by R.G. Watkins
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
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