Workers at Cliffside Mill called themselves “hands.” Not employees, not workers, but hands. And hands worked one of the three shifts. The first shift ran from 7:00am to 3:00pm; the second shift from 3:00pm to 11:00pm; the third from 11:00pm to 7:00am. The hands referred to the hour at which a shift began as “changin’ time,” as in “Well, it’s gittin’ along towards changin’ time.”
Changing times for the first and third shifts had little impact on the downtown area, the prior one being so early in the day and the latter occurring in the middle of the night. At those times, the hands hurried into the mill without delay. But the second shift changing time was Cliffside’s rush hour, a vital time for the stores and shops, because the second shift workers came to town early to conduct their business, do their shopping, and many first shift hands, getting out at three, would linger awhile to do the same.
Shortly after noon, the hands, especially the men, would begin to arrive. They would sit on any available shady surface: the dock in front of the hardware store, car fenders and running boards, the Memorial Building steps, the fence rail around the fish pond. There were two small waiting rooms between the hardware store and the mill entrance, but these were used sparingly, most often by women, more likely in rough weather.
Between one o’clock and three, the square would take on the look of those old western towns in the movies, with too many people in the streets to seem realistic. The hands would visit, gossip, enjoy a smoke, cut up, act the fool, and tell jokes and lies. From the laughter and the banter, you could surmise that it was the happiest part of their day. They would see what’s playing at the show, check out the new merchandise in Jackson’s window, look through the magazines in the drug store, have a prescription filled, get a haircut and maybe buy themselves a “dope.” And in October, they might listen to the early innings of the World Series games that, some years, would be piped through speakers mounted above the street. Most of all, they had to get their serious talking done before changin’ time for, in some areas of the mill, it would be too noisy to be heard.
This was the heart and soul of Cliffside, the interaction and bonding of these wonderful people. It was their town meeting, daily paper, fraternity and support group.
On Thursday afternoon, September 11, 1947, a group of men were waiting on the wall in front of Hamrick’s grocery store, across the street from the library. A power company truck towing a small trailer carrying a long power pole approached, coming around the curve from the south. As it neared the row of men on the wall, the pole came loose, swung sideways and knocked down a cement street lamp post. The falling post struck Lee Packard, a weaver in the mill, fatally wounding him. The men around him lifted Packard as gently as they could and carried him up the stairs to Dr. Moss’ office above the drug store. But nothing could be done.
It was a tragic day, and the hands never forgot it. After a few days the banter and laughter picked up again; spirits rose and life went on. To this day the surviving hands remember Lee Packard. And when they look back on the way things used to be, they have fond recollections of “changin’ time.”
Images on this page from 1937 and 1940 Cliffside movies courtesy Phillip White; Still frames provided by Ginny Anne Reid and Jim Scancarelli.