Natural stone quarrying in southern Found du Lac County, WI, has an extensive history that dates back to the early 1800s. Hamilton Lime & Stone, which was originally incorporated on October 30, 1935, was first owned by a local stone craftsman by the name of Torson Johnson. While traveling in search of work, Johnson discovered a material that was exposed in the Hamilton area — about one hour north of Milwaukee — and acquired the property, subsequently renaming the company to Hamilton Natural Cut Stone & Flagging Company in 1943.

After passing away in 1955, Johnson left the business to his wife and son, who eventually sold the company to Sterling Lumber for a short period of time. In 1958, the company was acquired by Elmer E. Holmuth and his brother, Milton H. Holmuth. After Milton’s passing in 1973, Elmer’s son, Dan, became more involved in the business. In 1976, he led the effort to acquire the Frances Costello farm, located directly across the street from their operations. Dan’s relationship with Costello helped him beat several bidders for the 60-acre property, and quarrying commenced quickly after the sale. On May 31, 1977, the name of the company was officially changed to Fond du Lac Stone Co., Inc.

“Stone from the farm was hailed as some of the most beautiful in the area and Fond du Lac Stone Company continued to grow and prosper from its sale for the next three decades,” explained Michael Schumacher, marketing and sales specialist at Michels Corp. “During Dan’s tenure, the company acquired nearly 200 acres of additional property and almost doubled the size of their staff. Understanding the importance of expanding his available resources, Dan brokered a deal to acquire the Dan Liebelt farm [located in Byron, WI] in 1986. The 100-acre parcel was located directly to the north of Fond du Lac Stone.”

Although originally denied by the town for a permit to quarry, Holmouth worked with a local entrepreneur, Dale Michels, to appeal to Fond du Lac County, and they were ultimately granted the permit. “Dale Michels owned several businesses, one of which specialized in crushing operations,” said Schumacher. “Holmuth had his own crushing spread, but found it to be more profitable to contract with Michels to have the work done.”

As the business grew and Fond du Lac Stone looked to expand its operations, an agreement was made for Michels to purchase Fond du Lac Stone in May of 1997. The company was renamed to Michels Stone in January of 2012 to reflect the corporate brand, and is currently under the leadership of Mike Formiller and his team.

Today, Michels Stone is one of the 17 divisions within Michels Corp., along with Anderson Brothers & Johnson (AB&J), which is responsible for supplying the corporation’s indigenous granites.

Maintaining a bustling business

Michels currently owns and operates approximately 100 pits and quarries throughout the state of Wisconsin. It primarily harvests dolomitic limestone and granite, but also has an abundant amount of quartzite and rhyolite. “Thin- and full-bed depth veneer, landscape stone and dimensional stone are the main offerings at Michels,” said Schumacher. “Anderson Brothers & Johnson (AB&J) is home to the only deep red granite quarried in North America, which provides several products to the market, including crushed stone, decorative stone, rip rap and armor stone for shoreline protection, building and landscape stone, and monumental stone. Granite slabs and blocks are shipped to fabricators that produce headstones, markers, mausoleums and other specialty products.

“Our Hayton operations are also part of the AB&J holdings,” Schumacher went on to explain. “Material from this quarry is of some of the most durable limestone found in the market. It is one of a limited number of limestones that has been approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for use as an armor stone. The cubic nature of the material also makes it well suited for multiple hardscape applications.”

Each year, Michels produces approximately 21,000 cubic yards (16,055 cubic meters) of building veneer, thin veneer, landscape stone and cut stone. In its 20,000-square-foot production plant, five hydraulic breakers are utilized — three Hydrasplit 300s from Park Industries of St. Cloud, MN, and two Cee-Jay Tool Chris Cutter 350s from Cee-Jay Tool of Windsor, CO. Six diamond blade saws are also used, including a TXS-5500 ThinStone veneer saw, a Predator, a TB-90, a Jaguar bridge saw and a Jaguar II bridge saw — all from Park Industries — and a Cee-Jay Tool V30 from Cee-Jay Tool. For AB&J’s production, the division uses three diamond wire saws — two single-wire Pellegrini Stone Master 2000s and a fully-automated Wilson diamond wire saw. Michels has approximately 60 employees, which aid in the production processes.

Under current manager Mike Formiller’s leadership, Michels Stone took an evaluation of all of its processes at the end of 2013, which resulted in a complete overhaul of the company’s facilities. “The production facility was completely reconfigured, improving working conditions as well as throughput,” said Formiller. “Decisions were made in the design specifically with the worker in mind. Proactive measures were implemented within the ergonomics of the production lines and work stations.

“Specialty pallet lifts are now in place, keeping the stone at waist height, which reduces back injury, fatigue and muscle strain,” he went on to say. “Benches, rollers and other portions of the production line(s) are maintained at a comfortable working height, and can be adjusted to fit the stature of the particular staff member working on said line. Positions are also rotated on a regular basis, which reduces and often eliminates injuries caused by constant repetitive motion.”

These measures helped Michels Stone achieve the requirements of its “Journey to Zero Incidents, Injuries and Fatalities Campaign,” an industry-wide initiative to carry out work in a safe matter.

Remaining sustainably sound

With sustainability at the focus of many workplace conversations nowadays, Michels is always looking for ways to increase its involvement. “Sustainability is important to Michels,” explained Formiller. “Locally produced stone is a low-maintenance and environmentally friendly construction material. Whenever possible, we salvage and reuse stone, either for new construction or as aggregate. Through the capabilities of our materials division, we are able to take material that is not best purposed for building and dimensional uses and convert it into quality civil aggregates. The vast majority of our product offerings are produced from the byproducts of the natural stone production process.

“Michels Stone runs a Net Zero facility with regards to production waste. No ‘waste’ is created during the stone fabrication process,” Formiller further explained. “Michels Materials’ division converts these unprocessed resources (stone chips, unusable sections, off-falls) through their 18 mobile crushing spreads, four washing plants and power screen plant. This segment of Michels also contains recycle crushing operations which converts stone, concrete and other hard surfaces into a finished product used for base, fill, sidings and other applications.”

At the quarries, sustainability is also at the forefront. Mobile equipment accounts for the most significant energy use, which is constantly being rotated. Several new pieces of Volvo equipment have recently been added, which provide significant advancements in production, safety and fuel economy. “Innovative powertrains burn considerably less fuel and other fluids, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint of the quarrying and fabrication processes,” said Formiller. “Shut down devices, also known as idle limiters, have also been installed in all Volvo equipment. This technology turns off the piece of equipment if it is stationary for a period of five minutes. By eliminating engine idle time, Michels is able to further decrease its fuel consumption which directly reduces air emissions. These measures all work to reduce the overall carbon footprint.”

To continue its sustainable efforts, Michels recently obtained the ANSI/NSC 373 Sustainable Dimension Stone Certification, a voluntary accreditation that involves an intensive document submittal, which is verified by an onsite audit conducted by NSF International. Certifications are based upon a quarrier and/or fabricator’s performance and metrics for improvement in the following categories: water, transportation and chain of custody, site management, land reclamation, corporate governance, energy, management of excess process material and solid waste, safer chemical and materials management, human health and safety, and innovation. Performance in these areas determine the level of certification — bronze, silver, gold or platinum; Michels’ production facility and two of its Wisconsin quarries, located in Warmka and Fond du Lac, achieved Gold Level certification.

“The basis and intent of the certification aligns with our company’s Core Values of Safety, Environmental Stewardship, and Sustainable Business Practices,” said Schumacher. “Pursuit of the certification shows our commitment to these values as well as the communities in which we live and work. Going through the certification process helped us take a closer look at what we could do as an organization to improve on what we currently have in place. The resulting efficiencies that were discovered will make us a stronger organization as we continue to grow our operations and reach new markets. Expansion, for an organization, is very easy. The growth of an organization must be much more strategic if it is going to be sustainable in the long term.”

With this new certification, there are advantages for Michels as both a fabricator and quarrier, though the true benefactor of the certification is the design community and the end user, according to Schumacher. “One of the biggest challenges facing the specifying community and their clients today is selecting products and methods that truly align with green/sustainable practices,” he said of the only certification for natural stone that is recognized by both the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (v4) and the Living Building Challenge (v3.1). “Selecting stone that carries the 373 designation will help clients attain the credits needed to achieve their sustainability goals. In a market that is full of options, our clients can be confident that they are selecting a natural stone that was produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.”