Learn more about the local industries which were served by the Ma & Pa Railroad.
The Coal Elevator in background - Robinson Brothers Co. - Delta, PA
Robinson Brothers business began in 1916. They orginally purchased the old Gailey building. In time they became International Harvestor dealers and then expanded to New Holland and Ontario Drills. They handled everything but John Deere.
Mouse over picture to see the site as it looked on April 24, 2013 from Google Earth
All of the Robinson Brother's buildings are red, plus the long aluminum roof structure to the North (right) is the open-ended machinery storage shed. The Coal Elevator is to the rear (West) just next to the Ma & Pa Railroad bed, near the top . The rails were still there at that time, and the railroad was still in limited operations.
By 1910 the slate industry was beginning to decline. As the quarries became deeper and deeper, the cost and danger of production increased. At the same time, cheaper roofing products, such as standing seam tin and corrugated galvanized steel, that offered fire resistance similar to slate were coming on the market. Roofing slates shipped on the Ma & Pa declined precipitously to 1676 tons in 1918 and 819 tons in 1923. The Peach Bottom slate industry appeared to be dying.
Its salvation would come in the guise of another competitive roofing product. Asphalt shingles, were invented in 1903 but did not gain wide acceptance until the idea of adding a surface layer of crushed slate granules was developed in 1914 by F. C. Overby of the Flintkote Company.
The Staso Milling Company of Poultney, Vermont, had a large slate quarry at Castleton, Vermont, that was suffering from the collapse in the market for slate. Staso became a prime producer of slate granules and promoter of their use for asphalt shingles.
On December 11, 1923, the Baltimore Sun carried an announcement that the Staso Milling Company would construct a $250,000 plant at Whiteford. The plant was projected to employ 100 workers and to produce 40,000 tons of slate granules annually. Completion of the plant was expected by February 1, 1924. It seems likely, however, that construction of the plant was well underway before the publication of this announcement and that it might even have been in partial production.
The York Mail - 2013 Spring
To serve the new plant the Ma & Pa constructed a 2,111 foot spur track diverging to the southwest from the main line about 600 feet south of the Whiteford station and climbing steeply up the side of Slate Ridge to the Staso plant. The spur was built in 1923 at a cost of $6,029.75. Funds for construction were provided by Staso under the terms of an agreement whereby the railroad would refund the cost out of its earnings from the spur and take ownership once the company was fully repaid. The spur was laid with 80 pound rail on untreated pine ties at an average cost of $1.82 per tie. The use of pine ties seems unusual, especially since oak ties bought in 1923 cost just $0.99 per tie. Perhaps oak ties were not available at the time the spur was built.
Photo from collection of Charles Mahan - July 11, 1942
Additional expenditures of $3,639.52 were made in 1924 and 1925 to improve the Staso spur. Probably this represents the addition of a second track at the Staso loading dock and the construction of a 600 foot passing siding on the spur just north of Pylesville road.
Photo from collection of Rudy Fischer - 1938
Note trestle across Whiteford Road
Bob Parks had these thoughts about the two adjacent aerial photos, "A very interesting two photos and commentary on them regarding Staso and possible NG railroad to the quarry across Rt 136. When I enlarged photo 2-StasoCo area, I see what appear to be two 'trains' of cars coupled together. Inside the large circle of roadbed at the plant, on the north side where there appears to be a possible 'Y', (the roadbeds come together) there is a string of seven cars coupled together; and under the loader/unloader at the plant on the west side of the roadbed circle, there is what looks like a trestle over a swale or raving. There was probably a place on the trestle to dump the tram cars. There is also what appears to be as spur track that goes from the same roadbed east (up a hill?) to a pond."
Photo from collection of Rudy Fischer - 1938
Note loop at Staso plant with what appears to be train cars - Bob Parks
The impact of the Staso plant for the railroad was enormous. In 1924 it originated 55,251 tons of slate granules - about 1250 carloads. This new traffic rapidly became one of the largest sources of revenue on the entire railroad. In 1929, the Funkhouser Quarry also began to grind slate into granules, providing a further boost in the profitable traffic. The railroad reported construction of a new 788 foot yard track at Slate Hill, no doubt to support this new activity.
Slate traffic sagged during the Great Depression and World War II, but rose very rapidly in the post-war housing boom to a 1950 peak of 5,763 carloads - about 19 carloads a day. The surging traffic in slate was largely responsible for the railroad's strong financial performance in 1950 with record operating revenues and the highest net income since 1930.
Geological Survey Map - Bel Air Quadrangle 7.5 minute series - sheet 5763 - 1948
Production at Staso during this period was as high as 89,000 tons - more than 1800 cars annually. After 1950, however, the production of slate granules declined dramatically. Total revenue at the Whiteford station fell from a 1950 high of $140,925 to just $50,853 in 1953. By 1956 the Staso Milling Company, which was the last major shipper on the Maryland District, ceased production.
Two years later, in 1958, when the Ma & Pa south of Whiteford was abandoned, the Staso spur was left in place. Perhaps the railroad hoped that operations at the plant might resume, but that was not to be. For years slate had been a major source of revenue for the railroad, and in the final years it was slate that had kept the railroad running to Delta.
When production at the Funkhouser Quarry ended in 1970, it was the death knell for the Ma & Pa.
Photo by Tom Stifler - 2006
"Oak Hill" Quarry where the Slate Ridge Narrow Gauge Railway terminated - At Lower left is Whiteford Rd. (Rt. 136)
Herb Jones, who worked at Staso between 1938 and 1943, had these recollections of the operation at Whiteford: While he worked there, Staso used coal for their drying process rather than oil. At times the plant ran two shifts with as many as forty men on a shift. While he was employed at the plant there was a fire which shut down the plant until the damaged area was rebuilt. [The Engineering News-record, (1941) Vol. 127, Part 2, p. 27 records that C. McCann was superintendent while the plant was being rebuilt after it had been destroyed by fire.] He mentioned that some people think the name Staso came from "stay so" because of their good process of coloring the slate granules. When loading the box cars with bulk material planks were placed across the doorways up to six feet. The inside of the box car was lined with heavy duty craft paper and the car was filled. The cars were also loaded with granules shipped in burlap bags. In addition, shipping was at times done in dedicated covered hoppers. (Phone interview - 10/9/1991).
Phil Morton, who worked at Staso, remembered that Staso was owned by Central Commercial out of Chicago. The owner of Cental Commerical was a man by the name of Lowrey who was also the inventor of the Lowrey organ. (Phone interview - 9/17/1991).
Staso Milling Company had various locations: Slate granules and slate flour were produced at Castleton by the Staso Milling Company, 322 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois Mineral Resources of the United States, Part 2 (1933) p.174 ;
Large quarries and mill of the Staso Milling Company were located in Castleton, Vermont, just south of the village. The Vermont office was at Poultney, VT. The Home office was located in Chicago. Quarries were at Casleton and in New York. A fabricating plant was at Castleton. They produced slate roof granules. The plant at Castleton had a capacity of 150 tons per day. The company also had quarries and mills in Maryland, Georgia, and Michigan. Report of the State Geologist on the Mineral Industries of Vermont 1933-1934, p.16, 19 by Elbridge C. Jacobs. -- See box below.
Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad paid $801.00 for the right of way for the spur into the Staso Milling Co., Whiteford in 1927. Annual Report of Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Company, (1927) p.43
Photo from collection of Rudy Fischer - 1938
This is the building where Gerry found the map of the Slate Ridge Narrow Gauge Railway. It was a 24" x 36" pen and ink drawing on white velum drawing paper. In the early 90s it was donated to the Harford County Historical Society who at this time cannot locate the map.
Much of this information was compiled by Theodore F. "Ted" Gleichmann, Jr., Craig J. Sansonetti, and Rudy Fischer
Photo from Old Line Museum collection
Proctor Slate Company had a railroad it used to haul blocks of slate from the quarry to its yard and slate processing buildings. - 1915
If you have information about an industry served by the Ma & Pa Railroad, and would like to see it highlighted on our website. Send us your information along with photos to Gerry Mack.