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(transcript) Oral History Interview with Jefferson M. Robinette, 1977 July. Interview H-41. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
(series) Series H. Piedmont Industrialization. Southern Oral History Program Collection (H-4007)
Jefferson M. Robinette
Chapel Hill, N. C.
Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Interview conducted in July, 1977, by Cliff Kuhn; recorded in Burlington, N. C.
Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series H. Piedmont Industrialization, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Original transcript on deposit at The Southern Historical Collection Louis Round Wilson Library.
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digitization project, Documenting the American South.
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[Interview conducted] by
Cliff Kuhn: . . . J. M. Robinette. And let's start by talking about your family and your grandparents and your parents. Do you remember your grandparents' names?
J.M. Robinette: No, I never did see my grandparents. He went away in the Civil War, and I never did see him.
C.K.: So he died in the Civil War?
C.K.: Did you know their names at all?
Robinette: I think his name was William.
C.K.: And on your mother's side, did you know your mother's parents?
Robinette: My father was J.W. Robinette.
C.K.: And where were they and what kind of work did they do?
Robinette: They were living in Taylorsville, North Carolina, then.
C.K.: And then how about your father? What was his name and where did he grow up?
Robinette: He grew up there in Taylorsville.
C.K.: Do you know what year he was born in?
Robinette: . . . I'm not sure. It seems like it was 1861. I'm not sure.
C.K.: And your mother? Where did she grow up?
Robinette: She grew up, I guess, in Wilkes County, near Wilkesboro.
C.K.: Were her people farmers?
Robinette: Yes, they were farmers.
C.K.: On both sides of the family?
Robinette: Yes. On both sides of the family was farmers.
C.K.: And what was your mother's name?
Robinette: She was a Bibber before she married a Robinette.
C.K.: And then how did your parents get to meet?
Robinette: I reckon they grew up sort of in the same neighborhood. I don't know.
C.K.: And then your daddy continued to farm?
C.K.: And you were born in what year?
Robinette: I was born on the farm there in 1891.
C.K.: You're very healthy for eighty-six years old.
C.K.: What kind of farm was it? Do you remember?
Robinette: [Laughter] Well, it was just a mountain farm, and part of the time we plowed a steer, and then we got down to a mule. That was the way it was.
C.K.: What kind of crops?
Robinette: We just raised wheat and corn and just general garden stuff.
C.K.: How many kids were there at the time?
Robinette: There were eight of us, but two of them died. They were just small when they died. And the rest of us lived to be grown then.
C.K.: What number were you in the family, of the eight?
Robinette: Well, the two had died little; there were four ahead of me.
C.K.: How much schooling did you have as a child?
Robinette: I didn't have any.
C.K.: You never went to school.
Robinette: No. I've gotten practically no schooling. I reckon I might not have finished the third grade. That's practically none, you know.
C.K.: Did you ever want to go on?
Robinette: Well, no, I never did know much about what was ahead of me and went to work, I reckon, and never did think about going on to school.
C.K.: When did you go to work, after the third grade?
Robinette: My father moved off of the farm to Charlotte in 1907, and I started in textile work in 1907 just when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, something like that.
C.K.: Why did he move to Charlotte, off the farm?
Robinette: My first wife was raised up in the textile, too.
C.K.: Why did your daddy move off the farm?
Robinette: We were just renters and hard getting along, and some of his neighbors there went to the textile business in Charlotte. And the man there that run the mills, he wanted some help, and they come back up there and hired him to go to Charlotte.
C.K.: So your neighbors came back and got him to go up there.
Robinette: Yes. The man that owned the plant that we went to work in hired him to go out and hire help for him. And so he just went up there in the mountains and picked up help, families that didn't know nothing about working, and took them and trained them.
C.K.: How did he train you? Do you remember that?
Robinette: They just took us there and put us in the plant and had somebody in the plant to show us what to do. That's the way we learned.
C.K.: So your whole family went in?
Robinette: Yes. There was two sisters, myself, and I had a brother and a sister then younger than me. We all went in in the same plant at the same time, all green just the same way, and learned to work in that plant.
C.K.: Were you all in the same room or in the same department of that mill in Charlotte?
Robinette: No. We worked in little different departments in the plant. They put me and my brother in the twister room to learn twisting. And I think one of my sisters was on a machine that they called reeling, and the other one, one of them was on spooling and the other one was what they call winding. That's the way they spread us out in the plant.
C.K.: So in addition to your family, you knew other people from your area in the mountains who went to that same plant?
Robinette: Yes, that's right. We knew other people from the mountains. That's the reason we were there. There were two Bumgarner families there, the same name but brothers, and one of them was the one that come and hired us. This mill owner paid him his wages to go out and . . .
C.K.: Out and recruit.
C.K.: So then how long did you work in that mill in Charlotte? What was the name of that mill?
Robinette: I worked in that mill till I reckon it was about 1910. And the overseer of that mill left there and went to another plant in Belmont, North Carolina, and my father went there with him and took his crowd with him. And we worked there about twelve months. Then my father went back to the same plant in Charlotte then. And I didn't go to work in that same plant when he went back. I went to another plant and went to work and got married in that time. Then I left home and started on my own.
C.K.: Did you know anything about textile work before you started?
Robinette: Oh, no. I never had seen no town nor nothing before I went to work in that textile plant.
C.K.: What did you think when you first entered Charlotte and first went to work in the textile plant there?
Robinette: [Laughter] Well, I didn't know whether I was. . . . Just from up there in the mountains and go where there's a lot of folks. I didn't know whether I was a-walking or a-running. [Laughter]
C.K.: Did you get used to it pretty quickly?
Robinette: Oh, yes. We got used to it pretty quick. Of course, they pulled a lot of stunts on us, the folks in the mill there did.
C.K.: Like what? On the country people?
Robinette: Yes. Some of the boys there had us a-lifting a machine to set it over, you know. [Laughter]
C.K.: And you didn't know. . . .
Robinette: We really didn't know what we were doing.
C.K.: [Laughter] Was that friendly or did . . .
C.K.: You weren't enemies with the other people who worked there.
Robinette: Oh, no. Just having fun, that's what they were doing.
Robinette: And of course, we didn't get mad or nothing because we didn't realize [unclear] .
C.K.: [Laughter] Right. How come you decided not to go back to Charlotte when your daddy went back to Charlotte?
Robinette: I went back, but I went with my cousins up in Wilkes County and stayed up there a week. And when I come back then, they didn't want to put me to work. Just going to get a little even with me, you know.
C.K.: Because you went up to Wilkes County, or why? Why would they want to get even with you?
Robinette: Well, I just went up there a-visiting around and stayed a week and come back. Then they were going to hold me off a few days before they put me to work. And I knew an overseer that I had worked for before at another place, and I wrote to him for a job. I was about nineteen years old then. And I wrote to him for a job. So he was needing help, and he just give me a job and I went to work for him.
C.K.: Where was that other place?
Robinette: That was at a place in Iredell County they called East Monbo, a new mill that just started up over on the river, run by water power.
C.K.: How did the new mill differ from the one in Charlotte?
Robinette: Just the same kind of work, practically. Just a new mill, but it was the same kind of work.
C.K.: And you were doing twisting there, too?
Robinette: Yes, I was doing twisting there, too. That's what I done up there.
C.K.: How did you know this overseer at this new mill?
Robinette: We knew of him and knew when he went there and all. He tried to get my father to go up there, and he finally did eventually go up there. But I got married and left Charlotte then and went to Hickory and went to work. And I was working in Hickory.
C.K.: In furniture or in textiles?
Robinette: Textiles. The same kind of work. And after I got married I went to Hickory and went to work. And while I was at Hickory then, my father moved to East Monbo. And I quit Hickory and went back to East Monbo.
C.K.: To be with your father, or why did you go back there?
Robinette: Well, just to get close home, I reckon.
C.K.: How did you meet your first wife?
Robinette: Well, it worked pretty good.
C.K.: I mean where did you meet her? Was she working in the mill, or how did you meet her?
Robinette: Yes, he were working in the mill, my father was.
C.K.: I'm talking about when you got married. How did you meet your first wife?
Robinette: Oh, she was a mill worker, too.
C.K.: In that same place.
Robinette: Yes. We was working in the same mill.
C.K.: And you got married in 1910?
Robinette: I got married in 1911.
C.K.: When you were still working . . .
Robinette: In the same mill. And go down to the truth about it, my wife, she got pregnant, and I wanted a house, and they had company houses, you know, and they didn't want to give me a house. Said they couldn't do without my wife in the mill. And I had a friend that had left there and went to Hickory, and I wrote to him to get me a job and I'd come up there. And so he wrote me right back. So I went up there on Saturday. He wrote me back, he said he had me a job. See, I could fire boilers then, too, I'd done learned to do that.
C.K.: How did you learn it?
Robinette: I learned there at that same mill and worked as assistant fireman and on the yard and stuff like that for twelve months.
C.K.: And he had a job to fire boilers up in Hickory?
Robinette: Yes. And this fellow, he wrote me back and said he had me a job located in a chair factory that was going to start up there, firing and running the engine. When I got up there, he said he was just one day late going to the chair factory, and they had done put a man on. And he said, "I know you can get a job over here in the mill, though, because they're starting up night work." So I took a job in the mill and went housekeeping in Hickory.
C.K.: Was that the first time you had done night work?
Robinette: Yes. Well, I didn't work at night then. He wanted me to go to work at night, but I wouldn't go, but he did give me day work. The fellow that run the job that I took, he put him on nighttime
as overseer and give me his job.
C.K.: Did a lot of people go back and forth between the furniture and the textiles in Hickory?
Robinette: Yes, they was right smart at changing back then.
C.K.: Were both of those pretty new industries at that time?
C.K.: And did most of the people come from the mountains?
Robinette: They did for this first plant where I was at there. He practically had all his help, nearly, from the mountains.
C.K.: That was in Charlotte, right?
Robinette: Yes. Got them just like they got us.
C.K.: Then your first child was born in what year?
Robinette: In Hickory in 1912.
C.K.: How many kids did you have all told?
Robinette: I just raised four.
C.K.: When were the others born?
Robinette: They were born at different areas. I moved about right much then. And I didn't stay at East Monbo but about twelve months. And I left East Monbo then and went to Landis, North Carolina.
C.K.: Where is that?
Robinette: That's twelve miles beyond Salisbury. And I stayed there about three years.
C.K.: Why did you move to Landis?
Robinette: They offered me a little bit more money at Landis than I was making where I was at. So I just went ahead and changed. And I worked there three years. And I saw an ad in the paper for help at
Altamahaw, and I answered it and he give me a job a little bit more money, so I moved to Altamahaw.
C.K.: Doing the same kind of work, pretty much?
Robinette: Same kind of work. I'd done a little different work, though, in the mill. I had learned different jobs. I was running warpers when I was at Landis, and then I went on warpers at Altamahaw. Then my brother-in-law was pastor over here at Hoken Memorial Church and lived in Graham. And I was visiting him, and one of his members who lived right back of me back here told me that day that I went with him to church, "He's going to eat dinner with us today, and we expect you to eat with us, too." And I says, "Well, anywhere suits me all right." And so then we come out, and the preacher told him that he had got mixed up on his dates and he'd have to go to another place. He said, "I'll let. . . ." He called me by my name; he called me Jeff. We said, "I'll let him go with you, though. He can eat as much as I can." [Laughter] So I went on down and ate dinner with Mr. Knott that lived back here, and he was telling me about them putting in some twisters out here at this plant. And he said, "I know they ain't got nobody to run them. I know you can get the job." Roy was telling my brother-in-law about that then that night, and he tried to get me to ask Mr. Williams about it then. He was superintendent of the Sunday school over at the church. And I told him no, I'd wait and see. But he drawed him off the streetcar to come to the corner right out there. Then he rode the streetcar from Burlington to Graham, my brother-in-law did. So he was waiting for the streetcar, and he told Mr. Williams then, "He'd like to have a job running twisters."
So he said, "Well, I'm going to need a man in a short while. If I can get in touch with him, I'd be glad to have him." And so it wasn't but about three or four weeks till he called up over there.
C.K.: Up at Altamahaw?
Robinette: Altamahaw, and called for me. And so I come over here and talked to him and took the job and moved over here in June of 1917.
C.K.: Were you going to the church over here when you were living in Altamahaw?
Robinette: No, I was going to a church up there then.
C.K.: Did you come into Burlington very much when you were living there at that time?
Robinette: No, I didn't come in very often because back then they didn't have no way of coming much. You had to hire somebody to bring you. To tell the truth about it, when I went out there to go to work I walked from the corner yonder to Altamahaw on Sunday evening before I went to work Monday morning.
C.K.: Is that right? That was about how far, about eight miles?
Robinette: About eight or nine miles.
C.K.: Had you known Mr. Williams before?
C.K.: Because you didn't belong to the church here.
C.K.: Had he been the superintendent of the Sunday school as long as he had been the superintendent over here at the plant?
Robinette: I believe he was superintendent of the plant before
they organized the church.
C.K.: And then the company organized the church?
Robinette: No, the people organized the church, and he just happened to be in the neighborhood, you know, and went in with them. And he was superintendent of the Sunday school over there, I suspect, close to forty years.
C.K.: Right. And he lived in this neighborhood, too? Or where did Mr. Williams live?
Robinette: Then there was a building right there in the street. You see that door goes in yonder? There was a building just about even with this new building here, the front of it was, and set back here, that was the plaid mill office then. And Mr. Williams stayed in that office building.
C.K.: So he was basically right here in the neighborhood.
Robinette: Of course, this house wasn't here then.
C.K.: Oh, it wasn't.
Robinette: No. But he built this house for an overseer, and when he hired me he rented a house down on Brooks Street. And I lived down there four years before I come up here.
C.K.: When World War I came out, did you have to fight?
Robinette: World War I came out the day that I come over here and got my job. I went up to Morton Township and registered for World War I.
C.K.: And then what happened? You never . . .
Robinette: They never did call me.
C.K.: How about as far as the plant? Was work disrupted during
World War I?
Robinette: During World War I it wasn't no longer than from right here back yonder to where that office building is. There's been some built on both ends of it since I come here.
C.K.: But did the War take a lot of people away from the plaid mill at that time?
Robinette: I don't think it took many. They wasn't working too many then, because it was just a small plant.
C.K.: Did your wife go into the mill?
Robinette: She didn't work any in the mill here, no. She just housekept.
C.K.: Was that the way you wanted it, also?
Robinette: Looked after the house and the children. I had three children then.
C.K.: And so she was the person that took care of [unclear] .
C.K.: Then you started as a twister here, too, in 1917 at the plaid mill?
Robinette: Yes, I worked as a twister from June till Christmas. And they closed them down; they didn't run them. And they put me in the dye house. And I worked in the dye house twenty-two years. I like to froze to death; they put me out there at Christmas. It was so cold. They didn't have heat in the dye house, and it was so cold in there. And I told my wife, "Whenever spring comes, I'm a-leaving here." But when spring come, the overseer of dyeing said the [unclear]
they needed some more help. And he had to have some help to help him, and they was going to learn me to mix dyes and let me be his assistant. So I started then, and I worked there twenty-two years learning to mix dyes. And I got so I mixed the dyes, and I'd mix them and put them on till they moved the dyeing away from out there over to another plant across town. That throwed me out with the plaid mill then.
C.K.: That was when you left the plaid mill?
Robinette: Yes, I went over there with the dyeing equipment and stayed over there three years. And they didn't run that regular over there, and I needed regular work. And there was a fellow Spraun that was shift foreman out here, and he opened up a shop of making temple rollers, a little roller made out of cork for looms, about that long. He opened up a shop there and he give me a job working for him, making them things. And I worked for him six years. And the mills got in kind of tough luck again, and they got to closing down. And he got so many rolls ahead, why, he had to shut down. And I went back over to Piedmont Heights to help them move some machinery over there. That's the only time that I ever lost a job by not understanding why I lost it, hardly. I still don't understand. But the way it was, I told Mr. Spraun that my wife was an invalid. She had had a stroke. And I told him I needed to work all the time. I had a chance of a job for three or four weeks over there, regular work, over at Piedmont Heights, helping Burlington Industries move machinery. And I went over there, and I'd come back by every little bit, and his work was about like it was. So I kept on. That was along about July or August. Anyhow, I come on back by till right after Christmas. I come by down there one
day, and he had two boys in there at work. And the fellow that was working with me, he worked a short time and got along pretty good. He could draw a little sum from the Navy; he'd been in the Navy. And I just said to him like this, "Well, it looks like business is picking up a little now." "Yeah," he says, "I asked Mr. Spraun the other day when he was going to call you back, and he said, 'I ain't going to call him back.'" And I didn't know that he wasn't going to call me back, but I did know he acted a little funny before. And I said, "Oh, well, that's all right then. I made a living before I went to work for him, and I'll make a living on."
C.K.: And so you never figured out exactly why.
Robinette: So I never said a word to Spraun about it. Never mentioned it to him. After this fellow told me that he said he wasn't going to call me back, why, after he'd done told me he'd call me back as soon as the work picked up, I just says to the fellow, "Well, that's all right. I made a living before I went to work for Spraun, and I'll make a living on." And I worked on over at Piedmont Heights on that machine business till in July. (That was right after Christmas.) And they just kept me on there; after they got all the machinery moved, they kept me messing about doing this and doing that on different kinds of little old jobs around the machinery. In July, then, they laid me off. As far as they could go.
C.K.: Which year was that?
Robinette: It must have been around '50. Fifty-one, I reckon it was. And I come up here. They was building a new addition to that
mill down there.
C.K.: To the Plaid mill?
Robinette: Yes. And I asked the superintendent about work. Well, he said he didn't need nobody right then. He said, "Well, this is awful hard work, too." I said, "Well, I know it's hard work, but I've been used to hard work." Well, he went on. And my wife, she was setting here in a wheelchair. And I had a lady working for me all the time. And in a day or so, she got word from her brother at Henderson, North Carolina, that he was real bad off and she had to go down there. And I hadn't found a job yet. And so she went on. And so I just took over at the house here and made me a garden back here and took care of my wife that summer till along about the first of September. This fellow called me one day. I was going down the street. He says, "I can give you work now if you want to work."
C.K.: This fellow right here at the mill.
Robinette: The superintendent of the construction of building the mill. I said, "Well, if I can find somebody to stay with my wife, I'll go to work." So I had good luck and found a woman that evening and went to work the next day, and worked out there till after Christmas. And they was done, about finished up and gone. They had a pile of lumber laying right there in the street and another one over on the other side of the mill. And they paid me what they was paying me to work out there to light up the lights on that thing every evening and put them out every morning. And they were still a-paying me that, and I had a friend that was in the office over at Broad Street School. And she said they needed a fireman over there at school. And I went
over there, but before I went over there, though, I asked Mr. Little about helping to move that machinery from upstairs. They was going to move all the machinery from upstairs down in the new part built. I had asked him about what to do in that. So I went on over to school, and I hadn't been over there a week till he got to hunting for me around here. And he paid me a little more money, and so I quit school then and come back over here and worked for him nearly twelve months, moving that machinery. Me and two more fellows put something over five hundred looms on what they call dollies, they just shut down about eight a day and move eight a day and move them down in the new part and put them to running. And then these other two fellows put them on these dollies. Then they had two or three more fellows would push them over to the elevator and take them down on the elevator.
C.K.: They'd only do eight in a day?
Robinette: Yes. And they just kept them running up there and cut off eight a day, and then start them up downstairs. That's the way we done that. We got through with that. They was putting some new machinery up there where they was taking the looms from. And my bossman put me with a fellow from the shop, helping to set up that machinery up there. And I worked for him a couple of months, I reckon. And one day they wanted me to go out in the shop and work out there a day or two, and I went out there. He come in a couple of days, and he said, "I thought you was coming back with me today." I said, "Well, I haven't heard . . ."
Robinette: That was the last there was of him. And I worked on in his shop out there then till sometime that fall. They got orders from Greensboro to lay off all they could do without, and they laid me and three others off in the shop at twelve o'clock, to take effect at three. So that throwed me out again.
C.K.: Did they lay you off because you were older at that time?
Robinette: No, they just got an order from the main office to lay off some of the help at the mill. No, I don't reckon it was any fault of anything except they was cutting off and doing with less labor. And one of them, he went over to that mill across the street there and went to work the next day. And another one went back over to Piedmont Heights and went to work. And me and the other fellow didn't have no job. And I couldn't find no job except night work, and I couldn't go on night work the way my wife was crippled up. And I was out here in the yard putting some screen wire on some screen doors for my son. He had a house down on North Oregon Street at that time. And the overseer in the winding department out there come out there and called me. He says, "I can give you work this week."
C.K.: Where was that, at Burlington?
Robinette: Yes. "If you want to work, cleaning up machines." I said, "Well, I'd just as soon clean up machines as anything." So I went on out there and went to work and worked till Christmas. He said he couldn't give me work but one week. And he come to me just before Christmas. He says, "This has been a long week, hasn't it?"
I said, "Yes, it sure has. You have to have somebody on this work. How come you can't give me regular work on it all the time?" He said, "Well, I can't promise you nothing." And so that next day, then, Mr. Linnaman called me from Walter Williams High School. He was needing a fireman over there. I didn't know what he wanted. I went downtown to pay my light bill, and the lady who stayed here with my wife called down there and said he wanted me over there that evening. And there was a fellow in there that knew me, and I was going to walk over there, and he said, "No, I'll run you over there." And so I went on over there, and he wanted to give me a job firing his boilers. And he wanted me to go to work Monday morning. And I wanted to work a notice out there. And he said, "No, I've got to have somebody Monday morning. If you want it, I'll give it to you, and if you don't I'll get somebody else." So I come on home and studied about it a little. And I says, "Well, that will be regular work, and it's about the same pay as I'm getting out here. Maybe I'd better take it." So I took it, went on over there and went to work. I worked till in March, 1952.
C.K.: Out at Walter Williams.
Robinette: Yes, over to Walter Williams. That was just before Christmas a little while, and I worked till March, 1952. And I saw one of the drivers from Melville Dairy over there one morning, and I was talking to him about firing boilers. And I told him, "I've passed the dairy there a lot of times and looked in that old boiler room down there. And I just often wondered," I believe I'd like to fire them boilers they have down there." So in a morning or two he come
back by there, and he called me over there. I went to work early over there. I had to be there before seven o'clock to get the building het up before the children come. He called me over there. He said, "If you want that job over there at the dairy, you better see them tonight. They're going to get rid of the man they've got today." So I went over there that evening and talked to the man. It paid just about the same I was getting over there, practically nothing. And so the man told me, "Well, I'll hold it open and let you come and try it out, if you want to. You don't work over yonder Saturdays. You just come over here and try it out on Saturday." So I come and worked Saturday, and he come and said, "Well, what do you think of it?" I said, "I don't know. It's pretty rough." It was the dirtiest mess, this boiler room, I ever saw. And the boiler was in bad shape and rundown.
C.K.: No airconditioning or anything like that.
Robinette: No, no, no, there wasn't no airconditioning. No.
Robinette: And he said, "Well, I'll tell you. I'll hold it open for you next week. You can try it out next Saturday again." And he come in and wanted to know [unclear] . I said, "Well, I just don't believe I'll take it." And that Monday night I didn't sleep none much. It seemed like something said, "You better take that job down there." And so I went down there, and I called him at his home Tuesday morning, before he left home. He said no, he hadn't put nobody on it yet. He said, "You can still have it, but I want you
to be satisfied." Well, I put in a notice over there, and I worked a week over at the school and come on down there and went to work in March, 1952, at Melville Dairy. Well, I worked down there till three years ago just about now, and I retired.
C.K.: At the age of what?
Robinette: I worked twenty-three years down there.
C.K.: So you were about eighty-three?
Robinette: I was near about eighty-three when I retired. I'd been eighty-three in September, and I retired about the ninth or tenth of July.
C.K.: Did they make you retire, or did you want to retire?
Robinette: Oh, no, he wanted me to work on. They'd still put me back on if I'd go down there and tell them I wanted to work.
C.K.: What made you decide to retire at the young age of eighty-three?
Robinette: I was doing a little too much messing about here with different ones in the garden. And the children, they kept asking me about I was doing too much work. And finally they said, "You're getting too old to work around machinery like that anyhow. If something was to happen to you, I don't know what we might do to the company." But I just kind of made up my mind that I believe I'd retire. Henderson Scott said to me the minute I put in my notice, "I declare, I hate to see you quit, especially in the boiler room down there." I went to work down there in March, and Mr. Scott always give all his employees a supper at Christmas (a dinner, they'd call it).
And Mr. Scott would always talk about saving money. And the way my wife was, I didn't go to the supper, but some of the help told me what he said. He says, "There's Robinette alone, saved us over a thousand dollars this year in the price of coal by firing them boilers down there. Saved us that much money on buying coal just this length of time." I'd worked on the boilers pretty heavy, and I knew how to fire and took interest in it and tried to keep them up and get them in shape so they would save some coal. And I cut down the coal. When I went down there, they was burning about sixty tons of coal a month.
When I went down there, they was burning about twelve carloads of coal a year. And then when I left down there or whenever they changed one of the boilers over to gas, they had got down to running the boilers with about seven carloads of coal.
C.K.: Is that right.
Robinette: About split the coal half in two. But they didn't do that much the first eight months I was there. But I kept on messing with it till I got it down to where it's saved them a lot of money.
C.K.: Let's move back in time now, and then move back up, okay?
C.K.: How did you get this house here, back in 192 [unclear] ?
Robinette: The company, when they sold out to Burlington Industries, they sold the houses and let the help that lived in them have the first chance at it. And so I just bought it.
C.K.: I mean, how did you get to move into this house, if this was an overseer's house before?
Robinette: Oh, well, they built a house down here right at the back of this Kayday plant, purpose for the overseer. And that left this one open, and they give it to me then.
C.K.: How is this house compared to the house that you had down on Brooks Street?
Robinette:Oh, it's a whole lot better than the one that I had down there. I just had an old trap of a house down there. It was an old house that had been moved back off of Webb Avenue up here, and there hadn't nobody lived in it for about four years since it had been moved back there. The porch was up about this high off the ground to me, and the weeds was way up higher than the porch. And they'd knocked down enough to dig a ditch from the street out to the corner of the porch out there to put in a water spigot on the corner. The old house was built, a room across this way, then this way, and a big porch run agin this end out here. And they put the water spigot right out there. I had to get my water on the outside. They didn't have no water in the house down there. I had to get my water on the outside. And they didn't have no toilet in the house; had the outside toilet. This house was built in 1918, and this fellow lived in it two years before I went to living in it, and then I've been living in it ever since.
C.K.: Did this house have electricity and water and indoor toilets and so forth when you moved in?
Robinette: It had electricity and it had water inside, but it didn't have no bathtub. And no commode. It had water.
C.K.: So you put in the commode yourself?
Robinette: No, they finally put it in. They put water and bathtubs in all their houses. And they built that one down there and this one right at the back of me and one right across the street over yonder and one right in front of it on this side of that street that runs this way. And they built them, and they put the bath and sewer and all in then, and with the plans to put it in all of them, which they did. They put in mine before they did any of the rest of them. I was the first one after they got it in them. Then they put it in all of them before they sold them.
C.K.: Were your kids going to school at this time, in the 1920's?
Robinette: Oh, yes, they were going.
C.K.: Which school did they . . .
Robinette: The oldest one started in what they called Old Union Street, down here where Fisher Street is. They started in an old wooden building down there.
C.K.: One-room schoolhouse?
Robinette: I don't remember whether they had it partitioned off or not. Anyhow, all of them went down there. Some started off in that building there; then they had to go to Grove Street then.
C.K.: The high school.
Robinette: Yes. They had another old building out across the street there, the old wooden building that a lot of them had to go in before they got in the high school. Then they finally got in the high school in the Broad Street.
C.K.: How far did your children go through school?
Robinette: My oldest one, she went through the ninth grade. And she went to work that summer then, when school was out, out here at the mill. They had a knitting mill out there, and she went to work out there. And I had aimed for her to go back to school and finish her schooling, but somehow or another she got it in her head to get married.
C.K.: After the ninth grade.
Robinette: Yes. And she worked one year, and then she got it in her head to get married, and didn't go back to school. Then I had another son. He finished at Broad Street, finished high school, and my next son then--(that was the mail man)--he lacked three units of passing his high school. And they wouldn't let him make it up that summer, and he wouldn't go back that fall. Instead of going back, he was going with a girl, and they both got it in their head and went down to Cannon's and took a business course instead of going back to school that winter. And the youngest one, he finished high school down at Broad Street.
C.K.: Did your sons go to work in the mills?
Robinette: The middle son did. My oldest son, he never did work nothing but newspaper, and he's still working newspaper.
C.K.: What kind of work? As a printer?
Robinette: He first carried papers down at the Burlington Times. Then he went to work in the office. I believe what he done first was read proofs. And then they put on outside delivery, and I bought a car just for him to deliver papers in. Two or three weeks after he went delivering papers, they went way up on the papers. He couldn't
hardly make ends meet. He was making pretty good to start with, but they went up on the papers. So he quit that and went back in the plant down there, reading proofs or whatever he was doing; I don't know whether he was reading proofs or not. He worked at that a little while then, and he got a job in Charlotte with the Observer. And this fellow who was his overseer down at the Times-News said he knowed that them people in the Observer always wouldn't do by him what they promised him. And he didn't work at the Observer too long till he quit and went to work for a job-printing firm there in Charlotte. He worked at that maybe three or four years--I don't know just how long--and then he left there and went to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and worked there several years. Then he left there and went to Panama City, Florida, and he's still in Panama City, Florida.
C.K.: Doing what kind of work?
Robinette: He's [unclear] advertising manager now in the Panama City Herald.
C.K.: Were there many people, say in the 1920's and 1930's, who were also from the mountains in this community here?
Robinette: Not too many from the mountains in this community, no.
C.K.: Did you ever go back to the mountains?
Robinette: Yes, sometimes I will. I go back up there once in a while. We're going to have what they call the Robinette reunion next Sunday a week, the second Sunday in July. It's not right in the mountains, but it's sort of between here and there. If you know where Bunker Hill campground is out there this side of Hickory, that's where
they have the reunion at.
C.K.: Every year.
C.K.: When the Depression came along, what happened here at the plaid mill?
Robinette: Yes, I was working out there when that Depression was.
C.K.: What were conditions like in Burlington and in the village here during the Depression? What were things like?
Robinette: It was pretty rough then. I've been laid off for many a day out there when that Depression was going on. And they'd call me back before I got home. I'd maybe stop, talking to somebody, and something come in that they wanted done. And they about shut down out there in that Depression.
C.K.: Did this mill ever close down during the Depression?
Robinette: Yes, they had it pretty rough there one year. And then Mr. Copeland got in with this synthetic stuff and got it started. They didn't hardly know what the Depression was after they got that started.
C.K.: When did they bring in the synthetics here?
Robinette: Right at the close of the Depression.
C.K.: Thirty-five, '36, '37, around there?
Robinette: It was about '34 and '35 they started with that synthetic stuff, and it got to going pretty good. And the cotton business was dull there for a long time.
C.K.: Now, of course, that didn't affect the dye room that much when
they got all the synthetics, though.
C.K.: What kind of changes did that bring in other parts of the mill? Did it make a change in the conditions at all? Was it easier to work with synthetics than it was cotton?
Robinette: They liked it better after they got used to it. It was about the same principle, but it was all different machines, you know, and it made it a little different. But they all took a-hold of it and got along pretty good with it. And they brought a lot of folks from other places here that had worked with it.
C.K.: Like from where?
Robinette: Several from High Point, and some from over across town over there come over here.
C.K.: From Burlington Industries?
C.K.: Do you remember when the union tried to come here and when the mill was dynamited?
Robinette: I was laying here in the bed when they dynamited it. It woke me up, and I was out there in fifteen minutes after the dynamite went off. See, I was deputized as kind of an officer when that strike was on, and it was pretty rough.
C.K.: You were deputized by the sheriff here?
C.K.: That was Mr. John Stocker?
Robinette: No. Wasn't it Storey then when that . . .
C.K.: Maybe so.
Robinette: I'm not sure which one it was. They swore me in and one or two others of the. . . . I was kind of classed as an overseer, you know. I was called what they call "second hand." That's what I was.
C.K.: What did that mean?
Robinette: That's the assistant to the foreman, you know. I was the foreman-of-the-dye-house's assistant. The fact of the business, I done the biggest part of the work in the dyeing except figuring the dyeing. I couldn't figure, and if I'd have been so I could have figured, I'd have went places in the dyeing business. Because Alan Gant come in and sit here in this room here one night and talked to me two hours and tried to get me to go to Glen Raven and take care of the dye house. And I wouldn't go on account of I didn't have figuring education.
C.K.: Did you feel bad about that?
Robinette: And he said, "Well, we can figure in the office." I said, "I know you can, but that ain't like you can figure yourself." And so I wouldn't take the job, and I just stayed on out there till they moved it away.
C.K.: Did you feel bad about that? Did you feel bad that you didn't know how to figure?
Robinette: No, I never did get to where I could figure anything like them fractions or anything. And you are working in that dye business, about all of it's fractions.
C.K.: Yes. Now did you ever regret the fact that you never learned how to do fractions and so forth?
Robinette: Well, yes, I kind of did. But the only thing that I ever regretted in my work line, I got it in my head one time to fire on a railroad, and I let that get away from me. A little accident had happened. And I always did hate that. But otherwise, I went along with the world kind of easy.
C.K.: Was that when you were a young man, when you wanted to fire on the railroad?
Robinette: Yes. That was back in about 1913 that I got it in my head that I'd like to fire on the railroad. And I was living at Hickory then. And one morning they had a wreck down below Hickory about three miles, and I went down there and looked at it. And seeing two men fastened under the wreck, and the other one, I didn't see him, but he'd fell off up there, and the pipes from the boiler had scalded him to death. And that kind of put the damper on me a firing on the railroad.
C.K.: I guess so.
Robinette: I always did regret, though, that I didn't go ahead, because it was good money, and I never did make no money much in the mill business, [unclear] . Like I told Mr. Scott not long ago, though, I was down there talking to him one day, I said, "Well . . .
C.K.: Henderson Scott.
Robinette: I said, "I never did make no money much, but I made enough that I got along. I've been getting along pretty good, and so I don't regret. . . ." I told him, "I never did make no money here." He said, "I know you didn't."
Robinette: I went to work down there for ninety cents an hour.
C.K.: That was in 1952, '53?
C.K.: When this strike came by in '34 . . .
Robinette: No, I said ninety cents an hour; it was ninety cents a day.
C.K.: Ninety cents a day!?
C.K.: Huh. And you were over sixty years old, too.
Robinette: [Laughter] Yes.
C.K.: Getting back to the strike here, what did people here at the Plaid mill hear about the strike? What did you know about what was happening around the country or in the county or state?
Robinette: They was pretty much all of them worked. There wasn't too many of them out. There was a bunch that was loafing around here, mostly was from somewhere else.
C.K.: Oh, yes? From where?
Robinette: Yes. They piled around here, just milled around. There was some few of our help was out on the strike.
C.K.: What did you hear about the strike before it started? Had you known that there was going to be a strike?
Robinette: Yes. We kept hearing a lot about it, other places, and finally it come on till it got here. And it brewed up pretty rough here. And one morning the National Guard come along and drove them all off, and it ended.
C.K.: Right out here.
C.K.: Were you there that morning?
Robinette: Oh, yes.
C.K.: What was that like on that day?
Robinette: Well, it was a little bit rough. Some of them wouldn't move, but they stuck them a little with their bayonets, and then when they jabbed them a little, they'd get on the truck and go on.
C.K.: I guess so.
Robinette: Some of them run, and some of them didn't want to move, but they jabbed one or two of them and picked them up and put them on the truck and took them on. And that was about the last of the strike.
C.K.: What did you have to do as a deputy, then, when you were deputy sheriff?
Robinette: I just had to keep my eyes open if anything went wrong.
C.K.: Inside the plant or on the picket line or . . .
Robinette: Inside and outside, too.
C.K.: Did they give you a gun and a bayonet?
Robinette: No, we didn't have no guns. No, the only ones that had a bayonet was the National Guards that morning.
C.K.: Was that during your regular shift, or did you work your regular shift, then . . .
Robinette: Yes, we worked the regular shift.
C.K.: And then after your shift, you were deputized?
Robinette: I think it was along about nine or ten o'clock, the National Guard, they advertised that they had to move, and they didn't listen, and so the National Guard come along and moved them.
C.K.: Was there resentment? Or how did you feel when you had to say something against people whom you had worked with, although you say they were mainly people . . .
Robinette: I didn't have to say nothing. I just watched, and if anything. . . There wasn't much disturbance, and there wasn't much to be done. Them fellows that dynamited the thing out there, that was at night, and they just went along down the street and throwed them in over the fence. And there wasn't much uproar about that. The law finally just found the one that done it and tried him.
C.K.: Was it just one, or how many people were involved?
Robinette: About one or two.
C.K.: Did you ever go down to the trials or anything?
Robinette: No, I never did go to his trial.
C.K.: Do you remember anything about a company union being formed? Not the United Textile Workers, but one within the Plaid mill itself, of the employees here in the Plaid mill. I talked to one lady who had a little card that was signed by Mr. Williamson, I think, here, and said . . .
Robinette: No, I don't remember nothing about that. But this woman that wouldn't move out there that they bayoneted said to me one morning when I was going to work, she said. . . . They was all right in front of that door; I went in at that door all the time there. They was all out there at the fence and around. She says, "Well,
you son of a bitch, you. What are you going to do when we win this strike?" I said, "Well, I ain't going to do nothing till you all win this strike" and just walked on. That's all I said.
C.K.: Who was this woman who said that to you? She was one of the picketers or strikers?
Robinette: She was on the picket line and just said that to me. And I didn't pay no attention to it, you know. I just went on like I didn't hear. And that's the way most of them passed them up. I looked for Mr. Jim Copeland to get killed out there. He'd get out there amongst them. But they never did do anything to him.
C.K.: So most of the people who worked there, what did they think about the union?
Robinette: Most of the people that worked out there, whenever they come in to close it down. . . . They come in one day to close it down. The overseers had orders if they done that, just to shut them down and go on [unclear] , and that's what they done. They closed the dye house down one time. We had some stuff running through, and we told them, "Just let us run that out" and they could have it. And so we just run that on out of our dyestuff so it wouldn't ruin it and closed it down. The next day, then, started it back up.
C.K.: What did you think about the union? I know you didn't join.
Robinette: I think a union's a good thing if it would run right, but I didn't think stuff like that was what the union really was. And I still don't think it. I'll tell you, I think unions are all right if they don't go to the extreme with it. I think a union's a good thing. But there's so many cases just like that that they go
to the extreme with it, cause trouble and don't benefit nobody.
C.K.: Did they ever have any other times when they tried to unionize here?
C.K.: Or anywhere in the area?
Robinette: No, that's the only time that I ever remember them having any trouble with a union out there.
C.K.: Is the way that you feel about the unions the way that most of the people feel about the unions?
Robinette: I think that most of the help out there, that's the way they felt about it. They went along with the company they were working for pretty good. They had some few that didn't.
C.K.: Earlier on, you said when you were a young man you moved from place to place quite a bit.
C.K.: And then after a while you settled down and worked here for twenty years.
Robinette: Yes, I worked there twenty-two years the first go-around, nearly twenty-four years.
C.K.: Why did you move around so much when you were a younger man, and then settle down?
Robinette: Oh, I don't know. I reckon I was just young and didn't realize what was before me. And whenever a man would offer me a little bit more . . .
Robinette: Like I said, I said, "Well, I reckon I just looked at it thataway. The pasture is a little greener yonder than it is here. Maybe I'll get ten cents more in the day or something like that." And longed for a little more money. And still, you didn't stop to count the cost of what it done to move. And when I did get here and got settled down, I liked the town pretty good, and I just got it in my head that I didn't want to get in this moving business no more. Because it costs money. And so I just worked on here in Burlington.
C.K.: Do you think that that was typical of a lot of other people, that they moved around a lot as a young man?
Robinette: I think it was. I think it had a lot to do with it. A lot of times folks didn't get along with folks and moved, but I wasn't that way. I don't know of a place that I had to leave; I always left on my own hook.
C.K.: You got along with the supervisors here?
Robinette: Oh, yes.
C.K.: Now when you came back here looking for work in 1950 or '51, did you know that supervisor when you came back here looking for a job then?
Robinette: Well, I never did ask for a job back anymore after along about '51 out there. They were pretty good. Along about '51, that's when I was telling you about the fellow just said he could give me a week's work. Well, he was all right, and he was a nice supervisor. And he was nice when I went out there that morning and told him. I went out there on a Saturday morning before I went to
work at school and told him, "Well, I won't be with you no more, I don't reckon, because I've found a regular job, and I think I'd better go to it." That was about the way I said it to him. And he said, "Well, all right. I don't blame you." And as long as he lived, I was a good friend to him and he was to me. No hard feeling.
C.K.: When they moved the dye plant across town, what did you feel about that, when you had to leave work there?
Robinette: Well, the reason I done that, you see, the company owned this and they owned that over there, too.
C.K.: Where was the plant over there?
Robinette: It was over there at Piedmont Heights, the Pioneer Plant, they call it, the first plant that they ever built in Burlington. They took a notion to move this dyeing that they had out there. They hadn't dyed none for this plant here in about five years. They was dyeing for different. . . . What they call commercial dyeing. We dyed a lot of yarn for a mill over here at Roxboro that made towels. And we dyed some for this mill down here at Saxapahaw. And we was keeping pretty well busy at that. But the company took a notion that they wanted it for theirself, and they took the machines. They come up here one day, taking up the machines and moving them, and I didn't know a thing about it. And the next day, then, they wanted me over at the other plant. I went over there. I worked three years till they got shut down to about two or three days a week, and I needed regular work. And I found regular work somewhere else. That's the reason I went to work for Spraun; he offered me regular work.
C.K.: Did you resent the fact that they gave you a day's notice
and then you had to move over to another place, or that they didn't tell you anything about it?
Robinette: I didn't think too much about it. In fact, I ought to have thought a little something about it and not went over there like I did. But I just went over there to run the machine, and what I ought to have done was to have held out for the job of mixing the dye over there like I had out here. That was my mistake. They had a fellow over there, an overseer. Then he had a young fellow under him that mixed the dyes that didn't know a thing about mixing the type of dyes that they were going to use. And I worked along with him quite a bit. He and I didn't get along too well together. We got along very well, but not too well.
C.K.: This young guy?
Robinette: This young fellow did. And we had a little run-in a time or two, and then I got a chance of a job with Spraun. I just worked on my notice and got out. No trouble.
C.K.: What did you like about Burlington that made you want to stay here in town and settle down?
Robinette: I just liked the location and the people, and it's friendly and everything nice. And go down to the truth about it, I think it's one of the nicest towns as I've ever been in.
C.K.: What makes it different from other towns?
Robinette: One thing, I always thought they kept the streets and the sanitary part better than most any of the other towns I've ever been in.
C.K.: Did you mainly do things in this neighborhood?
C.K.: What kind of things did people do outside of work? Once you came home from work, what would you do?
Robinette: I didn't do too much of anything, only I always had a garden and I'd work in that most of the time whenever I'd come home from work. To tell you the truth about it, while I was assisting the dyeing out there I worked too much out there to do anything else. You put in about sixty and seventy hours a week, why, that's about enough.
C.K.: I'll say. Did you belong to any organizations here?
Robinette: No, I didn't belong to anything but the Junior Order.
C.K.: What's the Junior Order?
Robinette: It was a state order, junior, but it's about gone under now. I don't think there's any of it. They had a branch of it for the women they called Daughters of Liberty. I think it's still functioning, but I don't believe the Junior Order is.
C.K.: What kinds of things did you do there?
Robinette: It was just kind of a club, you know, just meet so often. I believe they met once a month.
C.K.: Where was the hall?
Robinette: We met over the Freeman Drug Store downtown. That's where the hall was. It was just to get together more than anything else. And they had a little insurance with it and sick benefit.
C.K.: Was that mainly people who worked here at the mill, or was
it all different kinds of people?
Robinette: There were some worked out there that belonged to it. It wasn't too many, though.
C.K.: What did people do for recreation?
Robinette: Back then they didn't do too much of anything.
C.K.: Did musicians ever come up into this neighborhood? Were there any musicians that you can remember?
Robinette: The men would a lot of times go around to the neighborhood store and set a while of an evening and chat and talk. But there wasn't too much recreation connected with this end of town. The churches would have a little recreation once in. . . . Different types.
C.K.: How about the women? Would they have any place where they could gather together?
Robinette: No, not that I recall.
C.K.: Any women's clubs or . . .
C.K.: Did they have the ballfield over there?
Robinette: They had a baseball field down here.
C.K.: Did the company have a team?
Robinette: I don't know just how that was managed. I don't know who managed that. This help of the mill, though, the boys played. That's about the only recreation they had, was the baseball. And the mill would let them have their truck to go to the games. I know one time, before they built this road, Webb Avenue up here, the
road went up the railroad there, just a dirt road. The Plaid mill bought a truck. They used to have just a wagon, but they bought a truck with solid tires on it, and if you got in a muddy place, why, you'd stick up. And we was going up the railroad there to a baseball game over at Altamahaw one time, and it was a little muddy just up the railroad there a little piece, and stuck up. And we had to get out and push the thing out of the mud hole to go on to the ballgame in it.
C.K.: [Laughter] Were you on the team?
C.K.: What position did you play?
Robinette: They'd just get a whole load of folks that wanted to go, would get on that truck, and they'd carry them to the baseball game. It didn't cost them nothing to go. And this game down here, I think they had it closed in one time; you had to pay when it was down here, to get in, I think, one time. But most of the time, if baseball was in, you just went to see them and they'd take up an offering and you'd chip in a little, but not no regular pay to get to see a game.
C.K.: Did you do most of your shopping around in this neighborhood, or did you go downtown?
Robinette: They done a big part of their shopping right around in the neighborhood. You'd go downtown if you was going to buy furniture or clothing. You'd go downtown to Sellers' or Whitted's. Then they had different ones. Belk's, they were down there.
C.K.: When did Belk's come in?
Robinette: But Sellers' and Whitted's, I guess, was the oldest
ones there was down there. I bought a big part of my clothing for myself and the children from Sellers'. And we didn't make much money then, and if we didn't have money enough to pay for them, they'd charge it and let us pay for it. That's the way I bought most all of my furniture, pay a little down and then pay so much a payday. And that's the way it went.
C.K.: I don't know what other questions I could ask, other than some general ones. What have been your most memorable occasions, your biggest memories? And what do you think have been the biggest changes that have taken place over the period of your life?
Robinette: I don't recall. I reckon the biggest thing that's taken place was going from horse-drawn conveyance to automobiles. There weren't but a few automobiles in Burlington when I come to Burlington.
C.K.: Where did you see your first automobile, in Charlotte?
Robinette: The first time I ever saw an automobile to remember of was when I lived in Landis, along about 1914 or '15. I don't think there was but about one or two automobiles in Landis when I left there. I know this fellow Richie bought him a T-model Ford, and we hired him in 1916 to drive us over to my daddy's. He lived over at East Monbo then. It was about thirty miles over there. And that 1916 flood come, and we hired this fellow Richie to carry us over there one evening just to see the river up and out of bank. That mill where my father was at was a two-story building, and that 1916 flood there on the river got up in the second story of the building and covered up all the machinery down in the lower floor, and
got up in the second floor and got up into some of it up there. And they shut down for two or three months, cleaning up the machinery and getting it ready. They finally cleaned it up, though, and got it ready to go back to work. But it was covered up in water and mud. And they washed it up and cleaned it up and oiled it up and got it to running back again, and it run several years until Duke Power Company went in there to build that Lake Norman, and they bought it. And they run it a couple of years, I reckon, after they bought it, Duke did. And then they just closed it out and tore the building down and backed water all over where it was at when they went to filling up the dam.
C.K.: What did your father do after that?
Robinette: He died along back then. He died there. He had a stroke, and he and my mother both died there at that same place.
C.K.: In the same time, pretty much?
C.K.: What kind of changes has the automobile brought about that you can see?
Robinette: I think it's better.
Robinette: It gives folks more time to get out. They can go from place to place so much quicker. And I think the radio coming in along about the time I come to Burlington. I remember when, as far as I know, the first radio was ever in this part of the town. This fellow up Webb Avenue worked in the mill out here, he bought one. It had ear tricks; you'd listen to it. And you'd go up there to his house and listen to the radio, you'd have to take your turn to hold that to
your ear so you'd hear.
C.K.: So everybody would go to that one person's house to listen to the radio?
Robinette: Yes. I never did go up there and listen to it much, but my children did, the boys especially. This fellow Pulley had the first one that I knowed of up there.
C.K.: Do you remember some of the programs?
Robinette: No, I don't remember any of them.
C.K.: How have you felt that the community of Burlington has changed, or the textile industry has changed, since you first started?
Robinette: I don't remember just how it started before I came here. I think the first was around the Haw River and Alamance over here, but I don't remember nothing about that.
C.K.: But how do you think it's changed in your lifetime?
Robinette: It's changed quite a bit. They've got more improved machinery. When I first come to Burlington, a weaver didn't run but about four looms, and now they've got them over here at Copeland's that they run around a hundred.
C.K.: Right. That's in Hopedale?
Robinette: Yes. That's been a big change.
C.K.: I'll say.
Robinette: A lot of difference in a person running four looms and a hundred. I know when [unclear] two men that first run eight looms out there. They thought they were doing something, running eight looms, and they were. They were making about twice as much money as the ones that run four looms. Finally it just kept crawling
up and adding up. Well, I reckon that's caused by them making more improved machinery; they couldn't have done it otherwise.
C.K.: Do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?
Robinette: I guess it was. With people accumulating like they did, I guess it was.
C.K.: Any other changes in the industry at all, in the relationships to the employees or anything over time? Who works in the mills?
C.K.: Do you have any regrets about your life?
Robinette: No, nothing particular. The only thing that I have about my life is, I didn't live it as a young man like I see it today. And if I knew what I know today and had it to go over, I'd live it different. But if I had to go over it just like it was, I'd probably be about the same.
C.K.: How would you live it differently, if you knew what you know today?
Robinette: I'd try to live more Christian than I did. That's the only thing I'd say.
C.K.: Have you belonged to the same church since you moved down here?
C.K.: How long was your brother-in-law the pastor here?
Robinette: I've belonged to Hoken Memorial about fifty-nine years. I moved here in 1917, and I joined pretty quick after I moved here, and that runs it pretty close to fifty-nine years.
C.K.: And you've always been pretty pleased with this particular church?
C.K.: How do you think what you were taught to believe as a child differs from what people are taught to believe today? Religious beliefs.
Robinette: I guess the young people see it quite different from what we do. I don't know if they see it much different from what I did when I was young or not.
C.K.: How do your religious beliefs today differ from when you were a child? How have they grown?
Robinette: I don't believe there's been too big of a change. There's been some, but I don't . . .
C.K.: In your own beliefs?
Robinette: Yes. The only things, there's just more recreation and stuff like that that calls the young people's attention than there was when I was coming along. They've just accumulated more recreation and stuff like that to draw the attention of the young people than they did when I was coming along.
C.K.: Has this church changed much over the years?
Robinette: Not too much, no.
C.K.: Most everybody who goes to the church lives right around here?
C.K.: And worked at the Polaid mill?
Robinette: There's been a little change in that. There's a lot
of our folks comes from other parts of town, and a lot of folks around close to ours goes to other parts, and I think there's been some change there in that line. But outside of that, I don't reckon there's been too much change.
C.K.: What are the most important things that you remember about your religious life?
Robinette: The most important change of mine, I just didn't read the Bible when I was young like I ought to, and I read it more now, and I can see the mistake I made. If I'd have read it then, I could have remembered more. When you get up my age, you can't remember. . . . You can remember things that happened when you was a boy better than you can if it was the day before yesterday or yesterday. Now that's a fact.
C.K.: Well, you have an amazing memory. You remember things in 1907.
Robinette: Everybody says that I have a good memory, but I forget things that happened, that I can't remember like I could. And I guess I get about about as good as anybody who'd be my age. Oh, I get out here and work like a nigger all day long. I went out yonder this morning and pulled five dozen corn and come back and shucked it and helped my wife. Silphie, she's in there cutting it off now and going to freeze it. And I worked a-growing that. I guess, if I hadn't been working helping folks around in the neighborhood here like I was when I retired that summer, I suspect I'd have still been on down at Melville Plastics. I went back the next spring, after I retired in July, and worked three months.
C.K.: Up at Melville? When you were eighty-three or eighty-four?
Robinette: After I was eighty-three. And then the next spring, this past spring a year ago, I worked nearly three months. I worked over a month, and then Bill wanted me to come back down there this spring and help him again. I was down there the other day and done a little work. This fellow who works in there, he says, "How about you doing this and let me go over and do something else?" And I all right. I went down there one day, and one of the fellows said he needed an extra hand that day. He wanted to know if I would work for him. I told him, "No, I've got other things planned. I can work three hours for you this morning if you want me to, if that'll help you any." He said he was loading a truck, and he just didn't have time to do it. I says, "Well, you go on and load your truck, and I'll do this then." Till a certain time; I told him when to come back. And he come back, and he said, "Have you got a card out there?" I said, "No, I ain't got no card this spring." He said, "Well, get you a card." I said, "No, you just forget about what I worked for you this morning. Let it be." And he said, "No, I'd rather you'd have a card out there." But I told him no. Then Bill called me up one day and. . . . See, I fired the boilers when I first went down there. My job was to keep steam for them and mow the grass--there wasn't much to be mowed around there--and clean up the office and toilets. And of course I had time to do that. Sometimes I'd get a little tight on it. But they put in a gas boiler over the years there, about ten or twelve years ago, maybe, and it didn't take half as much time in the boiler room after they put in gas. It almost run itself. You'd
have to go down there and watch your boiler and keep it blowed down and put your treatments in it and see that everything was running. They was a-bottling this here what they call Reddi-Whip, and I helped them on that most of the time. Then sometimes when I'd have to go to the boiler room, one of them would fill in where I was at till I could go down there and do what I had to do. They had sort of an extra man that could do that. And so he called me one day along back in the spring, like, and he wanted to know what kind of wax I'd used on the floor. He says, "The floors has got so in the office they don't shine. They don't look like they did when you was here." And I told him I just used regular wax. I got it over at Pine Chemical. And I was down there one day and I was looking at the floors. I said, "I'll tell you what's the matter with your floors. You have to strip this wax off every once in a while and put new wax on it to make it shine. You need a new brush on your buffing machine. The scrub brush is wore out; it was wore out when I left here." And they hadn't took the wax off in nearly three years. And I took it off once or twice a year while I was down there. I was down there twenty-three years, and I worked every Easter Monday and every Fourth of July and every Thanksgiving Day when there wasn't nobody else working. I'd clean up the office from start to finish.
C.K.: Where did you get such a history of working so hard? Where did you learn how to work so hard? Was it from your daddy or from . . .
Robinette: Oh, that started when I was a boy and stayed with me. It's still with me.
C.K.: How did you get to work so hard?
Robinette: [Laughter] I got along all right, I reckon. And I told him then, before I left that day. . . . They didn't put nobody on that job that I was on. They just sort of divided it up around, this one and that one. They had a fellow that made the mixes up in the mixing room that kind of looked after the boiler a little bit when they had to fire all the coal. And they had the fellow working in the shop, they put putting the chemicals and blowing down stuff on him, and they give the office cleaning up to a woman. And I told Bill, "If you'll get some wax and a brush, I'll come down here and help this woman one day to clean up your office for you." Well, that just set him afire. He wanted me to come so bad. So I went down there one day and helped her to clean up the office. I don't know how it come to him to do it, but he paid me forty dollars for that day's work, after working all these years for him for nothing. [Laughter] But they were nice to me, and they are still nice to me, too. I wouldn't want no better folks to be around than them Scotts are. They were really nice to me. And I hope I haven't said nothing today that would make anybody feel bad with me.
C.K.: I don't think so.
Robinette: You just called me and wanted to interview me, and I've been just as honest with it as I could.
C.K.: Well, it's been very, very helpful to me, and thank you [unclear] .
[End of interview]