Al tells a humorous story about one of the basketball seasons in which the team went undefeated, except for one loss at Cherryville High School. He recalls an incident involving G. C. Fisher and the irate Cherryville fans, in which G.C. and the team had to stand-down the fans who were threatening to come out on the court. He also remembers one of the team’s players, a boy named Melton, who he says was as good a basketball player as he had ever seen. His skill, said Al, was on par with some professional players. In most of their games during the season, the Cliffside team was able to double the score on their opponents.
During his senior year he did play basketball and work in the mill. The high school played two games per week and Al was allowed to be off from work for the first game of the week, but not the second.
Some of the teachers Al fondly remembers are John Tinkler, Fred “Shake” Barkley and Miss Sarah Rikard, the French teacher. In his senior year (1935), he was elected class treasurer; and the class entered into many fund raising projects collecting enough money for a class trip to Washington, D. C. at the conclusion of the school year.
After Al graduated from high school, he continued to work in the mill. Through recognition of Al’s work habits, he was summoned to office of mill President Charles H. Haynes. This meeting was a fateful day for Lancaster. Mr. Haynes offered to loan him money to take a course at N.C. State College, in cotton purchasing and business management. He jumped at the chance and went to the course in Raleigh. On the first day, another Cliffside employee, who Al knew, but was unaware would be attending, was in the class. His name was Gene Packard. Al later found out that Mr. Haynes had made the same offer to Gene. Both Al and Gene finished the course and returned to Cliffside and became employees of the “Cotton Buying Department.”
At that time there were two cotton gins operated by the Cliffside Mills Company, one in Avondale and one in Cliffside. The latter was behind the garage/bowling alley. Lancaster remembers that, at that time, the mills were still buying local cotton, and recollects the long days during the picking season when farmers lined up their wagons loaded with cotton to be ginned. The buyers’ job was to oversee the ginning of cotton and also to classify and grade it into various blend components. Apparently they were also in charge of the warehousing operation of the raw cotton. Al says the mill also purchased cotton from outside sources to supplement their inventory, as the output by local farmers was not sufficient to keep the mill running throughout the year. (Local cotton was still an important component to the mill, because there were no transportation costs to recoup. Locally grown cotton was on the wane however due to the effects of the boll weevil and the geographical conditions that imposed a limited growing season. Because of long staple cotton’s ability to run more smoothly and more profitably the demand for the locally grown short staple product was diminishing).
Mr. Lancaster makes mention of earlier cotton buyers at Cliffside, such as R. B. Watkins, who he refers to as “Squire” Watkins. (R.B. Watkins was a county-appointed “Justice of the Peace,” a form of local governmental administrator prevalent since the colonial era. These officials had the ability to convey certain legal papers and they were also vested with the authority to marry people. The honorary title was bestowed locally. The title itself was probably Esquire, but was promptly changed to “Squire.”)
Al points out that when he and Gene Packard returned to Cliffside Mills, the current cotton buyer was Oras Biggerstaff.
Among the buyer’s duties—other than those mentioned above—would be to help out in the payroll department, stuffing each and every payroll packet, including those for the Haynes Mill at Avondale. Al recalls that he and one of the girls who worked in the payroll department would haul the cash payroll to Avondale in back of the company’s pick-up truck. They did not always take the shortest route to the plant, and never had any thoughts of being robbed.
Mr. Lancaster also relates that a connection existed between the gin and the cotton warehouses that lined the road from Hawkins Hardware to near the foot of the hill at the bridge. This connection was an overhead bridge built across the street (221A) to a ramp at the warehouses. The bales of cotton were hand trucked over the bridge and then slid down a ramp to the warehouse.
Al and Gene Packard shared the duties of the cotton buying department under Oras Biggerstaff, until Al was drafted in World War II. Gene, who had a small child at that time was not drafted, and remained in his position at the mill. Then Oras resigned to pursue other interests, leaving Gene as the cotton buyer for the Cliffside Mills.
(Oras was the son of Tom Biggerstaff, the Outside Foreman at Avondale. (Tom’s brother Ike held a similar position at Cliffside). Oras’ son Bill married Gigi Padgett, daughter of Jimmie and Ferne Padgett. After leaving Avondale after the death of his first wife, Oras remarried and moved to highway 18 near Shelby. He would later run three cotton gins, one near his home, one at Boiling Springs, and one in the Shanghai community of Cleveland County. When the ginning business played out in the late 1960s, he then operated several poultry houses, furnishing eggs to the Community Cash chain of South Carolina. He died in the 1990s and is buried at the Cleveland Memorial Cemetery.)
(Al did not mention his wife until recounting events after WWII, but sometime before the war he married Miss Frances Sisk of Forest City).
When Al returned from the war he resumed his former position in the cotton buying department.