The nation’s brick-making industry has long been in decline, but the last brickworks in Hualien County is seeking to survive by turning itself into a tourist attraction and a museum for students to experience brick-making for themselves.
Jifeng Brickworks was founded in 1968 as a joint venture between former Hualien County commissioner Huang Fu-shou (黃福壽) and former Hualien County Council speaker Lee Chuan-fang (李傳芳).
Originally using only a traditional circular kiln, the company began with a capacity to produce 200,000 bricks a month. In 1995, capacity was raised to 3 million bricks a month after an automated production line with a tunnel kiln was built.
However, as bricks are no longer the main building materials, Jifeng is now the only brick factory in the county that is still in operation today.
After his father, the late chairman of the company, Hsieh Te-an (謝得安), died in August, Hsieh Chien-hui (謝建輝) took over as chief executive officer.
He said that due to the low demand for bricks in Hualien and Taitung counties, western Taiwan has become the major market for his factory, but the firm’s prices are not very competitive because of the high cost of freight. These days, the factory operates only six months of the year.
Thinking that it was a waste to keep the factory running for only half the year, Hishe Chien-hui decided to turn the brickworks into a tourist attraction and a museum for elementary and junior-high school students — and other visitors — to experience do-it-yourself brick-making sessions, and to take a walk in the tunnel kiln.
Visitors may draw whatever they like on bricks before the bricks are fired to dry in the kiln.
Chang Lien-fu (張連富), an employee who has worked for more than a decade in the brickworks, said that in the final phase of brick-making, workers place unfinished bricks onto carts and push the cars through the tunnel-like 140m-long drying kiln.
Chang said that each cart can carry up to 5,100 bricks at a time, and the kiln can take up to 20 carts at a time. The bricks are fired at temperatures of between 850oC and 900oC for six hours.