About UsWaukesha Lime & Stone Rock Solid For Over A Century
Waukesha Lime & Stone has been part of the Wisconsin landscape for over 100 years - literally - and is poised for the next 100 with new products geared for the changing agricultural texture of the state.
The company features two quarries and stretches across 40 acres with its boundary of Waukesha. The Fox River flows through it along with a highway and a railroad, making for easy distribution.
At its heart, the company's west quarry slices nearly 230 feet deep into an extraordinary place, a section of the earth where two plates collide in a fault line. "It's a living classroom," said Mike Weinkauf, farmer and company sales rep, noting an abundance of university research has been conducted there, and fossils imbedded in Waukesha limestone are showcased in museums around the country.
Waukesha Lime & Stone's quarries hold considerable scientific, economic and historical importance, geologists say. They provide the most complete selection of Silurian rocks exposed in southeastern Wisconsin, yield the world's most diverse soft-bodied Silurian biota, and contain one of the best fault exposures around. They have been included as stops on geological field trips since 1937.
The quarry has been in continuous operation since 1911, but traces back to the early 1840's. The census of 1850 shows eight men employed at what became known as the Hatfields' quarry, run by a family that was prominent in the stone business. They built the towering limekilns on the hill nearby, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The football field at Carroll College, the state's oldest private college, was the first company quarry. There were many in the area at the turn of the century, Weinkauf noted, producing stone for resort hotels built as the white-rocked area drew people from Chicago and elsewhere to partake of the "curative" lime spring waters.
Today, Waukesha Lime & Stone produces stone, dolomite and limestone - crushed, ground and powdered. The quarry continues to serve up a special type of stone. "We have an advantage, because our lime is whiter and farmers like that," Weinkauf noted.
The operation involves the east and west quarries, a scale house and office building, bag plant, a shop and eight portable crushing plants. After the stone is blasted free in the quarry, a crusher plant separates it into eight different products ranging from riprap boulders to powder.
The company sells its products, mostly to feed mills and garden centers, across Wisconsin and in portions of Minnesota and Illinois. There are 256 mills in Wisconsin, Weinkauf said. He knows; he takes care of them all.
Lime is a buffer, Weinkauf said, utilized by generations of farmers when soil becomes acidic from manure and silage. Lime softens clay soil and brings about proper pH, fosters the freeing of ions so plants can absorb nutrients. For dairy hay production, in particular, the correct pH ties in with protein and nutrients.
Because of its natural nature, lime dovetails with organic production, Weinkauf added, and is very popular among the Amish. "When you're harvesting calcium from the land, in the form of milk or meat, you have to put it back. And that's what lime does," he explains.
However, the past 10 years has brought a change from the thousands of stanchions barns where lime was spread on the floors and hauled out with manure scrapings, a practice that helped keep farm fields at the proper pH. "With the move to bigger farms and freestalls often relying on sand for bedding, we're noticing a different pH in soil samples," Weinkauf noted.
Waukesha Lime & Stone is focusing on the future with different products to meet that changing marketplace. They're experimenting with decorative stone, focusing more on dog kennels, where lime is used as a deodorizer, and exploring options within the changing dairy industry.
The company's Shur-Tred nonslipping barn lime is its biggest seller. The medium grind is also popular with homeowners for use on lawns, and the company is tapping into the escalating equine market with their superfine product. There are, Weinkauf noted, more horses per square mile in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois than any other place in the nation.
In response to the growing demand, Tractor Supply Co. stores now carry Shur Tred lime for the convenience of horse owners stopping by to pick up feed and shavings. "Horse owners are finding out that a couple of inches of lime under the shavings in the bottom of a horse stall reduces hoof rot and improves traction," Weinkauf said, adding he uses it at home for his family's three horses.
One lime the company does not make or sell is hydrated lime. Unlike the dolomite lime produced at the Waukesha quarry, hydrated lime goes through a process that changes its chemical composition. When water is added, the product makes as acid, which is often used in outhouses and rendering operations, Weinkauf explained. It is a substance that must be handled with great care.
"Our lime is different," he stressed. "It is nothing but ground and dried limestone - we make little stone out of big stone - and it sells for a dollar or two a bag. Our lime is used in barns to deodorize and sanitize: it makes traction and it reduces ammonia smell."
Along with the marketplace, the landscape around the Waukesha quarry has changed over the years. With a location one-half mile north of downtown central, the company is hypersensitive to environmental issues including sound and dust levels.