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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Betty and Lloyd Davidson, February 2 and 15, 1979. Interview H-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Experiences as weavers at the Plaid Mill

Betty and Lloyd Davidson speak at length about their experiences working at the Plaid Mill during the 1930s. They begin by describing how they were not given a lunch break during those years and that workers typically ate while working. In addition, they describe the fast pace associated with working "on production" rather than at an hourly wage. Finally, they note how the increasing emphasis on efficiency impacted work practices later on in the 1940s and 1950s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Betty and Lloyd Davidson, February 2 and 15, 1979. Interview H-0019. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
Maybe one way to get at some of the changes in mill life would be to start by remembering how particular kinds of activities changed. For instance, when you all came in the 1930's to work, how much time would you have out for lunch in the Plaid Mill?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, some of Plaid Mill was run in three shifts and some of it was run in two shifts. The part of the mill that was run in three shifts, you didn't get a break for lunch. I mean, it was eight hour shifts around the clock. But the part that was running two shifts, they got a lunch break, probably an hour, because I think they worked ten-hour shifts, and maybe an hour for lunch. But it was going into an eight-hour day when we came here, and some of the mill was already on an eight-hour day. So, you know, eight-hour day, that's round the clock with three shifts.
ALLEN TULLOS:
So you didn't have any time out for lunch on an eight-hour day?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
You eat as you worked. You had to take your lunch if you had anything to eat. And they did, though, in later years, have a commissary truck that came around that you could get drinks and sandwiches and things off of.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How could you eat as you worked?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, sometimes you'd start up several looms before… You'd eat, you'd start up two or three machines, then you'd eat a little, then after you'd started up two or three machines you'd eat some more. And you just had to work your eating in with your work.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did you have a few minutes in between starting up your looms?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, you'd just have to stop eating to start up looms, and stop starting up looms to eat. You had to work it in with your work. You couldn't take any time to amount to anything for eating, cause you'd have to eat and work at the same time. If you'd ever eat lunch with us, you'd probably understand it better, because if we sit down to eat, we just eat like we don't have but about a minute to eat in, you know. And it's real embarrassing because you don't get out of the habit. Just like I play golf. I used to work third shift and play golf of a morning. Well, I'd go to the golf course and almost run to get through to get back to——when I was working third shift——get back to go to bed. And I'm still that way on the golf course. I go out there now, I think you got to be through in a couple of hours or so, you know. You can't readjust once you set your pace like that. You don't readjust. You still stay in that same pattern. I mean, it's hard to…
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were there people who couldn't adjust to that routine?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, I don't know. I couldn't. Well, we couldn't, because Betty and I, when we go out and eat with people, we're embarrassed still at the way we eat. We're through and setting there waiting and the other people are just getting into the meal. But you just, I reckon you just get in that routine. It's hard to get out of it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Well, what about people who were working in the mill——were there some people who, while they were there in the mill, just couldn't get used to working at that pace?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, the ones that were on production, that's the way they worked. Now, everybody wasn't on production. You had people that wasn't on production. Well, they could take a break and eat. But when you're on production, you figure every time you got a loom standing you're losing money, you know, and that's keeping the machine to running. So it's a difference in being on production and being on hourly work. You pace yourself different. You work a lot harder as a rule on production than you do on hourly work.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What was the kind of work that was going on the 1930's? Was it mostly production?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, all your weaving was production. But you had loom fixers and other people, warp hands and smash hands, and all those people was hourly wage. The weavers was on production. Now your weavers and loom fixers both are on production. They pay, now, they say, according to how much work machines turn out, and the weavers and loom fixers too are paid that way. But back when I was working in the mill, the weaver was the only one on production. And he was fighting it all the time, to… Well, in fact you were pushed to get production, and then you were also pushing yourself to get it, and to make all that you could.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What sort of stress and strains would that produce in people?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, it depends on how much, I guess you might say, drive you had, in trying to make money. If you didn't have too much desire and drive to try and make all you could, why, you didn't have to work that hard, but the company would still push you to get production.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would there be people who would just pace themselves at a slower pace?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, everybody is different, you know. I mean, two people on a job side by side, one will work faster than the other. It's just your nature. She's much faster than I am, because she works in a hurry all the time. I don't. I try to take my time all I can, but she always works in a hurry.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would there be any feeling that you could lose your job if you didn't keep up with production?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
You could. You had to get production. That was a must, to get production. Maybe you'd just barely get it, or if you was real fast or worked hard at it, you could go on and make more. But you was required to get production. If you couldn't, why, you'd eventually be replaced.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How would they set the amount of work that you had to do?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
They have time study people that study how much a loom is supposed to run in eight hours, and you are expected to run that much.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did that change, say, in the twenties and thirties?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
That's still changing. Only thing now——course I haven't been in the mill in a number of years, but the only thing now is the machines have been speeded up. They run much faster and you run a lot more machines too.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would it be true that you weren't pushing yourself quite as far and as hard back in the earlier days?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Well, you probably wasn't pushing yourself as hard, and you wasn't pushed as hard by the company. I mean, you were pushed, but not, I guess you'd say, to the extreme, like you are now. Now you have too many people pushing a pencil behind you. And every one that's pushing that pencil is pushing you, too. So you've got all the M and S men and all that, you know.
ALLEN TULLOS:
What are they?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
Method and standards. Now, I'm behind, too. I haven't worked in the mills in twenty-five years, you know. But now they'll stand there and figure how long it'll take you to tie a knot. How long it takes you to draw that thread in after you tie that knot. And they've got it down now to fractions almost.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Were they doing any of that when you came?
LLOYD DAVIDSON:
No. They didn't start that until about the time——a while before I came out of the mill.