Eastern Iowa quarries operate many sites and lots of rock

Transportation costs, space challenges for industry

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April 1, 2014 | 2:16 am

At quarries in Eastern Iowa, where rock is the business, there's plenty lot of rock to go around.

Wendling Quarries, for example, ships out an estimated one million tons of rock — 95 percent by truck and 5 percent by train — from its Cedar Rapids South Quarry each year.

“We sell to cities, the county, the state and municipalities through contractors. But people with pickup trucks come out and just need some rock for a driveway project,” said Todd Miller, sales manager for Wendling Quarries, a family-owned company since 1952.

Wendling’s Cedar Rapids South Quarry boasts “25 to 30 different products available at this site alone,” he added.

According to John Tuthill, Wendling property manager, the company operates 70 active quarries across 13 counties in Iowa and 3 counties in Illinois — from Marshalltown to Mount Carroll, Illinois and from Muscatine to Monticello — with the home office in Dewitt. Wendling employs 225, from stockpilers and heavy equipment operators to quality-control specialists and quarry development team members.

MANPOWER

A team approach is essential in managing that number of sites, Tuthill said. Wendling crushes rock at two stationary plants — including the one in southwest Cedar Rapids that employs 13 people on site — but also operates six portable plants that are used on an as-need basis in smaller markets, Miller noted.

These plants will go in and crush for about three to four weeks at a time.

“Seventy sites to cover in a year’s time take a lot of manpower,” Tuthill added. “We meet once a month with quality control, production and other departments to discuss what our needs are coming up.”

At Wendling Quarries, they’ve realized the importance of adapting to the market. Given the Iowa weather, for example, production at the quarry shuts down from about Christmas to March 1. They use that time to make essential repairs — which they handle in house as much as possible — to their fleet of vehicles and equipment.

They also work to tap into growing markets, such as construction debris, Tuthill said.

“That’s a huge growth sector for us,” he said of their recycling of broken asphalt and concrete, which they began in 2006.

“Since then we’ve saved 1.7 billion pounds of construction debris, or about 200 miles of two lane roadway, from the landfill,” Miller added.

Josh Kral, Hennessey Quarry manager for Moyna Materials, knows the necessity of looking for new avenues.

“We also to grow the customer base, and keep up with the job prospects in the area, be it a major construction project or a smaller residential project for a commercial customer in the area,” Kral said.

The company, which opened in 2002, produces and markets crushed limestone, sand and gravel, recycled asphalt and concrete products, and offers custom rock crushing services.

“We provide aggregates to city, county and state agencies, local building, site development and housing contractors, and residential, commercial and agricultural customers in the surrounding areas surrounding Cedar Rapids,” Kral said.

The company has 25 employees and operates seven quarry sites in Northeast and Eastern Iowa. Each Moyna quarry location has a full-time loader operator and scale operator.

CHALLENGES

The rise in transportation costs, Tuthill added, has had an effect on the industry. “Having these resources in close proximity can save our customers money,” he said.

Space can also be a challenge, Tuthill said.

“Land is expensive,” he said, “and a lot of testing is done before we decide on a location (for a new quarry). There has to be enough of a reason there that warrants us changing the surface of the earth forever.”

The slowdown in the housing and private building markets has affected the quarry business, Kral noted, as has decreased spending on road infrastructure.

Monyna operators have used slower times to make substantial improvements to their Hennessey Quarry location.

“We’ve recently regraded our entrance to the quarry and our private haul truck access road, along with applying recycled asphalt to them to eliminate dust and provide a smooth surface for the trucks. We also installed a brand new scale and scale house last fall,” Kral said.

To reach other markets, Kral said, Moyna also has an excavating entity, C.J. Moyna & Sons Inc. in Elkader.

“By working alongside our excavating entity, we can attack projects not only from the aggregates side, but also from the construction side,” he said. “It allows us to help our customers in more ways than just providing rock for their projects.” 

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