WINFIELD HISTORICAL SOCIETY
"The Winfield Tile Factory"
Presented by Mary Rodruck Wintermeyer
Monday evening, June 26, 2003
Welcome to all of you who have an interest in our past and remember businesses that flourished then.
My grandfather, J. A. "Al" Glass, and my brother, Eugene Rodruck, operated the tile factory starting in 1938, known as The Winfield Tile Company.
This material has been compiled from the "50 Years of the Winfield Beacon" edition, J. A. Glass records, talking to Eugene and others, besides my memory.
Tile for farm crops compares to commercial fertilizer today. Previously, brick and hollow blocks were manufactured. A previous owner, J. Ed Pierce, son of the first owner, placed the following ad in the Beacon:
Established 1882. J. Ed Pierce, manufacturer of hollow tile and brick. Perhaps no other agent has more to do with the development of agriculture than OUR TILE. Millions of tile from our plant have been draining fertile acres for nearly fifty years and are still in good condition. The value of tile is unquestionable. We can be of service suggesting the mount, size and location of tile for satisfactory drainage. WE ARE AT YOUR SERVICE.
Tile was a mixture of clay, black dirt, and sand. The black dirt was taken from the top layer of ground and stockpiled, clay removed next. It was mixed to form the tile, run thru the tiling machine, dried, then placed in the kiln. Each kiln had eight fire boxes, which were filled every fifteen minutes. The temperature required was 2100 degrees. It took approximately three days to obtain 2100 degrees.
The kilns burned one ton of Illinois coal each season. They tried Iowa coal but it was not as efficient. They had to hold the correct temperature for three days. It took one and a half weeks before the kilns could be opened and the tiles handled.
J. A. Glass expected to examine each tile as it was removed.
This was seasonal work - April/May thru Sept/Oct., depending on the weather.
It is my understanding that the kilns depended on a down draft and there was one chimney for the several kilns. Each kiln held twenty-one thousand, four inch tiles, alternating with five inch tiles, every other one, allowing for air circulation.
There were many workers over the years, including high school students in the summer. One of whom, was Ben Babcock and his tuba. Ben did the majority of the firing of the kilns. He worked nights, so his tuba accompanied him and he played it, serenading the neighborhood. The Crawford brothers, Keith and Clark, mentioned this. A few other employees I remember were Virgil and Delbert Stockman; Elmer Aspermier's sons, Forrest and Jim; Cloyce Rickey; LeRoy Quinlin; Bob Lindell; Bub Moore; Charlie Wilcox; Fred and Jay Johnsmier; Fred Long; and Dean Sandburg.
The factory made 2", 4", 5", 6", and 8" tile; 4" being the most popular.
Perry Matthews took some of the orginal tile to the Trenton Museum and when it closed the tiles were put on display at Old Threshers. The tile was not marked as they are now.
The dirt came from various places on the tile company property, mostly from Cooney's Pond. It was owned by Conard Swartz, grandfather of Sonny and Esther Sears. Later dirt was taken from west of the facilities.
Most of the boys of this vintage learned to swim "skinny dipping" in Cooney's Pond. No females were allowed, and no drownings were reported. (A certain woman who lived close by observed the boys with binoculars. No females allowed? but the barrier was broken.) To this day, Clark Crawford tells of a "near drowning" in Cooney's Pond. There was a family visiting Winfield to attend funeral services for a relative. The daughter wasn't aware of the "no females" rule at Cooney's Pond. To the boys' astonishment and consternation, she appeared on the dock in a bathing suit, sat down, and dangled her feet in the pond. The boys, after exchanging looks, came to silent, mutual agreement, they would make an exception in this "out-of-towner's" case. Suddenly, apparently not a swimmer, the girl fell off the dock and floundered and had to be rescued by the Winfield boys. They got her out of the mud and water and back on the dock. After admonishing her, they went back to their horse-play, though a bit reserved in her presence. Well, "low and behold" if that girl didn't "fall in" a second time with the same results. They rescued her. A while later, the boys were summoned for supper. As they trudged away, they happened to glance back to see the very same "damsel in distress" make a perfect swan-dive into the water and, a bit confused, they watched as she swam perfectly across the pond.
Two of the regular swimmers at Cooney's Pond decided they needed a beach, so they borrowed a wheelbarrow from the tile factory, filled it with sand, and wheeled it to the pond, making a beach. Apparently, they returned the wheelbarrow.
When Eugene purchased the business his wife, Gwen, helped. Helen Schillig kept the books; Jerry Schillig helped. Lucille Rodruck, grandmother, took care of the children. Clark Rodruck hauled many loads of tile to Donnelson, to the Holtcamps.
During WWII, tile was hard to come by and when the kiln was ready to be emptied, tractors, trailers, trucks, and other conveyances lined the street and took tile directly from the kiln. J. A. Glass was unable to inspect as he desired. It was very frustrating for him.
Eugene used a Ford tractor, scraper and belt to bring the dirt to the tile maker. It also took space-tiles, scraper, a horse, and a strong back.
The Winfield Tile Company was sold in the late 50s, as the state said sodium was to be used for hard tile. The state claimed soft tile let water soak through. There were many tile factories over the years; one close by was on Hwy 218, across from Floyd Foster.
The price of tiles ranged from $35 to $50 a hundred.
There are former employees in attendance here tonight who made 75c per hour. They and several others contributed information to this program. I very much appreciated their input.
Mary Rodruck Wintermeyer, granddaughter of J. A. Glass, sister of Eugene Rodruck
Webmaster's note: This presentation was given at the Winfield City Park with the full cooperation of Mother Nature. Over fifty people appeared with smiles on their faces and lawn chairs in hand. Society ladies made lemonade and iced tea available before the program (after the program a myriad of sweets were added). Mosquitoes were banned and they didn't crash the party until darkness fell.
Tiles of every shape, size, and hue were on display, along with various vintage tools used in the laying of tile. After the presentation there was much discussion of the "drainage system" incorporated by the farmers of southeast Iowa which created many additional acres of fertile soil and optimum yield for small and big farmers alike.
This program should have been a requisite for every citizen residing in Winfield, Iowa and surrounding communities. A lot was learned by all who attended.
Thank you, Mary