Past Times: When Bruce's filled the biscuit tins

The construction of a purpose-built biscuit factory and the subsequent employment of 30 to 40 staff was a highlight for Timaru in the 1920s.

March 24, 1925 – Another big industry has been added to the town's industrial life by Messrs JR Bruce Ltd, of the Silo Milling Company, High St. It consists of a biscuit and confectionery factory, for which buildings have been specially erected on the company's High St frontage, and these premises are an additional feature in the town's architectural development. They are of brick and are of substantial appearance and built on the best lines, Mr Herbert Hall being the architect, while the builders were Messrs Munro and Prosser.

A visit to the factory, which is something entirely new for Timaru, is most interesting, especially if the visit is made when the plant is in full operation, and the 30-odd hands who are employed there are dealing with dough at one end of the factory, assisting it on its passage through the weird-looking rolling and baking machines, and packing and dispatching the finished article, turning out the highest-quality biscuits at the other end.

Whoever said, or thought, that Timaru could not make biscuits as well as they can be made in any part of the world, was mistaken.

It has long been suggested that a biscuit factory should be started here, but it has been left to the enterprise of the directors of the Silo Mills to give practical effect to the suggestion.

This has not been done without the expenditure of considerable capital.

No trouble was spared in the first instance in acquiring the best information to be obtained on the subject, and since it was decided to take the plunge, no expense has been spared in getting the very best machinery and plant obtainable, the result being that there is not another biscuit factory in Australasia that is so modernly equipped as the one under notice.

It is something of a romance to watch the processes through which un-lovely looking masses of dough pass, to emerge finally in most appetising, not to say artistic form.

First there is a huge vertical dough mixer from the big gaping maw of which the apparently unwilling mass emerges with sullen slowness on to what is termed the dough brake, which with callous force flattens it out into large sheets of the desired thickness, after which the much squeezed dough passes to a quaint-looking and intricately fashioned machine, which rolls it into the correct thickness for biscuits, stamps the name, cuts the biscuits out of the sheets of dough, and places them on trays, each about 30 inches square.

There are two endless belts, and while one of these delivers the biscuits on to the trays, the other carries the surplus dough back to the dough machine, to be used again when the next lot is sent off on its journey to the oven.

From the cutting and stamping machine the fashioned, but unbaked material passes to what is known as a continuous gas oven. This is 60 feet long, 6ft wide and 5ft high, and has a gas jet burning every nine inches. It is well insulated with slag wool and an even heat is easily maintained.

There are two inspection doors in it and the oven is connected to three 12-inch flues, which take the gas fumes outside the building, and there is no smell, or possibility of corrosion of anything inside.

The oven takes three lines of biscuit trays which run continuously through it when the factory is in operation, the raw product going in at one end while the finished article comes out at the other, having passed, for a few moments, through a heat of 500 degrees.

The oven is driven by its own special 6hp motor, and for each type of biscuit a regulating device is used to speed up, or slow down, the passage of the biscuits through the oven.

This oven is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, there is nothing as late as it in Australasia, and it is capable of baking 2 1/2 tons a day.

When they come from the oven the trays of cooked biscuits are placed in steel racks where they are allowed to remain for a few minutes to cool, after which they are wheeled to a moveable table where they are tipped off the trays on to a moving belt.

This belt travels about 30ft, and on each side of it are neatly attired and smart-looking girls who take the biscuits from the belt as it passes with its load, and pack them into tins, (which, by the way, are made in the factory).

The empty trays are then taken back to the cutting machine to start on another journey through the long and impressive-looking oven.

The factory is provided with a special dough-mixing machine for various types of dough, a quaint-looking whisking machine, and the barrels of golden syrup and hundredweights of butter etc, which are brought into use in such a place make a big display, indicative of big things for Timaru.

There is a tin-making plant on the premises, where experts will be engaged regularly fashioning the raw material into the finished article for the never-ending supply of tins which will be needed when the factory is dispatching its goods to all parts of New Zealand, as well as overseas.

Parenthetically, it may be here stated that the first lot of biscuits made in the factory on Thursday last turned out very well.

At present there are between 30 and 40 hands employed in this new local industry and when the business settles down to its normal state, there is bound to be progressive extension, which will mean the employment of more hands. The quality of the biscuits now being made ensures this.

The factory is driven by electricity which is generated by the company by its own suction gas plant, and although the company generate their own electric power at present, everything is equipped for the switching on of Tekapo power as soon as the latter is available, which the enterprising directorate, Miss Wilson, Messrs J Hutchison (chairman), James Wilson, JR Bruce (manager) and James Macaulay hope will not be long.

An electric drive is necessary in a modern biscuit factory, and the company have been put to the expense of generating their own electric power because they could not afford to take the risk of a breakdown in Coleridge power while the biscuit dough is passing through the oven.

They are using a twin-cylinder vertical type, direct-coupled engine, to cool which it was necessary to sink a 4in bore through the rock to a depth of 88ft, when an abundant supply of the best water was obtained.

The building covers 10,000 superficial feet and with its brick walls neatly finished in plaster inside, has a strong, roomy and very clean appearance, in addition to which it is well ventilated and lighted, and everything about the building and plant is of such a nature that biscuit making will be carried out there under the best hygienic conditions.

The appearance of the building, from the outside, is enhanced by the quiet dignity of its slate roof, and its fine proportions.

The main factory is 130ft by 50ft, and in addition to it there is a mixing room, a tin-making shop, a bulk store (upstairs), a delivery department, and spacious and well-appointed offices.

It is intended shortly to add another building in which the highest-grade confectionery will be made. In the meantime, the company are to be heartily congratulated on their enterprise in providing Timaru with a new industry of such magnitude.

The machinery for the factory was all supplied by Baker, Perkins Ltd, of London, and it was fitted up by their Australian representative, Mr FW Prescott.

As the making of biscuits is a highly specialised trade, and the company, determined to manufacture nothing but the best, they sent beyond the shores of New Zealand for the best man procurable, and were fortunate in securing the services of Mr L Shortuss, who has had 25 years' experience in the making of this particular article of diet.

The Timaru Herald