Chapter IV: Coal, Quarries and Concessions (continued)
Small wonder that the Pellys and Pittmans, upon hearing of this disconcertingly efficient plant, quickly replaced their humble horse-powered pugmills with Quaker machines.
Indeed, the Elliots Cove plant might have put the Pellys and Pittmans out of business had it not been poorly situated: its nearby clay deposit was ridden with pebbles and far too small to support a large-scale operation. When a fire levelled the brickyard in the fall of 1903, The Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company decided to move elsewhere. The company reorganized into The Newfoundland Brick and Manufacturing Company Limited in 1904 to make sand and lime bricks in St. John's, but closed in 1908.
Living in Elliots Cove when The Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company first arrived in 1890 were three Smith brothers: Tom, Aaron and Charles. Tom worked in the 1890s and 1900s running a ferry between Elliots Cove and the Clarenville railway station. Lumbermen Aaron and Charles, however, became intrigued by the company's brickworks. They observed it closely and in 1895 opened up their own small brickyard in Snooks Harbour on the opposite side of Random Island.
The Smith brothers' brickyard originally resembled a museum of second-hand machinery. In 1895 they bought an old pugmill from Charles Pelley for $1; in 1901 they bought another discarded Pelly pugmill; and in 1903 they carefully salvaged some of the charred remnants of The Brick and Tile Manufacturing Company's equipment in Elliots Cove. With much ingenuity and hard work they made enough money using these antiques to buy their own Quaker machine in 1905.
From the 1900s until 1949, the Smiths' Snook Harbour plant operated at a marginal profit and supplied bricks for local consumption. As Aaron and Charles grew older, Aaron's sons, Atwood and Norman, took control of the family business. However, with Confederation in 1949, the Newfoundland tariff on the cheaper Canadian bricks disappeared, taking with it the Smiths' profits. The two brothers and all their employees were thrown out of work. They tried in vain to have the Newfoundland government take over the brickyard, but in 1952 were forced to close down by lack of a market.
Four of the preceding seven commodities - slate, granite, oil and coal - reached their peak of productivity in Newfoundland between 1898 and 1908, in which interlude occurred social, political and scientific events of international import. Within the decade Queen Victoria died, Russia experienced its abortive 1905 Revolution, Albert Einstein revealed the Special Theory of Relativity and mankind learned to fly.
Newfoundland reacted ambivalently to the changing centuries, and its mining industry reflected this ambivalence. The copper boom was in its death throes. The two giants of modern insular Newfoundland mining - Buchans and St. Lawrence - had yet to appear. Neatly spanning both phases, bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in fact and in spirit, lay the Bell Island iron mines.