Being raised on a farm, I picked up several different types of occupational skills. A farmer usually can’t afford to pay someone else to do all the jobs around the farm that need doing. Yesiree, if’en there is any way he can do it himself, he will try it.
Seems when I was about 16, my granddaddy decided it was time for him to retire from farming. The family rented out the tobacco acreage for a few years and finally sold it to the government.
You know, when a business or farm shuts down, it doesn’t take long for it to trickle down to the lowest employee. In this case, it happened to be me. Even though I was living with my parents and going to school, I needed some spending money.
While in high school, I picked up a bus-driving job that paid all of $30 a month. Hey, I had to ride the bus anyways so why not make a few bucks?
On Saturdays, I got a part-time job at the local hardware. Folks, everyone should work a while at a hardware store because you learn to deal with the public and you learn what a “whatyoucall it” is.
During the summer months, I made a few dollars by mowing my neighbors’ yards with a worn-out push mower. Why, one summer I made all of $40 in one week painting a friend’s club house. Another summer, I got a job as a sawmill hand working on the green end of a sawmill (hard work) but I gained a lot of experience and knowledge of how the mill worked.
After I graduated from high school, I got a job with a building contractor and helped build the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Rockingham. It was located about where Subway is today on Business 74. Funny though, I never even received a free drumstick.
Moving on with my job experiences, I started driving a dump truck for Blyth Brothers at their new rock quarry. The quarry was located a mile or two this side of Bethel Church. The crushed rock was being stockpiled to be used to build a new part of Hwy 220 through Rockingham. Funny thing about that is, it turns out the rock was too soft and couldn’t be used to build the highway. But my job was to haul the crushed rock about a quarter-mile from the rock crusher machine to the stock pile. I made many a trip during the day and only stopped at dinner and when they set off dynamite down in the rock hole. When they were ready to set the dynamite off, a buzzer sounded letting me know to stop the truck and crawl under it. How nice of them!
After I went to lineman school, I went to work at a local power company making a whopping $1.67 per hour. Enjoyed my job but climbing power poles during an ice storm just won’t for me, so I moved on.
Next I got a job with the N.C. Department of Transportation as a truck driver and equipment operator. I think I took home about $90 a month after deductions. As with about all my other jobs, this one required being out in all types of weather and after six years I decided I wanted an inside job, and so I looked elsewhere.
In the ’70s, textile jobs were still around. I applied at the old Klopman Mill down below the little village of Cordova. You know, looking back I should have done a little more research on this job because I had never even been in a textile mill before. Why, I thought them folks wanted me mighty bad because I had to report to work that very day on second shift. I was going to learn how to weave. Now folks, this won’t nothing like your grandma’s old spinning wheel, no siree. Why, there was this big machine where hundreds of pieces of,I reckon you called yarn, were coming to me at one time. I mean, there was every color of the rainbow and you had to figure out where to put ‘em and in a hurry, too — that is, if’en you wanted to be a good weaver.
Well, I tried the weaving job for about three days and them folks said I must just be plain colorblind cause they had never seen a weave pattern like I made. The boss man was good to me though and offered me a job in what they called a card room. Being raised on a farm, I had never heard tell of such but I was willing to give it a try.
The next evening, I was put in a room with so much noise I couldn’t hear myself think. These big machines were curling thousands of pieces of yarn into cords and the cords were running into barrels. It was my job, the boss man said, to move these barrels into another room and replace it with an empty one. Well, I’ll bet there were a hundred of these barrels, all to be moved and replaced as they filled-up. And fill up they did — like to have worked me to death. After about two weeks, my textile career came to an abrupt end and I ain’t never set foot in a textile mill again.
Wasn’t less than a week before I went to work at the new Clark Equipment plant in Rockingham. I was in the first 70 people who were hired. Talk about a fine place to work with good pay and benefits — this was the place. I learned how to run machines that made all types of parts for transmissions. I ran a machine about six months and got a little bored just standing in front watching the machine run, taking the part out and replacing it with another. So I asked the boss man about an inspection job and bless pat if’en I didn’t get one. Now this was the job for me because I got to walk around, inspect parts, and talk to folks.
Things went good at Clark for about 11 or 12 years and that’s when they announced they were closing the plant. This was a sad time for Richmond County and all the Clark employees. Why, I considered about all the Clark employees as my extended family.
After Clark closed, I went back to school at Richmond Community College, along with a lot of my friends. I took an industrial maintenance class, and after I finished, went to work for the City of Hamlet as a water plant operator. Well, I stayed there just long enough to get my state water and wastewater license.
Just like a wild tumbleweed, I left the city and went to work at the Unimin Corp., running a rather large front-end loader in their sand plant. This was hard work, but I enjoyed the pay, plus running that large loader with just a little joy-stick was actually fun. My shift lasted from 7 p.m. ‘til 7 a.m.
After about three years of night shift at Unimin, I took a first-shift job with the N.C. Deptartment of Correction as a grounds supervisor. Later, I became an area wastewater operator for the state but after about 10 years, the good Lord told me it was time to hang it up.
I’ve learned to be a “Jack of all Trades’’ with my many different occupations. I’ve meet a lot of nice folks and some not-so-nice, but over-all it’s been a good ride. I reckon it’s time for this old cowboy to settle down, write a few more old stories for you fine folks to enjoy and just maybe another new book might be on the horizon.
J.A. Bolton is a member of the N.C. Storytelling Guild, Anson County Writers’ Club, Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.”