Geology and baseball – what’s up with that?

Of the 30 years I have been doing geology, this summer I was involved in one of my most rewarding experiences if my career.  My wife and I love the Little League World Series held every August in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  I have been treating on going up for a day or so of the youth series, but haven’t made it there yet.  A young lady, Eva Catherine, sang the National Anthem at one of the games at the 2011 world series where a record 43,000 people attended.  I am fortunate to know Eva Catherine and she put an idea into my head by saying “Why not do a display on how geology and baseball work together?”  Um, what a great idea and off I went with thoughts going through my head.  I contacted the Little League Museum Curator in Williamsport, proposed the idea to her and submitted a mock layout of the display.  They loved it and we went into final production mode and had the display completed by June, in time for their early summer Open House.

The main field at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series

The display was divided among three glass cases:  1) rocks and minerals used to construct a stadium, 2) rocks and minerals used to produce the lovely playing fields and equipment, and 3) taking baseball to the Moon and Jupiter.  The last case was organized because of my interest in astronomy.   With limited space and a low budget to work with, we could not include all of the rocks and minerals involved, but were able to gather the major sources to give the museum visitor a good idea of the variety of rocks and minerals used.

One of the three displays constructed for the Little League Museum in Williaqmsport.

As I teach to students of all ages and have said before in earlier blogs, if youy can’t grow something it has to be taken out of the Earth.  Materials used in both the stadiums and fields were composed of rocks and minerals mined from around the United States and even from around the world.  All of these resources have come together to form common materials such as steel, aluminum, light bulbs, paper, plastic, rubber and soil mixtures.  A collectively effort between geologists locating these rocks and minerals to manufacturing these materials to the engineers who design these superstructures make all of this possible.

To start out, below is a list of minerals and their involvement in making the materials to construct a stadium:

Flourite – a purplish to yellowish mineral used in the manufacturing of aluminum

Native Copper – Often found tarnished green and used in electrical wiring and


Hematite – An ore of iron used in the production of iron for the structural

framework and added strength to aluminum

Quartz – An ore of silica used in lighting and paint

Bauxite – An ore of aluminum used for the production of bleachers, scoreboard,

decorative facing and light poles

Magnetite – An ore of iron used in the production for structural framework

And added strength to aluminum

Wolframite – An ore of tungsten and used in the manufacturing of light bulbs

Concrete – A combination of sand, crushed limestone and limestone aggregate.

Percentage of cement to aggregates depends upon the amount of

Pounds/square inch weight it will hold.

Feldspar – Used in paint and glass

Mica – Used in the manufacturing of paper and plastic



Rock and minerals used in the manufacturing of baseball equipment and field construction and maintenance include the following:


Limestone – A sedimentary rock used for warning tracks along the outfield wall

Talc – Used for the production of rubber and powder

Calcite – Used as a soil conditioner.  Sample courtesy of Vulcan Materials,


Chalk – A type of limestone used for the batter’s box lines

Malachite – An ore of copper used for coloration of line paint

Rutile – is an ore of titanium and used in production of bats

Sphalerite – An ore of zinc used in line paint, home plate and pitcher’s rubber

Infield dirt is composed of a clay, silt and sand mixture.  A mix is custom-made

for each field based on the area’s climate.  Samples were supplied to me

by York Building Products, York.

Jeri presents one of his mini programs to museum visitors in Williamsport last June.


During the planning stage of the display, Dr. Charles Scharnberger, Professorr Emeritus at Millersville University, brought to my attention about a rubbing mud that is used on the baseballs before a game.  I never heard of such a thing, but with the use of the Internet, I quickly learned about “Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.”  I had the privilege to speak to company owner Jim Bintliff who filled in some more of the history about the rubbing mud.  Apparently, this mud is used in all of the baseball leagues adding grip to the baseball.  Jim is the only person who knows where the source of the mud ism which is someplace along the Delaware River.  As requested, we are going to do a chemical analysis to determine its chemistry.

Finally, we wanted to compare the size of the baseballs fields on Earth to that on the Moon and Jupiter.  The Moon has 1/6th of the gravity of Earth.  Thus on the Moon, the baseball would not weigh 5 ounces like here on Earth but about 1 ounce.  Also, youy should be able to hit the baseball 6 times further with less gravity.  From the Little League fields at Williamsport where the right and left field walls are 225 feet away, on the Moon you would have to hit the ball a distance of 1350 feet for a homerun.  It would be difficult to dress for a double-hitter on the Moon.  The daytime temperatures are about 450° while the night time temperatures are about -375°.

Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, has 10 times greater gravity than Earth.  The baseball on Jupiter would weigh 3 pounds and a homerun swing on Jupiter would produce a distance of 10 feet.  Can you imagine a field having only 10-foot long foul lines?

E Tube and Wire in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania enjoys challenges for specialty projects. Guess what, Glenn Eyster did not fail.  He produced a 1 ounce and a 3 pound baseball for the display.  From talking with the museum staff at Williamsport, people enjoyed lifting the different baseballs.

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Two common minerals in York County

Let’s play a little game here!!  Think about some mineral names you may know without looking them up in a book or on the Internet.  Wow, you can only think of several, even though there are slightly over 4,000 species known in the world.  Depending upon which source you ask on the Internet, you may get just below or slightly above 4,000.  Each year several new minerals are added to the database and actually several are discredited and removed from the list.


As you may know, minerals are like everyone who lives on Earth.  All of these minerals have different characteristics compared to each other.  A geologist looks at several different characteristics to aid in their identification.  The most common characteristics are crystal shape, hardness, cleavage (ability for a mineral to break in a patterned shape), color, streak (the mineral’s powder left on an unglazed porcelain plate) and density (weight in air compared to weight in water).  Among these also include special characteristics such as is the mineral magnetic, does it react with any type of acid, or does it react with a Geiger Counter?


Ok, one of the most common minerals are Earth (which includes our home area) has a hardness of 7 (scratches glass), has no cleavage, occurs in about any color imaginable,  commonly occurs in six-sided shape crystals and does not exhibit any special features.  Some folks will say that this mineral aid in eliminating joint body pain and helps a person’s health. Based on its color, this mineral may also take on a variation name such as amethyst, smoky, rose or milky.  As a mineral not having a crystalline appearance, this mineral is also named chert, chalcedony, agate and flint.  BY now you are either going back and forth between your favorite mineral website and this blog OR simply reading further for the answer.  Well, I could go on with mentioning any names, but that would be hard to do to continue to make any sense of all this.


A quartz vein exposed on a steep hillside in Stoverstown.

This mineral is known as quartz and contains silica as one of its major constituents.  Most quartz forms in a hydrothermal environment where hot gorundwater infiltrates upwards from the Earth filling in cracks in the Earth’s crust.  The groundwater is heated by a deeply buried magma chamber or even nearby magma.  The groundwater is carrying silica and as the water moves upwards, it cools and deposits the silica onto the side of the cracks in the crust.  Over time, this crack may become completely filled with silica and creating a quartz vein.  If the crack has significant room and conditions are right, crystals of quartz may form.  Often, both vein quartz (massive) and crystals are found together. Through weathering, the crystals will be removed from the bedrock and migrate upwards to the surface.  A person with excellent eyesight and much luck can come upon crystals.  Although considered rare in York County, several locations of quartz crystals are known to exist.


One of my favorite areas and also well documented in historic literature is the Hellam Hills.  Although I had read several articles about the excellent crystals discovered in the soil and stream within the Hellam Hills, my first glimpse of one of the crystals was presented to me by Jay Lininger, a nationally acclaimed mineral collector and published from York County.  Jay was the person who came to my house when I was in 6th grade and introduced me to the world of minerals and the now inactive York Rock and Mineral Club.  Jay also was the publisher of several of the books I co-authored through Matrix Publishing.

Quartz crystal found in the Hellam Hills. Length of crystal is 4.5 inches.

Within the Hellam Hills, Dee Run, Trout Run and the Wildcat Falls areas contain quartz crystals.  According to historic writings, some of the clear crystals contained rutile (a titanium mineral that occurs as thick hairs inside the quartz).  This combination is known as rutilized quartz.  I have seen some quartz crystals collected on the Wizard Ranch Boy Scout Reservation near Accomac.  These occurrences are associated with quartzite of Chickies Formation.

I also saw a large quartz crystal that was excavated during a sidewalk project along Hellam Street in Wrightsville.  This crystal was about 8 inches long and had terminations on one end.  Although not clear, it did have a nice crystal shape and a great find by the property owner.  The crystal apparently came from from the Conestoga Formation limestone and may have formed within a clay-filled sinkhole or cave.

Speaking of sinkholes in limestone, I and several members of the Central Pennsylvania Rock and Mineral Club found quartz crystals embedded in clay that filled an ancient sinkhole at the Codorus Stone and Supply Company Quarry near Emigsville.  Apparently, rain water migrating down through the clay is picking up silica from the clay, carries it downward to a cavity in the clay where the silica will crystallize in a hexagonal crystal.  Since that discovery, I have come to learn that quartz crystals occurring in sinkholes or even cave regions are not uncommon.  Recently, I was introduced to a site in Cumberland County by a mineral collector where thousands of perfectly formed quartz crystals are associated with the Chambersburg Formation limestone. Upon doing some research, I found historic documentation of two other locations in Cumberland County near New Kingston and Carlisle originating from the same limestone.


Clay-filled sinkhole at Codorus Stone & Supply Company quarry near Emigsville. Quartz crystals were found in the clay.

Quartz crystals are also known from the area of Howard Tunnel along the York County Rail Trail south of Brillhart Station.  Before you get excited to go out and scout out these locations, remember, these are all on private land, and you need to secure permission to access the property.


Vein quartz is very common in most of the county.  Throughout the metamorphic rocks in the southern third of York County, vein quartz is commonly seen in roadcuts, in fields are float, in stream as sediment or in abandoned slate quarries in the Delta area.  In fact, some of the gold panned from streams in southern York County has quartz attached to the flake.  Apparently, the gold is originating from these quartz veins.  Next time you drive down Interstate 83 south of Leader Heights. Look at the roadcuts to see the white vein quartz sticking out between the metamorphic rocks.  Users within Spring Valley, Kain and Nixon county parks will readily see quartz scattered on the ground or within the bedrock.


Folded limestone found at Willow Valley, Lancaster County. The white is quartz infolded with the rock.

Because of the composition of both limestone and dolomite in the York Valley area  (where U.S. Route 30 runs), one would not expect to see quartz veins within these calcium and magnesium rich rocks.  Not to say that quartz doesn’t occasionally occur within these rocks, but they are somewhat rare.  Check out the soils overlying limestone and dolomite for possible sinkhole and cave quartz deposits (see above).  Vein quartz is also common within the Hellam Hills in eastern York County (along with the quartz described above) and the Pigeon Hills in western York County.  Atter of fact, there is so much quartz in northwestern Hellam Township, there once operated a flint mill near the current site of Codorus Furnace.   I do not know of any quartz crystal locations in the Pigeon Hills, but the same geology as the Hellam Hills occurs there.


Other than finding small quartz crystals associated with several iron deposits in the Wellsville and Dillsburg areas of northern York County, quartz veins are again fairly rare.  The reason being is perhaps that these rocks have not been deformed by any continental collisions or rifting episodes.  For those regular readers of this blog, these sedimentary and igneous rocks in northern York County are the youngest in the county.


Time to move on to my second common mineral in York County.  This mineral has a hardness of 3 (relatively soft), occurs in veins or crystals often yellow, orange, gray or translucent in color and reacts with hydrochloric acid is calcite.  This mineral is the major composition of limestone and marble, so yes these two rocks will also react with hydrochloric acid (a diluted hydrochloric acid is sold at local hardware stores as muriatic acid).  Also, different from quartz it’s the cleavage of calcite.  No matter how small you break calcite, it will always break in a rhombic shape, a true characteristic of this mineral.


The white line in the middle of the photo is a fault now filled in with calcite at the Codorus Stone & Supply Company quarry.

Although not as common as quartz in this area, the calcite is very common within the limestone belt through central York County.  In fact, it isn’t the amount of calcite that makes calcite famous for this area, it is the quality of these crystals.  Some of our limestone rock units, particularly the Ledger and Kinzer formations are very prone to develop caves and sinkholes through groundwater penetration.  The rock is highly fractured allowing groundwater to slowly form these subsurface features.  Later water movement carrying dissolved calcium carbonate (chemical formula of calcite) will form crystals in these cavities.


Most of the abandoned and active quarries within the York Valley have encountered calcite crystals, but two locations stand out in Pennsylvania. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Thomasville Stone and Lime Company quarry (now known as Old Castle and Pennsy Supply quarry) yielded some of the best calcite crystals in the state.  Mineral collectors from miles around traveled to the area to find their favorite specimens with the consent of the quarry of course.  As a side story, when my father and I began to collect minerals and we didn’t know any better about securing permission to access a property, we parked our car along Rte. 30 in Thomasville  and climbed one of the waster piles of rock in search of calcite crystals. Upon our arrival top the top of the pile, we were greeted by a voice of a resident from across the street telling us to get down from there.  O well!!!!


Specimen of orange calcite from the York Building Products – Roosevelt Ave. plant (formerly known aqs the York Stone & Supply Company quarry. Specimen for sale from John Betts Minerals in New York City.

The second location is what is today called the York Building Products Roosevelt Ave plant.  This location was previously known as the York Stone and Supply Company quarry.  Since at least the early 1970’s to the present, some of the state’s best formed calcite crystals have been recovered from this quarry.  One particular occurrence within the quarry was known as the “orange pocket” which yielded many fine crystals with a distinctive color.  Specimens from this quarry are found today on online mineral dealers sites.


Calcite crystal found at the Codorus Stone & Supply Company quarry near Emigsville.

So where ever you may walk, watch for a whitish rock on the ground.  It is probably either quartz or calcite.  Try the hardness test on it.  If it scratches glass it is quartz.  Check for its cleavage.  Quartz fractures in a clam-shell shape and calcite breaks into rhombs.  If you are unsure, email me!!!   Have fun.

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Gold Fever

Let’s pick on a mineral for this blog.  A mineral that some people would not think is found in the area but the states of California and Alaska is known for.  All you have to do is mention “gold” and you will see their eyes light up.

Yes, indeed, gold is found in York County as well as throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.  If you would search historic geologic writings from as early as 1820, you will read that gold was reported from Chickies Rock in Lancaster County and several of the iron mines located on the southern slope of the Hellam Hills in Hellam Township.

In his classic report “Mineralogy of Pennsylvania” in 1920, Samuel Gordon mentions gold in York County, but does not disclose any specific location.

A green pan shows the black sand (magnetite) and gold better than a black pan

During the late 1960’s and well into the 1970’s, a group of well-educated mineral collectors would gather weekly for a trip to a “hot” mineral locality.  My father, Karl Jones, was a member of the group.  During one of their adventures, a member of the group mentioned that he would love to have a gold specimen from Pennsylvania.  Upon some research and talking with several geologists, the group identified some areas to investigate and the great search for gold started in 1973.

Gold is found in areas associated with igneous rocks and/or found in quartz veins  in rocks with magmatic origin or association.  With the largest exposures of volcanic rocks found in South Mountain in Adams, Franklin and Cumberland counties, the group searched long and hard for gold there.  They came up basically empty handed and puzzled.  Based on historical documentation and geology, they searched near Hunterstown, Adams County, and did find small flakes of gold.  The first find in this 1970’s gold rush.

A collection of gold flakes in black sand. Largest flake is ~1/8th inch

Peters Creek in southwestern Lancaster County became another target to search for the elusive mineral and yes, again, success was struck.  In fact, today, I consider Peters Creek the best gold panning stream in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The next move came into York County north of Delta where gold was found on the property of the Delta Fish and Game Club.  Their three tributaries flow into Muddy Creek which also hosts some gold toward the Susquehanna River.  Gold fever struck the members of the group and expanded their search area into other areas of York County.  Also, word began to reach the “rockhounding” world and other people learned the art of panning and made their own discoveries.

Panning is inexpensive. A shovel, pan, bucket and a sluice is all that is needed

Today, recreational panners can be found in area streams, hoping to win the lottery with a large flake or nugget.  The largest piece of gold I have personally seen was 0.75 inches.  This specimen came from a unnamed tributary to Muddy Creek near Castle Fin.  I regard this stream as the best gold-producing waterway in York County.  It was nicknamed “Lucky Creek” because of the results found by prospectors.   The stream may not contain the most gold, but this stream offers a natural setting for gold to accumulate.  Gold is the heaviest mineral known and will settle to the bottom of a stream over time.  In “Lucky Creek” the bedrock tilts into the Earth upstream.  This forms a natural ledge for heavy mineral to settle and prospecting is made slightly more simpler with the help of “Mother Nature.”

Other areas in York County include northern York County.  The very dense igneous rock known as diabase occupies much of this area.  It is known from other researchers work, that some Pennsylvania diabase contains gold.  My wife hates when I do this but I will bet my next paycheck that if you pan any stream in a quadrant bordered by Rossville and Wellsville on the south and Dillsburg and Grantham to the north, you will find a small flake of gold.  This even includes the popular winter hangout of Ski Roundtop in Warrington Township that is totally underlain with diabase.  Ask any unfortunate skier who has hit a rock coming down the slope just how hard the rock is.

Mentioned earlier in this blog was the mention of searching gold in South Mountain.  The same volcanic rock found in South mountain is also found in the Pigeon Hills near Abbottstown and the Hellam Hills in eastern York County.  Several streams pass through these rocks, but just like South Mountain, the streams appear to be void of gold.

Spring Valley County Park hosts the annual “Gold Panning” outing the last Saturday of July in Spring Valley Park.  The East Branch of the Codorus Creek contains gold that is washing out of the meta-igneous rocks in the area.  Although the flakes are barely large enough to be seen by our eyes, about 200 people attend the outing to learn the art of panning and maybe, just maybe, find a flake of gold.  Remember, being a county park, panning is not permitted other than the day of the event in July.

A mother and daughter try their luck at the gold panning outing

Was there ever any gold production taking place in York County?  As you may tell from the above description of gold in area streams, there appears not to be any “mother load” in York County.  However, there has been a story that has been passed up through generations in a family that a father and his two sons were making a profit prospecting for gold in the Airville area.  As the story goes, the one son thought he was being cheated out of his percentages and killed his father and brother, spending the remainder of his life in York County Prison.

It is a known fact that during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, gold miners who became unemployed from the mines along the Potomac River near Washington actually came into southern York County prospecting to have a small income.

In York County, gold has never been found in place (in bedrock).  All of the gold has been found in placer deposits in the streams.  The closest that gold has been found in place was from one of the slate quarries in Peach Bottom Township.  Here prospectors lifted up the bedrock, placed the loose rock in a gold pan and panned it,  finding small flakes.

Finally, remember to pan a stream you need to get permission from the landowner.  I even give the landowner a sample of the gold (if I find any) to the landowner.  They love to set a vial of gold on their shelf to try family members and friends.   GOOD LUCK!!!!

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