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story.lead_photo.caption Helen Wilbers/FULTON SUN Brenda Martin, left, and Richard Chiles are carrying on Callaway County’s tradition of clay mining. Chiles Works has operated near Fulton since 1998.

Clay mining has been part of Callaway County's economic history for generations.

You can see it in local roads — like Claymine Drive — and the old bricks stamped by defunct manufacturers that turn up in local creeks.

What some might not realize is the county's clay-mining tradition is still alive and well.

Chiles Works has been mining clay near Fulton since 1998, and it recently announced its intention to extend its mining operations for another 30 years. Chiles Works currently operates two active pit mines in the county.

"My dad wanted to do mining his way, so I quit my job to help him," said Richard Chiles, co-owner of Chiles Works. "He'd worked with AP Green and Harbison Walker. He built this business from scratch."

After Chiles' mother's death in 2006, his sister Brenda Martin started maintaining the company's financial records. She joined the family business full time last year. An uncle and cousin also work for the business.

"This was my dad's dream," Martin said.

The methods haven't changed much over 20 years of mining.

"We're not much for technology," Chiles said. "We do it the simple way."

Martin added: "We dig it out of the ground, crush it and sell it."

Who's buying has changed, though. These days, most of the company's customers are out of state and use the clay to make cement, not firebricks.

"You want about 30 percent alumina, which is what makes this clay gray, but the cement companies aren't as picky as the firebrick companies were," Chiles said.

Though business is good, the work itself is hard.

"It's freezing in winter and hot in summer," Chiles said. "It can be difficult to find someone that wants to work."

Clay miners must be willing to do physical work year-round, out in the elements. If it snows, you push off the snow and keep going. Rain's the worst, though, Chiles said — it can stop trucks from making it to the pit, slowing their supply chain way down.

"Rain is my enemy," he said.

It helps to be adept at fixing your own equipment, too.

Martin and Chiles said their respective children haven't shown interest in the family business, so Chiles Works' distant future is uncertain.

In the meantime, though: "We just gotta keep going," Chiles said.

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