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A Solvay Process Company publication — year unknown; best guess: 1950 — referred to the cable line that carried buckets from the Split Rock limestone quarries to the factory in Solvay as "a marvel of engineering genius." And for 23 years, these buckets,, which soared from south end of the village to the north end, supplied Solvay Process with the limestone that was essential to the operation.

The company publication says the distance between the quarries and the factory was eight miles. The story below says the cable line covered three-and-a-quarter miles. I think the actual distance was somewhere in between.

In any case, the bucket line was one of the most interesting things about the early days of the Solvay Process Company, which was the reason for the existence of my hometown.

Syracuse Post-Standard, Sunday, January 27, 1952
By J. BURR BELL
The Solvay Process advertisement of its Jamesville quarry, published in Syracuse newspapers last week, served as a reminder of the changes in the soda ash works that have taken place over the years. To many old-timers, the description of the quarry — one of the largest year-round operating quarries in the United States — doubtless brought to mind the cable line, which was an aerial tramway system started in May, 1889, to transport limestone from Split Rock to the Solvay Process plant in Solvay.

The main cable ran 3-1/4 miles between the Split Rock quarry and the lime kiln. It was augmented by three feeder lines serving Shanahan, Crowley and Leddy quarries, according to an article in The Solvay News, a plant publication.

Originally, wooden towers were used to support the two carrying and one hauling cables. They were replaced in time by steel trestles.
When buckets were filled with limestone, they were drawn to the plant by the hauling cable, and, when empty, sent back to the quarry on one of the carrying cables. The power for moving the buckets was furnished by a steam engine situated on the top floor of the lime kiln building.

The buckets, separated at intervals of about 75 feet, moved approximately 250 feet a minute. Later, as the demand for stone increased, the speed was stepped up to 300 feet a minute.

The system continued to carry limestone to the Solvay Process plant until August, 1911, when operations were started at the Jamesville quarry. Commercial stone was brought out from Split Rock until the cable road was abandoned in December, 1911.

During the past 41 years, the Solvay plant has received all of its limestone over the DL&W (Delaware, Lackawanna and Western) Railroad from Jamesville.

Perhaps not yet realizing it factory would, in the near future, receive its limestone from a different source, the Solvay Process Company, in 1908, completed an improvement on its bucket system that allowed it to operate entirely through gravity, eliminating the need for a steam engine at the lime kiln building.

Until this project was finished, the buckets did not have a downhill ride all the way from Split Rock to the factory in Solvay. The one obstacle was a hill that stood between the end of Cogswell Avenue and West Genesee Street. When the following job was finished, the buckets could go through the hill.

Syracuse Journal, Monday, August 3, 1908
The Solvay Process Company has completed the tunneling of the big hill at the head of Cogswell Avenue, 534 feet long. Two gangs of men were at work, one on the east side and the other on the west side. Each worked toward the center.

The tunnel is to be used for the company’s tramway that hauls stone from the Split Rock quarries to the Solvay works. It runs up and down hill over private property. As the buckets pass over the tops of the hills they almost graze the ground, while at other times they are 100 feet in the air. Employees of the company sometimes ride in these buckets.

Every 24 hours this line carries 5,000 buckets of limestone, or 5,000,000 pounds of crushed rock, a distance of three miles.

The Split Rock quarries are considerably higher than the manufacturing plant at Solvay, and on this account little power is necessary to operate the bucket line.

The tunneling of the big hill at Cogswell avenue will eliminate power, and the system will be only operated by gravity. The bucket line instead of running over the hill, will run through it, which means the saving of a ??? [looks like 34] foot grade. The tunnel is now being walled and floored with concrete, and when completed will be 10 feet high and 12 feet wide.

Syracuse Journal, Wednesday, December 14, 1910
The Solvay Process Company is going to transfer its limestone stock pile from its present location, inside the works, to the vacant property in Milton Avenue between Orchard Road and Hall Avenue, Solvay, and permission was granted by the Board of Trustees of the village Tuesday night for the company to construct a tunnel, eight feet in diameter, under Milton Avenue and the New York Central Railroad tracks.

Work on the tunnel will begin within the month and then a conveyor belt will carry the stone from the stock pile to the lime kiln, a distance of about 100 feet. There will be a steel bridge over Milton Avenue, 60 feet high, to carry the empty conveyor.

When the tunnel and conveyor are completed, the cable road buckets will empty the stone from Split Rock into the lot south of Milton Avenue where thousands of tons of broken stone will be kept in reserve.

I grew up on Russet Lane, a dead-end street that intersected with Orchard Road at the top of the incline from Milton Avenue. Most of the backyards on the north side of Russet Lane faced the village hill that was closest to the Solvay Process. So the buckets in the above photo are either coming from or going back toward the hill that figured a lot in my childhood.

By the time I was born (1938), the bucket line was long gone. As I recall, there was a reminder on the hill in the form of four concrete blocks from the foundation of the structure that supported the bucket line cables. I think it must have been those blocks that prompted my father to tell me about the buckets that delivered limestone to the Solvay Process.

There were four hills within the village that were affected by the bucket line, the highest being the southernmost between the top of Cogswell Avenue and West Genesee Street, called the Genesee Turnpike back then. I never took the time to picture the bucket line between the village and the quarries at Split Rock, except I knew, from driving through Split Rock as a teenager, that the quarries were considerably higher than the hill behind my house.

I don't think Russet Lane existed during World War One, but years later, during the Second World War, some residents of our street were encouraged by the Solvay Process to use the hill — which the company owned — to plant Victory Gardens. That was my introduction to the hill, going with my parents to check the progress of our tomatoes, potatoes, peas and string beans. There's more about the hill in my recollections of Russet Lane.

When my father told me about the bucket line, he said that he and his friends used to climb aboard the empty buckets as they passed over one hill (where the buckets were just inches off the ground) and ride to the next hill, or the one after that.

At the time my father first mentioned this, I was unaware of the history of the bucket line and didn't consider some facts about my father's childhood. I have no doubt my father was telling the truth, but for him to take a ride in a bucket, he would have had to do it before his ninth birthday. Since he hung around with his brother, Billy, who was three years older, it's believable to think my father accepted a dare, even when he was six or seven years old. He was like that, and kids in those days did some fairly wild things, like dive off a railroad bridge into the Erie Canal, where my father and his brother did a lot of their swimming.

The Majors lived on Alice Avenue, deep in the heart of West Solvay, so it's likely their bucket rides started atop one of the two hills between Russet Lane and the one at the southern edge of the village. My father claimed that before he and his friends jumped off the buckets, they would ride the buckets through the tunnel that was built in 1908.

This wasn't legal, of course, and it was very dangerous, but it also was how children amused themselves in those days. Some of the same spirit existed 40 years later when I was a young boy, though I never took the risks that my father and his friends did. About the dumbest thing I ever did was after my mother made me a parachute — Why? I can't remember — and I tested it by jumping off our front porch.

 
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