Welcome to the Jim Clarke story
Jim Clarke, Manager 1972 to 1989, last manager of the Claybank Brick Plant.
Claybank Brick Plant Site
JIM CLARKE STORY
I was born and raised on a farm at Hearne, 12 miles N.E. of Claybank and began a long and interesting career with Dominion Fire Brick and Clay Products Ltd. in August 1961. Prior to coming to work at the Plant, I did a stint as a schoolteacher and then due to my father's health I returned to help him on the farm. During this pre-Plant era I also worked for the R.M. of Redburn on road and bridge repairs and with the Dept. of Agriculture as a PFRA inspector.
In 1961, I was hired at the Claybank Brick Plant by Manager Dick Welch to replace the retiring bookkeeper Karl Bjordamenn.
My first job involved conducting laboratory tests on clay samples collected from a drilling project implemented by the A.P. Green Refractories Research Dept. and supervised by Roy Norwald. Roy and I still keep in touch today. The purpose of this project was to establish the locations of clay deposits in the Blue Hills and Dirt Hills properties. Utilizing a drilling rig the procedure was to bring up ore samples from anywhere up to 50 feet deep in a pattern that would establish the locations of the fire clay seams. The testing of these samples, to establish the degree of refractory quality of each layer of clay, involved taking some ore from each core location and forming small test bricks in a laboratory press. These bricks were tested for shrinkage and strength, and by firing small cone plaques in a test furnace the refractoriness (the temperature at which they would melt) was established. The little propane fired test furnace we used would heat up to 3000 F in about two hours.
While all this was a new learning experience, I was well tutored by Dick Welch who was a Ceramic Engineer and I subsequently learned to recognize the various colours and structures of the fire clay deposits best used to produce medium and high duty firebrick. All this research information was recorded according to the location of each drilling site, the holes were approximately 50 feet apart. The A.P. Green Research Dept. eventually produced maps of each area for future use when stripping and mining a new pit, this was carried out each summer, under my supervision, by Clark Construction of
The other part of my first job involved doing payroll as office clerk, and after Bob Schiml left the Plant to continue farming, I took over his job which involved overseeing the shipping of products, invoicing, and keeping production records (no computers back then!).
It was during this time that the next important change in my life occurred, I planned to be married. My future wife, Artiss Hill and I began renovation of the Goodman house at the Brick Plant that had been vacant for many years. A lot of elbow grease, wallpaper, paint and some new floor coverings made it livable and we moved in after our marriage in October of 1963. I made further improvements to the house with the addition of plumbing and a septic tank. Artiss proceeded to revive the grounds that in earlier years had been a showplace of flowers and shrubs but had grown wild after Mrs. Goodman left. We made our home there for the next 18 years during which time our sons were born.
In 1972 Dick Welch retired and I became the Plant manager, with the assistance of John Wostradowski, Gottfried Harlos as foreman, and Mike Scott and Ken Oakley as maintenance experts. We experienced busy times shipping firebrick to all parts of Canada and exporting to places like Algeria, Cuba, and the USA. It was during this time that some modernization of shipping procedures occurred with the introduction of a forklift truck and pallets to move the brick around instead of wheelbarrows. Mike and Ken designed and built a carrier system to be used in the kilns to get the palletized brick out of the door then the forklift would take them to the storage shed, the loading dock, or a waiting railway boxcar. This proved to be a labour-saver and reduced production costs.
As years passed, our markets began to dwindle due to changes in technology and use of newer and different refractory products that we were unable to produce with our limited qualities of clay. Some clay was even imported from Missouri to produce a super duty brick to be used in the electric steel furnaces at IPSCO here in Saskatchewan and in rotary dryers at pulp mills in places like Prince George, B.C. and Baie Comeau, Quebec. Rising natural gas costs, freight costs, and the distance to markets also contributed to the problems of operating profitably.
Eventually, in spite of the implementation of a 'work sharing program', where we worked on a reduced schedule and had seasonal layoffs, the decision came down from Head Office that the Plant would cease operation on March 31, 1989. I, along with a small shipping crew, remained at the Plant for several months to oversee the closing of all buildings for security reasons and to ship out as much of the remaining stock as possible. At this point the future of the Plant was in doubt and demolition of the entire Site was inevitable for safety reasons.
Fortunately, an agreement was struck between the Saskatchewan Heritage Foundation and A.P. Green Refractories, where by the Foundation acquired ownership of the Plant Site. The rest is history, developing into what has become a National Historic Site and a popular tourist destination, along with the formation of the Claybank Brick Plant Historical Society.
As I look back on the 29 years of my life spent at the Plant, I think of it as an era that featured - good hard working men toiling out a living, everyone doing their job to the best of their ability, a good workplace, friendships made, no computers and an ideal place to raise a family. Anytime I return to the Site as a volunteer it is with pride in what we have accomplished there but it is also with some sadness as I realize that those times will never be repeated, a moment of history, away of life has vanished with the passage of time.
Jim Clarke, former Manager, explains the firing process at June 2003 Heritage Day
Claybank Brick Plant Site