Carved in Stone
P is for Pit
A gravel pit that was a source of happy childhood memories showcases the evolution of mining technology.
By Bill Langer
pit, gravel noun – an open excavation from which gravel is, or has been, obtained.
‘the gravel pit whence the roads are mended’ (Thomas Huxley, 1878, Physiography: an introduction to the study of nature, page vii)
I grew up in Alfred, a small rural town in western New York State. Its population at the time was 2,862. I have fond childhood memories, which include the town gravel pit. There was something magical about that place that attracted my friends and me. The pit was about two miles out of town — an easy bicycle ride. Not only was it a place ‘whence the roads were mended,’ it was the source of many an adventure.
In those days, there was nothing guarding the pit from marauding kids; no fences, no gates, not even a ‘keep out’ or ‘warning’ sign. People were expected to recognize the inherent dangers of a hole in the ground. We went there to have fun, not to make trouble.
Actually, there was one sign in the pit; it read ‘No Dumping.’ Nevertheless, some people found it easier to stop at the pit than to go to the town dump. We knew we were in for some fun the day we found an old tire. Rolling it off the pit face and watching it bounce across the pit brought cheers from the whole gang of kids.
The construction of a new house or road in Alfred was a big deal, and not a lot of gravel was used around town. The national annual consumption of aggregate at the time was about one quarter ton per person. On the generous side, that pit might have produced a thousand tons per year. Much of the sand and gravel was sold as bank run. No fancy equipment was needed; just a grizzly and a few screens. Nothing was crushed; oversized material was set aside in a big pile. That led to another great game — boulder bowling — seeing how far you could get a boulder to roll across the pit floor after launching it from the top of the pit.
Even when the gravel was processed, it was not washed. The only water we ever saw in the pit was rainwater that collected in the low spots. We would collect pollywogs from those pools, take them home, and watch them sprout legs, lose their tails, and turn into frogs.
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