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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Refusing to work a dangerous job

Because the job was extremely dangerous, Carl Thompson refused to run the carding machine. When his boss refused to switch him to another job, he quit and decided to try another mill.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. 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

And so I went down there then to Highland Park, the same company this is down here. They had a mill there.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Mill Number 2.
CARL THOMPSON:
Yes. And I went to work down there on the second shift, I believe it was. I got the job on Sunday. I learnt where the bossman lived, and I'd been out of work about a week or two. And I was beginning to want to go to work. And so I said, "I'm going to go over to the bossman's house, even if it is Sunday, and see if he's got a job he can give me." So I went over there and he come to the door, so I told him, "I'm looking for work. I reckon I should have waited till in the morning and come on down to the mill, but I just wanted to find out if you did have any opening." And he said, "Well, Thompson, I'll tell you, we're starting to overhaul all the combers tomorrow, and I'll tell you what I'll do. You come in, and if I don't have nothing else I'll put you to helping overhaul, cleaning machinery or anything that you can do thataway." So I told him all right. And he said, "Come in on the second shift." So I went in the next evening at three o'clock on the second shift. And he said, "By the way, what can you do?" I said, "I can do most anything in the card room. I've worked from the card right on through, combers, lap machine, drawing, and slubbers. Most anything except cards. I don't want no cards." And he said, "Okay, I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you an hourly job. In other words, I want you to run… Whenever you come in, you come in on a drawing, and you run one drawing long enough to make enough of laps for the lap machine, in other words, about two hours. And so then the next two hours, run enough laps on them lap machines to make enough laps to run the combers with the lap machines two hours. And you can run the combers then two hours, and then from five until seven in the morning go over there and run the slubbers two hours." So I was on four jobs. I had two hours on each job, four different jobs. And I was on that job for about six or eight months, and I liked it because it was different types of work, and I knowed it all. So he come over there one night and said, "Thompson, my frame hand over there is out, and I ain't got nobody at all." I said, "Well, to tell the truth about it, I've never had so much experience on fine frames. I've doffed around them and been a spare hand, but just running them, I've never run them too much."
JIM LELOUDIS:
What kind of frame was that?
CARL THOMPSON:
It makes the roping for the spinner. And so he said, "Well, go on over there on them, and if you get in a hole we'll help you out." I said, "All right." And so I went on over there on them. And so the next night then after I run them that night, I didn't have no trouble. I never did have to call them to help me or anything. So the next night when he come down there, he said, "Thompson, I want you to go on a set of cards tonight." And I said, "Man, you're talking out of your head now. I told you that I wasn't no card hand." I'd always been scared of cards. But as far as running them, I knowed I could run them, because I had learnt to run them during spare time when I was on other jobs. I'd go on them, and I learned to run them thataway. And so I said, "I can't run them cards. I ain't no card hand." And he said, "Well, go on over there on them anyway. If you get in a hole, the card grinder or myself or somebody, we'll help you out." I said, "All right. I may have to call on you." He said, "Well, go ahead. I guarantee if you get in a hole, we'll help you out." I said, "All right." So I went on over there on them. The next morning the card grinder on that set of cards come in, and he looked at the job. And he went on over there to the overseer. He said, "You got a new man on the job last night, didn't you?" He said, "Yes, I put Thompson over there on them. He said that he wasn't no card hand, but I told him that if he got in a tight, we'd help him out. We never did have to help him. But he said he couldn't run cards." He said, "Don't let him fool you thataway. Them cards is in better shape than they've been in in I don't know when. They look racked up with the laps good; they cleaned up; they're in A number one good shape." And he said, "Well, he said he couldn't run cards." Said, "Well, don't let him fool you thataway. He's a good card hand." And the next night he come back whenever I went in, and he said, "Go back on the cards, Thompson." I said, "What did I tell you last night?" He said, "Yeah. What did the card grinder tell me this morning, too? He said you was an A number one good card hand. Go on back over there on them cards. You can run them." So I argued with him a little bit. I said, "All right, I'll go on back." And so I went on back over there. And he kept me on three weeks. The third week he come to me—it was on Monday—and he said, "I'm going to give you this set of cards. That boy that was running them died. He had pneumonia, and he's died, and I ain't got a soul to run them." I said, "Well, you've had three weeks now to get somebody, and so therefore you're going to have to do it." And he said, "Why?" I said, "Because I'm not going to run them. I'm going to give them back to you. I don't like cards. This is the first card job I've ever had. I knowed I could run them, but I was doing everything to keep from it, because I'm scared of them. I'm scared of the cards. It's just the one machinery in the mill that I'm scared of."
JIM LELOUDIS:
Why were you scared of it?
CARL THOMPSON:
On account of I'd seen so many get hurt on them, get their arms broke, get throwed in there, and they had been throwed in and that belt would catch them, and that was when they had overhead pulleys, had the pulleys at the top of the mill. And there was one man, his shirt or something or other got caught in that belt, and that belt throwed him to the top of the mill and busted his brains out, and he fell back down.
JIM LELOUDIS:
It killed him?
CARL THOMPSON:
It killed him. He was dead whenever he hit the top of the mill. It busted his brains out.
JIM LELOUDIS:
He hit the ceiling?
CARL THOMPSON:
Yes, he just hit the ceiling of the mill, yes. They had big beams up there, and he hit them, right at the back of his head and his back and all. He just went right over the belt just like that. And so I said, "I'm just absolutely afraid of them." And he said, "Well, run them till I can get somebody." I said, "You've had three weeks. I've been on them now three weeks, and you haven't tried to get nobody." He said, "No, the reason I haven't tried to get anybody was on account of I was going to give them to you." I said, "Well, you're not going to do it." And he said, "Do you mean to tell me you'll quit?" I said, "Yes, I'll quit. I'd better quit unless you've got something else for me." He said, "Well, that's all I've got." And I said, "Okay." So I just walked out.