The outer edge of the brick plant site is located at the end of a short straight dirt road that leads in off Highway 33. I arrived shortly after 10 AM on a Saturday morning and found the place to be completely empty and with the gate beside the residential building locked. However, I wanted to have a closer look at the distant plant so easily slipped between two widely spaced strands of wire on the fence surrounding the building.
The literature says that it is open in June but that was not the case for me. As I walked along the road leading past the large water pond to where the brick 'Visitor Centre' was located, I observed the overhead power line running beside the road. Several of the insulators holding the bare electrical conductors had broken, leaving the wires either resting on the wooden crossarms or just dangling - giving the impression that some serious maintenance needed to be carried out!
I did not linger too long and returned to my car, after I noticed another vehicle had pulled in. The guy turned out to be from Arizona and had a lady friend from Regina with him. We had a brief friendly conversation and they mentioned seeing and even touching a beautiful blue bird in the park in Regina - but had no idea what it was. I pulled out my bird book and we thumbed through it until we spotted an Indigo Bunting - "that's it" they said! We said our goodbyes as they headed off on a hike into the Dirt Hills while I headed back down the highway so I could continue southward on my trip.
Located in the country-side, the Claybank Brick Plant National Historic Site owes its existance to the discovery of rare "refractory" or heat-resistant clay being discovered in the Dirt Hills (behind the plant) in 1886. However, due to its isolated location, not much happened until the Canadian Northern Railway built a line nearby in 1910, making for much easier access to possible customers. By 1914 the Claybank Brick Plant had been built and was in operation with its special type of brick that had a great market lining the fire-boxes of old steam locomotives operated by both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways. It was also used in the boilers of the Royal Canadian Navy ships fighting the Battle of the Atlantic in World War 2 as well as providing the launchpads for space exploration rockets at Cape Canaveral, Florida in the 1960s/70s. The type of clays found there were also used to make a light-coloured 'face-brick' that adorned many building such as the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City as well as many others throughout Canada.
The glory years ended in the early 1950's with the coming of diesel locomotives and other technological advances, forcing the plant to finally close operations in 1989. Because the site had remained virtually unchanged since the early 1900s and remains one of the best examples industrial facilities from that era in all of North America, it was designated a National Historic Site in 1994.
The 2nd photo shows a closer view of some of the ten original brick smokestacks for the bee-hive kilns that were used to 'fire' the bricks in the manufacturing process. The 3rd photo shows the unique colour of the 'face-bricks' produced at the plant, this time they were used to construct the early 1920s bunkhouse that could accommodate up to 40 plant workers. It now serves as the visitor centre.
Quite often in Saskatchewan, you will see isolated old relics of farm machinery standing beside the road, usually in the middle of nowhere. That was exactly the case here about 3 hours into my trip as I cruised along Highway 13 toward Verwood. On top of a small hill were two old-fashioned combine harvesters that had been used to bring the grain crops to market many decades ago. Quite often, these long-antiquated pieces of machinery are stuck here and there just to make a good 'marker' along the road. On those short winter days with snow covering everything and a blizzard blowing, it is nice to actually spot something (in the absence of any trees) that tells you that you have not driven into the ditch yet!
The machine shown here was built by the Nichols & Shepard Company of Battle Creek, Michigan. It was formed in 1848 and had a very successful run until the Great Depression forced it and three other companies to merge in 1929 to become the Oliver Company. By then, these old types of theshers were obsolete. The 2nd photo shows its smaller companion, a McCormick-Deering machine that was built some time after 1923. The invention of the mechanical threshing machine in 1834 was thanks to Virginia farmer Cyrus McCormick who then developed his own company. In 1902 he joined with other companies to form the International Harvester company which is still around today (known as Navistar). In their 'day', both machines would likely have been hauled around the fields by old steam-driven tractors or more 'modern' piston-engined types with steel wheels.
With all my meandering around the back-roads of south-central Saskatchewan, it was approaching 3 PM by the time I arrived in Assiniboia, the largest community in the area. I cruised through town on Highway 13 checking out things as I drove along until I spotted the quite new looking Nash's Restaurant & Lounge. The fact that there were cars in it's parking lot was a good sign, so I decided to grab a simple meal there before continuing homeward to Regina.
The interior decor is quite nice with spacious and comfortable tables and benches. The central portion is billed as a Family Restaurant while the bit on the end, where I sat, is the Lounge. It had a few slot machines along one wall that seemed to be keeping a couple of elderly gentlemen quite happy and there were just a few other customers actually having meals.
Favorite Dish: I decided to keep things simple and went with a standard Club Sandwich as well as some French Fries ($8). It was fairly quick arriving and the various layers of chicken, lettuce, cheese, bacon, tomatoe, etc. stacked up quite high! It was an OK meal, but there did not seem to be a lot of flavour to it for some reason. However, the cold Kokanee beer from British Columbia went down quite well after my several hours of driving around the countryside! The total cost of the meal was $15 including a tip.
At almost the same place where I spotted the Whitetailed Deer standing on the isolated highway, I also saw a hawk of some sort sitting on a fence post. There were no power-lines or trees in the area, so that was about the only thing it could find for a roosting spot. Now that Spring is in full swing, there are thousands of small Prairie Dogs are out scurrying around the roads too. I saw them continuously on this trip, doing their typical thing of waiting until the last second before dashing off the highway in a random direction! Quite a few don't react in time and pay the price. This hawk did not appreciate me stopping to look at him with my binoculars and, before I could make a positive identification, it took off with something small clutched in its claws - probably a prairie dog.
There are an estimated 40,000 Pronghorn in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta but their numbers have been threatened in the past by man-made obstacles. Unlike the Whitetailed Deer, these animals are more like those of the African plains and migrate with the seasons - in this case an 800-km (500-mile) trip each way between Canada and the state of Montana. The number of barb-wire fences put up by ranchers had caused great difficulty for these animals in their migration and there are now moves afoot to have the lower strand of the fence be of a non-barbed variety. This is because these small antelope (about 5-feet long and 4-feet high) will not attempt to jump a fence but instead try to squeeze beneath it and are often 'caught' on the barbs and die.
Even though they can run at speeds of up to 110-kph (over 60-mph) they are quite skittish, making them more difficult to get close to. I spotted this distant lone Pronghorn almost 4-hours into my trip, while on an isolated gravel road in the Big Muddy Badlands area very close to the Montana border. The provincial governments are working on ways to protect these animals and southern Saskatchewan is one of the areas they are concentrating on.
Whitetail Deer are common throughout most of North America and generally don't migrate with the seasons - they tough it out through the winter months while waiting for the new 'fawns' to be born in the spring as the cycle of life continues. They are quite common in Saskatchewan and are one of the main 'roadkill' animals you will see alongside the major highways.
In my drives along the many back-roads of the Province, I have noticed that they often can be found beside small streams where highway bridges cross. Sure enough, as I neared Avonlea at the beginning of my road trip I slowed down as I came to one of these areas and very quickly spotted a deer there. These animals are quite skittish so it soon began running along parallel to the highway. It was not as 'nervous' as most as I was able to pull ahead of it and then take a photo as it dashed on by!
An hour and a half later, after taking in the sights of the Claybank Brick Factory, I was on an even more remote road near Kayville when I came across another of the deer - standing in the middle of the highway (2nd photo). I approached slowly in the car and he finally got the message, as he ran off into a field with his 'white tail' alarm showing while a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds harrassed him (3rd photo).
This map gives an overview of the driving route I took south and west of Regina at about 9 AM on a Saturday morning just to have a look at the surrounding countryside of some places I had not yet visited. It seemed like a good day weather-wise and eventually turned out to be partially cloudy with a temperature ranging between 16-20 C during the day and with a fresh northwest wind blowing at 17-28 kph, just about perfect!
Fondest memory: I had never been on Highway 334 before, so turned westward at its junction and managed to see some interesting wildlife as well as the Claybank Brick Plant before turning south on 334. This is mostly a deserted stretch of narrow paved road with not much traffic, making it great for me to idle along taking in the sights. I turned westward again when I reached Highway 13 and then turned down Highway 36 to Willow Bunch (a place I had visited the previous summer). From there I turned eastward onto unpaved road 705 as I tried to find a site I missed the last time I was in the area - I still did not find it! I finished the trip off by heading north on Highway 34 before turning west on Highway 33 for the second time, as I aimed for a late-lunch (almost 3 PM) in Assiniboia. From there I headed up Highway 2 (quite beautiful) to reach the TransCanada Highway at Moose Jaw and then onward to Regina. Altogether, the 600-km trip took about 8 hours but it still felt relaxing just cruising randomly along!