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J. Cameron Worcester story


Professor J. Cameron Worcester, see more in Employee Stories
Claybank Brick Plant Site



J. Cameron Worcester
B.A. L.L.B. - "Looking Back"

My first contact with Claybank came in 1925, when I first visited the Plant with my father Professor W.G. Worcester head of the department of Ceramics Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan. Mr. Goodman was the General Manager at that time and Claybank was the only firebrick plant in Saskatchewan, if not in all of western Canada.

Firebrick (refractory) is able to withstand temperatures up to 3000? F. These two men were the very heart and soul of the Plant.

Mr. Goodman made it a financial success and Prof. Worcester was entirely responsible for the high quality and improvement of the brick and clay products produced here.

I will begin with my personal account of Mr. Goodman. Strange as it may seem in all the years that I knew him, I never thought of him or addressed him by any other name, and that was understandable. He was not a man you would call 'Hank' or 'Joe'; none other than a few close friends ever called him by his christian name, though he may have been called 'Goodie' behind his back.

I suppose you might say he was very class conscious, very dignified, and not one to approach as a pal. He was a handsome man, about six feet tall, and weighed about 175 lbs. In the five years that I worked at the Plant at no time did I ever see him strolling about and talking with any of the workmen, white or blue collar. He stayed in his office, except to drive home for lunch or at the end of the working day. He lived in a very nice bungalow with his wife, a lovely, friendly, out-going person.

As Plant Manager Mr. Goodman was highly successful, he kept the Plant going throughout the 'Dirty Thirties' when other clay plants in the province shut down or went under. Quite apart from his skill as a manager, he had an excellent and superior product with which to meet competition.

Now, to consider my father and his important role in the successful operation of the Claybank Brick Plant over the years. In 1894, the first Department of Ceramics Engineering in the world was opened by Dr. Edward Orton at Ohio State University. Father was one of its first graduates in 1898. Twenty eight years later, he opened the first department of Ceramics Engineering in the British Empire at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. The year was 1921, a survey and examination of the clays and shale (semi-hard clay) was made by my father's department. This information is compiled into a 200 page report entitled 'Clay Resources of Saskatchewan, by W.G. Worcester. 1950. Father was the senior Ceramics Engineer called on by the Plant Management to investigate and solve the problems that arose from time to time, involving the quality of the clay products being produced, and to make necessary improvements. He served in this capacity from 1921 to 1947 when he retired from the University.

Mr. Goodman soon realized how important it was to have a qualified man to maintain quality control of their clay products on a permanent basis. On father's recommendation, he hired Sam Mathews. He made no mistake. Over the years Sam proved to be an outstanding Ceramic Engineer. I can't just leave Sam without describing him as a very special friend and person. Sam was a little a slow-motion movie, you could never rush him in his deliberations but when they came they were soundly based and carefully thought out. If he was in doubt, he consulted his old friend and respected professor, my father. Sam would on occasion ride in the cab of the locomotives in order to gain first hand knowledge of the performance of the Claybank Brick that was installed in the engines firebox. He would assess the effects of the sudden rise and fall of temperatures on the firebricks. I carried out a very detailed study of these effects on the bricks using a small test kiln I especially designed. The Test Kiln was housed in an adjoining building attached to my Lab at the Plant.

My wife Rose and I were married in the spring of 1940, and within days I was on my way to Claybank to my job as Ceramic Laboratory technician, working under the direction of Sam Matthews.

There were a number of nice small homes on the grounds for the management and higher staff positions all other employees either drove home at night or lived in the board and rooming house (Bunk house), which was functional but far from homey. However, meals were very good, and there was no shortage of food. No man wasted time on conversation at mealtime, and board and room was $30 per month including meals.

It was not long before I knew most of the men at the Plant. Young Mike (Scot), the assistant Engineer, was something of a genius when it came to anything mechanical. Most of the labour force at the Plant were the sons of immigrants from Europe, their families settled on farms in southern Saskatchewan. They were kindly, hardworking men and I was proud to count some of my best friends among them. Often on a Sunday afternoon a number of them would gather in my lab, and I would teach them how to turn small bowls on a potters wheel. They enjoyed it, and wanted to keep their bowls. So I brought glazes from the University Lab and glazed the bowls. One of the men, that was a Setter in the big kilns arranged to have them fired along with the brick, and safely rescued when the kiln had cooled and was opened from unloading. In addition to testing and researching fireclays I spent a great deal of time working on potential new fireclay products that might be manufactured at the Plant. I developed an insulation brick that went into productions at the Plant, this brick could greatly retard the transfer of heat (similar to insulation in an oven or refrigerator) and weighed about two lbs., it was perhaps the first of its kind in Canada. The reduction in weight was achieved by introducing a material that would burn out completely when the brick was being fired. After cooling, the brick would be filled with millions of minute air pockets but its strength was in no way impaired. The formula that I devised was to mix into the clay 60% lignite coal dust, this refuse was readily available at the site as coal was used to fire the kilns and best of all it was free.

During the summer there were many severe electrical storms. I do not believe the Plant had ever been struck up to that time but Mr.

Goodman decided to lessen the risk, he called in professional Lightening Rodders. I was given the task of assisting them and making sure all the ground rods were sunk to the required depth of eight feet. We rodded the Plant, all the Smoke Stacks and the Bunk house.

The Spur Line that ran to Claybank from the Plant was about a mile long and on a gradual incline. It was quite essential to lock the brakes on all the box cars or coal cars once they were shunted into the Plant. There had never been any failure to do this but one night eight or ten cars, some fully loaded with brick , some partially loaded, and some empty, silently rolled away from the Plant down the siding, gaining momentum with every revolution of the wheels. Miraculously when the first car hit the switch to the main line it did not jump the track, but it and all the following cars moved smoothly onto the mainline on their way to Avonlea. No harm resulted, but the unlocked brakes remained a mystery.

One summer Mr. Goodman decided he wanted a colour motion picture of the Plant and its operation. He secured the services of a well known photographer, Dick Bird. He arrived, accompanied by a young lady assistant (we have found that this young lady was his wife). They spent a week at the Plant making colour movies!

The time I spent at Claybank was time in another era, pastoral, peaceful. We were all young, happy to have jobs after the mass unemployment of the 1930's. No computers, no labour unrest, little violence, no children shooting children. Time did not control our lives, but, when we had a job to do, we did it, conscientiously and to the best of our abilities.


Cameron Worcester was the Ceramic Engineer at the Site
Claybank Brick Plant Site


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