Brick by brick, Peru native builds a new life in Salisbury
By Maggie Blackwell
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — Fernando Gallardo is a man of determination. When he sets his sights on a goal, he works hard and achieves it. He’s been working at Taylor Clay Products for 27 years now, and he loves his job.
Taylor Clay is a brick company founded in Salisbury in 1949. It’s located off Peeler Road on Chuck Taylor Road. The Taylor family still owns the business.
In the 1980s, Gallardo worked as a ticket agent for Lanchile Airlines in his home country of Peru. It was a nice life. He and his wife were able to fly for free, and they visited the U.S. eight times on vacation.
“My wife liked the U.S.,” he says. “The businesses, it was different.”
Over the years, they bought items here and took them back home. They weren’t ordinary souvenirs. The Gallardos bought a stove and a washing machine. The quality of things built in the U.S., he says, was far superior to what they could get at home.
After working for Lanchile for 11 years, Gallardo was laid off. He moved his family to another county with a lower cost of living and got another job. The company closed, and he had a family to feed.
So in 1989, Gallardo decided to move to the U.S. He completed the necessary paperwork and came here legally. He started in Tampa working in the fields and made his way to South Carolina, where he picked tomatoes.
It was hard work, and he couldn’t make enough money. So on the advice of a friend, in 1990 he moved to Salisbury.
Initially, he worked on mobile homes. His neighbor told him to apply at Taylor Clay. It’s hard work, he said, but it’s a good job.
“Twenty-seven years at Taylor Clay,” he says. “It feels like a short time. I don’t see it as a long time. Yes, the years have gone by. But the time has gone by fast. I still feel strong.”
Gallardo started at Taylor Clay skidding bricks. To skid bricks, you stack newly baked bricks on large pallets.
“It was a hard job, heavy,” he says, shaking his head. “Physical. Bending over, picking up bricks, loading.”
At that time, he was about 40. He stayed in that job for about 18 months. As he proved himself in the company, Gallardo progressed to higher-level — and physically easier — tasks.
Finally, someone asked him to work in the laboratory. Although he didn’t know what it entailed, he says, he knew he could learn.
His supervisor, Steven Blankenbeker, agrees.
“Fernando is a very quick learner. If I show him something once, he’s got it,” says Blankenbeker.
Today, Fernando works in the lab testing clay colors for consistency and absorption. He prepares cones for the kiln and monitors gas usage.
“He knows when the clay doesn’t feel right,” Blankenbeker says.
From losing his job in Peru in 1989 to moving to Tampa, then South Carolina, then North Carolina within a year, the pace of change could have been overwhelming. But Gallardo says it wasn’t.
“One day I was picking tomatoes early in the morning. I was so tired. I had worked all week, Monday through Sunday. I saw the church van. I wanted to change my life, to be like the people in the van. I was working so hard. I needed rest.
“There were many people around on the line,” he continues. “One guy was so ugly, they called him ‘Beautiful.’ He invited me to church. Another guy come to my house and told me about Jesus Christ. He had only a middle school education, but he knew a lot about Christ.”
Gallardo accepted Christ on Dec. 1, 1990. Today, he serves as pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Kannapolis. When he started, there were only three families in the church. Today, there are more than 50 members.
He works full-time at Taylor Clay and tends his church in his off time.
Gallardo became a U.S. citizen in 2012. Blankenbeker says he listened to tapes as he worked, studying for the exam. Turns out, he suffers from a little test anxiety.
“My wife passed the exam the first time,” he shrugs. “It was easier for her. She is smart.”
Gallardo passed the second time.
Upon hearing the good news, Blankenbeker wanted to throw Gallardo a party at Taylor Clay. Gallardo declined.
“When he got his citizenship, he didn’t want anyone to make a big deal of it,” Blankenbeker says. “He didn’t want anyone to be jealous. He was thoughtful of the feelings of others and didn’t want to put it in front of them.”
Gallardo is 69 and still working daily at Taylor Clay. He’s ready for retirement, but Blankenbeker needs him.
“I’ll probably, when he’s on Social Security, I’ll let him work whenever he wants to work.”
He says of Gallardo: “People can go through the motions of doing this job, and they would understand the basics, but to know when it doesn’t feel right, that takes a different person. It will be very hard to replace Fernando. He’s an extremely quick learner. He’s a good friend before he’s a good worker. Just a good all-around guy.”
Marco Montiel of Taylor Clay translated the conversation for this story.