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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering a gruesome work accident at a textile mill

Norman remembers a gruesome workplace accident, when a woman had "every speck of the meat" ripped off her hand. After the accident, the company installed guards on its machines. Norman herself suffered an injury to her arm that prompted her supervisors to get rid of the high stools their employees worked from.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Icy Norman, April 6 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0036. 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

Let's go back a little. You were going to talk about people getting hurt in the mills.
I guess it's been maybe seven or eight years. Wilma Clemmons, do you know her? She's not retired, she's still working. She was running the front of the warp mill. Well, on that warp mill it didn't have no stop motion. If the end broke down, she had to stop it off. I was creeling up there in the corner of the mill. I was helping another girl quill her mill. My mills was running. Wilma was over there. All at once I hear something scream out. I turned to Mary Dell and said, "What was that?" She says, "It's somebody pranking." About that time I heard them scream again. I looked and I said, "Lord have mercy, something's happened to Wilma." I flew under the end and I flew to her. That roller was taking her whole arm up. She had one of them great old big thick wedding bands, real thick. She had that on. That mashed that wedding band as flat as a flatter and it tore every speck of the meat off of this hand. She didn't have no meat on there. I run to her. I didn't know how to stop it off, not that one. Had it been one of the others I could have stopped it. I screamed to Buster, "Buster, run here quick and stop this mill." For I knowed it was going to take her whole arm. He run over there and he stopped it. About that time the boss men come. They went running to the machine shop and they got some iron poles that big that was bent flat on one end. They had two of them things on the front prying that roller and two at the back, with men, two on each one of them, doing their best to pry that roller up. And there she stood. Shirley she come running. "Shirley," I says, "Wilma is going to pass out. Run and get her some ammonia." She run and got some ammonia. By the time she got back and give her the ammonia, they got that roller up enough that they could slide her hand up. It wasn't nothing but bones there. Oh Lord, it made me so sick. They grabbed her, called the ambulance and rushed her to the hospital. You know today that poor thing's like that. She can't use that hand. She ain't got no feeling. You can feel of that hand and it's like a chunk of ice. They kept her over here a long time, I forget how many weeks. Then they sent her to Chapel Hill. She can't hold a broom to sweep her floor. When she come back to work they put her out there in the cloth room, something that she can pull the cloth with one hand. She can't use that hand.
That wasn't too long ago then.
It's been about seven or eight years ago.
Do you think that machinery lately is more dangerous than it used to be?
No, uh-uh. Since then they went around and put them stop guards on all the machines. But them others, them high speed, if an end come down on them, when it run up to where that end fell out, it would stop. But this one, she had tied the ends and went to start it up. Some way or another that thread wrapped around her finger and took it on in. Oh yes, it's much safer. I know I was creeling, helping them change the high-speeds. They had a stool just like that but it was this high. Them high speeds is higher than this house. I couldn't reach the top. I couldn't reach them two top ones on a stool this high. Lunchtime, Lena got down and she started and says, "Icy, let's wash our hands. It's time to eat." I said, "Lena, I didn't know it was that late. Time sure did fly." We had all the yarn took out of the mill and starting creeling the pieces back on. The mill was empty with them spindles sticking out. I went to come down off of that high stool. My foot slid on the second step and I just went right down between the middle of that mill. It hurt this arm. By the time I got up it hurt me so bad. It didn't bleed. By the time I got up my arm was as black as a nigger. It hurt me so bad I didn't know whether I broke a bone or not. Lena turned around and looked and I was crying and holding my arm. I looked at my arm and it was just as black. Instead of going to the bathroom to wash I went on up there to the first-aid room. Pat was working on somebody's eyes. She turned around to me and says, "Icy, what in the world happened?" I says, "I fell off of that stool. I started down that high stool and I missed the second step and I fell down between the warp mill." Well, she run over there and she checked it. She says, "There ain't no bones broke." She went to putting ice on it. She called Milton and Milton come straight on up there. It scared him. He wanted to know how it happened. I told him, I said, "Lena got down off of her stool I started down mine. She said it was time for us to go wash and eat. I told her, ‘The morning sure did pass fast.’ I missed the second step. Spindles was out and I fell right down, down them." It scared him, he thought I'd broke my arm. Pat told him, says, "I checked her. Ain't no broken bones. But she does have a terrible bruise." He says, "You stay up here with Pat." They was all working and I still hadn't eaten no dinner. She kept that ice on me there about two hours. Then she rubbed some kind of medicine on it and she wrapped my whole arm in that wide—like that you wrap your leg or something in. It hurt me so bad. Milton says, "Icy, you can go home if you want to." I says, "No, I'll stay and do what I could. I couldn't reach up with this arm I put the cones on where I could tie. I didn't lose no time. It wasn't but about a week until they come down and measured. Pat, she come. Pat and the personnel man and another man come down there that evening and looked. They talked. I said, "What you all going to do?" She said, "We're going to get rid of them stools. We ain't going to have nobody else fall. We're going to have some made just like bannisters with a rod back there and two rods down the side and down the steps." I said, "That will be in the way of creeling." So they made two for every warp mill. I never did use one. I couldn't. It seemed like it hurt my back. I'd have to reach over to put the yarn on like this I still drug my little stool. Milton would get after me. I said, "I ain't going to use that old stool for I can't do it. I wouldn't have fell if you wouldn't have made me go over to that old nylon mill." "Well," he says, "we didn't want you to fall." But they changed the stools. They put them rods then a handle you could hold to go down.