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# 1, Fall 2001
This Issues Industry Spotlight:
Penn Big Bed Slate Company
generations of slate quarrying have honed the craft of slate
roofing production into a fine art at Penn
Big Bed Slate Company, Inc., near Slatington, Pennsylvania. Here the quarry
pits, as deep as 350 feet into the ground, glisten with blue
water against a backdrop of rolling green hills in the heart
of Pennsylvania farm country.
the bustling quarry office, Pete Papay, president of the
corporation, and Erik Eitner, office manager, field calls
and handle customers on a typically busy day. There is a
demand for high quality roofing slate, and Penn Big Beds
customers know that Pete is one of the few people who understand
the nuances of removing slate rock from the ground, grading
it for shingles, and crafting it into the worlds finest
roofing material. Petes expertise should come as no
surprise the man first entered the quarry pit at the
age of three months!
Petes grandfather launched his family into the slate
business in 1934, when he acquired a 40 acre tract of land
in a barter exchange for seven squares of roofing slates. He
later added 60 more acres, drawing Petes father and uncles
into the business, which was once called the Papay Brothers. During
the heyday of the industry there were 129 slate companies in
eastern PA. Todays Penn Big Bed Slate Company is one
of three remaining slate quarries in Pennsylvania. It produces
more than just roofing slate, with a product line including
structural slate, stepping stones, sills, treads, risers, fire
place facings, floor tile, slabs, walks, and even slate turkey
calls. Also offered are slate tools such as slate hammers, slate rippers and slate cutters.
The term big bed is derived from a type of slate the
biggest bed and best quality slate in the quarry; the big
bed being typically 28-30 feet in length and running
miles deep. Penn Big Bed slate quarry has 70 beds; each are
different from the other and about 30 of these are suitable
for roofing slates, producing black roofing slates ranging
from S2 to S1 in quality. Of the 70 beds, 40 are currently
being quarried at Penn Big Bed. Pete Papay explains how, back
in the old days, quarrymen didnt properly grade the slate
used to produce roofing material from some Pennsylvania quarries
and low-quality slates were produced which didnt last
long on roofs. This has given Pennsylvania roofing slates a
bad name in some circles, but you dont have to go far
to see examples of high quality Pennsylvania roofing slate.
The old factory, a barn-like building adjacent
to Penn Big Beds office, dates back to the 1840s, according
to Pete, and still has the original Penn Big Bed slates on
The quarry operators are the ones who choose which quarried
slate goes into roofing production and which goes into
structural slate an art now practiced by Petes
28 year old son, Pete Junior, and cousin, Steve Bandzi.
Another cousin, Steven Papay, operates the diamond saw
that cuts the slate blocks into manageable sizes.
a family enterprise and a collection of rare artists in todays
slate quarrying industry, Penn
Big Bed Slate Company is one
to contact when you want to talk with real experts. Their
mailing address is PO Box 184, Slatington, PA 18080. Their
office and quarries are at 8450 Brown Street, Slatington,
PA 18080. Or give them a call at 610-767-4601.
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