Aggregates at the Movies


September 1, 2012

Grab some popcorn and compile your list of favorite film-related quotes..


By Bill Langer


Occasionally, while my wife and I watch movies, I jot down lines that might fit into an AggMan article. Pam’s usual response is, “Billy, can’t you just watch the movie and forget about work?” To show Pam that I did not waste my time, here are some of those quotes.

“Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks,” Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump (1994).

In some parts of the country, there are abundant potential sources of aggregate, but conflicting land uses, encroachment, and the NIMBY syndrome may make it difficult to permit those resources. That is the case in California where, between 2001 and 2006, total permitted resources decreased 37 percent from 6.848 billion tons to 4.343 billion tons.

“Hey, follow that truck,” Palm Apodaca, Five Easy Pieces (1970).

In southern California, the difficulty of meeting demand with locally mined aggregates has opened the door to a variety of transportation schemes to move aggregate from where it is readily available to markets where mining is severely encumbered. The ultimate method of transport depends on a number of factors, including volumes of material, transport distance, delivery schedules, and access to rail or water transport systems.

This illustration depicts the approximate distance in miles each form of conveyance can transport a ton of cargo with one gallon of fuel.

Trucks are the most flexible and most common means of transporting aggregate. They can be loaded and unloaded at many locations using a variety of techniques and can accommodate most delivery schedules. Truck transport commonly occurs within about 25 miles from the plant to the market, but that limit is being greatly stretched. For example, aggregate is hauled about 90 miles from southwestern Imperial County to San Diego.

“Best thing to do is to get to the railroad in a hurry,” Fred C. Dobbs, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).

Rail fuel efficiency is about three times higher than truck fuel efficiency, allowing railroads to compete with trucks for longer hauls. However, rail transport is much less flexible than truck because it utilizes fixed-route systems following strict schedules and requires considerable investment capital in terms of loading facilities, off-loading facilities, and distribution yards.

Annually, as much as 2 million tons of aggregate have been shipped by rail from Cochella Valley into Los Angeles County. Serious consideration is being given to rail shipment of aggregates nearly 400 miles from Gila Bend, Ariz., to San Diego.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Chief Martin Brody, Jaws (1975).

Ocean transport offers yet another alternative for shipping aggregate. Panamax freighters are about half again more efficient than trains, and over four times more efficient than trucks. But like rail transport, water transport requires considerable capital investments.

Aggregate is shipped about 900 miles from British Columbia, Canada, to the San Francisco Bay area, and that same company is in the process of developing marine terminals in the Port of Long Beach (about 1,275 miles), and San Diego (about 1,350 miles).

“That’s the whole kit-and-kaboodle!” Truman, The Truman Show (1998).

Clearly, it is cheaper to transport aggregate 10 miles by truck than 1,000 miles by freighter. But when you look at the whole kit-and-kaboodle, including the cost of purchasing property and permitting local sources of aggregates, the added cost of transport may be offset by the reduced price of developing the more distant sources of aggregate.

If Pam doesn’t think these quotes are cool, I’ll hit her with my favorite one….

“I know it’s a rock! Don’t you think I know a rock when I see a rock? I’ve spent a lot of time around rocks!” Flik, A Bug’s Life (2007).

Bill Langer is a research geologist who spent 41 years with the U.S. Geological Survey.

He can be reached at


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