The Minnesota Farmers’ Brick and Tile Company is one of Austin’s newer industries, but already gives promise of becoming one of its most important. The Indians who hunted through this county used clay from the vicinity of Austin for their rude pottery. Soon after the settlers came, the value of the clay deposit here was realized, and at various times efforts have been made to manufacture and market clay products. For various reasons none of these efforts except the latest one continued, although each successive effort demonstrated more thoroughly the excellence of the clay and shale found here.
In the fall of 1909, a body of men determined to take advantage of this rich deposit by manufacturing tile and brick on an extensive scale. A company was therefore duly organized and incorporated and capitalized at $400,000, divided equally between common and preferred stock. The officers were: President, L. A. Smith; vice president, W. H. Gleason, treasurer, R. L. Johnson; secretary, W. H. Gleason, Jr. The directors were L. A. Smith, W. M. Colby, R. L. Johnson, W. H. Gleason, W. H. Gleason, Jr., J. A. Sullivan and W. M. Sweiger.
The buildings were started December 16, 1909, and the first carload of finished product was shipped July 16, 1910. The daily output is now about ten carloads. The present officers are as at first. About one hundred men are employed. The company owns 100 acres lying on the main line of the Chicago Great Western, and it is expected that quite a village will spring up around the plant. At the present time the site is occupied by an office building which demonstrates the beauty of the brick manufactured by the company, twelve kilns, a large brick dryroom four stories high, a millroom where the manufacturing is done, a boiler and engine house and an electric light and power plant, as well as the large clay pit.
The process starts at the clay bed. This deposit of clay is fully described in the United States geological survey report, and is too lengthy for reproduction here. It is sufficient to say that
for its own particular purpose this deposit has no superiors in the Northwest, its peculiarity being its conjunction with a fine quality of shale. The clays are varied in color, running through bright greens, blues, reds and yellows, with all their shades and tints. The quantity and quality of the deposits have been thoroughly examined and tested, both chemically and structurally. It has been demonstrated that the material is practically pure and entirely free from any substance that can be detrimental to its use. The discovery of this deposit will be more fully appreciated when its physical properties are fully understood. The bed of clay lies high above the railroad and has an absolutely perfect natural drainage. It is easily secured, as it is covered by an average drift of less than twelve inches, and is some spots no stripping at all is required.
The material, which is soft and putty-like as it lies in its pocket, is excavated and placed in storage, where after a few days it becomes thoroughly seasoned. From this storage the clay is loaded into iron cars and is drawn by steel cables to the mixer, which is at the top of the building. From the hopper into which the material is dumped the clay goes into the granulator, where whatever is coarse is ground into powder. Never ceasing its motion from the time it leaves the pit, the clay, now granulated, moves in to the pug mill, is there dampened and then forced out through the die, in one continuous piece, of the shape and size desired. An automatic cutter cuts the product the desired length, and the pieces of brick or tile, as the case may be, are then loaded on cars and run through the drier. The product as soon as cured is taken to the kilns and burned with soft coal, after which it is loaded into railroad cars or piled in the yard and is ready for shipment. The principal product of the plant is building material and drainage tile, though other departments of the clay-working industry are being investigated and experimented with.
The product thus obtained is a much superior one. The tile is of a ware practically indestructible. It is as hard as stone, it rings like a bell when struck, its glazed surface is as smooth as glass, it is weatherproof and dustproof and impervious to acids and alkalies. Nothing sticks to it and nothing harms it. Frost and heat, wear and weather have no effect on it. It lasts practically forever. The government has accepted the brick as measuring fully up to government contract standard.
The company has done much and will do still more for the development of southern Minnesota. It furnishes employment for a number of men, it is increasing the manufacturing importance of Austin, it affords an opportunity for safe investment, and it is becoming a campaign of education by which the farmers
are coming to realize more and more the advantage of subsoil drainage. (The History of Mower County, Minnesota, Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Company, Chicago, IL, 1911)
50 MEN WANTED
Minnesota Farmers’ Brick and Tile Company to Begin Work Monday – New $200,000 Brick and Tile Plant to be Making Products by Middle of June – C. G. W. and C. M. & St. P. Railways Laying Spur Tracks to the Site – Company Gets Option on Over 100 Acres of Clay
The Minnesota Farmers’ Brick & Tile company, with a capitalization of $200,000 will begin work on its new plant here Monday and the company is advertising for 50 men to get to work at once to clean up the grounds, excavate for foundation walls for the main buildings and kilns and dig tunnels. The plant is to be in full running order and the first of the product is to be manufactured June 15.
The plant will be located near the intersection of the Chicago Great Western and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad lines north of the city. The main building which will be 250 feet square, will be located on the boundary line between the Ed Barr 20, and 6 acres belonging to O. W. Shaw, better known as the Isaac Guy property. This is the best location on the entire clay deposits, as it is on two great railroad systems, one of which has six division points entering in this city. The Chicago Great Western has a blue print showing a spur track running from their main line, from a point north of the crossing of the C. M. & St. Paul line, south to the plant where it will connect with a spur track which the latter company will run to the plant on the east side. The C. M. & St. Paul company has had the line surveyed and the grade stakes are already set. These spurs will be laid as soon as the material will arrive.
The main building will be constructed of brick, which will have to be shipped in here. The main building will cover 62,500 square feet of grade and will be divided into six rooms as follows:
Machine room, 50×130 feet, three stories high. Storage room, 50×120 feet, three stories high. Engine room, 36×50 feet, three stories high. Boiler room, 40×50 feet, two stories high. Machine shop, 40×50 feet, two stories high.
All of the machinery is to be of the latest and most improved design with a capacity of producing an annual output of six million 6 inch tile.
Twelve down draft kilns will be erected each with a capacity of thirty thousand 6-inch tile.
Hot air ducts will run from each kiln to the drying rooms. When a kiln of tile, block or brick has been burned, powerful, electrically driven fans of 16 inch diameter will draw the heat form the kilns after the fires are out, and force the heat into the drying rooms after the surplus moisture had been withdrawn from the raw tile, by a 14-foot electrically driven fan.
The plant will be fitted with a track system throughout. The tile from the machines will be placed on iron cars and remain on them until piled in the kilns. From the kilns they will be loaded on trucks and run on tracks to the storage rooms or to the loading platform along the two spur tracks.
Architect W. F. Keefe is getting out the plans for the entire plant. He prepared the plans for several brick and tile plants, among them one of the big plants at Mason City.
The company has secured about 100 acres of fine clay. They have about 80 acres of the Granville Kearns property, 20 of Ed Barr and six of O. W. Shaw.
That our clays will produce the finest of products has been demonstrated many times but capital has never before been had to carry on this work. The U. S. government when it built the handsome federal building in La Crosse used the Austin pressed brick. The same material has been used in many other fine buildings of the Northwest. The boom in Mason City took all the capital that way and there are now three concerns, with eleven plants making tile in that city and all orders are filled for a year to come. The Mason City clay fields are now covered and capital in looking for a new field came in Austin, through the efforts of the Commercial club which sent clay to many parts, including Mason City for test. Ed Barr, who formerly ran a brick plant here worked to get our clay deposits considered. The company that is coming here took 30 barrels of our clay and worked it up in the Iowa Farmers’ company at Mason City. The clay was found to be superior to the Mason City deposits in every way and the tile was lighter, saving on the cost of transportation. The company also made a few finished brick which proved to be of the handsomest finish. The new company will be incorporated to manufacture tile, brick and hollow blocks.
To get this plant here the city of Austin will give it free water and a limited amount of electric power for a term of three years, to be extended two more years if the company makes good.
The company will reserve building lots on its land, facing Brownsdale avenue on which to erect dwelling places for its workmen.
The temporary officers of the company are L. A. Smith, president; W. H. Gleason, vice president; R. L. Johnson, treasurer and W. H. Gleason secretary. (Austin Weekly Herald, November 9, 1909)