PENNSYRR.COM by Jerry Britton

BCR in 1979

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Though the Bellefonte Central had its roots serving the iron ore and furnace industry, it was limestone that sustained it for most of its life.

High calcium limestone deposits in Bald Eagle Mountain, on the north side of the Buffalo Run valley, were being tapped, with much of their production going to steel mills in Pittsburgh. These quarries, eventually consolidated under the management of the Chemical Lime Company, would replace the iron furnaces as the principal generators of traffic on the Bellefonte Central. 

 

BFC lime industry 1918In the infancy of the newfound industry, the BCR right-of-way was dotted with numerous limestone operations, featuring both quarrying and mining. The map at right, from 1918 (Mike Bezilla), shows these companies.

Many of the American Lime & Stone locations closed during the 1920s. By 1930, only three producers remained on the BCR --

Chemical Lime Company, which accounted for 50% of total tonnage shipped in an average year, had 10 shaft kilns and six rail sidings for loading different types of stone and lime and unloading the coal that fired the kilns.

Centre County Lime Company had six shaft kilns and nearly matched the output of Chemical.

Martin Miller, a newer entity to the west of Center County Lime, was the smallest producer and shipped mostly fluxing stone from a 70-foot deep quarry. Four shaft kilns produced a few thousand tons of lime annually.

In 1930, Chemical Lime Company took over Centre County Lime Company. The original Chemical site was proclaimed Plant 1 and the operation Lime Center Plant 2. The following maps (Mike Bezilla) show their 1931 layouts:

Chemical Lime 1 1931 Chemical Lime 2 1931

 

The combined capacity of the two plants was 850,000 tons annually: 100,000 tons of lime, 250,000 tons of fluxing stone, 75,000 tons of glass stone, 75,000 tons of pulverized and ground stone for agricultural and mining uses, and 350,000 tons of second-grade crushed stone for highways, railroad ballast, and general construction purposes. (Bezilla)

By comparison, Warner's American Lime & Stone division had an annual combined capacity of 445,000 tons of lime and stone and Whiterock Quarriesm 535,000 tons.

In 1936, in order to modernize, Chemical broke ground on what would be Plant 3. Its first kiln was 400' long -- the longest in the United States at the time it went into service in 1937. It was fed by a conveyor which pierced the ground at an 18-degree angle for nearly 1,000 feet until it reached the Bellefonte ledge (99.2 percent calcium carbonate) then branched and tunneled up to 1.5 miles along the ridge.

Raw stone was transported from Plant 1 to Plant 3 for processing. The BFC performed the inter-plant switching.

Chemical Lime 3 1936

 In 1940, the Chemical Lime Company was purchased by National Gypsom. A second kiln, at 425 feet, was the world's largest. Other improvements were made and Plant 1 and Plant 2 were closed. The plant became known as "The Gyp".

In 1947, both Jones & Laughlin and Bethlehem Steel purchased tracts of land to be held in reserve to support their steel operations. Neither ever became active.

Numerous other ventures came and went during the 1940s, never panning out. 

By 1950, the limestone deposit ownership had been largely consolidated. Only two shafts remained in service, but there were miles of tunnels lining the entire ridge. Reference the map, below center (Bezilla).

The Warner Co. shaft, at far right, was served directly by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The National Gypsum shaft, at the plant known as "The Gyp", was at the location known as Chemical and was a huge customer of the BCR. The J & L Steel Co. reference is the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co, of Pittsburgh. 

limestone deposits 1950

In 1952, Chemical installed a third kiln. At 300' in length -- much shorter than the other two -- it was much wider. It gained the moniker "The Big Revolver". Additional concrete storage silos were also constructed,

Meanwhile, on the nearby PRR, a 2.7 mile branch was constructed to reach a new quarry and lime plant in Pleasant Gap. It was operated by Standard Lime & Stone.

National Gypson 1955

 

The Gyp Track Layout Tichenal reducedUndated track schematic of the Gyp. Courtesy of Stephen Tichenal.

 

Gyp 1956The Gyp in 1956 (Mike Bezilla) Nat Gyp The Gyp
IMG 2706 (Pattee Library, Pennsylvania State University)    

 

 

National Gypsom's Plant 3 Top Five Customers in 1961 (Mike Bezilla)
Customer Location Carloads
J&L Steel Aliquippa PA 516
Bethlehem Steel Lackawanna NY 405
Thatcher Glass Elmira NY 188
Champion Paper Hamilton OH 157
PPG (glass) Ford City PA 131

 

During the coming years, traffic would drop off dramatically. The Penn Central merger provided more than its share of headaches, including the inavailability of suitable cars for shipments. This resulted in much of the traffic being re-directed to trucks, never to return.

National Gypsom's Plant 3 Top Five Customers in 1974 (Mike Bezilla)
Customer Location Carloads
J&L Steel Aliquippa PA 241
U. S. Steel Duquesne PA 185
Thatcher Glass Elmira NY 182
Owens-Corning Glass Clarion PA 171
Owens-Corning Fiberglass Ashton RI 143

 

New management came to both the lime plant and the railroad in 1976. The plant was bought by Domtar Chemical Inc., while the Bellefonte Central was sold to Kyle Railways. Prospects still appeared reasonable for the railroad, as the plant at had an extensive customer base. Most of the lime produced there went to steel mills in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. Ground lime was also shipped to glass manufacturers, and to chemical and paper companies.

However, the Pennsylvania steel industry soon began to falter under the pressure of foreign competition and its own inefficiencies. As the steel industry fell, the lime market also collapsed, and Domtar shut down the plant on July 1, 1982. The Bellefonte Central shut down the same day.

The plant was sold in 1983 to Confer Trucking, a local firm, which operated it under the name Con-Lime, at reduced capacity and had no need for rail service. 

Uses of Lime (Peter Muto)
Product Used For How Shipped
Glasshouse Powder used in glass making Covered Hoppers, Larger Customers
Mine/Rock Dust Fine powder used to prevent the build up of coal dust Boxcars, Larger Customers
Crushed Limestone/Ground/IPLS Crushed rock in various sizes (same concept as coal, much smaller sizes)
  • Steel Industry: Limestone binds with impurities in iron
  • Paper Industry: Pulp and waste treatment
Covered Hoppers/Boxcars, Larger Customers
Hydrate/Feed/Pulverized/APLS Fine to powder
  • Water Treatment
  • Agricultural Feeds
  • Quicklime (mortar, cement, etc)
Boxcars, Smaller Customers
Surge Unprocessed crushed limestone, same uses G22b/Covered Hoppers, Larger Customers
  Other Industries using Lime and Limestone: Chemical processing, lumber, tanning