Loogootee Tribune March 30, 1989
LOOGOOTEE CLAY PRODUCTS FORTY YEARS AGO
Brick making was one of the oldest industries in Loogootee. The first brick yard was operated by John
Doyle and was located across the road from the entrance to St. John's Cemetery. Later William Lawhead
started a brick kiln on the site of the future Loogootee Clay Products Corporation. His sons
William,Charles and Roy Lawhead, succeeded their father, their plant being known as the Lawhead
Brothers. They were pioneers in combining clay and shale and their tile became known as one of the finest
on the market. A number of brick homes in Loogootee were built by the Lawhead Brothers who later went
to Evansville and entered the contracting business.
The brick plant then passed through numerous hands. Some were successful, others made it a
speculating scheme and for a number of Loogootee citizens it became a graveyard for the savings of a
lifetime. In 1930, the plant was purchased by the firm of Heubner and Fuhrman. It was put on a profitable
basis and continued so until labor shortage during the war forced the closing of the plant.
On May 1-1946 the plant was purchased by Walter J. Brown, Walter X. Brown and Homer Doyle. Mr.
Walter J. Brown a well known, successful business man, was determined to make it a paying proposition.
He spent much of his time at the yard. His son, Walter X. Brown, was the superintendent of the plant.
The output of the plant was fifty tons of ware per day. Products were face brick,fire brick,drain tile,flu
lingings,partition block and outside building tile in both smooth and rough surface.
AND NOW A VISIT:
We started with a visit to the "clay pit" Mr. Walter X. Brown was a most willing host and explained that
in order to utilize the clay from the pit it had been necessary to have the pit drained. This had been
accomplished by John Force a Shoals contractor using a drag line and at a cost of $700.00
The clay in the pit was overlaid with shale. By combining the two about half and half, a superior tile is
produced. The clay is so hard that it is necessary to dig it with pick and shovel. Edward Williams, Grover
Greenwell, Ivy Cawhon and Chester Williams were working in the pit and loading a truck with clay.
The clay and shale are dumped into a bin and fed by Robert Norris into a machine where it is crushed,
through screens, to a fine powder. Buckets escalators carry it to be screened again, dumped into a
conveyor and fed into the "pug mill". The machinery was idle when we visited, but the men obligingly
started the mill so we could see a tile in the making.
In the pug mill, which was run by Herschel Kelly, water is added to the fine dust. Electric knives cut and
mix the two into a thick mud. This mixture is forced through the dye and comes out in a long continuous
tile. An electic cutting wheel, with slender wires like piano strings, cuts the tile into foot lengths. The
machine cuts thirty tiles per minute.
Paul Padgett, off-bearer, carefully took the soft tile from the machine and placed it on a shelf. Jack
Hellums and Wilson Seals, hackers,stacked the tile upright on small cars. These cars were then pushed
by Earl Boyd into the drier, where they remained for twenty four hours.
When the tile was passed through the drier, Vernon Hellums transferred it to the kiln. Sherman Taylor,
CHARLES HELLUMS and William Hellums called setters are in charge of placing the tile in the kiln. It is
stacked to within eighteen inches of the crown of the dome shaped kiln. A man from Shoals Francis
Allbright, was superintendent of the "mill room"
We next visited one of the kilns. This was called the "JIM HELLUMS KILN" in honor of the man who had
built this kiln. Mr. Brown explained that this was the first kiln in the yard built by a local man and Mr.
Brown considered this one the best in the yard. Mr. Hellums and his sons, William and CHARLES, had
used 100,000 bricks in the construction and had incorporated a number of new ideas in it's building. One of
the most important of these being deeper tunnels, which made for equalization of the temperatures all over
the kiln and did away with forced drafts.
After the tile is placed in the kiln, the doors are sealed with brick and fire clay. Coal fires are then
started in the ten "eyes" around the the walls and are kept burning for ninety-six hours. The temperature for
drain tile is kept during this period at 1800 degrees. James Hellums was superintendent of the firing of the
kilns, which is the most important part in the operation of making tile and brick. Joseph Hellums, Joseph
Waggoner and Curt Elsey assisted Mr. Hellums in this work.
When the ninety-six hours had passed the fires were allowed to "burn-out" and the tile was left to cool
for forty-eight hours. Then a cooling fan was turned on allowed to run for twenty-four hours by which time
the tile was cool enough so that the kiln could be emptied.
A conveyor was used to empty the kiln in six hours whereas the job had previously taken sixteen hours.
Other employees at the plant were Richard Milligan, clerk and Robert McCauley a truck driver and Mrs.
Janet Larkin was a bookkeeper.
When brick was made a "brick making machine" was in place. The process was similar, with the brick
machine cutting seventy bricks per minute. Bricks were kept in the kiln for 140 hours at a temperature of
2400 degrees. The brick machine had been purchased from the J.B. Lloyd Yards in Shoals.