Q: My great-uncle told me that St. Louis used to have two or three brick factories. Are there any left in this area?
C.J., of Cahokia
A: More than a century ago, Benjamin H. Richards was having trouble finding a steady supply of brick for his many projects as a popular bricklayer. So on Sept. 15, 1890, he did what any enterprising young mason would have done — he bought half of the Springer and Tunnell Press Brickworks, a brickyard in his hometown of Edwardsville.
It quickly became known as the Richards and Springer Brick Works, but Richards soon became more interested in making bricks than laying them, so in 1896, he bought out his remaining partner. In 1905, he officially incorporated his firm as the Richards Brick Co., naming himself as the senior president.
In the 111 years since, Richards Brick has grown like the houses that its founder once built and is now the only brick manufacturer in the St. Louis area. Its corporate office still has an address reminiscent of its earliest days — 234 Springer Ave. in Edwardsville — although the office itself was built new in 1965. That’s where they still manufacture millions of bricks at least six months out of the year. That location also has a sales office and display room for contractors as well as home owners and do-it-yourselfers.
But the company has grown so much that it has two satellite locations. In 1926, they opened a distribution yard at 3816 Union Blvd. in St. Louis, where they have a sales office. And now the company, which is still family-owned by the fourth generation of Richardses, also shows off its wares at 1329 North Route 3 in Waterloo.
It certainly has seen a world of changes in its time. In 1911, for example, it completed an electric railroad to move clay from a new storage shed to its plant. At this time, the company hauled many of its finished bricks around town on four teams of mules.
Four years later, it bought its first gasoline tractor, which it quickly found was not powerful enough to do the job but kept it for five years anyway because they could not sell it. That same year, it also bought an electric-battery-driven truck for hauling brick out of the kiln and purchased a Ford Roadmaster as a company car for its salesman.
And so it went for the next century. In 1917, they converted from steam to electricity and, by 1929, had sold all of their mules and related equipment. More advances came in 1935 when they abandoned their electric locomotive in favor of an 8-ton gasoline Plymouth locomotive that had seen action at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Not even shutting down in 1943 for two years because of World War II could stop its progress. Almost as soon as the plant reopened in October 1945, they bought their first forklift. In 1986, they invested $1.5 million in a new dryer and new handling equipment even as they increased production from 85,000 to 126,000 bricks per day.
And they’re still going strong. As recently as 2001, they invested $5 million in new high-velocity burners on both of their kilns and new grinding and manufacturing equipment. For a complete timeline or, if you’re in the market, a look at their many styles of brick and other products, go to www.richardsbrick.com.
Q: Each morning on a recent vacation I would rise early and run for about 30 minutes on a long oval track, traveling about 16 miles each day. I didn’t even feel overly tired. Can you explain my seemingly superhuman physical effort?
W.A.M., of O’Fallon
A: No, but I know I always have to remind myself not to dislocate my shoulder patting myself on the back for my own accomplishments.
I’ll be turning 65 next year, and right now, I’m within 284 miles of chalking up another 3,000-mile year on my bicycle. It’s something I’ve done for the past six years, which far exceeds anything I ever did decades ago. But you know what? I swear it is the reason that my back trouble, which used to plague me periodically, hasn’t bothered me for ages.
And, I can offer plenty of other stories. You may remember the recent Parade magazine blurb on Philip Procida, who planned to celebrate his 80th birthday last August by cycling 80 miles. (I still do a ride-my-age day myself.) And let me tell you about an 88-year-old woman (a Martha Raye clone, I swear), who was a fellow traveler on my recent around-the-world trek. In Petra, Jordan, she had no rest until she climbed the 850 uneven steps (no handrail) up to the Monastery. Even I didn’t trust myself doing that, but she went up and back with no trouble.
So we four should celebrate our good health, but superhuman? Probably not.
What Country Music Hall of Famer is the voice of Big Al, one of the bears in the Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom? (Hint: His son was a well-known TV sitcom actor.)
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: For years, it was believed that the fastest flying creature was the common swift. Although peregrine falcons can reach speeds of 190 mph while diving, the swift, living up to its name, has been clocked at speeds near 70 mph during normal horizontal flight. But last week, researchers announced a new aerial speed champion — and it’s not even a bird. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, measured the Brazilian free-tailed bat, which weighs about half an ounce, shooting through the night skies at more than 100 miles an hour. To see a picture of this scary-looking creature, go to http://sciencebulletin.org/archives/7589.html.