Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting Stoned--Mesozoically

We went back out to the bus to go down around to the other side of the quarry where the magic really happens. The bus pulled up to the lower entrance, and I think most everyone expected we'd be getting out to walk in like we had at the top. Instead the bus backed up and drove into the quarry. It's completely pitch black, and we're descending a remarkably steep incline around a bend. The nice woman sitting behind me was kind of freaking out saying, "I'd rather walk! No, really, I'd rather walk!" I said it was sort of like being on a ride at Disneyland. Once we were in she explained she wasn't having a panic attack or anything but was just being dramatic.

I thought it was kind of fun. Later it occurred to me that this place has to be accessible to those gigantic trucks for bringing machinery in and taking huge blocks of marble out. So of course it should be able to accommodate a bus.
Here we were introduced to Quarry Manager Mike Blair, who could answer a lot of our questions about the finishing process. It's a shame that, in photographs, you really can't get an impression of how huge it is. Blair said that in the direction behind where he was standing, the quarry extends back over a half a mile into Dorset Mountain. The other thing you might not assume is that it's cold in there. I asked him about this as well, and he said that whether it's a hundred degrees outside or zero, it's always somewhere around forty-two to forty-five degrees inside the quarry. He said that when he leaves work and stops at a store in really hot or cold weather, the employees think he's crazy because of how he's dressed so inappropriately for the temperature.

The blocks with noticeable imperfections are cut into tiles. The tiles that intersect with the imperfection can then be discarded. The ones without imperfections are used for slabs.

First they load the blocks into this thing. It's difficult to capture in photographs just how incredibly awesome this thing is. It's an enormous diamond gang saw that cuts the blocks into slabs. If you look closely, you can see they're cutting two blocks at once. Basically it's a "gang" of rigid saws all in a row like the back threads on a loom.

Water pours down on the whole mechanism from those spouts on top, so as it saws back and forth, it sprays water alternately out the front and back.

It dawned on me around this time how lucky we were to be able to get so very close to everything. Not once did I ever hear anyone being reprimanded for exploring or getting a closer look at these things. I mean, certainly we were all mostly mature adults unlikely to stick our hand into a saw. But I'm used to trying to show people around Lincoln Center--a far, far less potentially dangerous location--where every last place I go has at least 500 regulations and restrictions that I have to enforce. Don't go up there. Don't go down there. Don't do this. You can't do that. We were entrusted with such freedom at the quarry, and I'll have to say it made it an infinitely more rewarding experience to be able to explore it like that and really take it all in.

There's an enormous flywheel at the back of the saw controlling the flow of its movements. It made me wish I'd been able to get a video of it. It also would have been perfect back when I was working with extremely time-lapsed photography.

When I turned back around, Robertson had loaded a whole bunch of people onto this motorized wagon platform so they could ride over to the other side. I jumped on board.

On the other side of the "factory" is the finishing line. First this array of vacuum heads sticks itself onto one of the marble slabs.

It picks up the slab from the stack.

And off it goes on the conveyor.

What its being pulled into there is the polisher. It has a whole bunch of spinning buffers that slide back and forth over the surface of the slab. It was very difficult to get a shot of it through the windows, but it was a very cool machine.

The slab comes out the other side, gets drizzled with water, and a rubber squeegee and blowers dry it off.

The polished slab is now ready to be cut.

They pick it up with this big rubber claw on a winch and it heads over to the cutting table.

That's about all there was to see there. We milled around for a little while longer and asked a few remaining questions, and then got back on the bus. The trip back up the Disneyland ride was even more interesting than the way down, because at one point the bus kind of stalled or something and rolled backwards down the hill before carrying us on up and out of the quarry. I think it was at this point that the Apple Barn apples the woman behind me had purchased spilled out of their bag and began rolling around on the floor of the bus. Someone suggested that she'd likely be peeling them, anyway, so no harm done.

Part 4.

All text and images ©2010, Ryan Witte.

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