$125,000 Damage Estimate in Destructive Fire at Clay Works. Main Building of Plant Destroyed – Spectacular Scene Attracts Hundreds of Spectators – Pressure on 7 Hours – Firemen Face Hopeless Task – Flames Widely Spread and Roof Caving In When They Arrive.
With the flames already spread over a large area of the roof on the main building of the Austin Clay Works, and the interior of the structure a glowing furnace from which shot puffs of smoke and flames, firemen faced a hopeless task, when they appeared at the East Side Plant at 2:30 a. m. today in answer to the siren, which announced one of the most destructive fires that Austin has ever had. Damages according to the first estimates made this morning approximated $125,000.
Filled With Tile
The fire sacked the main building which housed all the machinery of the plant and which was filled to capacity with tile in the process of manufacture, most of which was destroyed. The roof and the four floors of the structure went down dragging with it large sections of the upper part of the brick walls and piling. Within the interior a tangled mass of smoking girders, machinery, twisted rods, broken tile and masses of clay from one of the floors which was filled with tile not yet baked when the fire broke out.
Flames Spread Fast
When the firemen reached the plant early this morning, almost the entire roof was aflame and the center portion of the building was a solid mass of fire. So extensive was the burning sections that it was almost impossible to find a point of advantage from which the flames could be fought. Ladders were immediately run up in the effort to bring the nozzles to the roof, but the firemen were called back for sections of the roof where already giving way when they reached the top of the ladder.
The fire presented one of the most spectacular pyrotechnic displays ever presented in Austin. The frame work and floors of the drying kilns were as dry as powder, and along these the flames spread as though blown by a high wind. The country side was lit up for blocks, and from above the crest of the flames were seen sparks shooting like rockets for a hundred feet into the air and clouds of flames darkened by smoke. The fire drew a crowd of at least three hundred spectators, who appeared in all stages of dress. Shirtless spectators, some with shoes drawn over bare feet, rain coats hastily put on over night clothes, stood entranced by the spectacle, many remaining until they had barely enough time to snatch a bite of breakfast before going to work.
Loss Will Reach $125,000
The fire reached its height with remarkable rapidity. Residents living in the vicinity said that when the fire alarm sounded and they looked out of the window the entire roof was already burning.
M. S. Fish, president of the company, interviewed this morning stated that the total loss would be around $125,000, although he could not give exact estimates. He said that the main building alone could not be replaced for less than $100,000. W. H. Gleason, secretary of the company, was not in the city this morning. He had gone to Northfield in connection with large contracts for tilling that the plant had secured.
Will Rebuild Structure
The plant will be rebuilt, Mr. Fisch stated, and a modern structure will replace the one destroyed last night. The company had just gotten under way for an unusually prosperous season, and orders now in their offices total about $200,000. One of the latest additions to their business was the large contract at Northfield, which took Mr. Gleason out of town when the fire occurred.
The tile which filled the building and was destroyed had all been ordered, Ed. Fisch, bookkeeper, stated this morning.
The plant was entirely free from debt, all the mortgages of the old firm the Minnesota Brick and Tile Company, having been taken over by the new organization, the Austin Clay Works. The equipment had been put in excellent shape and this spring three tractors were purchased to replace teams in hauling clay from the pits.
Mr. Fisch stated that $10,000 had been spent in improvement alone this spring. An active season had just been entered by the company when the fire cut short their efforts.
That portion of the building which suffered most in the fire was the drying rooms which take up the larger share of the structure. The engine room on the extreme east end was damaged least. The machinery for forming the tile and brick was located in the center adjacent to the extensive drying rooms. In both these sections of the building the roof and upper floor went down to the ground and the timbers now lie in a blackened, smoking heap.
Pressure On 7 Hours
Twenty-eight firemen were kept busy in an effort to put out the fire until late this morning, and water pressure was kept at high point from 2:30 a. m. until 9:00 a. m., when the three blasts were sounded as a signal for the sprinklers to resume their work.
Sixty men are temporarily out of work as a result of the destruction of the plant. A small force had been kept at work all winter, but about a month ago the force was increased gradually with the receipt of many orders, and the force was almost at its maximum when the fire occurred. (Austin Daily Herald, June 24, 1921)
AUSTIN BRICK PLANT SOLD TO TWIN CITY FIRM, Will Re-Open For Operation Before Jan. 1st; To Employ Fifty Men.
Austin will again have the old industry of manufacturing brick and tile in operation. Our dormant plant was last week sold to the Fargo Brick and Tile Company, who will move headquarters from that city to Minneapolis, to be more central in control of the output of this plant and the one at Postville, Iowa, they have also recently purchased. John Sims, president of the firm was in Austin Friday and made final arrangements for the refitting of machinery to begin within a month. This will be a boon for Austin, as 40 to 50 men will be employed, and the natural product from this section that had been formerly molded into good usable materials will again be on the market. Five plants will operate by the company, at Fertile, Willmar, Moorhead, Austin, also the one at Postville, Iowa.
Before January 1st, the president announced, the Austin plant will be running full capacity, and a superintendent has been selected. Nine years ago, Mr. Sims came in contact with the product from the Austin beds, when he sold twenty-seven carloads to finish a large order of their firm for a job taken in Canada. The Austin product was high grade, and many fine finishing bricks were produced then as they will be now.
The name of the business here will be the same, The Austin Clay Works. The company has capital, and they will run each of their five plants on a paying basis, making each pay, and each enlarge its own business. The sale and the prospect for another good Austin product to be sold is welcomed. (Mower County News, August 9, 1928)