Oxford Sand and Gravel Ltd.

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Early Days:  Oxford County now ranks as one of the top aggregate producing areas in Ontario but its rise to prominence is a fairly recent development, thanks to the ingenuity of Norman Schell, Oxford Sand and Gravel’s founder. 

Fifty years ago, there was no aggregate production in Oxford County.   The problem was not one of quantity – natural sand and gravel deposits were plentiful – but of quality.  The local aggregate was mixed with chert, a hard sedimentary rock found in limestone nodules, which rendered it unusable and no one had found an economical way to remove the contamination. 

It was a challenge that Norman Schell, an inventive man who enjoyed coming up with new processes, couldn’t resist.  He settled on trying a mining technique known as heavy media separation to remove the chert.  The heavy media, usually a mix of water and magnetite, is put into a mixing tank and its density adjusted to match the separation point between the minerals that you want to separate.  When the minerals are introduced and the media agitated, the heavier minerals fall to the bottom of the solution while the lighter minerals remain in suspension. 

It worked for the mining industry and it worked for Schell.  For the first time, there was a way to economically extract the aggregates in Oxford County and armed with this competitive advantage Schell moved quickly to set up his first pit.

In 1959, Oxford Sand and Gravel opened for business on County Road 59 just south of Woodstock supplying both aggregates and hot mix.  Three years later, Schell opened a second aggregate pit near curries. 

In 1964, Oxford purchased a one-ton batch asphalt plant.  Ten years later, Schell bought a portable hot mix plant from Armbro Construction to replace his original plant.  The hot mix plant, a 4000-pound Cedarapids plant, is still in operation today. 

Schell was in many ways a true entrepreneur.  His strength was in innovation and getting things going.  He was not only a pioneer in aggregate production but in other areas as well.  He started a concrete block manufacturing operation, a soil bagging business and even a small local bus manufacturing operation. 

In 1980, not long after his three sons took over the firm, the Schell family sold Oxford Sand and Gravel to Crawford Reid. 

Reid, a former president of TCG Materials, pushed the business in a new direction concentrating on market development.  Focusing on the high quality washed aggregates the company was producing, he quickly moved to restore the company’s profitability. 

In 1995 Reid decided to retire and sold the business to Gary Brown.

A new Approach: Gary Brown was no stranger to the aggregate and asphalt business.  He started his career with Capital Paving as a labourer on a paving crew in 1970 and had steadily worked his way up through the ranks. 

In 1982, he helped Standard Aggregates set up Permanent Paving and managed the business for the next six years.  When Lafarge acquired Standard Aggregates, he became vice president of Lafarge’s Central Ontario division, responsible for aggregate and ready mix operations in Toronto and asphalt paving across the province.  But Brown had always wanted to run his own business.  In 1995, he got the opportunity when he left Lafarge and bought Oxford Sand and Gravel. 

While moving from the corporate culture of a giant multi-national corporation to that of a small local company took some adjustment, Brown didn’t buy Oxford Sand and Gravel just to be his own boss.  He could see the potential for the business and quickly developed a strategy to expand the operation based on the company’s principle:  “Do not make gravel travel.”

“Oxford County has the resources but if we were going to make this business successful it was up to us to go to where the gravel was rather than the other way around.”

The next year Brown put his plan in motion entering into an agreement to manage the Karn Pit and with that get into the dry process business.

In 1999, Oxford Sand & Gravel was again on the move, purchasing the Embro Pit and its operation and signed an agreement with E & E MacLaughlin to operate the Bright Pit.  The next year, Brown acquired the Holbrok Pit and in 2001 took over the Ayr Pit.

In 2002, Oxford Sand and Gravel was again on the move, purchasing tow aggregate pits in Sweaburg and then took over the operation of Quarry Materials Management’s Beachville Quarry the following year.

In nine years, Brown had expanded the Oxford Sand and Gravel operations from two pits to nine. 

“It has been a fairly rapid expansion for a small company but worth it,” Brown says.  “Having pits strategically located around the county means we can reduce our costs and those of our customers and concentrate on producing a better product.”

And one of those customers is Oxford Sand and Gravel itself, which uses its own aggregate to produce hot mix asphalt. 

Its upgraded hot mix plant, still in the original pit where the company started, has been retrofitted with automated controls, a new bag house, an improved feed system and a recently installed 100-ton silo.  The plant’s range of hot mix, from Hl-1 to HL-8, is used by local contractors to pave driveways, parking lots and municipal, township and county roads.

Oxford Sand and Gravel Ltd. was featured in the OHMPA Ashpaltopics Magazine.  This history was taken from the article.

Last Updated on Monday, 25 June 2012 23:35