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Marble game may be over: Quarry cuts Unknowns block

Post Independent Photo/Jim Noelker
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MARBLE – With fingers crossed Wednesday, quarriers pushed over a 191-ton piece of marble and cast their first gaze at the back side of the future Tomb of the Unknowns.

The huge marble block, which measures 18 feet by 18 feet by 7 feet, will, in less than two years, become the new headstone for the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

It was cut from within the huge formation of marble deep inside Treasure Mountain, near the quarry town of Marble.



Immediately after the block was pushed over, Rex Loesby, president of Sierra Minerals Corp., the company that runs the quarry, inspected its back facade to see if the giant block is pure enough to be used as the headstone for the Tomb of the Unknowns.

“It’s good,” shouted Loesby from atop the marble block, after examining its newly-exposed surface. “It looks very good, better than we all hoped.”



Workers used a hydraulic jack to push the huge piece of marble away from the native marble formation until it leaned at about a 35-degree angle. A large backhoe gave the final nudge.

After the backhoe pushed it for about a minute, the immense block finally toppled. Below it, to cushion the block’s fall, was a big pile of gravel.

Considering the monstrous size of the marble, it fell gently. Once at rest, the slab appeared much like a huge piece of Styrofoam in the half-light of the quarry.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” Loesby said to journalists, quarriers and others who attended, including Glenwood Springs businessman John Haines. He donated $31,000 to pay for the quarrying costs.

Marble Mayor Wayne Brown was on hand to witness the historic event.

“It was fantastic,” he said of the marble tipping. “Now I’ve got to go home and see how much it weighs.”

Brown said marble at the Colorado Yule Quarry weighs 168.4 pounds per cubic foot. Using that figure, the chunk should weigh close to 382,000 pounds, or 191 tons.

marble: see page 8

marble: see page 8

The replacement block

The first piece of marble used for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was fabricated in 1931 from another piece taken from the Colorado Yule Quarry.

Ten years later, in 1941, the Marble quarry was shut down, not to reopen again until 1990.

During the 72 years since the first pieces of Colorado Yule marble were placed at the tomb in Arlington, the tomb developed a crack. This convinced the U.S. Army to order a new piece of marble.

But Loesby and his colleagues in the project aren’t placing all their bets on this block.

“We’re doing a backup,” he said. “We’ll have two full sets.”

Loesby said he and his men are confident that the piece right behind the block pushed over Wednesday will be of high enough quality to be used as the backup.

“Insurance on a single set of blocks might be obtainable through Lloyd’s of London, but the cost would most likely exceed the cost of producing two sets of finished stones,” according to the “Tomb of the Unknowns Project Case for Support.”

The “Case for Support” explains the plan for quarrying a replacement block. It was sponsored by the Marble Historical Society and written by master sculptor Janusz Obst, technical advisor Howard Vetter, project manager Loesby and Marble Historical Society President Tom Williams.

The mammoth white rock, like its soon-to-be-quarried twin, has a long way to go before it’s laid down at Arlington.

First it needs to be cut down from its current weight of 191 tons.

Interestingly, one corner of the marble slab will likely be cut off and used for a marble statue of President George H.W. Bush to decorate the front of a library being built in his honor.

(Another piece still in the quarry, not part of the tomb block, will be made into a statue of longtime Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.)

Once the main tomb piece is small enough, it must be lifted out of the quarry and trucked down a steep, windy three-mile dirt road to a new fabrication plant to be built in Marble. The marble die – a piece of the tomb – will be carved there.

The building will have an area for visitors to view the carving process. The carving process will be overseen by Obst and his wife, Margaret, and is expected to take 10 to 15 months.

The other two parts of the tomb, the cap and base, will be sent to Vetter Stone Co. in Minnesota for fabrication.

Once all parts are complete and the best of the two sets is chosen, plans call for the set to be taken on a tour of small towns across America on its way to Arlington. The timetable calls for installing the new tomb on Memorial Day 2005.

From the first cuts at the quarry to the final installation of the marble tomb in Washington – including transportation, carving and security – the project will cost around $2 million, Loesby said.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

gmasse@postindependent.com


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