Angle of Repose

Jeffersonville copyPersonally, I prefer as horizontal as possible, save for a slight–maybe 5-7 degree–cephalic inclination.  

Salt, OTOH, likes it better at 32 degrees. And so, finally, I know why road department salt storage facilities I’ve seen in my admittedly limited travels store their road salt in those cone-shaped buildings. It has nothing to do with the conical equivalent of “pyramid power” that so many have used over the years to keep their razor blades sharp.  

Seems that the salt destined for storage is loaded from the tops of the cones. As it piles up, it’s flanks, because of the physical properties of the salt grains, assume a 32 degree pitch. So shaping the buildings to conform to the natural “angle of repose” is the most efficient shape for storing salt. And now I know.  

It occurred to me that, had this burning issue come up thirty years ago, it would have had to remain unsolved. I can’t imagine I’d keep the question alive long enough to go through the whole reference librarian pathway to an answer.  

Our few hours last week without power found me quite a few times having the spontaneous urge to KNOW a meaning, more details like this one about salt housing, or to add to some growing thread of inquiry by sitting down at the computer for an instant answer. I was not aware of how often this impulse occurs in my day until there was no way to satisfy it from my office chair.  

We’ve become quite spoiled by the ability to “google” the world of facts, and have far more information at our fingertips than anyone would have imagined just a few decades ago. May we use this gift wisely. (Fewer cats and chats and blog posts about salt houses would be a start. Ya think?)

Now, I will go  practice my favorite angle of repose, if Gandy will give me some room on the love seat. Tsuga had to ask permission to get on the furniture. Now with Gandy, we have to ask permission. What has our world come to?


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. BTW: The angle of repose depends upon the chemical composition of the salt. Thirty-two degrees applies to sodium chloride (and, perhaps, others – I don’t know.)

  2. There is a wonderful novel by Stegner called Angle of Repose, but I don’t recall what it was alluding to. In all our travels, I have never seen a salt storehouse.

  3. You were speaking to my soul! I drive by many, many road salt storage buildings and the question “why, oh why, are they all so similar” burns in my mind every time I pass one and I must pass them10 times a week. My life is forever changed, and people might just think I’m the smartest person in the room.

  4. Lisa, happy to elevate your status among your peers, and give you the angle of repose–a morsel of cocktail party conversation guaranteed to impress.