Bagley factory turns out unique products
BAGLEY -- What is now the Clearwater County area sits atop the Itasca Moraine, a deposit of glacial till dumped 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.
In 2003, the late Steve Crandall conceived of a way to make pay dirt out of granite boulders.
He designed and patented equipment for cutting the rocks into siding veneer and flooring tiles under the business name of RealStone.
"The geologists say there are 290 different colors," said Angela Soderstrom, Steve and Kathy Crandall's daughter and RealStone partner with her husband, Randy Soderstrom, and Unlimited Peak.
The product line has expanded to include birdbaths, pool coping, fountains, planters, stair treads, pavers, picture frames, tables and garden benches resembling miniature Stonehenge megaliths. Because the products are made from natural stone, each item is one-of-a-kind.
"The fun part of cutting here is every stone is different," said Arnold Volker of Unlimited Peak.
Steve Crandall suffered a fatal heart attack during a sales trip in 2007.
In May 2008, Unlimited Peak, a Walker-based holding company owned by John Zacher and Volker, invested with the family in RealStone and added decorative metalwork manufactured by Next Innovations of Walker, another of the company's enterprises. Now, the business in Bagley features a sales room. RealStone products are also available in Bemidji at Knife River Materials, Lakes Concrete and McKenzie Place.
Angela said after the family developed efficient methods of production and earned a reputation as an authentic stone veneer mill, farmers started calling to see if the company would like to buy their rock piles.
"We can't," she said. "It's got to be fresh out of the ground."
Most of the raw materials for RealStone products come from Thompson Sand & Gravel of Clearbrook. She said the owners of the quarry bought the farm in the middle of winter, not realizing it was all rock. According to the Web site created by Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories at Itasca State Park, the Itasca Moraine glacial till averages 680 feet in depth.
However, Volker said RealStone also imports distinctive colors of rock from the Lake Superior area and elsewhere.
"We're constantly bringing in different types of stone," Volker said.
A recently developed product is Harmony Stone, the colorful granite cut into 13 shapes that are numbered and fit together closely like a jigsaw puzzle. He said RealStone has also found novel uses for the scraps that inevitably remain after stone cutting. He said these include stands for solar lights and oil lamps, and engraved address, welcome and garden signs.
The company works with contractors around the country, with the farthest customer in Maine and the busiest customers in Michigan. A RealStone representative in the Twin Cities handles sales in a five-state region.
RealStone operates one shift year-round in a 25,000-square-foot factory, and two shifts during the summer.
"We're a small company in the stone business, but we've got a good reputation, and we're growing," Volker said.
RealStone was featured in the October issue of Stone World trade magazine under the title "Mass-producing Minnesota granite."
"It's neat to keep a company around that was started by Angela's dad," Volker said.
Unlimited Peak has a Web site for retail for RealStone and other branches of the company at madeonearth.com. RealStone's Web site is realstonecut.com.