LA GRANGE – Linda Lauterbach had been noticing a difference lately in the stone blasting at the Federal Quarry, a few hundred yards from the home in the 600 block of 10th Avenue she and her husband have occupied for 38 years.
"Usually, it's a big blast, the house shakes, over, done," Lauterbach said.
Lately, she and her husband, Dick, noticed what Dick called a "double shock" – a soft rumble followed by a louder boom.
They've put up with the noise and occasional subtle shaking of their house since 1978, but in recent years, they noticed the blasts were louder and more forceful, at least from time to time.
On June 19, Lauterbach started to record the blasts in a log, noting their date and time, the weather conditions and what she heard or felt. On four separate dates in August and September, she recorded blasts that were out of the ordinary. She heard a blast, then 4 to 5 seconds later, a much louder and prolonged blast that shook the house.
"I'm very suspicious about those because they're definitely different than some of the other ones we've had," Lauterbach said.
At about 12:35 p.m. Nov. 4, Lauterbach was climbing the stairs from her basement to record the small blast she had just heard when a "tremendous shaking" began. What she and residents from across the area were feeling was a 3.2 magnitude seismic wave, comparable to a light earthquake. The tremor, felt as far away as Franklin, Wisc., just south of Milwaukee, caused a row of video tapes to fly off the shelf at a neighbor's house down the street.
Hanson Material Service Corporation, one of two companies that operates out of the McCook quarry, said it had conducted a scheduled blast and that there was no reason to think it was connected to the seismic event that followed.
But like the blast, the incident struck a deeper nerve in Lauterbach, who immediately publicized her blast-recording effort and wound up on the nighttime news on WLS-Ch. 7.
"So many years having lived there, and I think the prevailing attitude is there's nothing we can do," she said. "It's extremely powerful. You just sort of live with it and you don't really think about it much anymore, which is unfortunate. But that's life."
Lauterbach had called the quarry's complaint line periodically over the years. Nothing came of her complaints, but in June, a Hanson official advised her to start keeping a log of the blasts she noticed.
Hanson even drove her into the quarry one day to observe a blast. Dick stayed home with a Hanson employee to gauge the blast from the short distance.
"It was enormous, and actually it was bigger than the guy thought it would be," Lauterbach said.
The Hanson official said he would look at her log to see if there were any patterns to the more intense blasts that might help the company adjust its blasting to minimize their effect on residents. Since, Lauterbach fell out of contact with the man. But with residents alarmed (and some angered) by the Nov. 4 incident, it's likely Hanson will attempt to appease the quarry's neighbors by at least listening to them.
Suzan van der Lee, a seismologist at Northwestern University, has already listened to Lauterbach. Shortly after the incident, Lauterbach sent her log to van der Lee, who suspects the tremor could have actually been an earthquake (the U.S. Geological Survey classified it as a quarry blast), possibly linked to the blast.
"The good thing is it wakes other people up," Lauterbach said. "Maybe this one reached far enough and has woken enough people up that they'll start doing something about it."