STREATOR - A Streator bricklayer built a 26-foot long wall in an hour to win recognition in a national bricklaying competition.
Bert Schneider, 39, was named the Top Craftsman during the 2009 Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 competition in Las Vegas earlier this month. He and an assistant put down and finished one brick every six seconds, or 578 in 60 minutes, to complete a double-width wall, nearly 4 feet tall.
Normally, a good brick layer puts down 500 bricks in an eight-hour day, said Schneider.
Quality as well as quantity was considered in judging the contest, viewed by hundreds, said contest spokesman Jeff Farmakes.
"It has to be a wall that you can display and sell," said Farmakes.
Twenty teams from the U.S. and Canada that won regional competitions faced off in the contest as part of a concrete industry trade show. The competition is sponsored by Spec Mix, based near Minneapolis.
It is considered by industry leaders to be the biggest such competitive event in the country. Awards were also given for the highest brick count and the fastest set-up time; a North Carolina man won the title "World's Best Bricklayer."
Schneider's employer and sponsor was Helander Masonry of Dixon, and his assistant was co-worker Paul Shiaras, 32, of Dixon.
Schneider grew up in Streator and recently moved back to the city "where they'll have to take me out in a pine box," when he leaves, he said.
When he came back to Streator he chose a home on the south edge of the city near where as many as 20 brick-making plants once existed. The plants used shale from coal mining to make a brick that became famous for paving streets and building structures.
Streator Brick on Ninth Street is the only plant that still exists in the city.
Schneider first learned the trade at age 16 at the encouragement of his brick-laying family. He started an apprenticeship after he finished high school.
There is no lack of work for a bricklayer, though the problem is finding young people who want to enter the four-year apprenticeship, said Farmakes.
"It's one of the hardest jobs on your body," he said. "Young people don't want to work that hard."
But he has never thought of doing anything else.
"I was born by the brickyard and it kind of gets into your blood," he said.
His prizes included $5,000 and an all-terrain pickup vehicle.