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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A textile mill transitions from water power to electricity

Electric power "tore up our playhouse," Eula Durham recalls in this excerpt. For many years the mill ran on water power, so when the water level became low, the mill workers left their posts to wait for it to rise, losing wages but earning some time for chores or fun.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Eula and Vernon Durham, November 29, 1978. Interview H-0064. 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

JIM LELOUDIS:
But when the water would get low they'd shut the mill down for a while and wait till the water level built back up in the race?
EULA DURHAM:
Oh, they'd shut down for three or four hours till that water builds back up again.
VERNON DURHAM:
Sometimes you'd set down and wait the rest of the day. Had to wait till the next day, till the dam fills up, the pond would fill up.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you get any pay for that?
EULA DURHAM:
No, you didn't get nothing.
JIM LELOUDIS:
But you were still happy?
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah, still happy to see that old thing going down. One would go up there and say, "Well, it's fell about that much." Maybe about fifteen to twenty minutes, a hour later somebody else go, say, "Well, it's come down a little bit." Well, you could tell by them guides. When they started going like that, you knowed then it was time to get.
JIM LELOUDIS:
You were young then. How did the older employees feel? Were they as happy to get off?
EULA DURHAM:
They was just as happy as we was?
JIM LELOUDIS:
Even though they weren't going to get paid?
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah. Well, most of them would go home and do their washing, and ironing, or cooked, or something like that. They were just as happy. Well, a lot of times a whole lot of them old ones would go with us, down the river to cook them stews and things. Miss Ruby Farrell and Miss Lessie Snipes and Miss McDuffie used to go with us a lot when we'd go down there cooking stews and things. Cause they were expecting you to go back to work in an hour or two, they'd go with us down there.
VERNON DURHAM:
That fixed it when they got power over there, though.
EULA DURHAM:
Yeah, that ruined our playhouse when they got power. That tore up our playhouse.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How reliable was that system of pulleys and belts?
VERNON DURHAM:
Well, the turbine shaft, about that large, come up from the wheel, up in the water house. It had a crown with teeth on it on top of that shaft. It run to another gear with teeth on it. The shaft went from that wheel in the alley. They had ropes on the big wheel in there, great large wheel and this smaller pulley that made it run faster, get more power. That's the way that one run. That other wheel generated power.
EULA DURHAM:
Sometimes a stick or something would go through there and get in the wheel and knock the teeth out.
VERNON DURHAM:
Tear the teeth all to pieces.
EULA DURHAM:
Tear enough of them out and then they'd have to stop off, you know.
VERNON DURHAM:
One time down there they thought somebody cut that rope. One of the ropes down there. They never did find out exactly who done it, but they know somebody cut it.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Were there a lot of breakdowns?
VERNON DURHAM:
Not too many.