Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)
During the 37 years of their concurrent operation, the Pittmans and the Pellys experienced only friendly competition. Pelly at first used house-powered pugmills, beginning with a modified molasses barrel and later graduating to more professional models. In 1901, he bought an Iron Quaker Brick Machine that doubled his plant's production. Pittman, not to be outdone, bought a similar machine. Pelly's bricks went to the St. John's market by scow and train and Pittman's were sold along the coast from the decks of a sailing schooner.
In 1906 James Pittman died. His sons - Benjamin, William and James - continued to operate the brickworks until Benjamin's accidental death at the plant in 1920 turned them from the business. Only James remained in Newfoundland. He never again touched brickmaking; instead, he became a surrogate doctor. His friend Malcolm Pelly wrote of him.
"He was a first aid man when there was no doctor available ... nobody knows the broken bones he has set, dislocated limbs put in place, the sick and old cared for. More often than not he got nothing but gratitude. No distance was too great for him to walk to help those in need ..."(41)
Charles Pelly died next in 1924, leaving the Pelly plant in the hands of Malcolm Pelly. He and foreman Lawrence Adams(42) managed the operation over the following decades, during which interval new techniques and equipment were incorporated into the plant as invention and money allowed. Completion of the causeway to Random Island in 1953 brought radical changes to the Pelly operation, as it enabled the company to economically retrieve quarried and crushed shale from the island. (The clay at King's Cove, although closer to the plant, had had to be stockpiled and drained for a year before being used.) The switch to shale necessitated expensive alterations of plant facilities, but resulted in a superior product: the Glynmill Inn in Corner Brook and the Arts and Culture Centre in St. John's both demonstrate the fineness of the shale-derived bricks.
Malcolm Pelly, the last of the nineteenth-century brick pioneers, died on 5 July 1964. With his passing, an era of Newfoundland brickmaking ended. Before the years was out, C. and M. Pelly Limited sold more than half of its shares to L.E. Shaw Limited. In 1971, John Green bought out most of that company's shares and changed its name to Trinity Brick Products Limited (now Trinity Brick Products (1972) Limited), under which title the plant is currently operating.
Two other brickyards lay in Trinity Bay on Random Island: one at Elliots Cove and the other at Snooks Harbour.
The Elliots Cove plant opened up in 1890 under The Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company Limited, a firm incorporated in 1890 by six St. John's merchants. For eight years the company suffered through two incompetent managers before acquiring a third, highly skilled, Englishman named James Craven in 1898. Unlike his predecessors, who tried to make do with the dilapidated machinery provided them, Craven frankly informed his employers that modern effective equipment is the better part of profitable production. The degree to which they heeded him is revealed in the following newspaper description of the Elliotts Cove operation after Craven's takeover:
"... the brickyard contains a cluster of buildings... comprising engine house, kiln, sand house, carpenter's chop, drying sheds, stores, etc.... The "pug" is first dug out with picks... then it is taken in a trolley car to the factory, where it is shovelled into an aperture which brings it into contact with crushing rollers, which separate the stones from the clay;... (after being churned) ...it is passed down to the press machine to be properly shaped into moulds. Every few seconds six bricks, ... are ejected from the press machine and received by a man who never gets tired..."(43)