Working in the Mill
It is unbelievable how fast a fire can spread. Once I went to the spinning room to see what was wrong with a spinning frame that would not run. I checked around, found a blown fuse and replaced it, after which I made a huge mistake. The electric box on the frame had an interlock on the cover to prevent throwing the switch to the “ON” position unless the cover of the box was closed.
Stupid me, I used a screw driver to press in on the interlock device and threw the switch to “ON.” When I did there was a spark and the cotton fuzz that covered everything was set on fire. It made a pretty little blue flame that traveled down the length of the frame. I didn’t have time to do anything but just watch…and wonder if it was going to stop or jump to the next frame, and go on to burn the whole spinning room.
Thank goodness it didn’t spread any further! That frame had to be rehabbed and cleaned up. And since all the little string “belts” that turned each of the spindles were gone, they had to be replaced.
There were round bottom buckets filled with water hanging on brackets on the posts throughout the mill. They were for fire prevention as were the brass Pyrene fire extinguishers hanging throughout the mill. Now people had a bad habit of removing the fluid (carbon tetrachloride) and taking it home to use as a stain remover on clothes. (It was the same fluid used in “Carbona,” a commercial spot remover sold in a glass bottle with a dauber on the end much like a bottle of shoe polish.) Good stuff, but we found later it could form deadly phosgene gas if sprayed on hot brass. Those extinguishers were outlawed.
To prevent theft of the fluid, Master Mechanic Jim Goode had Uncle George Blanton go around and remove them, bring them to the shop and empty them into a tin wash tub. Then he mixed some red dye from the dye house in the tub and refilled the extinguishers. He had the idea that whoever used the fluid to spot clean clothes would instead make a red spot. Good idea! However, the dye reacted with the brass case and corroded it. It wasn’t long before they had to purchase new extinguishers to replace them all.
Another thing they were good for, if you caught a bee, wasp or any insect and wanted to execute it (so you could mount it on a pin in a display case), all you had to do was put it in a bottle with a little carbon tet. And if you had a wasp nest that was troublesome, this extinguisher would throw a stream about 15 or 20 feet and instantly kill them.
Swimming In The Pond
One day Jim Dedmond and I were standing outside at the rail on top of the extension of the dam. Don’t know now how it got started but Jim said something about “this would be a good place to dive off into the pond.” I remarked “a person would have to be crazy to dive from here it is so far.” Well one thing led to another and Jim said, “I’d dive off for a quarter.” I didn’t believe it. I offered to give him a quarter to see it. He emptied his overall pockets, took off his shoes and in he dove. He was swimming around in the pond when Jim Goode, the master mechanic (and our boss) came out. Dedmond climbed out of the pond. I have no memory of him drying off, but I think he had another pair of overalls in his tool box (that was common practice, to have a spare). Jim Goode was very unhappy and read us both the riot act. He didn’t punish either of us in any way but it’s a wonder we both were not fired on the spot.
The Water House
[In the mill, a rest room was called a “Water House.”] The mill water house, at least on the weave room level where the humidifiers always pumped moisture into the air, seemed to always have water dripping from the ceiling; the window glass was broken out; it was cold in winter; it had a wall-mounted tank higher than your head with a pull chain to pull for flushing; there was water dripping from the tank and the pipe leading down to the stools which never had seats on them; and there was never any paper available.
The [machine] shop had a trough (6 to 8 feet long) with several faucets above it just outside the shop for washing up, on which there was always a can of strong lye soap. It was just beside the large air compressor and the steps leading down towards the boiler room. I kept lava soap in my tool box for sale. Also cans of a cream-like substance that had gritty particles in it to remove grease and grime from the hands. I also sold other items from my tool box. I cut out metal strips and stamped info on them for use as dog collar tags; sharpened axes for people on the wet sander, which was a wheel about 6 or 8 inches wide and about 3 feet in diameter which was located just outside the power house door in the shop.
The Weave Room
In the weave room, especially, you couldn’t hear yourself think, so you could not hear audio signals. At shift changing times the power house operator would watch the clock and just at changing time would trip out the circuit breaker that controlled the lights within the mill. Then he would—right quick—reset the breaker, thus flashing the lights as the signal to change shifts.
If you were a weaver you ate on the fly, either in your alley (the walk space between “your” set of looms) or if all was going well you’d make a dash to Sam Haynes’ (later the Comptons’) snack shop near the elevator. if things were not running well you didn’t eat. The only “breaks” a weaver had was when the “smash hand” would stop by to watch your set of looms, while you went to the inspection department to watch the second hand [supervisor] run the cloth from your previous shift through the inspection process and see all the bad cloth you made (and subsequently paid for, for it was docked from your pay).
What was (or is) a smash hand? That was the man who was an expert at cleaning up a mess. When a weaver experienced a “catastrophic” mess that was going to take a good while to straighten out, the smash hand would work on that while the weaver attended to his other looms. When we had a set of looms weaving those pure white, large, soft, high-pile “navy” towels (that you were issued in the service) and had even just one top warp thread break, it could make a mat-up as large as your outstretched hand/fingers before you could run three or four steps and stop the loom. They were a booger to weave. The top warp was the soft, finer threads used to produce the loops that made the towels so soft and absorbent. Smash hands were indeed special experts when needed. A weaver signaled for a loom fixer or a smash hand by placing either 2 or 3 bobbins atop one another on a wire rod sticking up from the loom frame. They could be seen from quite a distance.
The Dope Wagon
I don’t remember seeing the dope wagon inside the mill when I was learning to weave with Dewitt Causby. Maybe because I was on the second shift. I do remember seeing the dope wagon being pushed across “the square” and downhill to the mill. Did you ever see the fire hose carts pulled behind a pickup truck? The dope wagon was very similar; had two automobile wheels, a bed maybe 4 feet wide and 5 or 6 feet long, with side boards maybe 6 or 8 inches high. Part of it was lined with tin filled with soft drinks and ice. The wagon had two boards extending out one end much like the old fashioned mule wagons, with a round cross bar for a handle to push and guide it. It was pretty well balanced on the two wheels and axle so one man could handle it. When I was learning to weave, Sam Haynes had the snack shop in the mill. Later, Grover Compton took it over. Other than cold drinks I don’t know what all they used to carry on the wagon. I suspect it was sandwiches they made at the cafe, and commercial snack type foods. Maybe they carried some Tube Rose or Dental snuff, there was a lots of that used. Remember the old paper spittoons filled with sawdust that were located at sites all over the mill?
Tie In Machines
[A tie in machine is a portable, hand-cranked device used to “tie in” a new warp to a loom, matching thread for thread the beginning of the new warp with the tail of the old one.] The tie in machine is a real wonder! I never had a chance to work on or operate one and really don’t know just how they work. Of course they tie the knots, so they must be much like a regular sewing machine. The operator would spend considerable time carefully combing out the new and old thread ends, then just stand and turn the little handle as the machine did it’s work. Then he would comb out another group of threads and repeat until it went all the way across the warp. Mr. Sizemore (who lived at 20 Reservoir Street) and Mr. T.C. Ellis (who lived on Main) were two operators I recall. They were really highly trained and respected for their ability. They should have been well paid but I’m not sure they were.
How does a loom work? Now I know that, but to explain it would be a tall order. It would take a book. By the way, the looms used to be hand operated. The weaver pressed foot pedals to change the harness; pushed and pulled the batten back and forth; shoved the shuttle from side to side…all the hard way. As late as the 1950s there was a man and his daughter over at Swainsville (on the highway from Shelby to Forest city) who had a loom in a little old shack in their back yard where they were still weaving by hand, just like in the old days. At cliffside we had the Draper looms, the Crompton and Knowles, the Jacquard…now that was the very latest, up-to-date thing and it took special people to weave, to fix looms, to make the “cards” used to control the harness. All this after designer Paul Bridges had designed the pattern to be used and wrote out instructions for the pattern makers to follow.
R. G. Watkins, also known as Glenn, worked for Cliffside Mills for many years, in many capacities. For more of his reminiscences on this site, check out RGee’s Corner.