Harvey Cahoon and Jann Cahoon

Recorded April 11, 2009 Archived April 11, 2009 32:59 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY005289


Jann Cahoon (37) interviews her uncle, Harvey Cahoon (63) about the family brick business.

Subject Log / Time Code

Cahoon family business started as the Salt Lake Press Brick Company. Brick-making has evolved from industrial brick pressing to an extrusion process.
Different kilns used to “fire” or bake the bricks include the hoffman kiln, field kiln, beehive and tunnel kiln. Harvey remembers hearing the rhythmic fire from the field kiln from his bed at night.
The family company first ran into trouble during the Depression when little building was going on and construction turned from brick to steel and concrete. Business picked up again after the war.
The company expanded in the 1980s but then encountered an economic crisis. Harvey was asked to resign as president of the company and Mountain Fuel took over. It was very difficult for Harvey to be the last Cahoon in the family business.
Harvey recalls his grandfather’s relationship with Bishop Pearson (sp?). Bishop Pearson revered him as a “great Christian” for his many good and unseen deeds.
Harvey remembers being yelled at by his own dad and then being told by an old employee “your dad only yells at those he loves.” Harvey notices that he is similar to his own dad in his choice to stay with the family company rather than pursue a higher degree and more lucrative career.
It is disconcerting to Harvey to see things fading away, including the old brick yards. He appreciates those who write about the past and collect history.


  • Harvey Cahoon
  • Jann Cahoon

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:04 My name is John colquhoun. I am 37 years old and today is April 11th to South 2009 in Salt Lake City. And I am the niece of my uncle Harvey and I'm Harvey Cahoon. I'm 63. Today's April 11th 2009. We're here in Salt Lake City and Jann. My niece is interviewing me we're going to focus on learning more about our families relationship and history with Interstate brick.

00:35 Uncle Harvey, can you please tell me the history of Interstate brick how it began? How were the Kahuna's involved? And what was its original name?

00:44 That the guy that started the company was was named John P Cahoon, John Pulaski Cahoon, and that's my middle name to Harvey P Pulaski Cahoon. He was my great-grandfather.

00:59 And he made brick when they lived in Murray for in the late eighteen hundreds for several years, but then when he he moved to the site on 33rd South and 11th East and started the Salt Lake, press Brick Company and I think it was 1891. He was the son of Andrew Cahoon and the grandson of Reynolds gun Reynolds being the first ghuun that joined the Mormon church and he and his son Andrew came out to Utah as Pioneers. So John was a grandson of the original Cahoon LDS, Cahoon.

01:38 So they started John started. The brick company is a continuation of other new businesses. He had done and and built the brick plant on 33rd South which has long since has been torn down in the late 70s and Rihanna. The only thing that still there is it is a smokestack from the original plant and a plaque on the Brickyard Plaza. That's that's all that's left there the company then moved to West Jordan and around the early 70s and

02:15 That's where they operate now. How did they make brick back then?

02:21 Well bricks have been made for centuries, but the thousands of years basically the same way people take clay get it wet squishing around make it kind of soft and then throw it in a in a mold and form it in the in a rectangular shape, you know in a wooden mold and and and and scrape it off and then dump it out on the board and put it out in the sun to dry. That's how original bricks were made in Moses time that lonely and time and even in the colonial time in the United States and even hear people back then knew how to make bricks. It was like knowing how to drive a car was was one of those things that was not that unusual to know how to do. Well naturally in any thing like that can become industrialized and John was an entrepreneur and he build a brick business around that skill and even though there were other brick

03:21 He's back then lots of little ones. He started the Salt Lake press Brick Company.

03:26 But in terms of making bricks, I mean it just obviously it isn't.

03:33 The most efficient way to do it by hand. So what he did was adopt some of the technology that have been developed about that time with a with a machine called a brick press in a brick press as like a lever. I don't know it's hard to describe to you is kind of lever arms that that when they pull together they put tremendous pressure mechanical pressure hydraulic, it's not electronic. It's totally driven by mechanical means they at Ram's a rectangular plug into a mold that shaped like a brick and that pressure on that damn play forms a very dense hard brick and in a press and then the mold pops out and it pops to break out and comes off and you and then you pick the brake off and put them through a dryer and then after the break or dry then you put them through the Kiln and the reason they call it the Salt Lake press brick on.

04:33 I need to cuz I didn't make it by hand anymore. They made him with presses and the press the most, probably the most famous press then in the most successful pressed was a mechanical toggle, press by the Boyd Boyd Boyd Press Company. I looked him up the other day. There's they still are in existence. But the machines that press brick look really like 1920s looking cuz they're all mechanical big heavy steel arms, you know, it's just that it's amazing anyway and Grant and John P's son John-John League his son. His original name was John Calhoun, but he was so fascinated as a boy at these presses that he changed his name to John Boyd and that's how the boy named got in our family and then so John Boyd had a son John Boyd Jr. And he has a son John Boyd the Third.

05:33 Start my cousin. So that's that's how that's how the Press brick now after that around the same time, but a little bit later the Extrusion method came into existence where you put kind of damp clay and a machine that mixes it together and then squeezes it out of a die in a continuous stream kind of like toothpaste coming out of him, too. But it's all you'll never stops. It goes continuously and then you pull piano wires through that call him to make the individual bricks. That's how I'm almost all breaks in the United States around the world are made. Well, I should say around the world third world countries where they still making with wooden Moulds and you know the old-fashioned way, but that's out that sell bricks are made and that's why it's called the Salt Lake press Brick Company. Can you tell me a little bit about where the clay came from?

06:25 You're probably too important distinctions to make about clay one. Is that the most of the clay that built the Salt Lake press Brick Company was common clay it occurs at the surface know it's just out in the valley the Salt Lake Valley. There are places where there was Clay would have been at the bottom of Lake Bonneville, you know, maybe a geologically only fifteen twenty thousand years old not a very young geologically that clay was what the common brick were made out of and it fired to a kind of a yellow color in K later when they needed tougher bricks that use sale and that would come for the Brickyard. Most of it came from out by Utah Lake pit called the Powell pit and that's right in the same place that the Saratoga Springs is today and in another place five miles west of Fairfield out in Utah County and that five miles of wheat used to call the Five Mile Pass Clay Pit.

07:26 The Five Mile Pass was an underground mine where they tunnels underground with was going to like regular miners digging the clay out. Those are probably the two main sources of clay Shale. Other than the common now, when when the Salt Lake press Brick Company got going most of the break they made by far by just grundles the by far the biggest amount of brick. They made were common brick made with this common play. They weren't really super durable. If you leave them out, let him get wet and freezing thawing freeze and thaw they're going to break down but that didn't matter because most of these all of these bricks were used on the inside of the walls of building. So if you go to downtown Salt Lake City or any other major city inside the walls of the of the of the building the brick or common brick cuz they just needed something hard and substantial to support the building. So this is before steel and concrete became a common way to build now, so the interior of the walls

08:26 Be common brick. I mean dad used to joke and tell me that they didn't even use some Mint. In fact, they got so sloppy. Sometimes they just dump them in with wheelbarrows and I'll bet you can met you the interior that wall could be common brick and used millions and millions of brick on not very big building face brick face brick made with Shale or much tougher much harder and when you use those you can put on the exterior of the building. They look really good that color is really deep and vibrant and all that and they're super tough. And so, you know face brick where were less common.

09:02 The the clay was mine at the Brickyard side on 11th East and then they went East of their up past the Village Theater Under Highland Drive with a little electric trolley train and they dug out all of the area. That's now called Mount Ayr Acres. They dug up completely all out and sold it a subdivision. Is there now it when that got depleted then the next place I went was up across the street just to the west of Olympus High School. There's a whole subdivision there where there was a clay pit they dug it all out and then you know, somebody got back to a little bit but now there's houses there. So that's where the common clay came from. Excuse me.

09:50 Socom and Clay Shale. That's the two main sources and how do they cook the brick? Well, when you're when you're when you bake a brick you don't, you know, you don't do it like you do in your kitchen home and I'll bet it's the same sort of idea. It's just that you do it in a kiln and

10:09 It's common in our industry to say that we fire the brick. We don't burn them or bake them because if you were burning them, you would be like burning wood and it's consumed while they're not consumed their fired and typically the the the fuel back then was Colwell a long time ago with strong would but industrial is it was based on pole then when natural gas was discovered over in Wyoming the natural gas became the fuel

10:42 The the plant at 33rd and 11th East when I was I grew up there when I grew up would go down there with my dad Gary your your dad Gary and I would go down there with that your grandpa and a plant called plant B was still there and it was just an old huge I'll bet it was 6 700 ft long old wooden beams in arm and just old industrial kind of a building and if but it was no longer used at all. That was where the common brick were made.

11:17 Just north of there was the house the little yellow the yellow brick house where grandpa Cahoon Grandpa John B Cahoon had a house. And in that house your grandpa Harold was born that little house. The only thing that's left of it now is the door from that house is on the door of Grandma Cahoon. Grommet Grandma Priscilla's house down in St. Georgetown in Washington, Utah house. Just north of the old plant be at the Brickyard Uncle George and Aunt Viola live there for a while, but that's you know, it's all gone now is the only thing that's left. Is that chimney?

12:00 One of the killings in Osoyoos. So you got a big brick in a kiln UK. We say your firearm. Okay. Well, it's one of the Kilns that they had that I remember is a kid. It wasn't being used anymore was it called a Hoffman Kiln? It was invented in Germany and I do the late eighteen hundreds or so, and they used that they basically it was like a race track or oblong, you know, not not rectangular but roundish oblong and it was maybe two hundred feet long and a movie a hundred feet wide and inside this chamber with which was continuous all the way around inside that the brick that killed was a hollow area where they would put the bricks in they would they would the seal up the doors and then where you brought the brakes at all by hand and then they would start a fire in it and and provide the fuel through the top through the roof through ports in the roof down into that kill.

12:58 And once it got really hot in just one area. They would pull the Heat.

13:03 Around that Kim over time so that so that the the hottest part of the Kim would gradually move around that kind of RaceTrac around that Hoffman Kiln. So the brick that were going to be fired were put in a head of that and then the door sealed up then the fire we get to there in the ones behind there would gradually cool off the advantage of a Hoffman was that the cooling brick provided provided some of the heat to heat up the Breakthrough getting hotter. So it was it was a continuous process and was efficient relatively fishing. So but that Kim was out of you when I was there and it was torn down along with some of the Beehive Kilns when they built the tunnel Kiln in a tunnel Kiln is basically a long refractory tunnel with a little kind of a railroad cars with refractory Tops on them that you could stack the brick on and then you have a long string of those you push down maybe three four hundred foot long tunnel and is they go down through from the sides the gas is turned in.

14:03 And it gets hot in the brick over just a few days. Of time or heated and cooled and they're fired and I move forward with the okay. What what other thing I want to hear about the Kilns. What are the counts all these periodic Kilns energy-inefficient, like the Beehive killed the other one. They had was called a field Kiln. And the reason I want to tell you that about that affects. You know, what year did your dad and I used to remember that the field Kiln was essentially just two big walls, maybe a hundred feet long and 3 feet high out in the field and between them is empty space and you would fill that empty space in a basically a big rectangular cube of brick stacked Loosely you seal off the ends and then along those walls of reports underneath where you could put the fuel in. Well, when I when I was a kid, they were using natural gas and they just said it was very simple. I just had a pipe down the side of vacuum.

15:03 Each every 8 feet or so. There was a valid like a water faucet valve going out of a pipe and on the end of that pipe was a little cap. They drilled a hole in the cap. And that was the burner. It was not exotic at all. Just stuck that burner in that in those side of the port into the account and let it after you know days it would finally get so hot inside the killing to be glowing yellow or glowing skin or getting hotter and hotter and when it got to that point then it a harmonic Behavior started in that Kiln. I have got a Physics degree. I don't know exactly how this works, but I know work cuz like I saw myself don't gas would come out of those those pipes continuously.

15:47 All the time never stopped all the whole time. We was going there coming out, but when it got hot enough, then the fire would it would catch fire in a periodic in a minute in a pulsing way. So every 10 seconds or so it goes to go this big whoop sound when it like burned all of a sudden I do. I don't know why I did that how it did that our house. We're Gary and I grew up. Your dad was goodness couple of miles from the brickyard and at night in our bunk bed, we could hear that.

16:26 At night conditions had to be good but you know, you can hear those killed going. So that was that was another way. They fired the brick.

16:36 Did you want to talk about the different names of the Kilns at the Brickyard? The main ones were the beehives the field Kiln. Hoffman Kiln and then ultimately the

16:50 And then what happened with the family's involvement with Interstate brick?

16:56 John P. John Pulaski Cahoon. My great-grandfather was a very aggressive entrepreneur. He had businesses all over the Salt Lake area and he had power plant up Millcreek Canyon. Anyways, remember the cone Miller company. I've got a milk can from The Cahoon Miller company. I don't even know what they did for business, but he was a very entrepreneurial guy lots of businesses in the early part of the Great Depression.

17:25 No, I think in the early thirties the company got in trouble. I think I think was partly the depression.

17:33 And you know building being way down, but it was also the common Brick we're going out of style is a style that the technology of building with steel and concrete was coming on strong. So you didn't you didn't use so many common brick anymore because the buildings were held up by Steel and concrete not by the bricks, they weren't structural anymore. So the market for common brick went down the toilet and the depression added to that and a company went into receivership in the early thirties.

18:03 I guess that creditors in Olalla bana together and they put together some kind of deal where the company was rejuvenated are reborn as the interstate Brick Company.

18:14 And that's when the logo of the little brick man was born that came in all that was the successor to the Salt Lake press Brick Company.

18:23 The Walker Bank was involved in that process. I'm not sure exactly how much but so as of that time than the family lost the control of the company family still own some stock in the company but no longer were they the majority stockholder? Well after that, you know, the war came John Pease Sons Chester and Jon B Cahoon the Boyd they ran the company and after the war no business came back the Baby Boomers the house he bit me and you do things got way better and they shifted to making face, but just face brick instead of common brick.

19:03 Then in the I guess the late sixties, I don't know if it would have been about the mid-60s grandpa John be my grandpa retired and my dad Harold P apparel people ask to whom he he took over and he pushed very hard with with Grandpa John to get these tunnel Kiln built were much more efficient much more productive, but it was a battle and it was the old depression mentality vs. My dad who got a PhD in ceramic engineering was very forward thinking it was a it was a hard time getting that to happen. Anyway, so the company grew there on 33rd South and 11th East at overtime. They gradually got completely surrounded by Suburbia. I'm going to just houses all the way around. It was no place to grow plus. There's always friction between a big industrial operation and houses so Dad figured that

20:03 The company needed to move and he chose West Jordan is the place to move to and he knew that the company they just didn't have the wherewithal in terms of taking on additional a lot of additional debt to be able to finance going out to Westshore in the building a whole new plant from scratch. So he worked out with mr. Busy kastler who was the chairman of mountain fuel supply for the company to be sold completely to Mountain fuel. So Mountain fuel took took all the stock traded the mountain fuel Mountain Fuel stock for the interstate brick stock show peoples on Interstate brick got Mountain Fuel stock, but then the company are like family ceased ownership of the company because it really is an entity it existed but as you know separate

20:48 It was a division of mountain fuel supply in the early 80s or so the company expanded aggressively. My dad was never bashful about push and push him. He wasn't bashful about pushing for stuff and he made some big expansions about them and right then Wham inflation went crazy interest rates went nuts housing went down when we talked today about in all this being the worst time since World War II and everybody Compares it back to it was the worst unemployment since the 80s, but it was terrible that and because of that in all things got kind of tight at the Brickyard dad and I think Was 1980 6 or so, I'm not sure about the exact date. He retired. I became the president and

21:39 And all and it was not easy that may was is it was a tough time? Will it anyway we tried to get things turned around and I think I did a pretty good job, but without being mean-spirited about it or you know, throwing rocks and anybody Mountain fuel which had a new president and I didn't get along we didn't see eye-to-eye and how the Brickyard out of be run and so ultimately they asked me to resign which I did they ran the company for a few years and then finally sold it when they figured out that they didn't do much better how to run it then then we've been doing and they sold it to a company called Pacific Coal Supply in in California tell you was very tough leaving Interstate brick when I left there. I'm sitting in my dad's old office. I got John P Chester John be my dad Harold on the wall and pictures and on the last Cahoon there that was that was a very difficult time and not a very pleasant experience.

22:37 I might just want to ask you not only not only were you an employer Interstate brick with Grandpa and your grandfather and great-grandfather. But my dad Gary and my uncle Brad work there Bradley still involved in the brick industry. He's up in Washington state that working in the brick Nest industry and I I continued into brick industry and worked at some time at at I'll plant that sort of thing and you don't have a lots of good memories about my experience and involvement there. But leaving Interstate was not a very pleasant experience. I think as you can imagine after being in the family for several sort of in the family for several Generations, although relieve the depression was the start of it really going away and then when they sold it all out, well, we're in effect test employees.

23:29 I will say that I remember being not brainwashed but it was the thing as a little kid to think think brick, you know brick is the best kind of house the best set up beside you can buy us though. Me too. I want to ask you what you have learned about your family and its involvement at interstate brick.

23:52 Well, I mean as you can tell as we've talked here no business is without its ups and downs and all people have strengths and weaknesses and working at the Brickyard inevitably show the character of the people that work there from a little reading some things my dad wrote and what I know personally, it's easy to to think that my grandpa John Boyd and Harold my dad were pretty rough. Sometimes they were they were very hard-working. They were very committed to The Brick Company. I'm in there practically married to it. I mean

24:24 Dad and Grandpa never ever stop thinking about the brick company. They were so committed to him, but they had it they had other side's to Grandpa. John Boyd was a generous man that did really good things for people that were rarely recognized and he didn't he didn't seek recognition is very I was a private but it was very and he was not at all ostentatious other people Drive Lincoln Continentals Grandpa drove a Chevrolet. That was the kind of guy was our Bishop where I grew up at the time was Paul Pearson and his company was the piercing hardware company in Sugar House. And you said that was that was right next to the southeast theater, and I'm not sure that's there either but it's just north of the library in Sugarhouse Bishop Pearson revered my grandpa John John Boy Grandpa at evidently given Paul some money at a time when the harbor business was in trouble and it saved

25:19 I don't know what the details were never heard any any nitty-gritty about it. But Bishop Pearson who is naturally emotional anyway could never talk about our family at church or any any time without without weeping he

25:34 It always happened and when Grandpa nose because my grandpa when Grandpa John came to my missionary farewell, which was one of the few times he came cuz he he wasn't a really religious guy in his later life. And I not very outwardly religious. Bishop Pearson was beside himself. I mean he was so

25:54 And we called him a great Christian and

25:59 I think that's really true. Grab. Excuse me, Grandpa John evidently. Did Manny Manny such good unseen Deeds. My dad to your grandpa Harold was also kind of gruff on the outside sometimes but i a n i a n example of as one Sunday morning Gary your dad and I went with him down to the Brickyard. We always go with him. We always ride in the front seat of his red pickup truck. He had a red pickup truck forever and we go down to the Brickyard after priesthood meaning I was back in the days before the block where you had meetings in the morning and then to break and then meetings in the afternoon we go down between the meetings to see how the Brickyard was doing. And I mean it was a it was a routine. We did it every Sunday. We always go down and that Sunday we went and climbed up on a in an area where they had Hoppers that that they would collect the clay to go into the grinding machines to make a note to prepare the Clayton to make to be made into brick.

26:56 And those Hoppers were loaded by an old overhead crane with a clamshell bucket in olds old industrial type stuff that clamshell hadn't completely closed yet because I had a bucket full of clay and we just nobody was there working and we just sitting waiting and I going to looked at it and thought well and that interesting I put my hand up to that clamshell and it had knitted maybe had another 2-3 inches before it would be closed. Oh my gosh, my dad unloaded on me. I'm a countdown. They had kicked in the butt yelled at Monessen. Typical Dad could do that sort of thing. Because if that it's snapshot at that moment. I lost my hand, which I didn't realize, you know, I was young and didn't didn't appreciate that.

27:42 Well boy was dad mad and I thought he'd killed me before we got home. But you know, we never punish me to after that, but I know I realized I hadn't done a good thing and Mac West so you may not remember my quest was a superintendent of the brick plant. He a dad went way back and Mac work for Dad one day after a particularly vigorous, but two in the we got from Dad down to his office and was Jordan we're walking back up to the plant Mac turn to me and he said he said you no harm your dad only yells at those he loves.

28:21 Mac wasn't a real educated guy, but he had pretty good insight into people and I thought about I've never forgotten it never forgotten that moment you realize of my dad he really dead. If you really cared if you really cared about you really cared about something he could get pretty vigorous and even though you know and then immediately had forget about it. He did not carry grudges. He didn't, you know lambaste you again it again for the same old thing, but at the moment, you know, he would if he cared you knew about it.

28:54 He was hard-working and are very forward to looking guy, you know, I think about the sacrifice he made to stay at the brick plant instead of taking his PhD in ceramic engineering from the University of Utah and going to convair bowling and making a ton of money and then I'll be in in the Leading Edge of ceramic Engineering in the country. He stayed at The Brick plant brick making is not exotic Ceramics been around for thousands of years. He stayed and and supported his dad and and made that company go.

29:29 Well, we got time. I want it ask you before the very end. Just why you were a part of Interstate brick and what it meant to you to get involved in.

29:42 What the Heritage has been for you in some ways dad and I are not that much different. I mean I

29:54 I e i k i got a master or bachelor degree in physics know why in the world that I stick around of the Ring plant when we went back to the Naval Academy and I talked to six there and you know, it just seemed like a natural thing to come back and work with my dad at The Brick plant. And again, you know, it may be there are there could have been other things to do the world more exotic cars or whatever be a good word. But I felt in the same sort of way loyalty to the to that company that industry that really is never really gone away. Even though I'm not involved in the brick industry. Now, I still have lots of memories pleasant memories and pride in you know, it's something when you make a product that gets build into a building and it's still there. You know, I mean I can drive you around Salt Lake and name the brick on the building, you know, it's easy to do cuz you remember I mean you remember that the problems and the good times and the bad times.

30:54 How to make a new brick for that building

30:57 That's great.

31:00 What would you like to say in conclusion? Well, I tell you it is disconcerting to me to be having this interview and realize that many of the things that I remember doing with my dad. Your grandpa and your your dad Gary are you know are fading away the old Brickyard, you know, some of the stuff just isn't in a torn down. It's forgotten and I can remember things that all there they're gone and that it's bizarre to think that I'm in the same boat that my dad was you know, is he is he got older? It just doesn't seem right. It also makes me deeply appreciate the efforts of all those who write histories and get events in the places of the past in under paper and my dad Harold was particularly good at this he commissioned to book on the history of Interstate brick 1975 did an oral history project. Will the professor down to BYU to collect?

32:00 Memories about the Brick Company get them on paper and he was written much since then on his parents and especially on the city where you know where he retired down in Washington City in in Washington County in Utah sure. He had an opportunity and Nauvoo to teach the old way. They did bricks with Grandma. I appreciate you jam in and getting us to come to storycorps and record some of what I remember. It's important. It's important that the past be documented so that it does not die with those who lived it.

32:39 Well, I want to thank you for your time and sharing this with me if it's meant a lot to me to to learn these things into having preserve our family in and other people so hopefully we did okay.