You’ve seen it hauled out by the truckload. It’s the same outdated stone material your grandfather’s hearth was made out of in the 1970s – or is it? Today, the average homeowner can’t afford to install real stone in or around their home – or can they? We set out to unearth the truth and crush the myths behind today’s Oakley Quartzite Stone.
Myth: Oakley’s stone quarries are just a middling industry.
Southern Idaho produces its share of potatoes and sugar beets, but the quartzite stone industry isn’t far behind with respects to economic impact. According to the Bureau of Land Management, stone from Oakley brings more money into Idaho than any other industry with the exception of agriculture.
Even if you’ve never installed it in your home or yard, you’ve been affected by Oakley Quartzite (also known as Oakley Stone, Rocky Mountain Quartzite or Idaho Quartzite). Ninety nine percent of its sells are outside of Idaho; the millions of out-of-state dollars that the industry brings in each year is a large chunk of Southern Idaho’s economic base that circulates through our local economy.
The industry directly supports about 100 families year-round and provides approximately 600 seasonal jobs. Although the industry relies heavily on seasonal migrant labor, the majority of the income stays right here in Southern Idaho. Most of the local quarry businesses try to buy trucks, equipment and supplies locally – essentially providing dozens of more jobs for those businesses. For example, a handful of local pallet companies exist solely to construct pallets for the local stone industry. In essence, Oakley Quartzite is a major source pumping in dollars that flow through the local community.
If you’ve lived in Southern Idaho – particularly the Mini-Cassia area – for any period of time, you’ve seen hundreds of large trucks hauling out stone. Where is it going? Oakley Quartzite is shipped all over the world. You can find stone walls, walkways and fireplaces from Oakley all across the United States, Canada, Europe and even Japan. You could go on vacation to Hawaii and walk on Oakley Quartzite pavers.
What makes the stone popular is its unique quartzite formation. In the mountains south of Oakley, the quartzite is formed in large plates that can be easily split into thin veneers. As a result, masons are able to get more coverage out of less weight. Oakley Quartzite can be split down to a half inch in thickness and still be plenty durable to be used as a floor, patio or building exterior. This characteristic – together with quartzite’s versatility and workability – allows the local quarries to penetrate markets worldwide because freight costs are not an issue.
Myth: Oakley Stone is an outdated style.
“What most people know about Oakley Quartzine is the rust colored stuff they remember seeing on their grandpa’s house. People don’t realize the variety that’s up here,” says Greg Osterhout of Northern Stone Supply.
Oakley Quartzite has been quarried and sold since the late 1940s. It began to receive widespread acclaim in 1957 when Oakley Valley Stone Inc. was contracted to install Oakley Quartzite on the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. But the stone still needed an extra boost in order to establish itself in the worldwide market. That boost, according to many of his colleagues, came from Gary Mullard, owner of Northern Stone Supply.
“(Oakley Quartzite) was well-known from the Riviera, but nobody knew where it came from or anything about it,” says third-generation quarry owner Jim Burch of Oakley Valley Stone. “Gary came in and was very instrumental in taking it to the next level. All of us had a little contribution to make, but taking it to the next level had a lot to do with Gary’s efforts.”
Mullard and Northern Stone Supply began quarrying in Oakley in the late 1960s and early 70s, kick-starting the industry. This increase of production led to the installation of the stone on your parents’ or grandparents’ homes. However, the stone being quarried today is much more versatile, modern and stylish.
“Installation, application and technique have changed completely,” Burch says. “We have a complete fabrication plant now; you can take the same stone, cut it into tiles, bull-nose the edge, hone it, polish it – it changes the look entirely. As the market has changed, the Oakley stone industry has changed and updated.”
Years ago, the installation of Oakley Quartzite meant a skilled mason chipped away and shaped each stone – a time consuming and expensive process. Today, however, with advanced computerized precision sawing equipment, the stone arrives at the building site ready to install.
Osterhout believes that nothing can compete with the beauty of natural stone. He says the majority of his stone is sold for landscaping, walls, fountains, pool surrounds, patios, walkways and stairs.
Myth: Only the wealthy can afford real stone.
Around town you often see stone on the side of homes and commercial buildings, especially in newer developments. However, chances are what you see is cast stone or “cultured stone” – a man-made product consisting of light-weight aggregates, crushed rock and cement which is colored with chemicals. This look-alike product is less durable and fades over time. Why is the fake stuff so widely used?
“People believe that (cast stone) is similar to natural stone and they believe that the cost is less, but in reality it isn’t,” Burch says.
Osterhout adds, “For decades, natural stone has been considered a product for the rich and famous, so many people have looked at it as unaffordable.”
But the truth is, Oakley Quartzite is very affordable. According to Osterhout, using natural stone rather than fake stone on an average home construction will only cost about $1,000 more. Osterhout and Burch agree that to receive the better quality, natural look and lifetime endurance of real stone, the extra grand is a wise choice and good investment.
The myth that only the wealthy can afford natural stone possibly stems from the early days of the industry, when the product was much more difficult to work with. Now, thanks to the aforementioned technological advances, utilizing this natural resource is easy and inexpensive.
Part of the reason only one percent of Oakley Quartzite sales are to Idahoans is due to the state’s sparse population. However, Osterhout and Burch agree that another reason is because locals simply don’t realize how accessible and affordable the product is, especially to residents of Southern Idaho.
“Nothing could rival what Southern Idaho could get in a 20 minute drive from their house,” Osterhout says. “There are few other places on earth where people can get access to the variety of stone products.”
Because it’s so close and doesn’t need to be shipped, locals are able to purchase Oakley Quartzite for less than anyone else in the world.
“We’d be happy to do business with our friends and families locally, as well as ship stuff all the way to Japan and Europe,” Osterhout says. “We’ll always depend on a worldwide market to keep the size that we have; it’s no different than the potato industry – there’s no way the people in Southern Idaho can eat all the potatoes that Southern Idaho can grow. But you’d really feel bad if the people in Southern Idaho ate no potatoes.”
The Truth: Southern Idaho has access to an incredible world-famous natural resource that enhances any building or landscape project – you’re only limited by your imagination. All the quarries in Oakley are willing to work with local builders or individual home and business owners on any project. Just head south from Burley on Highway 27. It ends in Oakley, where your stone adventure begins.