SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve ever watched the '90s TV show "Home Improvement," you might recall how Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (played by Tim Allen) and sidekick Al Borland (Richard Karn) lauded the joys of building things with their bare hands or using power tools — often with hilarious results as Allen’s lead character typically courted disaster before his knowledgeable protégé saved the day.
Taylor appreciated the work of master craftsmen, people who practice a trade with great skill and dexterity — especially in the manual arts. Those skills were on full display Friday as nine teams of expert masons competed for the title of top bricklayer in the Utah region.
Eighteen men participated in the annual SPEC MIX Bricklayer 500 Regional at Quikrete, 550 W. 3300 South.
Among them were 40-year masonry craftsman Kim Pierce and defending regional champ Scott Tuttle. While both men represented themselves well at this year’s competition, Tuttle’s brother Brian came away with this year’s regional crown.
The competition was part of a series of 16 qualifying events taking place across North America, pitting the area’s best masons showcasing their skill, speed and stamina for the chance to qualify to win a new Ford pickup truck and nearly $100,000 in cash and prizes at the world finals in Las Vegas in January.
In each competition, two-man teams consisting of a mason and a mason tender are given 60 minutes to complete a 26-foot, 8-inch, double-width brick wall while meeting strict quality standards enforced by a panel of industry expert judges. The winners of each regional competition advance to the national event.
Awards are based on the highest brick counts meeting the quality standards and competition rules. The second most coveted prize at both national and regional events is the top craftsman award — judged as the most sellable wall meeting a qualifying brick count.
Living in Utah, if you’ve ever watched someone build the exterior of a house or a church, you might have watched bricklayers at work displaying skill that was once among the most popular in America.
On average, a good mason will lay about 500 bricks in a typical day's work. For this competition, the contestants built walls consisting of 500 to 700 bricks in just one hour.
“I laid 720-plus bricks,” Pierce said. “My target was 800.”
Today, masonry is still a unique combination of artistry and intense labor that Pierce calls enjoyable.
“I like doing (something) that I can make a living at that is fun,” he said. “This is fun. If it gets any deeper than that, then you’re losing perspective.”
But masonry is not nearly as popular as it once was, and there is a real shortage of younger people entering trade skill training nationwide, event officials said.
Scott Tuttle said becoming a master craftsman requires lots of hard work and dedication but can reap long-term rewards for those willing to learn the still much-needed skill.
“It’s a pretty good trade to get into,” Scott Tuttle said. “There is plenty of work out there.”
Event spokesman Tyler Clark said many of the skills are critical to building and maintaining the country’s infrastructure. This event can provide education on masonry, which is one of the oldest skilled trade professions in the world, he said.
“It’s an honorable profession,” Clark said. “(The competitors) take a lot of pride in their craftsmanship.”
He noted that masons have helped construct some of the most high-profile projects in Utah, including City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City, the new Nu Skin headquarters in Provo and numerous buildings on the BYU and University of Utah campuses.
“If you look around, a lot of the masonry in the valley and in this state have been done by these guys here,” Clark said.
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