Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Covington Steam Bakery

In 1913 the father of Buras J. Pellegrin of Covington joined forces with his uncle and built the Covington Steam Bakery. In 1967, Pellegrin sat down and wrote about how the bakery got started, its trials and its successes, and how the day-to-day operation was a family affair. 

The following is his story:

The Covington Steam Bakery written By Buras J. Pellegrin in June, 1967

  "It was in the year 1913 that C.Z. Pellegrin and Adamire Leblanc (who were brothers-in-law and were both brick masons) felt that work was slow in their line of work. They decided to go into business, the bakery business. Being familiar with constructing work, they proceeded to build the bakery. LeBlanc owned his own home and enough ground to construct the building on. The entire building including the oven only covered 50 feet by 22 feet at the start of construction.

 " I was only three years old at the time, having been born on January 4, 1911. Pellegrin was my father, and LeBlanc was my uncle and godfather. My father had come to Covington in 1908. He then bought a home here and then married.

  "The bakery took about nine months to construct, the building was pretty neat and concrete floor and screen doors and windows that were being modern in the days of 1913. The oven was built of common brick and fire brick. The fire brick was used to the fire box and the hearth, which is commonly known as the floor of the oven. It was known as a furnace oven. The size of the oven was 12 feet deep by ten feet wide. The crown of th oven was 18 inches high and tapered down to 10 inches on each side. The fire box was on the right side of the oven which was to be fired with four foot wood which was split into fine sticks and called "bakers pine."

   "In the rear of the oven was the chimney and dampers which were open when fired and closed after being fired to hold the heat. This oven would have to be fired a couple of hours before baking time in order to have a stablized heat. A one and a half horsepower steam boiler was installed on the left side of the oven which was to supply steam while baking the bread. This steam was to be shot into the oven while the bread was baking to create a gloss on the crust of the baked bread.

   "It was on account of the steam boiler that my uncle and dad decided to name the bakery the Covington Steam Bakery. The equipment and supplies were ordered from a baker supply house in New Orleans. After everything was arranged, there was still a problem of who was to bake the bread. They called the bakers union, and in a couple of days, a baker was sent to Covington whom they called George. George proved to be a good baker, but as luck would have it, George liked to drink. After about a week of faithful work, George went downtown and didn't return to work. A search was then begun for their baker. It wasn't long before they found that George had had one too many and the local police had locked him in the city jail. They got George out and carried him back to the bakery with a horse and wagon. I was only four years old at that time, but I can well remember my dad pouring hot coffee down his baker and then holding him over the dough, trying to get him to mix the dough.

    "After a few more incidents of this sort, it was decided to get another baker. The next one proved a little better. All the time, my dad was trying to learn more about the making of bread. After a while, other difficulties arose so my dad took over the bread making himself. It turned out to be a good business, but my dad and uncle soon found out that a small bakery was hardly enough to support two families. My dad bought my uncle's share for four hundred dollars.

    "My dad did really well as a baker. Everyone used to kid him a little about laying bricks and then turning to baking bread. My mother tried to lend a helping hand,but the babies were coming so fast that she was mostly confined to the house. By the time I was nine years old, dad had me standing on a butter tub chopping and weighing dough. There was the problem of going to school, but I would help after school.

    "When I was 13 years old, my brother was eleven, and we were getting to be good help. Dad would have a batch of bread come off at 4:30 in the evening and all of this 4:30 batch would be sold at the shop. Then dad would have another batch come off at 9 p.m. which he would use for his morning route. It wasn't a big route, only took about two hours to run.

    "There was one thing in the bakery that dad seemed to enjoy doing, and that was swabbing the oven out. He had a large feed sack tied to the handle of a long pole, and he would twist it around the oven to remove all the ashes before baking the bread. 

    "One night dad and one of my cousins wanted to make a trip to Baton Rouge for some reason or other, so he left me and my 11 year old brother to make the 9 o'clock bread. My brother and myself thought we were doing something big, and to our amazement and everybody else including dad, the bread came out pretty good.

    "It was now about 1924, and dad was getting tired of the bakery business. He heard of a big job going on between Biloxi and Gulfport, MS. Everybody was talking about the big million dollar job, a sea wall was to be built between the two towns. The newspapers were full of the news, and they said that cement finishers were going to be paid at the rate of two dollars an hour. This interested dad very much, and after about a month arrangements were made to move to Biloxi, MS. Mom and my sister made arrangements for us to have a free house at the Foster shrimp factory where mom and all of us larger children worked picking shrimps and shucking oysters.

    "Dad rented a truck to haul the furniture. Mom made a basket full of lunch so 7 o'clock one night, Dady, mom and grandma and the eight children loaded up in dad's Model T, and next morning at 10 o'clock, we arrived at Back Bay, Biloxi. It was a new experience for all of us. Dad got his job on the seawall, and everyone seemed to enoy the new surroundings.

    "All of us children enjoyed meeting our cousins. Grandma took care of the house while Mom and three of us older children worked in the Foster Shrimp Factory. We enjoyed this because it was the first time we had ever made any money. If we worked hard, we could make 90 cents to $1.50 a day. In 1924 this seemed like a lot of money to us. The fishing was good in the bay, so we had a lot of seafood. There was a nice grocery on the corner, everything was convenient.

    "Everything went fine, and we lived at Back Bay for about a year. Then Mom was to have another baby, the seawall was about finished, so it was decided that we would move back to Covington. All of us children were glad to hear this news, because we were getting tired of the place and were beginning to miss our friends in Covington. Our house was located on 19th Avenue and Tyler Street, which we all called Home."