which must be removed to get to a bed of flagging, explained Ryan Ruark, William's son, who supervises the production. The company drills and blasts test holes to find areas with suitable material, and they are permitted to work within 3-acre areas at a single time. As crews move to new sections of the site, they refill the land and plant trees to â€œreclaimâ€ the old excavation areas.
The company's production facility in Meshoppen is comprised of a series of buildings, each with different functions and equipment. Blocks of stone are cut on large-blade circular saws from Wilson Electric. Included are saws with blade diameters of 11 feet-6 inches, 7 feet-6 inches, 5 feet and 3 feet, among others. Additionally, a Jaguar II bridge saw from Park Industries is used for smaller blocks and specialty work.
To process the thin veneer material, Meshoppen Stone added the ThinStone TXS Stone Veneer Fabrication System from Park Industries. Stone is fed into the machine on a conveyor, and two 40-inch-diameter diamond saw blades plunge cut the stone. Additionally, corner veneer pieces are finished by hand. The thin veneer pieces are then palletized and ready for shipment.
Stone is also flame-finished by hand as needed, depending on the finished product.
For sills, treads and pool copings, Park Wizard radial arm polishers are used to process the edges. Radius work is sawn by hand, a process that relies on the skill and experience of the worker. Pieces are moved throughout this area of the facility using Anver vacuum lifters.
Water used during the fabrication process is recycled through a mud press, and the facilities use 100% recycled water.
In terms of personnel, William Ruark said the company has been fortunate in hiring and retaining loyal employees. â€œA certain amount of training is required, but there is a culture here of stoneworking,â€ he said.