National Gypsum is digging new quarry

Mine is moving across the street to location which should last 40 years

-Messenger photo illustration by Joe Sutter A new pit is being dug for the start of National Gypsum’s new quarry. Dirt will be removed to get to the valuable rock underneath, so that mining can begin.

In a few more years, the rock in National Gypsum’s quarry northeast of Fort Dodge will be gone.

Today the company is hard at work digging a new pit, just across the road, where it will continue mining one of the area’s most important natural resources for years to come.

The old quarry is a flurry of activity every day, as big machines drill into the rock, break the rock up, load it and haul it off to be crushed. But the area has grown even busier recently as contractors dig out and haul away dirt at the new quarry, to expose the gypsum underneath.

“Three years ago we started this five-year plan of developing this new property,” said Greg Berry, National Gypsum plant manager. “We knew we were coming to the end of what’s located on this chunk of land. We already owned this other land, so we started the process of relocating.”

National Gypsum came to the area nearly 100 years ago. It initially had an operation closer to its plant in Fort Dodge, at 1584 S. 22nd St.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Greg Berry oversees work in the quarry while behind him, a power jackhammer breaks up some of the larger rock to be transported. This quarry is nearing the end of its life and National Gypsum is starting a new quarry across the street.

It began digging in the area of Webster County Road D14 and Samson Avenue about 40 years ago.

“In the mid 70s we moved out here, and have been mining here ever since,” Berry said. “We were here for 40 years. … Basically where we are transitioning, there are different phases, but we’re going to be set for the next 40 years on this land.”

One of the first steps in moving was to construct a new shop on the new property. That was completed almost a year ago.

“We moved into it March 1 this year,” Quarry Manager Dave Gollob said.

That allowed the company to tear down the old shop, Berry said, so that crews could mine through that area.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter A dump truck pours a load of gypsum into the crusher, where it will be ground into smaller pieces and loaded into a semi trailer to be taken to National Gypsum’s plant in Fort Dodge.

An access road was built to get from the old location to the new shop, complete with a stoplight on Samson Avenue.

“They are digging the new pit right now,” said Berry. “That’s two-thirds of the way done, probably. Next year we’ll put our ramp into that pit, which will connect this facility area into the pit, and then the final step is to put in our new crushing plant, which will be just south of here.

“By the next two years we will be transitioned onto this property, mining gypsum out of there, crushing it here, and this,” he said, pointing to the old quarry on the map, “will be in the process of being closed down.”

The closure process won’t be too difficult, he said, and the land will be put to good use afterwards.

“We have to meet some reclamation requirements, with grading and seeding, and then I know the county is very interested in acquiring that property for public use,” he said. “With this we’re going to end up with two really nice big ponds … lots of hills, and there’s tons of wildlife over there. It will be a nice place.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter After the gypsum is blasted otu of solid walls into movable chucks, loaders like this one will pile them into Natoinal Gypsum’s large dump trucks to be driven to the crusher, where the chuncks are made smaller for easier transportation and processsing.

The original pit the company began mining is already a lake.

The area is rich in gypsum. Another gypsum company, Georgia Pacific, owns the land immediately north of NG’s old quarry, Berry said. It will continue mining to the north once NG depletes its property.

National Gypsum uses Petersen Contractors, of Reinbeck, to move their dirt.

There’s usually 80 feet of overburden and an average 20 feet of rock, Gollob said.

“They uncover it, and then we take it from there,” Berry said. “Drill, blast, load it, haul it, crush it, then we ship it from this facility in 5- to 6-inch material, and take it to our plant on South 22nd.”

From there it’s crushed and processed, and most of it is made into drywall.

Some of the product is also sold to Calcium Products and Quarry Services, who make an agriculture product from it, Berry said. It’s also sold to cement companies; gypsum is an ingredient in Portland cement.

But the main product is drywall.

“We can produce about 300 to 320 million square feet of board a year,” Berry said. “Our plant is probably in the bottom third of production capacity because it’s older. We have plants in our company that will produce a billion square feet a year.”

On a good day, the facility can crush about 250 tons of rock an hour, Gollob said. It typically produces between 400,000 to 500,000 tons a year, Berry added.

National Gypsum bought a plant and mine from Plymouth Gypsum shortly after the turn of the century, Berry said.

In fact, gypsum was first found at the location of the current Fort Dodge plant in 1903, according to the company’s history. In the early days an aerial tram line two and a half miles long was built to transport rock from a mine on the west side of the Des Moines River to the plant.

That gypsum deposit was mined for about 40 years before it petered out and a new quarry was opened a mile south of the plant.

Today National Gypsum has 17 operative gypsum board plant locations throughout the country, with its headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.