The New and Emerging Face of the Yule Marble Quarry

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First things first: Let’s just set the record straight

Is it Yule Marble Quarry, or Mine

A point of confusion that often swirls around mention of Yule Marble centers upon the difference between just what constitutes a  mine, and that of a quarry; two terms that are often interjected for one another when a layperson weighs in to the topic of Colorado’s state rock Yule marble. For here lies a clue to the quarry’s many prolonged and repeated setbacks and missteps that have transpired down through the years to force many bankruptcies, foreclosures, and even total flooding; to the point of being closed and shuttered for 40 years!

So let us begin by clearing the uncertainty of just what constitutes a mine, and what determines a seemingly identical “hole in the ground” to be a quarry?

A mine, according to most definitions, is described as follows: An excavations made in the earth for the purpose of extracting ores, coal, precious stones, etc. A place where such minerals may be obtained, either by excavation or washing the soil.

A quarry is describes as: a place, often a deep hole in the ground, from where stones are extracted.

“Where stones are extracted”. But what exactly are these ‘stones’ being extracted for? If the answer is roadbed for instance, as is likely with most quarries, then not much separates the equipment or skill-set of say a gravel quarryman to that of a silver miner. For in both instances, blasting and sorting are the order of the day.

Whereas within the quarry world there are an elite band of highly skilled, extremely knowledgeable, and utterly dedicated men who’s dangerous task it is to not only remove the stone from the quarry, but to do so via the largest ‘intact and perfect’ chunks as is humanly possible. And just to add a proverbial ‘one hand tied behind the back scenario’, these erstwhile hardy marble quarrymen find themselves barred from the use of explosives of any kind, as that would send shock waves in the form of cracks through the very stone that they are tasked to move.

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And now we arrive at the crux of the problem. Imagine yourself as a hard working and experienced silver miner who, having lost the will to mine silver, once the price had crashed through the floor, who now finds himself being tasked with carefully drilling, splitting and transporting huge blocks of pristine white marble out of the ground, but with the assistance of no explosives whatsoever (a former stock in trade), and with no crushing and sorting to be done in order to extract the pay dirt. These huge blocks not only had to be carefully pried and cajoled from their 30 million year old lair, but then s-l-o-w-l-y mollycoddled all the way down the mountain via horse and cart, to the town of Marble, near 4 miles away, and over a thousand feet below.

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All of a sudden the task doesn’t seem at all simple, especially when you consider that marble weighs the same as granite, but is prone to cracks developing at any point along the long, precarious and challenging journey.

Compared to that of blasting a hole in the ground, sifting and sorting out the minerals; and the two at first seemingly similar tasks couldn’t seem further apart. Worlds apart in fact, as I am no doubt sure these game miners turned quarrymen ultimately learned to their dismay. For to begin with, most of the quarries were owned and operated by miners. But sooner or later each, as each one realized the infrastructure investment needed, not to mention knowledge and wisdom regarding the ancient art of marble quarrying, one-by-one, they began selling off their treasured claims as more and more of the marble face began falling into the hands of larger and larger concerns, until eventually the entire venture was to be governed by one unimaginably ambitious group called The Integrated Operation, whereby everything – the quarry, track, stone yard, finishing mill and everything else – was to be governed by a single organization. And all this transpired in the span of a single life time, such were the heady heydays of Colorado Yule Marble.

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The Osgood and Meek Years

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Elsewhere on this website you can learn all about the Osgood and Meek Years, for both of their tenures proved a vital boon to the fledgling Yule marble project. Through an extraordinarily ambitious orchestrated strategy this tiny little marble quarry, perilously perched upon the side of a steep mountain valley, 9,300 feet in the Rocky Mountains, thousands of miles from anywhere, still managed to build and operate what was at the time the world’s largest marble mill.

The story is a long one – of how it was enlarged to facilitate the massive undertaking of providing the building stone for the Lincoln Memorial, but it is ultimately a sad one, for in a fit of peek, someone, somewhere, at some point, decided to rip it all up and carry it away for the war effort.

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At the time, right before World War One intervened and lured all of the Europeans back to Europe to fight for their country, the ‘Integrated Operation’ as it was called, did indeed employ Italians, quite a few in fact. But records reveal that most of them worked in the massive finishing shop, and only a handful in the quarry itself. Consequently never has there been a point in the quarry’s long and storied history whereby the Italians have utter and complete control, which is the situation we enjoy today. After all, who else would you really want running the show. I have been over there and seen it for myself, they are the masters when it comes to marble, and seriously, who can doubt such a notion.

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I think it is safe to say that the current management is now showing America, and the wold, just exactly how top quality, expert marble quarrying is done, since their people have been at this game for millennia; in Italy: Carrara, or Massa to be precise, which is exactly where parent company Red Graniti is based, and where many of their Colorado Stone Quarries workers call home.

So, what exactly is it that they are they doing differently? Well, everything, and I mean everything. First of all, upon taking control of the quarry they immediately ditched any and all existing equipment, bringing in nothing but the world’s finest cutting machine – the amazing Fantini (at 700,000 dollars a pop), acquired the biggest and best ‘Cat’ loaders, along with a vastly experience crew. And in the years since 2013 the quarry has morphed practically beyond recognition.

Immediately upon taking possession they seemed to instinctively know that the entire layout of the quarry had to change in order to accommodate today’s latest state-of-the-art quarrying techniques, and change it they did. Gone is the old ‘up and over’ winching system that essentially lifted these great heavy blocks, some weighing as much as 56 tons, up and out of the quarry, the bed of which slants at quite an acute degree, and then lower then all the way down the mountainside – an arduous/dangerous task when you think about it.

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These days however the new Italians have punched in several new portals – proudly proclaimed as the first such in over a hundred years! They have realigned the roadbeds, are sorting the debris piles, and are now, as indicated by the photo below, actually opening a brand new section, as indicated by the yellowy face left behind by the sandy hill under the trees now having been cleared in order to extend the quarry along the previously exposed seam. And indeed an new portal is now employed in extracting a brand new part of the quarry, never previously explored.

And so it goes; the quarry itself takes everything in its stride, as it has done through over a century of human activity, but without ever having set foot in the place myself, for all working quarries and mines in the USA are by law off limits to visitors, this photo released by Colorado Stone Quarries, whose concerted efforts to revive the fortunes of Colorado Yule Marble are on full display, just about says it all. Never has the quarry found itself in better or more experienced hands, never, ever, before has it operated with such exquisite green credentials.

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At the height of the scramble to provide the massive blocks necessary for the  Lincoln Memorial column drums, it wasn’t unusual for up to 80 percent of extracted marble to be cast aside and heaped in spectacular style and volume. To the quarry’s defense, they were put under incredible pressure to produce on time and to a punishing criteria set by people with no marble or quarry experience whatsoever. But still, eighty percent!

These days those statistics are practically reversed, with 80 percent now being utilized by technology and equipment that cuts out precision blocks whose characteristics more resemble children’s building blocks, so straight sided and right angled as they are, than the rugged misshapen rocks more akin to the quarrying practices of old

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The exciting thing about this photograph is the scope of Colorado Stone Quarries ambition, purpose in method, and the fact that they are quite prepared to weigh in and go where literally no one has gone before. For in scraping back the sandy bank and revealing the old previously unseen face of the marble seam, they have propelled the quarry into a whole new world of potential.  After all, who knows what the markings, hues and features this part of the seam may reveal?

Prior to our revitalized and much appreciated Italian occupation of the quarry, this sort of forward thinking investment would have been unthinkable. New portals of any sort were simply not an option to previous regimes, and as Red Graniti, Colorado Stone Quarries’ deep pocketed parent company are quick to point out – these brand new holes in the ground are the first such at the Yule marble quarry in over a hundred years.

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Even as recently as 2013 all marble was extracted through one of three portals, each carved into the mountain well over 100 years prior. Immediately upon taking the keys from Canadian company Polycor, work commenced upon driving the first of the new portals, and as we can see, in the years since they have all but abandoned the old workings and now appear entirely focused upon their own creating their own access points. Although at the time of writing the quarry is still taking stone out of the old portals, when compared to the ease and efficiency displayed by their new cuttings I imagine that this is the preferred and most cost effective approach for a quarry company steeped in such a wealth of marble experience.

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Now might be an excellent time to compare and contrast with a) above, and the way it is done now, and b) below, as it was then.

In fact, as we scroll on down, we will zoom in on our picture and drift from right to left, picking out points and place markers along the way; such as the massive wooden hoist pyramid that once proved literally pivotal to the winching up and out of the deep dark quarry hole, and down the steep mountains side and onto the awaiting flat beds. When you scroll down you will see this very structure, tilted slightly but doggedly holding on no less, in almost precisely the same position today as it was all those years ago during the hey day of the Integrated Operation, the Lincoln Memorial, and all.

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And there it is, just to the left of the larger portal on the right down below – that huge giant former pivatol massive wooden crane with the cabins located immediate below. Well this is where they were, that is what is left of the crane, and that is the portal they were all busy working upon. Now, imagine how times have changed in that one spot. It is incredible really, when you think about it. All of this could still be shuttered and abandoned. Water could still flood the entire operation. And the whole notion of Colorado Yule Marble could be but just an adjunct to the past; irrelevant, forgotten and ignored.

But just look at that. What a sight for sore eyes!

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Now, we really get a feel for what the new quarry owners have in store for their new treasured possession. A positive Hive of Activity I would call it, and how organized and completely sensible. Oh how I would love to get my hands on some of those neatly stacked blocks! Just how much direct method hand carved marble bowls and sculpture I could carve from that lot would make a bean counter’s head spin…

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So much wonderful marble, just laying about, rejected for what precisely? Because it failed to meet the excruciating standards set by a panel of stately gentlemen overseeing the building of the Lincoln Memorial? Much of it was cast aside due to unfavorable (for the times) markings or intrusions. Well, that was then. Those were the needs of the day, but I am here to tell anyone who will listen that marble doesn’t deteriorate in the few short years that it is out of the ground – compared to the millions of years it has existed inside the belly of the mountain. My carvings are testament that, seemingly, no matter how you abuse a cruddy looking block of Yule, once you split it open the damage is revealed and nothing more than skin deep.

And as for long linear cracks and the like; they are like nothing to me. In fact I simply used these fissures as the starting point to my direct method approach to carving. Once they are popped open with ease, hey presto, they’re gone!

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And finally, here we are, at the tippy bottom. Who knows what was deemed wrong with this lot pictured below, but man would I love to get my greedy hands on it.

Who knows, perhaps one day I will – or at least a fraction of it, and we will at last get to see just what all of this quarry ‘rubbish’ is truly capable of when in the hand of experienced and knowledgeable Bauhaus stone sculptors, such as myself.

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Look at it. Isn’t it just wonderful? Piles and piles of it, too numerous to count, too beautiful to ignore, surely.

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p.s. Thank you Italy !

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The New and Emerging Face of the Yule Marble

Quarry THRIVES Like Never Before

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thank you for visiting martincooney.com

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⌈Τ⌉α⌈ℑÏη

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