It was a quiet summer evening in East Poultney, Vermont. Wheezing drones from the Melodian factory drifted across the Green and in through the open windows of the Eagle Tavern. There, quarriers had been called for a meeting, Hugh G. Hughes presiding. A cloud of dust hung above the group like steam over a herd of cows on a cold morning. They always brought their own dust. The men talked amongst each other quietly, drinking.
The Hydeville quarry was represented, the Mammoth quarry, the Old Evans quarry. All the great names: Auld and Conger, Norton Bros, Rising and Nelson, Griffith and Nathaniel, Billings. Notably absent, the Macrea and Pollith quarries. (No surprise. They were getting plastered down at the Fair Haven Inn at their customary limbo party, half naked, seeing how low they could go).
Hugh Hughes spoke up.
“Gentlemen, we have some decisions to make.”
It was around the turn of the century and the slate industry was doing better than ever. Vermont Green was dominant, making up three quarters of the slate market. The three year strike in North Wales had opened Europe up to US slate and left the US market solely to domestic suppliers. During the first ten years of the twentieth century, the Vermont and New York quarries produced no less than 350,000 squares a year. Delta Pennsylvania, Virginia and Chapman were booming. Central Pennsylvania had hardly begun to dig into their dubious pile.
The Railway system had finally been incorporated thoroughly into the industry. Freight rates had been stabilized. The Eastern United States at least was wide open for business. It was time to organize.
The choice of railway lines was ‘recommended’ to the men gathered. Price ‘guidelines’ were given for slate sizes and types. Production levels to maintain were duly noted. Arguments were heard and voted on. Put simply, a fair and workable monopoly was established in no time at all.
In the heat of the discussion, nobody had noticed that the bar staff had fled. Overwhelmed by the dust, they were down at the court-house filing workers comp claims for asbestosis. The quarriers were unimpressed and herded up to the Hampton Inn, bringing their dust with them.
These quarrymen, from a string of family-owned operations, were roofing the biggest and fastest growing cities in the world: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, St Louis, Cininnatti. Still relatively un-mechanized, with a combined work-force of six hundred men, they not only supplied for the grand buildings of the country-the cathedrals, churches, National, State and County buildings-but for millions of homes. Homes of every type, both elaborate and humble. Proportionately speaking, these men manufactured, with their bare hands and crude tools, the same amount of materials now produced by the asphalt giants who have every amenity and technological advantage possible. The difference being that the slate they produced looked good and lasted.
At the Hampton Inn things were getting out of hand. Employees clung to the walls like dying flies, gasping for one last dust-free breath of air.
The men lurched out into the night, stampeding down the streets in their hob-nailed boots, all sails aloft, proud of their lives and hard work. The Fairhaven Inn was the last stop. And sure enough, the Macreas and Polliths were there, face-down, having found out how low they could go. Staffed by the burliest of Vermont ladies, dust in this establishment was not an issue. It was regarded on a sliding scale. More dust more money! Our men drank on.
Another great moment was achieved in the Slate world. Solidarity and a clear vision for the future.