Updated: Jun 27, 2020
I grew up in a medium sized village in the Midwest. Milford, my hometown was founded in 1836, had a population of about 1700, and like most towns in the area, had a downtown composed of several blocks of grand two and three story brick buildings that were constructed between 1870, and 1912. There were many public buildings, a small hospital, a three story hotel, a big newspaper building, a very nice train depot. All were still standing, and some were still being used for various purposes when I was a lad, but they are almost all gone now. We also had rows of shops, and stores of all kinds, originally with many of the proprietors living in the second story above their businesses. Sadly now more than half of my home town is gone. So are most of the original structures in all the surrounding communities. I could write a book on why that has happened, but I'm pretty sure most people know why.
When I was a lad, I heard stories about the “Milford brick factory.” It was rumored to have existed just West of town near the creek. This brick factory supplied all the bricks for building our grand buildings in Milford, and all the surrounding smaller towns. No one I knew could tell exactly where it actually was. There were no photographs, no ruins, no furnaces, tracks, cranes, or chimneys anywhere to be found. The oldest folks in town only had a vague memory of it, and could only say it was somewhere along the creek West of town.
The most likely place for this factory was where the Mud creek flowed into the Sugar creek. The water flowed very fast there, was wide and shallow. We used to play there, and called it the rapids. The high West bank was far away from the water, forming an unnatural looking crescent enclosing a very low and perfectly flat field of about 40 acres. Not one brick fragment could be found there, but we all were pretty sure that that flat plain was where it was. I was quite interested in this mystery growing up, but have never even had a good theory about it until very recently by studying 19th century brick making.
What they would do in those days to make bricks did not require a factory as we understand it. A group of people that have agreed to make bricks would work out their various gentleman's agreements concerning division of work, expenses, supplies, and the distribution of profits. They would go out to a site where there was plenty of good fuel wood. The site would also have to have a large bank of good quality clay and sand easily accessible, a water source, and a fairly good sized flat area to do the work. The location must also be near a road to the markets or building sites.
I imagine no fewer than ten, and no more than forty men would be required to make the required volume of brick for a network of small towns like ours over the course of a few years. (Presumably working from mid Spring to mid Fall.) With a minimum of investment, and a few crude tools, they could make an astonishing amount of bricks as long as the clay and sand held out. No instruments are needed beside ordinary shovels, barrows, hoes, and a good sturdy, low wagon pulled by a team. Of course the molds and screeds could be formed from a bit of ordinary small lumber. Some saws and axes would also be put to use for accumulating fuel for the firing.
First a large area was cleared, leveled, and covered with sand for the newly molded bricks to be laid out on. A large wooden table would be set up for the simple wooden molds to be set on. Much clay and sand were dug up and mixed judiciously to amend the natural composition for the optimal proportions known to make good bricks. Too much clay it cracks, too much sand, it falls apart. The acceptable range is quite wide. Good quality clay is very forgiving. It is the quality of the clay that is important. This material is left in large heaps, and water added to keep it workable. It may have even be left to season for up to a few years. The mix is kneaded into the correct proportions by hand on the wooden table, then passed off to the molder who stuffs it into the molds and screeds it. It is then carried off by another lad, and dumped onto the level sand area, leaving probably six or eight wet mud bricks in neat ranks upon the sand. These would be left there for preliminary drying, and the mold returned to the table to be powdered with sand and filled again. This is repeated until the entire area is filled with raw brick. Several mixers, molders, and dumpers can work at each table. Each team could produce as many as 4000 raw bricks a day six at a time every minute.
It is possible that these enterprising fellows had a steam powered brick molding machine, as they had been invented just before 1890, but I think it unlikely. If such a device were employed it would have needed conveyors and dummy railways to feed it efficiently. There would likely have been some foundations and other stonework that remained at the site long after the activity ceased. They were generally used on much bigger operations where the clay and sand were brought to it in large carts on tracks, and huge reusable kilns were employed.
On a good hot summer day, the product would dry in the sun to a consistency agreeable to being handled. Once dry enough, they are taken to another area and carefully stacked on end, then covered with straw to protect them from rain and let them finish drying slowly. Meanwhile one or more large deep ditches is dug in a location convenient for the “furnace” to be built. The dry raw bricks are stacked in a peculiar fashion on sand along the ditch or ditches. They must be stacked not as an ordinary ashlar lay, as in building, but rather tipped up against one another in such a fashion as to facilitate maximum contact surface area with the super heated air from the fire. If you were wondering about the furnace structure for firing the bricks, that's it. The bricks to be fired are the furnace structure.
A solid mass (so to speak) is created in this fashion. The structure has no rooms, but is endowed with many small vaulted tunnels and passages throughout to direct the inferno. Each passage branching off of the large central vault above the fire ditch. The ditch or ditches are filled with fuel, then it is time for the plastering. Any inferior quality clay with some sand, or perhaps just raw earth is used. The plaster is wet and mixed with straw, This is used to plaster the entire structure on the outside to insulate, contain and direct the heat. Everything gets thickly covered except for strategic openings to exhaust the heat, facilitating a good draft. A few small doors are fashioned for checking the temperature by observing the color of the bricks. These doors are also used to dump in the salt water brine for glazing when the temperature is correct. Of course one end of the ditches are left open both for air, and to feed the fuel to the fire when needed. This structure is fired slowly at first until all the water vapor has been cooked out. When the white steam stops issuing from the chimney, that means all the moisture that remained in the raw bricks has been burned off. The fire can now stoked for heat for anywhere from two to several days depending upon the volume of bricks. Inspections are regularly made to check the color of the bricks that are furthest from the heat to ascertain that they are glowing red all the way through. When the bricks have reached the right temperature, a heavy brine is dropped through the doors. It instantly turns to steam and vaporized sodium chloride. These react at those temperatures to instantly create hydrogen chloride gas and soda. The gas floods the furnace, and reacts with the silica in the bricks to form a durable glaze. Our brick-makers had to be careful at this stage as hydrogen chloride is a rather corrosive and unhealthy vapor. After the glazing , the temperature is maintained for the desired length of time, then the fire is abandon and allowed to burn itself out. The stoke hole is covered to keep cold air out. Bricks must cool slowly to avoid thermal shock fracturing.
During the firing, the other work did not stop The sand work-lot was refilled with bricks. The molders mixers and dumpers had continued their work. Another furnace has been made ready nearby while the first one cools. The masons and laborers in town are told to prepare for another shipment.
I like to imagine the men’s wives and children coming to visit, bringing a nice picnic lunch at noon, spending some time with dad, and getting a feel for what he does all day. This my friends is the way men were meant to work.
When cooled off slowly and naturally (At lest a few days I would think) the plaster skin is pulled off, and the finished bricks removed, and shipped. No broken bricks would be wasted, as they can be ground up for grog that improves the raw clay mix for the next batch, or it can be sold for its own merit to masons to use in their various mortars and plasters.
This knowledge of the process supports my theory of why there is no evidence of there ever having been a brick factory West of Milford. The “factory” was merely a location where diligent, intelligent work, and a few simple tools made the materials that built the shops, schools, libraries, and an occasional theater or opera house. No waste was left and now there is no trace of the project except for the remaining buildings in our communities. I would like to share my conclusions with people of our community about what substance their home town came from, and by substance I do not merely mean the bricks, but the values, spirit and logos of our traditional culture. The last 50 years has seen us become tightly regulated, consumers and drones in a synthetic mega society that is controlled more and more from the top by people who see us as something to be managed and shaped entirely for their benefit. I think it would benefit this generation to be made aware of how easy it is to work free and independent, by your own lights, and in harmony with others who you know well in an organic hierarchy of well meaning laborers. Contrast this with the forced regimentation and arbitrary and anti-human regulation of elite theorists.
Now union workers put in regular hours in a nice clean safe indoor factory to produce more consistent quality bricks with not just clay, but coal ash, quarry dust, iron-works slag, and other industrial waste. More and more efficiency is demanded, yet the costs never really go down if adjusted for inflation. The bulk of the profits go to the global financial corporations. They are even bringing bricks over from China. No jobs in your community? Too bad chump.
Now we have reached the point where increased efficiency will be achieved by changing human nature. By enforcing a cashless mandatory one sided global economic system. Picture a future where worker 253464658 will be released from shift and be directed to the nearest available smart room. 25346458 will hang up the winter coat which is then retrieved by worker 95748367, the former occupant who is going to shift. If either of them get too close to one another or violate any procedure, they will be automatically docked. The incentive for working will be mere survival and an occasional day off for virtual reality sessions. Calories in calories out. Monsanto nutrition loaf for a staple, and perhaps some Gates pink slime, (the lab grown artificial meat), or maybe a recreational drug for rewards. You wanted comfort and efficiency didn't you? It's a devils bargain. If you think I'm engaging in an over the top exaggeration, just read some of the books written by enthusiastic technocratic globalists, or listen to their TED talks. They will tell you the same story about the future as I just did, but they actually think it is great. They dress it up and make it sound wonderful. (Well it likely sounds wonderful to a deranged soulless idiot.)They are not just some random crazy people, they are all billionaires and the most powerful people on the planet right now. You should paid close attention to what they say, because they (unfortunately) will continue to shape our future.
I like to think looking at how our ancestors did things in the past will inspire people and instills in them a confidence of what kind of things they can achieve if they only organize, work hard, and treat each other with the proper respect, eschewing exploitation and strife. Anyone can make bricks. In such profitable endeavors, there is a place for everyone. The drunkard, the simpleton, and the illiterate can work along side of, and profit from the spiritual, the men of genius, and the ordinary earnest workers. They will, by the laws of nature, self organize, and all will be secure in their place. We are all flawed to different degrees, and in different ways. Men need to be rooted in a community to grow and mature. Our communities have been destroyed. They were originally built quickly and organically by ordinary folks. They can be restored in the same fashion.
This brick factory was no doubt a community endeavor. It was itself a community. It was a self regulating community, with no need of trained, appointed supervisors, inspectors, HR reps, unions, safety officials, sexual harassment councilors, salesmen, diversity coordinators, bean counters or managers. I am pretty sure hundreds of years earlier, the magnificent cathedrals in Europe were built by self organized stonemasons working in much the same fashion. I am positive there were many thousands of communities that accomplished great things all across the world that likewise have left no trace of their existence.
I’ll bet there is plenty of clay and sand still left in that creek. If not at the rapids, then perhaps further downstream.
Could we do this today? Can we build, or rebuild our own villages and towns again? I say yes. And perhaps now is the time. All that is needed is the proper organization. Local, organic communities must be formed, and they must have some sort of transparent, open and honest political architecture, that ensures fairness and honesty. Such an architecture is quite doable. It is now a necessity to protect local communities from global corporate vampirism, interference and malfeasance. You certainly can’t make it happen inside of, or by the rules of, the present system. Party politics is a bane to all that is good. They will not let you play unless you become just like them. Any organization needs people endowed with some authority, but the authority must be controlled. All possibility of corruption must be circumvented with easy to understand rules and requirements that dictate, and demonstrate honesty, transparency, and integrity at every intersection of authorities, their duties, and the people. It could exist as a parallel government of sorts until the corrupted corporate tyranny withered and collapsed. That is a subject for another time. In the original US constitution and Federalist papers Local government is supreme. That principal is still there, but it has been buried under a mountain of corruption and lies.
So, where did the bricks come from? The materials were generously provided by Almighty God. The inspiration, ingenuity, logic, and labor came from the minds and souls of your ancestors.