Home Dalton Gang Hideout Meade County Museum About Us Links

Index of Stories Index of Photos    Cemeteries Maps

Meade County Silica Mines

By Nancy Ohnick

All my life I have heard about the Silica Mines around Meade, but very little has been written about this industry that disappeared from our landscape decades ago. I recently had to get a copy of my birth certificate and although I’ve looked at it many times, suddenly I noticed that it listed my father’s occupation as “silica worker.” Well… I thought if I wanted to know about silica mines first hand I would just go to the source. Robert Feldman is my dad. “Bob” as he is better known around Meade is approaching eight-three years old and has an excellent memory. He protested at first… then the flood gates opened and all kinds of information poured out of him.

I acquired a booklet from the Kansas Geological Survey that explained that what was commonly known as "silica" was actually volcanic ash... I quote:

Just what is volcanic ash? Kansas volcanic ash is a glass, not a crystalline material. It differs form other volcanic deposits such as pumice, obsidian, scoria and perlite (consolidated materials) in that it consists of shards of finely divided material that is unconsolidated or only slightly consolidated. The shards are white to gray but whiten further in the bloating process. Unfortunately, volcanic ash is often called by other names. It is widely termed "pumicite" and locally in Kansas it is even referred to as "silica sand" or "silica," but technically these names are incorrect. STATE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF KANSAS, BULLETIN 157, PART 3

So, it's not technically "silica" but as this was the name everyone in the region used to describe the mines so we are going to use it also.

FROM SULIVANS HISTORY OF MEADE COUNTY: 1916

Immense deposits of silica exist, which is just commencing to be of commercial importance.

Ira McSherry, from his farm about three miles south of Meade, is now filling a contract with James H. Rhodes & Co., Chicago, manufacturers of industrial chemicals, whereby he furnishes them a stated quantity of silica per year for five years. The price realized by Mr. McSherry is $2 per ton, delivered at Meade.

The Cudahy Packing Co. owns large deposits of this mineral, and in the year 1915 built a railroad from their mines a few miles north of Meade, connecting with the C. R. I. & P. at Fowler, for the purpose of transporting the product of these mines.

The Puck Soap Company owns silica beds just west of Meade, and other deposits are found in various parts of the county.

My interview with Bob Feldman

The Cudahy Mine

 “The Cudahy Plant was north of Meade…. This was a huge plant… they had houses out there for their workers to live in… Lawrence and Henry Bohling worked out there. Millard Mohler worked out there. Henry Bohling lived out there…. my Aunt Dora died out there in one of those houses.” 

Cudahy, a meat packing plant in Chicago, sacked the silica from their Meade County mine for soaking up blood on the kill floor. They also had a subsidiary plant that manufactured cleaning products that utilized the silica. This was the better-known silica operation in our county.  

Bob remembered the man who managed the plant was a Mr. Rothe, and that he had two children a boy and a girl. A quick check with our Meade High School Alumni database found June Rothe who graduated in 1935, and Charles Rothe who graduated in 1939. The Rothe’s, he said, had a bigger house at the Cudahy plant. The girl, June, was beautiful and he thinks she became an airline stewardess and later became famous as a model advertising cold cream in magazines.  

Bob thinks the Cudahy mine would have closed around 1950. He said by this time it was down to just a few workers. 

The houses from the mine were moved to other locations when the plant closed. Of the ones Bob remembers, one is at 418 North Baltimore in Meade… another is at 600 N. Baltimore. They were small two-bedroom houses, but very well built, and probably all just alike. Rod and Martha Ohnick recently bought a country home that was one of these houses… I always referred to this as the DeWitt place… W.P. (Bill) and Zada (DeWitt) Lemaster would have lived there in the mid 1940’s and moved this house onto their place. (This is Leroy Lemaster’s parents.) 

The Hantla Mines 

The Hantla Silica Mine is where Bob worked. This operation was managed by Albert Hantla, but at the time Bob worked there it was operated by his son-in-law, Elbert Harris. (see more about this family on page 95 of the 1885 Meade County Historical Society book)

“They had a mine south of town, one west northwest of town and one north of town. I worked at the one west of town and the one north of town. The one north of town was north of the Cudahy plant.. that’s where I worked last.” Bob recalled a man by the name of Stub Davis owned the land at the north site, and Rosco Smith owned the land at the west site. 

Mr. Hantla must have taken over operation of the two mines previously operated by Ira McSherry and the Puck Soap Company mentioned in Sullivan’s history.  

Bob said he ran a shovel for awhile. This was a strip mining operation. First they had to remove a lot of dirt with dynamite. When it came out of the ground it was in chunks and moist. This raw material was trucked to a “plant” in Meade which Bob described as an old tin shed. The plant was just west of the Coop Elevator, on the south side of the railroad where they had a spur line to the plant. This material had to be dried, then ground into a fine powder. Then they would sack it and load it on a railcar.  

“They would run it through this dryer that had big ol’ cylinders… it had gas flames shooting through it… oh it got HOT! It was powered by an old Allis Chalmers tractor.  First it would go into kind of a hammer grinder.. then it would go into the dryer… when it came out of that dryer it was a fine powder… it would just run like water.”

“Two guys would work the sacking… a sacker would weigh it and when it weighed enough another guy would stack it on a cart. The sacks were paper like a cement sack… they were sealed except for a slot that went on the machine… the sacker would thread the sack onto a spout and when it was full, it sealed itself when the sack was pulled off.” 

When asked about the safety of working around that fine powder Bob said, “We just breathed that stuff, we didn’t know what harm it was doing to us… the old hands… most of them died of lung cancer.” 

Bob didn’t know where the Hantla mine sold the silica, but he thought toward the last they shipped it to an optical company in Wichita. The Hantla operation went out in the late 1940’s and the plant was sold and moved to Gate OK. 

“They paid pretty good wages, I know when I worked there I was getting $1.00 an hour and that was more than the common laborer was getting… you could buy anything with a dollar back then.” The Hantla mine hired five workers including the foreman, Elbert Harris. Bob remembers working with Pete McPheter for a time. 

I am at present undergoing the task of finding the legal descriptions for these mines so that I can pinpoint them on a map. Elmer Friesen has promised to take me to the one south of Meade… it will be interesting if Ira McSherry shows up as the landowner in the courthouse records…. and if Cudahy actually owned the land their mine was on. So... this story is a work in progress. I will add photos when I get them and a map of where they were located. 

 

 

  

Silica Mining in Meade County KS This photo was taken at the Old North Hantla Mine. Left to right: Albert
Hantla, Jesse Hantla on the shovel and Clarence Hantla standing on the
truck.

 

Courtesy of Brian Hantla

 

This photo was taken in the old South Hantla Mine.

The notation on the back of the photo: "Midco Product
Mine. Shovel twelve."

 

Courtesy of Brian Hantla

Silica Mining in Meade County KS
Midland Silica plant in Meade County KS The "Midco" silica processing plant was located
just south of the rail road tracks, west of COOP elevators. The foundations of this plant still remain in 2008.

This photo would have been taken from the south looking north.

Courtesy of Brian Hantla

 

Access a PDF file here with captions that explain the functions of these buildings.

The Hantla Family:

Left to right front: Albert, Willis (my grandfather); John, Clarence, and Jesse Hantla

Back left to right: Ethel, Ernest, Paul and Maggie Hantla

 

Courtesy of Brian Hantla

 

Click here to access a copy of a patent owned by Albert Hantla for a volcanic ash drier he invented in 1934.

Hantla family

A Note from Marvin Woltje

Received this addition from Marvin Woltje after I published the above story:

I read with interest your story about the silica mine north of Meade. My father Ted Woltje worked there for many years, from the 1920's until it closed in the 1950's. He did have one respite from there for a few years.

George Clapper was the superintendent after Rothe. He had two children, Leon and Alice Faye. Alice Faye was a little younger than I, I graduated from Meade in 1959. His wife Georgia worked at Bisbee's dime store after George's death. He fell to his death at the mine in the 50's. The silica was used to make Old Dutch Cleanser which was made by Cudahy. A product like the bathroom cleansers we use today. It was also used as ballast in ships during WWII and it was a wartime industry and I believe they worked around the clock at that time at least for a period. The finished product was shipped in hopper cars by rail. On occasion, the product was bagged and shipped by boxcar. The railroad spur came out of Fowler.

Cudahy sold the plant and all to Purex Corp in LA in the 50's and they closed it. Many other people lived out there including Dom Gillen. Ben Lampe and Fred Frank families moved to Dodge City and worked for Fairmont Milk.  When the plant closed only my father and Joe Marcus from Dodge City were working there. I can't remember when it closed but I was in high school so it had to be 55 or so. I have some pictures somewhere if I can find them although they are not good ones.

A Note from Pat Smith

I just now read your blog about the silica mines and have a little input. My granddad, Earl Rexford, worked for the Boraxo Soap Company in 1960/61 tearing out all the equipment at the Cudahy plant and disposing of it. All the trucks, wagons, tractors, plant equipment, and an old steam shovel. The houses, garages, and out buildings were sold (for near nothing) and moved. Two of these out buildings ended up at Charles Cook farm. The steam shovel was bought by Jenkenson bros. but after months of trying to get it going they gave up and sold it for scrap.

The railroad tracks were bought by Gillette Razor for razor blades. I helped tear everything out and we would haul most to grandpa's back yard and wait for bidder to pick up. There is still a lot of fire brick there (Rod Blehm residence). I remember hauling in at last count 14,000 of them.

Just east of the plant and south of the tracks was the corrals where they kept horses and mules for pulling the wagons. When we finished there were still several horse drawn wagons, all the harnesses, and blacksmithing equipment still there, NO ONE WANTED IT THEN! I'd like to know what happened to it.

My best memory of this era is when my grandpa and I were lowering a 32HP electric motor down from the crows nest it was sitting on. The rafter we had block and tackle tied to broke and the whole thing came down, The block and tackle hit me in the back, (I didn't know what happened, it was explained to me later) All I remember is waking up in the back of a 50 Chevy pick up going 60 to nothing for the Meade Hospital. I slammed on the cab and told grandpa to slow down. Went home, rested up and after a glass of ice water, went back to work. I have more but finger locked up.  Pat Smith

(Editors note: a Google search revealed that the US Borax's consumer division was acquired by The Dial Corporation in 1989. They still manufacture Boraxo hand soap and 20-Mule Team Borax laundry product.)

A phone call from Irvin "Beefy" Marrs

Irvin has lots of memories of living just three miles or so east of the Cudahy mine. The rail track ran by his Granddad's place (Frank Marrs) and they watched the loads of silica rolling towards Fowler (eight to ten cars a week as he remembers). Cudahy contracted with Frank to furnish water for the train engine... they dug a hole by their artesian well and pumped the water to the engine.... "quite a sight in the 30's for two ten and twelve-year-old boys." Irvin remembers there was a hotel at the mine (I hadn't heard this before) he said it burned down in the 1920's sometime. Some of the family names he remembers from the mine workers were Moler, Petifish, and Stranton.. kids that went to school with him in Fowler. "We never did go to the mines as I remember Mom always told us it was too dangerous... that it could cave in on you. I did know there were other mines around but never went to them." Thanks for the memories, Irvin... if you come up with anything else... let us know!

A Trip to the Railroad Right-of-Way Mine  by Nancy Ohnick

(Several people since I posted this have assured me this was not a mine.. but they can't explain why it is there... Brian Hantla became interested in this story and has visited this site and agrees that it was not a mine, but I'm leaving it for now because we did retrieve some silica from it, and it must be there for a reason. Kids Jay's age will remember this as "the silica mine" so it may bring back fond childhood memories for them. Maybe someone will read this and fill in the blanks.) My Dad said that the railroad mixed silica with concrete to build their bridges.... perhaps the railroad company mined this for their own use.

My son, Jay Dorsey, came to visit in early June, 2007, and I was telling him about this story on the Old Meade County silica mines.  He told me he had fond memories of playing in the old mine west of town when he was a kid, and that he would love to take me there. So we loaded up and went out there on a sunny afternoon. It turns out that it is just a short ways from town. We drove north from 54 on the dirt road just west of Dr. Feldmeyer's house and parked at the railroad track and walked west on the tracks to the mine.

The mine is just a big gully now... overgrown in the bottom with dried weeds, but it's still there and it's plain to see how the mine worked. I could see in my mind's eye the old trucks backed in there an being loaded with the white earth. We took a jar and Jay "mined" a little silica for me to bring home.  Nancy Ohnick


 

 

West Hantla Silica Mine Meade County Kansas

Now the mine is just a big gully overgrown with weeds. The shot above is from the bottom looking west. The shot at right is from the top at the west end of the mine looking east.. you can see Meade off in the distance

  W Hantla Silica Mine Meade County Kansas
Jay Dorsey mining silica in Meade County Kansas

Jay scraped a little silica from a vein along the wall of the mine into a jar. You can see here how Mother Nature placed the mineral in the ground.

  Jay Dorsey collecting silica Meade County Kansas
West Hantla Silica Strip Mine   The photo at left is Looking back toward Meade from the west end of the mine... here you can see how close it is to the railroad tracks.
Marvin Woltje talked about it being used to make make Old Dutch Cleanser, and that's exactly what it feels like... fine and gritty. I sprinkled some in my stainless steel sink and scrubbed it around with a damp cloth and it just shined like a new nickel! I plan to visit all the mine sites and will collect a sample from each one and label them.... perhaps leave them at the Meade County Historical Museum.
Silica from West Hantla Mine Meade County Kansas My jar of silica from the "railroad trench". The mineral is somewhat damp and "clumpy" as it came out of the ground.

When we drove back to town we took the trail east from where we parked and came into town just south of the elevators. (I later took my Dad by there and he pointed out the old foundations of the Midco plant still standing just south of the tracks and west of the Coop elevator.) All in all it was a fun excursion chasing down a little Meade County history. 

A Note from Brian Hantla

While I was home in Meade this past week, my brother Troy and I found the North and South “Hantla” mines. Maps attached and photos. I also have photos from my cousin, Dorothy Hoover (Albert Hantla’s granddaughter) of the North mine in 1938 and of the processing plant in Meade. She gave me general directions to the mines and stated that her dad never worked a mine west of town. Albert Hantla never owned the mines; he was just the manager for the Midland Company.

I walked to the area you indicated west of town; if could have been excavated for silica, but is very small compared to the South and even the North mine. It appears they may have used the dirt originally for fill to level out the tracks and came upon the deposit. It would not have taken them long to cut that area out. I think its just a vein, and not a true long term mining project.

An additional note FYI. I talked to a man who is an oil field geologist. He knows Meade County very well and says that Meade County has literally hundreds of silica deposits. A lot of them just surface deposits but several veins that run for miles. South of Meade from “P” Road (Lovers Lane) to “S” road there are huge deposits of silica. Same goes for North of Meade. Another area of large deposits is around Satana, Kansas; where oddly enough, Albert Hantla also managed that mine.

The South Hantla Mine (2007)

South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas  
South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas  
South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas Here you see Brian's shadow as he photographs from the southeast corner. The depth is about 30 ft.
South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas  
South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas  
South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas South Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas  

The North Hantla Mine (2007)

North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas
North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas On the photo to the left, Kenny Sneath puts some perspective to the depth of the hole left from silica mining.
North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas
North Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas These photos show what the mines look like today.

 

A BIG THANKS to Brian and Troy Hantla for these photos!

 The West Hantla Mine (2007)

West Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas West Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas
West Midland Silica Mine Meade County Kansas Less seems to be known about the West Hantla Mine as we are naming the mine west of town that Albert Hantla managed for the Midland Company. Dorothy Hoover, Albert's granddaughter didn't remember a west mine, but Robert Feldman in his story remembered working there and has been by the place to confirm that is where he worked.. Pat Smith took me to this mine and I took these photos.

Nancy Ohnick

Modern-Day Photos of the Cudahy Mine by Nancy Ohnick

On a recent sunny October morning, Pat Smith picked me up and we drove out to the old Cudahy Silica Mine. He wanted to take another look since it had been years since he saw it... I was seeing it for the first time.

This mine is located just to the south of the intersection of Highway K23 and 98 north of Meade... on the east side of 23. Below are the photos I took of what is left of the Cudahy operation.

 

Railroad bed leading to the Cudaha Silica Mine   Railroad bed leading to the Cudaha Silica Mine
We first circled around to the east of the mine where you can still see the old railroad bed as it went from the mine to Fowler.   These photos were taken about a half mile west of county Road 20. From that road east to Fowler is all farm ground now so this is probably the only trace remaining of the railroad bed.
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas We found an old dump bed that would have been used on a truck to haul the silica. What is unique about this bed is that it dumped from the side. Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas This mine is huge compared to the other Meade County mines. these photos are of the south end close to county road H, making the operation a mile long from north to south. Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas  

 

 

Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Left: The foundation of an old elevator still exists. This is where they stored the processed silica ready to ship. We found silica in this foundation and I brought home a sample.   Right: Looking west from the elevator you see the remains of the old buildings that housed the dryers and other equipment used to process the silica.
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas Left: These pillars held up the huge dryers used to process the silica.

Right: Abandoned parts of the drying equipment.

Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas  

 

Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Left: Looking west from the ruins you can still see the old railroad bed extending quite a way to the west. We speculated that they pulled the train one way and pushed it the other and this allowed all the cars to line up with the loading dock.   Right: They even bridged a gully at one point to accommodate this railroad bed.
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas   Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Left: As you circle around to the south after entering the mine area there is a large area where modern equipment has been removing silica. We are told that the state is experimenting mixing it with asphalt for roads.  

Right: A good shot of a vein of silica and how deep they were at this mine.

 

Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas Nature and time have been busy covering up the traces of what happened here, but the man-made canyons where silica was mined will be forever evident. Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas Left: At the edge of their dig, the white ore can be seen for miles.

 

 

Left Below: Pat found a dump site where used bricks from the dryers were dumped.

Right: A big pile of old parts from the scales used to weigh the silica serves as a reminder of industry past in Old Meade County.

Cudaha Silica Mine in Meade County Kansas
  Cudahy Silica Plant

Meade Kansas

August 6, 1926

 

Courtesy of the Meade County Historical Society


On April 26, 2008 the Meade County Historical Society sponsored a tour

of the Meade County Silica Mines. Click here for a report on that tour.

 

Copyright 2012-2016 © Prairie Books, all rights reserved