Quarry won’t hurry to replace tomb block | PostIndependent.com

Quarry won’t hurry to replace tomb block

Rex Loesby thinks he knows why the block of marble on the 60-year-old Tomb of the Unknown Soldier cracked as the years went by.

“The quarry probably had a delivery date they had to meet,” said Loesby, whose Sierra Minerals Corp. is close to signing a contract to replace the memorial’s existing marble cap with another block from the same quarry.

Faced with a delivery date for the 55-ton block of white marble in 1931, the Colorado Yule Marble Co. evidently overlooked a hairline crack that eventually grew to encircle the memorial.

“The time limit is probably what caused the problem,” Loesby said, speaking from his cell phone while driving west through Missouri Tuesday.

Loesby said the federal government isn’t imposing a delivery date this time around, and he expects the search for a perfect block of marble could take up to a year.

“I told them we could give them a delivery date, but the marble might be less than perfect,” Loesby said.

Perfect, for Sierra Minerals, means a dazzling white rather than gray, with no cracks, few if any gold or gray veins, and no deposits of quartz.

“It has to be nice looking, and uniform,” said Loesby, who helped reopen the historic quarry south of Marble in 1990.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs decision to replace the marble block on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier dates back several years, to a comment Loesby made in 1990.

Loesby said he was touring Washington, D.C., monuments with a U.S. Parks Department guide, and noticed the repaired crack in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“I told them it was just going to get worse,” Loesby said. “The water gets in and freezes and expands.”

The crack is about three feet above the memorial’s base.

Loesby left Colorado Yule Marble Co. in 1991. When Colorado Yule went bankrupt in 1998, he assumed the lease on the quarry and reopened it in 1999 under the name Sierra Minerals. One of Loesby’s early sales calls was to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which is responsible for the monument.

Loesby told the VA the quarry was still producing, and if the agency wanted another block of marble to give him a call.

“It took them three years,” Loesby said with a chuckle.

The new block of marble will weigh 55 tons, and cost the federal government about $30,000, Loesby said.

The block will measure approximately 12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 5 feet high. An average block of Sierra Minerals marble measures 9 feet long, 5 feet wide and 5 feet high, and weighs 22 tons.

Loesby said the original block of marble for the memorial weighed 110 tons, and was cut in half. Half was shipped to Washington, D.C., and the other half was cut up and sold to other buyers.

Sierra Minerals employs nine workers at the quarry, which operates year around. The quarry is known worldwide for its high-grade, white marble. Italy is also known for its marble quarries, but Italian marble has cracks every six feet.

“Our cracks are about 40 feet apart,” Loesby said.

Recently, Sierra Minerals shipped some marble blocks to Italy. “Our stone had some particular qualities they treasure,” Loesby said.

Loesby said quarry workers will be inspecting the marble for the perfect block as they methodically expose pieces on all six sides. They’ve already quarried a block that would more than meet specifications for size, but not quality.

“Last week we had a 175-ton stone, but it had a flaw, so that one wasn’t it,” Loesby said.

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