4. Firing

  • Credit: Timothy Hursley

Dried bricks head for the 400-foot-long kilns, of which there are three in this plant, one for molded and two for extruded brick (including the kiln shown below). At any given time, the kilns hold 39 carloads of bricks. They inch along to warm slowly to about 2,100 F at the kiln's center and then slowly cool as they move to the other end. They emerge from the kiln quite warm to the touch.

As the bricks are packaged in lots of 525, a carousel distributes them around to several packers at a time in a process called blending. “We do that to control percentages of various colors that go together in a shipment,” Belden says. “That way, a mason can pull them out one at a time” to ensure that the fabric of the wall—or walk—they're building will be uniform only in its rich variation, which is typically the desired result. Getting the brick out of the plant is easy: Trucks can pull right up to the plant, as can trains on a rail spur, to load the brick and carry it off to its destination, where it is likely to stay for several lifetimes.