In Reviews & Press

Review by Francine Eichenauer

The Tay Bridge Disaster on December 28, 1879 in Dundee, Scotland claimed 70 lives. The howling wind and frozen landscape, footings not sunk in bedrock and ill-tempered steel contributed to the disaster. Blame was assigned to the train engineer, Brodie’s Da. Ma was now ignored at the market. “Yer coin is nae welcome here.” Young Brodie Smith was taunted at school. He heard whispers of “Murtherer”. With financial and emotional support from his uncle in Edinburgh, he attended MIT majoring in engineering. Carrying his diary with specifics of the Tay Bridge Construction, he focused on the inquiry while adding his own calculations. He hoped his notes would become the basis for a bridge building manual that focused on the importance of bridge safety precautions. He now worked for Callaghan Steel in Buffalo, New York as an agent for Callaghan’s bridge business. The latest bridge would cross a large river in Welland, Canada.

“A bridge fully assembled…on the warehouse’s dirt floor…a study in contrary conditions…He could not look at the finished bridge without measuring it against the toll it had taken: the red-hot rod…slipping…the rip across Gerald’s chest-from a rough burr of steel…countless burns…” He longed for a different life.

Fellow Scot, Alistair Lamont, worked for Callaghan Steel as well. Alistair had not received a formal education but was interested in innovations in machinery. Alistair’s Da had owned Lamont Brickworks but, upon his death, the brickworks and family farm were sold at auction to pay outstanding debts. “A new country was welcoming to men with a very little coin and big dreams.”

Two fishing enthusiasts, Alistair and Brodie, went on a fishing trip after completion of the Welland Bridge. They ventured into Canada-on the Brae River in Ontario. Alistair stated, “Bricks take a quantity. And shale-there’s enough here to crush and mix with the clay. Together they’d produce a fine brick. Water and clay and shale. It would not require much else to start.” Combining their finances, they elected to start a brickworks and a sheep farm. To this end, Brodie and Alistair purchased a parcel of three hundred acres in Braemor. The river, bordered by clay banks, was conveniently located near the Braemor Train Station.

Brodie outlined a three year plan. The plan included obtaining backing from prominent gentlemen to help with funding, approaching the railway about the feasibility of a spur line, hiring “strong able-bodied men” who wanted to learn the trade of brickmaking, and embracing technological innovation, when possible, in lieu of the primitive methods used at the Lamont Brickworks in Scotland. Employees would need to work six to six, 6 days a week. The work was honest, the pay fair. Brodie and Alistair were fiscally conservative, safety minded and respectful. They would have no time for women or courting for years.

They were inseparable, Brodie and Alistair, close as brothers. They worked side by side with their employees through trying times, including unspeakable tragedies. The brickworks and sheep farm ruled, even when they were smitten with a promise of romance.

Author Black’s prose conveyed a detailed description of bridge building as well as a plethora of detail about running a brickworks in 1900’s Ontario. The brickmaking process was fascinating. Using italics in lieu of quotation marks allowed this reader “to feel present” at the brickworks for the first firing. “[Alistair] could feel how unsure he was, yet how eagerly he anticipated the prospect of success…It would be 5 days at least before they could open the kiln and check the bricks…the hot bricks passed from man to man, each declaring that finer bricks could not be found.”

“The Brickworks” is a meticulous researched, detailed work of historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Thank you Hollay @riverstreetwrites for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.