Pre-cast company makes concrete decision to be quiet neighbour
The Cosmos’s series on the township’s industrial sector is slowly getting closer to the urban centre. It began out at Uxville, west of Goodwood, then moved to Slabtown Cider, south of town on Conc. 6. Then it moved into town with Hela Spice, across the street from Uxpool. And now, right on the edge of downtown, is one of the town’s longest-established industrial citizens. But long-time residents and newcomers like might not have noticed that Newmarket Pre-Cast is even there, because the seven-acre site is surrounded by woods on the east and a high wall on the west. Even a regular visitor to Victoria Street, shopping at the Farmers’ Market or dining on the patio at the Second Wedge Brewing Co. (both of which will be coming back to life on the Tornado-versary weekend, May 19-21, although indoor dining at the Wedge will still have to wait a while), might not have noticed the busy-ness at the north end of the street. Things are just a lot quieter at Pre-Cast these days.
As the name suggests, the company actually got its start more than 50 years ago, on Davis Drive just east of Leslie, when Newmarket was still a small town, and Highway 404 just a dream on paper. Leo Spiering had actually begun the company in his Holland Landing garage, but when he decided to move his family back to the Netherlands in 1970, he sold out to a customer, Roy Weddel, and a family dynasty began.
Spiering had dabbled in just about everything concrete – even garden sculpture – but Weddel decided to focus on septic tanks and other large concrete products. In 1982, he purchased the site of Uxbridge Concrete on Victoria Street, which had been here since 1960, and entrusted the operation of the satellite plant to his son Brian. Only a few years later, he shut down the Newmarket operation and expanded the Uxbridge one, and the reputation of NPC spread. The company is now the industry leader in Ontario, and will ship anywhere in Canada if the customer needs it.
So that explains the first part of the name. But what does Pre-Cast mean?
“Building a septic tank is a lot like making a cake,” explains Brian Weddel, “except that our pans are a bit bigger. Our smallest tank, for the system of a small house, is 3,600 litres, producing a four-ton tank. Our biggest, the kind most industrial facilities would use, is 68,000 litres. We make them all right here.”
There are almost two dozen forms of different sizes inside Pre-Cast’s 22,000 square foot plant, and each one can make one tank per day. Over the winter, that can build up quite an inventory, so the yard on Victoria Street is currently chock full of tanks, stacked on top of each other, waiting to be shipped. The basic ingredients that go into making concrete are fairly straightforward: cement (cement is not the same as concrete, see sidebar), sand, crushed rock or gravel, and water. But what kind of rock? How much water? What degree of fine-ness for the sand? That’s a secret recipe, closely guarded like that of Coca Cola, or one of Hela Spice’s seasoning blends.
The cement* comes from Bowmanville, and is stored in two large silos, which can hold 32 tons each. The sand and stone are held in special sheds, and once production starts for the day, a fleet of loaders bustle back and forth, filling the forms, which are outfitted with rebar (custom-bent in Wilfrid, a suburb of Pefferlaw), and often fibre, to make the concrete even stronger. Just as in baking, a plant-based oil is used to ensure the concrete doesn’t adhere to the metal form. Once the cake has set, the sides of the form are lowered, the tank is lifted away, and the form is readied for the next day.
Pre-Cast’s 20 employees do make other concrete products: water storage tanks, traffic barriers, and storage sheds that are much sturdier and more durable than wooden or metal ones. But their specialty is septic tanks. Their crews will come and install them, provide all the necessary plumbing to attach building and septic field, and give the customer a detailed tutorial in how to use and care for them. That’s pride of craftsmanship.
The Weddels and their staff are also proud Uxbridge residents, and have made every effort over the years to make their operation less intrusive to the neighbourhood.
“We used to have a machine in the silos that kept the cement agitated,” explains Brian’s son Ryan, the third generation in the business, “but it agitated the neighbours too. So now we have a system that’s much quieter. And this winter we got our first all-electric loader. Compared to the diesel ones, you can hardly hear it coming.”
Quiet. Not a word one usually associate with a busy industrial facility. But everyone knows you can’t make noise when a cake is baking. It just won’t set right.
*Concrete and cement: which is which?
Cement and concrete are terms often used interchangeably, but they are actually two different materials. Cement is a powdery substance usually made from limestone, clay and sand, but can’t be used by itself; it acts as a binding agent to make concrete. Concrete, on the other hand, is a mixture of cement, sand, stone and water. The water activates a chemical reaction in the cement to harden and glue the sand and stone together, creating concrete.
Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos