American Stone - An American Dream
Green touch hub recently spoke to a family stone business in Utah that has found strength through adversity throughout their years of being in operation.
American Stone is proof that the American dream is alive and well. In the 1950s, a man named Walter Thomas had a dream to start a quarrying business, and generations later, his legacy still lives on in his family.
Elizabeth Thomas, Executive Assistant at American Stone, recently spoke to Green touch hub about the business. Her husband Tyler’s grandfather, Walter, began the quarrying business over 60 years ago with his sons, Lon and Evan Thomas. Elizabeth’s father-in-law, Lon Thomas, is currently the President and owner of American Stone.
“Basically, Walter was job-hopping in Idaho, trying to find something he enjoyed that could also make enough money to provide for his family. He had been a farmer, but farming just wasn't working out well. At some point, a friend got him interested in quarrying. This was over 60 years ago, sometime in the 1950s in southern Idaho. Walter would work during the week, then spend his weekends and vacations quarrying stone with his family. Lon has literally been quarrying since he was old enough to pick up a rock. The quartzite they quarried was sold to American Stone, a company they later purchased,” Elizabeth said.
Lon Thomas, President of American Stone, (right) demonstrating to a manager Brian, (left) how to install a stone step.
Strength Through Adversity
A string of tragic events left the family facing challenges that seemed insurmountable. Tragedy struck a few years later. Walter’s son, Evan, died in an accident at a quarry in Utah.
The grieving family suffered yet another blow shortly after the loss of their son.
“About a year after that, Walter was in an industrial accident that left him with severe brain damage and nearly paralyzed. Lon and his wife, Beverley, were left to take care of the entire company by themselves. They had two young children at the time, but between Lon's stone knowledge and Beverley's accounting background, they made it work,” Elizabeth explained.
“It is a business that started in hard times and continued to push through poverty and tragedy, no matter what. Lon's personal motto is that if he can work hard enough, smart enough and long enough, he can do anything,” Elizabeth went on to say.
Company photo, Christmas 2017
Something for Everybody
The multifarious needs of the quarry and the various skill sets required enable a vast network of skilled workers to participate in stone work.
Elizabeth wears many hats. “My role... is a strange hybrid. I was originally hired as an executive assistant, but then the job description got nudged around over time. I help with production paperwork, I help with marketing, I train salespeople, I field media requests, I do some accounting... pretty much whatever corporate needs help with, I am the helpful person. My job title is still executive assistant,” she noted.
While quarrying might be seen as a more male dominated field, Elizabeth said she sees a good mix of men and women in her line of work.
“The Natural Stone Institute, which American Stone belongs to, has a branch called Women in Stone, and it does a good job of reaching out to support women working in the stone industry. It offers scholarships, presentations, awards, those sorts of things,” Elizabeth said.
“I have never gotten problems from a customer saying they didn't trust my stone judgment or something because I'm a female.
“To women aspiring to work in stone, I would tell them to own it. People will accept you being there if you accept yourself being there and you know what you're doing.”
She went on to say, “One of my favorite stories was told to me by Janet Winchester, who has worked for our company for over two decades. She said that the men all left on a trip once and it was just the girls running the shop: ‘One day, a customer came and needed a rock. I didn't know what to do, but Bev went out, got on a forklift, and loaded the freakin' semi. I was like, 'Wow. I want to learn to do that!' Because I couldn't drive any of the machines then. I didn't even think about it.' I suppose that defines feminism for me: Being the sort of woman who digs in and gets things done, whether it's a typically male or female activity. Just not caring anymore about who is supposed to do what.”
Buckskin quartzite pathway in San Antonio, Texas
The Future is Bright
With several locations and a budding millennial market preparing to buy houses in the near future, American Stone has a lot to look forward to.
“We have retail locations in Washington State and Utah, and our sister company does the quarrying. It has quarries across the western United States, as well as some non-running quarries as far east as New York,” Elizabeth said.
“We mainly sell quartzites and sandstones, though we also sell granite, onyx, cobble, and basalt. We also carry manufactured stone veneers, fire pit kits and pond and landscaping supplies.”
When asked what some of the trends and modern designs are that she has been seeing lately, Elizabeth replied, “I've been seeing a lot of stone veneer on the outside of houses, stone countertops, and stone fireplaces. For landscaping, people like stone pathways a lot, and we get quite a few retaining walls. We've also had a few people use colorful gravel to create art in their parking strips.
“For the most part, people are going for polished stone inside and a natural look outside. Since our stone is mainly the natural-look variety, meant for walls and landscaping, we get more of those customers. A lot of our retail customers like the rough, natural look and enjoy the chance to pick out their own boulder or patio stones,” Elizabeth said.
Sunrise sandstone, quarried in Utah
Regarding the future for stone, Elizabeth explained that the millennial market has not quite taken off yet, but it will.
Elizabeth explained, “Most millennials aren't looking to buy stone yet. I mean, stone is something you get for the home you want for forever, and a lot of millennials haven't hit that point. If they come in, they are most likely looking for fish tank rocks or a rock to paint. According to our sales staff, millennials are also less likely to DIY and more likely to hire professional masons and landscapers. Give the millennials a few years to get settled, and then they'll come looking for stone.”
With a history of hard work and sacrifice along with a bright future ahead of them, American Stone is the ideal example of the American Dream.