Photo By Isabella Huelsman
Logan Clay Products LLC
Logan Clay Products has been in operation for over 135 years. They found their start in bricks, which paved and built the towns in the area in the 1800s. Once the demand for bricks passed, the factory modernized to produce other clay products, mainly pipes. Though the product has changed, the resource remains the same, and there is still an abundance of clay in the area.
Today, the company produces thousands of tons of products every year. It is one of few clay pipe manufacturers left in the area. Bill Heft, Logan local, and vice president of operations, says the quality of the product is what’s made them so successful.
”Mom and dad lived here in town. My grandpa worked for the railroad, grandma was a housewife. … Prior to that their parents lived here. We've always lived here. My brother works here, and his two sons. … It’s a family oriented business.”
The company employs around 65 people, with some shifts working around the clock to supervise the firing of beehive kilns. When the pipe is being made, clay is extruded, or pushed through presses to shape the pipe by press operators. After the pipes are extruded, they are moved by forklift and set in drying rooms. Then the set crew arranges the dried pipe in the kilns, and the firemen oversee the firing. The draw crew then takes the fired product from the kilns for finishing touches. Other staff will cut the fired pipes, and finish the ends so they can be joined together. Four to five kilns with around 100 tons of product each, are fired and finished every week.
Ryan Cook is a press operator, and oversees the extruder, adding water or clay to get the right consistency.
Phil Matheny operates a forklift, lifting two clay pipes to transport them to the drying room.
A member of the set crew places pipes in a beehive kiln.
A control panel that monitors each kiln on the property shows the temperature and status of each kiln.
Clay pipes cool after the firing process.
A pipe is cut with a diamond coated saw and sprayed with water to keep the saw and pipe cool and keep dust out of the air.
Pink coating is brushed on to the ends of the cut pipes.
Jim Shannon marks pipes after they have been cut and finished.
“It's a rewarding job to be in. It can be very humbling at times, because you know, clay has its own mind, and when you're producing something from beginning to end, there's 500 things that go wrong with that piece before it's finished.”
Although clay and slate are nonrenewable and finite resources, the company mainly mines in one area just North of Logan, near Webb Summit. They operate in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, and work to be as energy efficient as possible. Sourcing clay locally allows the company to cut down on transport expenditures, and be self-sufficient.
They stockpile around 25,000 tons of this material and bring in around 800 tons for production every two weeks.
Graphic Illustration by Owen Zeiler | Information sourced from Historical Marker Database, atlasobscura.com
The domed roof of a beehive kiln encourages hot air to circulate evenly around the pieces.
Bill Heft draws a diagram of the kiln on a pipe.
Eric Cox saws the ceiling of a kiln in need of repair.
All of the scraps from trimming or flawed pieces are ground up and either recycled black into the clay to make new products, or are ground or chipped into athletic sand or landscaping gravel.
Photo By Isabella Huelsman
Clay pipes have been produced for hundreds of years, but with the development of less expensive plastic PVC pipe, the demand for clay pipe has become more niche. Clay pipe, however, has its benefits and is extremely durable, and can withstand acidic environments. Heft says Logan Clay distributes pipes to airports for this reason. The “no-dig” pipe Logan Clay Products produces also offers unique advantages, as it can be pushed through the ground without disrupting the surface, which is popular under highways or developments.
It requires strong ceramic to withstand these pressures, and the product must pass American Society for Testing and Materials, or ASTM, standards. ASTM tests if water percolates through the pipe, if it can withstand pressure, and the uniformity between the pipes. This makes for a long lasting product, and with proper installation and care they can last over 100 years.