dirty jobs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
A Salisbury business will be featured tonight on The Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.”
Locally, the show airs at 9 p.m. on channel 35.
Mike Rowe, the show’s host who travels the continent performing an assortment of not-so-pleasant tasks to the delight of his viewing audience, visited Salisbury two months ago for a stop at Old Carolina Brick.
The Majolica Road business has been in operation since about 1960 and produces by hand millions of bricks that are used for an assortment of construction and restoration projects.
Bricks produced by the plant have been used to build houses for everyone from Richard Gere to Arnold Palmer, from Neil Armstrong to Arthur Blank (founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons).
The company’s bricks have also been used in restoration work at Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), Mount Vernon (George Washington’s residence) and Colonial Williamsburg.
The bricks are produced in the same fashion as they’ve been produced for hundreds of years.
Every week, Old Carolina Brick ships at least two train cars full of its bricks to northern California’s wine country where they’re used in the construction of houses for the rich and (often) famous.
“We stay sold out,” said Art Burkhart, vice president of Old Carolina Brick. “It’s a pleasant problem to have.”
The company is so busy, Burkhart said, that when representatives of “Dirty Jobs” first contacted the business about Rowe visiting for a feature, the offer was declined.
Burkhart said the fact that he wasn’t familiar with the show also factored into his initial response.
“I was reluctant,” he said. “I told them we weren’t interested.”
But other employees of the business, Burkhart said, who were fans of Rowe and “Dirty Jobs,” helped him change his mind.
“They said, ‘Hey, hey, this is a good show,’ ” Burkhart said. “People are really watching and they like it.”
And so, Rowe was contacted and told he was welcome to visit.
In past episodes of “Dirty Jobs,” Rowe has worked as a sewer inspector, a buoy cleaner and a cranberry farmer.
And those were some of his cleaner assignments.
Burkhart said that, as the name of the show implies, Rowe got quite dirty during his visit to Old Carolina Brick. The process of making bricks by hand is filthy and time-consuming, requiring that wooden molds be filled with clay.
“He got all greasy,” Burkhart said of Rowe. “He was a mess.”
Burkhart said the bricks produced by the company are made by hand. That’s quite an accomplishment considering that the business churns out more than 10 million bricks a year.
“Every brick we make is different,” Burkhart said. “We don’t make cookie cutter bricks.”
He said PGA golfer Davis Love described the company’s creations as, “The Cadillac of bricks.”
Burkhart said producers of “Dirty Jobs” requested that an employee of Old Carolina Brick assist Rowe in producing bricks by hand and ó in the process ó getting equally filthy.
“They wanted someone to get dirty with him,” Burkhart said. “I politely suggested someone other than me.”
Thus, accompanying Rowe was Mark Mowery, the company’s assistant plant superintendent.
“Oh, they were filthy,” Burkhart said, laughing. “They were something to see.”
He said that through it all, Rowe remained a good sport.
“He’s a hoot,” Burkhart said. “As good a fellow as you’d want to meet.”
Burkhart said Old Carolina Brick was founded by Dudley Frame who, at the age of 88, remains healthy and still periodically flies himself from his home in Alabama to Salisbury for a company visit.
Burkhart said that as has always been the case with Old Carolina Brick, the company emphasizes the uniqueness of each brick it produces.
“It’s about quality, not quantity,” Burkhart said.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.