Textile worker reflects on 50-plus years in mills
By Larry Dale
Daily Courier Staff Writer
Part 2 – July 8, 2009
CLIFFSIDE – Herman Jones worked for more than 50 years at the old Cliffside plant.
It was a Cone Mills plant the entire time he was there. He left when the plant closed in 2002. These are some excerpts from a recent Daily Courier interview with Jones about recollections of working at Cliffside.
Temporary job: They hired me on over here and said it would just be a temporary job, that it probably wouldn’t last very long. I worked 50 years. Terry Hines (plant manager) was talking about how they were going to give me a 50-year certificate. I told him, "Terry; I’m just temporary. They hired me 50 years ago as a temporary hand. They called me out to the office that day and they gave me a nice certificate for 50 years and all that stuff. And he said, here, I’ve got you another one, and it was fixed up real nice and it said after being in training for 50 years they put me on as a full-timer.
Different jobs: I started out in the dye house. I worked in the dye house approximately five years. Back then we ran towels and we dyed cotton, raw cotton, to run through the plant to make yarn out of it, and they wove colored yarn. They did away with that, and I went to the slashing room. I worked in there several years, maybe five or six. Went to the draw-in department, where the ladies draw the patterns in to go out in the weave room. I worked in that department probably 10 years. The department I went to when I left the draw-in department was what they call the bleachery, bleached the towels. Worked there approximately two years and they started changing over to denim.
The switch to denim: So Randy (Creighton) and I watched them assemble it (a machine). After they got it assembled they had a fellow that come here from Greensboro and got us started running it, or trying to run it. Randy and I, we broke a lot of rollers and messed up a lot of cloth before we learned to run a shrinkage machine. I ran it for years and years.
Workers at Cliffside: Worked with and for some mighty good people at Cliffside. I don’t know of anything, if I could go back, that I’d like to do differently. I miss it today. I miss ’em. I miss the job, but the people I worked with, we had some mighty fine folks at Cliffside. It went out in 2002. I went to work in March of ’51, and I had in 51 years, eight months and four days when it closed.
Job challenge: I always enjoyed a job with a challenge. One thing, we started making what they call a stretch denim, and we couldn’t get the shrinkage in it like we wanted it. We worked and worked and had some folks from Greensboro, they worked with us. We tried and tried. The bossman and these other guys, they came by one day at twelve o’clock and said they were going to lunch and wanted me to have that running when they got back. Well, 1 did. I was doing what they wanted to do at that time, but they got gone I got to doing things like I wanted to do and they came back and I had it running. They couldn’t believe it.
Closing up shop: I was one of the last ones to leave. There was some of those folks that just lacked a few years from being able to retire. They didn’t want to change jobs. Most of our people down in finishing at that time were wome, and it was harder on a woman than a man. And I felt real sorry for some of them.
Rescue squad and work: I was in rescue for about 30-some odd years and we kept the ambulance here at the house. The rescue headquarters was over here in town. If we heard a call we’d just jump in and take off and didn’t have to go get it. Terry and I talked it over and we’d take the ambulance over to the plant and park it so if somebody else needed it they could get it, and if something happened at the plant, we’d have the ambulance there. Had a guy get caught in a card over at the card room. You could see the muscles and bones, but it just took all the skin and meat off that arm. That was about one of the worst that we ever had. Carried him to Shelby, and they didn’t even let us take him out of the ambulance. They shook their heads and said take him to Charlotte.
Paid in cash: It was a Haynes plant when I went to work. On payday, we got our pay in a little, small envelope. Money. Sure did. Did that for several years before they started giving us a check.
Women workers: At Cliffside, years ago, we made towels and washcloths and all that stuff had to be hemmed. And lord I don’t know how many women ran sewing machines, finishing.
Never suspended: I was never suspended for anything. In a cotton mill back in those days if you did something wrong they’d write you up. If you got so many write-ups they’d let you go. I was never written up for anything. I was lucky, I guess.
An informal bank: We didn’t have a bank, Cliffside, when they first started paying us off in checks. And Solan Smart would send his secretary or a woman that worked there to the bank and they’d get a bunch of money, and we’d all line up coming out of the plant and go through the hardware and she’d cash our checks. It’s a wonder somebody hadn’t went in and robbed them.
Self-contained plant: We had a company store, had a drugstore. Had a bunch of stuff. When I first went to work Grover Compton over here had a cafe in the mill. They cooked sandwiches and stuff there and, in fact they’d have some plate lunches, like beans or something. I believe it was 20 minutes for lunch. Two 10-minute breaks and a 20-minute break.
Smooth integration: And another thing that was always amazing, when I went to work, segregation was still pretty bad. But that’s one thing that Cone Mill did, the time I was over there, I don’t reckon we had any problems at all between the blacks and the whites. Everything went real well. I guess when they closed the plant down I would venture to say that 60 or 65 percent of the people in finishing at that time were black. Everybody got along real well. I’ve thought of that a lot.
No labor unrest: There was a time or two the union tried to come over here, maybe get somebody a little stirred up. Most of the time people really enjoyed their job. We had the least changeover of any plant that I know of. Help would just stay.
Politics in Cliffside: Early ’60s and the ’70s, along in there, politics was real strong in Cliffside. They used to have some real strong politicians gang up over in town at night, the men would, and discuss politics. We were over there one night arguing politics. Somebody said something, said, "Well, the thing we all needed to do more of was we ought to pray over our politics." Jim Scruggs said. Well there’s one thing about it, he never went to the polls on Election Day but when he got out of bed he’d kneel beside of his bed and thank the good Lord for the privilege of voting the Democrat ticket. I always got a kick out of listening to them argue over politics.
Catch up on payday: Back then you had your hardware. Solan Smart ran the hardware; you had Guy Hamrick ran the garage; C.P. Hamrick run a grocery store. You had about anything you needed here in town. And I guess about 90 percent of the people that worked for the company was like me, they’d have more month than they had money. If it hadn’t of been for Guy’s garage, I couldn’t have kept a car up, because I’d go by there and pay him on payday. Solan was the same way about kerosene and cooking oil and gas. And C.P. Hamrick the same way in the grocery store. If we needed anything, we’d just tell them we’d catch them payday. And they’d let you have what you wanted.
Reprinted with permission from The Daily Courier. Copyright owned by The Daily Courier.