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´╗┐Kevin Combs: Today is Monday August 29th, 2022 and I'm here with Willie Wilson, former employee of the mill and resident of Fallville. Willie would you introduce yourself?

Willie Wilson: I'm Willie Wilson, like Kevin said, I live up in the Fallville, some people called me the mayor [laughs], but I've lived there for-- say well, I was born and raised there.

Kevin: Were you born there?

Willie: Borned in the house I live in.

Kevin: Really?

Willie: Yeah.

Kevin: What year?

Willie: Uh 1930, well 1940--1940.

Kevin: Mm-hmm 1940.

Willie: 1940.

Kevin: So your parents lived there at the time--


Willie: Yeah.

Kevin: When did they move into that?

Willie: Oh lord I don't know I was-- the house is over one hundred years old and I'm next to the youngest in the family and there's-- six of us, three boys, three girls. They're all gone with--well I have two sisters still living. Then I have five half brothers and sisters, one half sister, four half brothers.

Kevin: Was that from your dad or your mom?

Willie: My dad, his first wife died in childbirth, left him with five children. One of them got killed in North Africa in World War II, the rest of them died of old age.

Kevin: So do you know when your parents moved into the area? Or were they born 2:00in this area?

Willie: Uh, no. I know dad lived in West Virginia. When his first wife died-- how he got in this part of the country, I don't know. But anyway, he met my mother, she was a lot younger than he was. And they married and they had six children but he was originally from--my dad was from Henry County. And my granddad, he was declared--my dad's dad--was declared an outlaw, during the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

Kevin: Really?

Willie: Yeah he shot two Baldwin-Felts Detectives during that feud and they running from them to North Carolina, never did catch him, he stayed down there. When they got hot on him 'ere then he went back to--he left there and went to Henry County and he took pneumonia and died there. He's buried under Philpott Lake.


Kevin: Really? Philpott Lake?

Willie: Yeah. That's who they named me after: outlaw [laughs].

Kevin: Oh no [laughs], is your name William?

Willie: Willie.

Kevin: Your name is Willie.

Willie: Yeah some people spells it W-I-L-L-Y, I spell it W-I-L-L-I-E.

Kevin: Uh-huh, okay.

Willie: But lotta water went o'er the dam.

Kevin: So, when did you start working in the mill?

Willie: I studied 'bout that last night, the first time I went there I come out of service, lived in North Carolina and the house burnt down, down there, we 4:00moved over here.

Kevin: Now you say you and your wife or--

Willie: Me and my wife, yeah. I think it was in 19-and-65. Pretty sure it was 1965 when I moved back o'er here and went to work in the mill.

Kevin: What room did you go into?

Willie: Well I started out in the gardner shop. Then the job opening come in the weave room and Hobart Lane was the boss.

Kevin: Who?

Willie: Hobart Lane.

Kevin: Hobart Lane, mm-hmm.

Willie: And well we's got to hunting together and he was the boss in second shift in the weave room, upper weave room. And so he got me a job in the weave room about six months in the cloth room, I was in the weave room the whole time.

Kevin: So what'd you do in weave room?

Willie: Well started off doffing cloth. Laying up filling and then they made a 5:00fixer out of me, worked on looms. They sent me to school at the Spartanburg South Carolina class and then, well the last time they sent Kyle Ed and Charles Hill and me to Spartanburg and we went to school for 'bout eight weeks on the new looms that they brought in, Sulzer looms, there's bigger looms, they didn't pan out too much. They just didn't do no good and the mill was slowing down. But I was in there, well from [19]65 until the mill shut down and Harold Funk and myself and Alvin Bilbrey, we was the last three people employed in the weave 6:00room. We run the last warp off the looms and incidentally I found out yesterday that Harold is in the nursing home in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Kevin: Now when you say Harold Funk, is that the Harold from Brush Creek or--

Willie: No he, Harold--

Kevin: Curly-haired, kinda--

Willie: No, his dad was Dan Funk.

Kevin: Okay.

Willie: Dan lived to be right about a hundred--lived out on uh Lavingill, Loudoun, that city over there. That was-- I've had a few jobs. I worked for Proctor Silex in Mount Airy when I come out of service.

Kevin: What'd you do there?

Willie: I worked on control board where they tested irons when they'd make 'em. 7:00Every iron had to be tested, and I kept the control boards up. It's a job. They were running 'bout fifteen hundred irons each shift down there and then you set 'em on 'ere, plug 'em in, and let 'em get hot, and test 'em to see everythings alright before they were packed and shipped. It finally moved to Southern Pines and I then took a job in the toaster department, nickel buffing toasters. So when that left there, they got the union in there and they shut 'em down. So, I left 'ere. My wife and I--well she wasn't working--but I got a job with what they call Prairie Manufacturing, it's on the right as you went into Mount Airy. 8:00Worked there awhile then our house burned down while I was at work, electrical I think. That's terrible. Moved back over here now I've been here ever since.

Kevin: So in the weave room, you said you doffed cloth, could you describe what that is?

Willie: That's a hard job, you gotta do a lot of heavy lifting. It took a lot of the cloth off of the looms and got it so you doffed it off and took it up to the elevator, take it up, push it out in the cloth room.

Kevin: Each a bolt?

Willie: Yeah got some on rolls [slams hand on table several times] stable it. Sixty-four each. And that was on the X2, the X3 looms was the biggest, until 9:00they got the Sulzer looms, they grew a little bit bigger, you had to have a truck to lift up the cloth. Roll it out on the floor, no one ever got down on the floor with you, you just had to hold one end, lift it up and somebody'd put a truck under it. But best job I ever had.

Kevin: What doffin' cloth?

Willie: No working in the mill.

Kevin: Oh working in the mill, okay.

Willie: Knowing everybody, everybody's just like family. Know 'em from the top to the bottom, there's a lotta people that come in that didn't stay long, that didn't work, just like it is now. But it was one big happy family, this room right here in there, the gym, I study about it a lot. Christmas, they'd always give us hams and we had to come down here and pick our hams out. Did you ever do 10:00any of that?

Kevin: No, I wasn't working during Christmas.

Willie: They was good, smoked, smoked hams.

Kevin: So you said, I know the job you did was laying up filling--

Willie: Laying up filling, that was for the unifills on the looms. Women had to fill batteries and you kept filling up on box on the looms, that was a good job, but it kept you hustling.

Kevin: So you were supplying the loom with--

Willie: Yes supplying the loom.

Kevin: Material for it to make the cloth. And then how long were you a fixer?


Willie: Uh about a year before--

Kevin: Do you remember what year you started?

Willie: Well it was about-- no I really don't know what year I started as a fixer. Quite a few years I worked as a fixer.

Kevin: That was a good job, wasn't it?

Willie: Yep, yeah. They good. What year was that? God I can't tell you. When you get old you don't think. But anyway, I worked all in years. The last year I was, Harold had one side and I had the other, more or less the supervisor. Still on hour work, I know I've got checks somewhere, made the most money I ever made.

Kevin: Really, last year?

Willie: Yeah, I worked a lot overtime. A bunch of us we had to go in on weekends 12:00and blow down cotton dust from overhead and blow looms off that work sixteen hours on Saturday, sixteen hours on Sunday. We got paid for that, but we didn't work, we'd work maybe twelve hours, but we got paid for sixteen and they never complained a bit. There's a bunch of us in all of 'ems-- going steady. Rick Harrell is still living, Virgil Shaffner is still living, as far as I know Bill Shaffner is still living. Biggest part of us done that is done gone.

Kevin: And you're saying closing down the mill?

Willie: No died.

Kevin: No I mean, the ones that were left at the end, you're saying.


Willie: Yeah, well now the ones left at the end were gone in the last week, two weeks, I'd say the last two weeks was Harold Funk, Alvin, and myself. We was the only ones left doing the work. All of us sit there and watch it and it broke up. End would tie it back, start it back up, draw it back through.

Kevin: So how long before they closed the mill did they announce that it was 14:00going to be closed.

Willie: To tell you the truth I don't know. It wasn't that long. It wasn't that long.

Kevin: How'd that make everybody feel?

Willie: Oh, it hurt everybody's--it hurt 'em. Hurt their feelings, their pocketbooks. A lot of people cried over it. They started to chop 'em down, went underway with the spinning room, put it on rest, the slash room first. The other rats were spanning the card room. Just started down. As the looms strung the warp off in the weave room they would lay them off. So, like I said Harold and Alvin, Alvin he [laughs] he'd lay against the wall and sleep sometime, he drink the whole time. But, he was a good man.


Kevin: You mentioned you're on second shift, did you work second whole time?

Willie: No, I worked second, I worked daytime, I worked third. I was on third the last-- last, last four years I was on third. I liked third shift.

Kevin: Why is that?

Willie: Well it gave me time to do things during the day [commotion in background].

Kevin: That's always something.

Willie: Yeah I worked third shift and helped Reid Robinson and them cut silex, put up hay, first one thing then another. Oh, I done the same thing on second, I work in the morning.


Kevin: How did you like second shift?

Willie: I didn't, it took you away from your family, I never go to see my boys. That's the reason I went on third. It took me away from my family, my boys was all in sports, I couldn't go to games or nothing. I took a job in the cloth room on daytime so I could do that. On daytime they want me back in the weave room, put me back fixings. I went back and stayed in there on third shift. But, met a lot of people, knowed everybody. Like I said, everybody was family. Anybody got 17:00sick, there's somebody there to help 'em.

Kevin: So, first, second, third, what was your favorite shift?

Willie: Uh, third shift.

Kevin: What did you do about sleeping?

Willie: Oh I'd get off at the morning, come down here to the drug store, the hotel was opening, I'd eat breakfast and my wife was working at that time. I'd go down there and eat breakfast, get home about 8:30, and sleep--my mother was there. We took care of her, I'd go home, go to bed, get up about twelve o'clock, a little after, she always watched Days of our Lives on television. I'd sit and 18:00watch with her and watch Days of our Lives and I'd lay back down and sleep till about seven o'clock. Then I'd get up, I was always in the mill about nine o'clock every night.

Kevin: Really?

Willie: Yeah

Kevin: And the shift didn't start till eleven?

Willie: It didn't start till eleven, but I did. I just, different things, you know? I worked a lot of overtime--well I had to. My boy, that time my oldest boy, I was putting him through college.

Kevin: Oh wow.

Willie: Took a lot of work. I've got my wife to go back to work. It took both of us to go in, now we couldn't afford it. Now I think, we's were talking here a while back. He graduated Virginia Tech in four years, and I think at that time it was $12,000 a year. I ever made a lot of money come going to a bank right here.


Kevin: Wow here in Fries. What year was that that he graduated?

Willie: I think it was in [19]82 when he graduated.

Kevin: Was that Jeff?

Willie: No Gary, yeah Jeff he went to college. Put him through college. Mark started and he said, no, he didn't like it. He went into work at the mill, and when it shut down he went over to Haines Flat in Galax. I forget who was running it, but he worked till it shut down. He left there and he's been over at Longwood [Elastomers] in Wytheville, I don't know how many years he's been over there now. But anyway, that mill raised a lot of families. Raised a lot of kids. 20:00You never did work in the mill?

Kevin: Yeah I worked in the summers, worked five years, five summers. Worked in the spinning room and worked on second shift the first year, first shift the second year, and then third shift the next three years. Really, I liked third the best.

Willie: I did too. I never have been one to lay in the bed and sleep. Still that way, but third shift, a lot of people didn't like it. They made deals with, well I couldn't tell no difference.

Kevin: You said you worked for Reid's some when you were on third, what time of day would you do that? In the afternoon or--


Willie: In the morning. Go home and be ready to--well when I was on second I worked for Reid. Glen Claude Hall, Bruce Laxton, all worked together. Put up hay, cut up silex, whatever. I enjoyed that. And then I had one bad habit on second shift, on second shift, I coon hunted. [Car commotion] And I'd go on and hunt after I got off second, go coon hunting the rest of the night. But I soon got out of that.

Kevin: So when you would coon hunt, you'd come in at what daylight or something?

Willie: Yeah most of the time I was out all night.

Kevin: And sleep few hours and go into work.

Willie: I've always been able to get two, four hours of sleep. Yeah for years with the children we got up at four o'clock in the morning. Mama got up, we got up, had to do things before you went to school, you had to milk, feed the hogs.


Kevin: Hold on a sec.

[pause and commotion]

Kevin: Alright we're re-rolling. Okay go ahead.

Willie: Everybody worked at my house, you had a job to do, you got it done. If you didn't, well daddy-- [laughs]

Kevin: [Laughs]

Willie: You'd hear from him. Mama never did say too much, daddy did. And boy if you never got that done today [commotion].


Kevin: So Washington Weaving owned the mill, I guess, when you first went to work there, is that right?

Willie: Washington Mills.

Kevin: Washington Mills.

Willie: Now Washington Mills sold out to Smith-Bagley, out of Winston [Salem]. They run it just a little while, run it into the ground. Then Riegel Textile bought it, I think Riegel Textile. Georgia Pacific, I think, ended up being the last one with it.

Kevin: So, Riegel, did they do a good job?

Willie: Fantastic. They done a lot, Riegel they had this program called zero defects thing, do it right the first time. They was very into them, they 24:00increased pay-scale. Just, it helped a whole lot. Washington Mills had it and we went on strike up here.

Kevin: Oh I didn't know of that.

Willie: You didn't know we went on strike?

Kevin: Didn't know about that.

Willie: Oh yeah.

Kevin: Tell me about that.

Willie: Yeah, got a little [laughs] hot up 'ere. We struck for our wages and Jim Robinson was, it was him, John Savers. They was over it then. We about shut it down.

Kevin: Really?

Willie: We did, it was too me went on strike with the rest of us, all the fixers that wanted it that went on strike. Yeah the trucks come in 'ere, they see we's on strike, they don't stop, they keep going. Yeah, Carroll Dean Hines is the one that started that. I'm trying to think who it was, it wasn't Will--Freamon--boy 25:00from Fries, he was a fixer, he wouldn't strike. Old leggins, old button, but them two worked.

Kevin: This just the weave room?

Willie: Just the weave room. But we shut the mill just about down.

Kevin: If the weave rooms not running, then the mill might as well not be running.

Willie: That's right. That's where the pay comes from, the weave room. The spinning room, when it went to shutting down, they got to selling yarn to other 26:00places, but yeah that weave room is where the big money come from. You know back in the war, I know you heard that, during World War II they made cloth the mill run all the time. I don't know how many days a week it was, but anyway, they stored it underground up 'ere. Then when the mill was over they sold that, that's where they made their money

Kevin: This thing is blinking, note to the recorder, I'm going to stop and restart the recording.

[Break in the recording]

Kevin: We'll start over, I mean, not start over but continue from the previous recording. You said there was material stored underground during the war.


Willie: During the war, yeah. Yeah they're, I forget what year that was, they started bricking up all the windows.

Kevin: Ah yeah.

Willie: I was working in the carpentry room, I helped do that. Lord have mercy, that was a job. I helped put new floor in the upper weave room. I helped do that. I helped pour floor in the lower weave room, couldn't do part. Lot of people didn't realize, but that mill had a basement under it.

Kevin: Really? I didn't know that.

Willie: Yeah that's where we kept all the gears and stuff down there. Biggest mistake Fries ever made was letting that mill go.


Kevin: Yeah. So you were working in the carpenter shop when the windows were bricked up, is that--

Willie: Yeah.

Kevin: Okay. And you guys did that?

Willie: Yeah.

Kevin: So they didn't hire brick masons to do it, they had internal--

Willie: No, no. Everything was done mill help. God I rode wheelbarrows carrying brick in and mortared the brick and windows up and doing that at the same time was putting pouring the cement floor in the lower weave room. It was the wintertime, cold. You'd prepared to work outside on the windows while they bricked 'em up from the inside. But we had to roll the--there was a crew of 29:00us--had to roll cement in, mix it outside, roll it in, brick too. We'd dress to be outside, but then some of us get sent down to work inside and would burn up. Then well we're gonna be down there the next day, well we don't put no clothes on, we'll be on the outside freezing to death. After that that's when I started over Glade Norman, go to work, and I went on second shift, that was all on daytime.

Kevin: Why did they brick the windows up?

Willie: I don't know. I don't know. Unless, you know the windows was painted, they did that and painted the windows, the painted them. The best I can remember they was painted a dark blue, that was during the war whether they thought the war was going to get here. I don't know. But anyway, I don't know why--now wait 30:00a minute, yeah I do too. The reason they bricked 'em up was because they put the air conditioner and everything on that cooling tower back there, and they never did work. That was a lot of money spent there that didn't work. Lord it tore the weave room to pieces, you couldn't run the weavers, everything had to be humid, it had to be just right; temperatures just right for everything to run good. And if it got too dry buddy, that yarn just wouldn't go through. That's why they done that, they had thought it'd help with it, it didn't. They had to have humidifies in there and it kept 'em going, the looms just sit there and run. 31:00There run some good stuff up 'ere.

Kevin: What kind of material did y'all make?

Willie: Well on the Sulzer looms, we made stuff to make denim. Well the fabric was about like anything else, but it was made to set off to be colored. A lot of people thought, well it's gonna make denim. It'll be denim when it left here, but it was just plain white cloth and I don't know who got it to make denim with, but the other looms--just different types--a lot went for clothing. They made apparel during the war, they made parachute material up 'ere.

Kevin: Now you mentioned to me the other day that it was stored underground.

Willie: Yeah, yeah during the war I think everything was stored underground 32:00there. They had some big warehouses, the Black, they run the warehouses and they was quite a few of them worked the runway. Unload when the cars back in there--train--they unload them then they shipped a lot of cloth out on the trains. 'Em boys worked hard, they never made much. They was underpaid.

Kevin: Let's see, there was several things you said that I wanted to go back to. 33:00On the air conditioning, well I was just going to comment that when I worked in the spinning room, the air conditioning did not--

Willie: Tore everything up up 'ere?

Kevin: Yeah it did.

Willie: Yep.

Kevin: You'd go within the room, you could go twenty feet and you could feel the humidity change. That didn't work out.

Willie: It didn't work out at all, cost 'em a lot of money. I guess, I don't know, I never did get in none of that. There's one big mistake.

Kevin: Who was the foreman and the overall weave room boss when you were in there?

Willie: When I went there Ted Campbell was over the weave room and Paige Durham was under him, and then there's Hobert Funk, Charlie Coleman, that was on second. And then on third it was George Williams and Arthur Underwood, they was the bosses on third. Daytime-- who was the boss? I don't know who the boss was, 34:00I forgot, I knowed but I forgot now. Oh-- God I can't 'call his name, lord have mercy I can't 'call his name. He had half of the upper weave room, now who had the other half? I don't know. But I did go in and work for him a few days now and then, he come in give me a quarter. Hey I give you a quarter if you gonna do this for me, then I was getting paid, well I took his quarter. What in the devil was his name? I'll think of it later. But I didn't-- that bothers me. That's old age.


Kevin: Yeah well I know how it is, it's gonna bug you till you think of it. Now I think you mentioned to me at one time that lotta people didn't want their hams that they got at Christmas, so you'd go around and buy 'em up.

Willie: Yeah come down young boys at work didn't want their hams, they wanted money, and I think the most I ever bought was eight and then valued them out. Boys, I give 'em five dollars a piece for 'em.

Kevin: Really? Wow.

Willie: Yeah. Oh they'd have 'em piled, they'd bring a truck load in and they'd pile 'em up back here. Just go pick 'em up.


Kevin: Was that when Washington Mills owned it or?

Willie: Yeah it was when Washington Mills owned it.

Kevin: Did Riegel continue that?

Willie: No, Riegel they didn't do that. They give us a dinner, they did do that. But, no they-- they didn't do nothing like that.

Kevin: Then there was a company named Mount Vernon Mills--

Willie: Yeah Mount Vernon was the last one, that was who it was: Mount Vernon. They was owned by Georgia Pacific. When they closed down, they tried, well Alvin did, Alvin went to Tallassee, Alabama. They wanted me to go, my wife she's getting--Riegel said, let's get you another job.

Kevin: So he went there to work, you're saying.

Willie: Yeah he went down there to work and he didn't stay maybe six weeks, he come back. And he never did work after that. When I left the mill I went to work 37:00for Wytheville Community College.

Kevin: Doing what?

Willie: Maintenance over there. I've been maintenance about all my life. I worked over there nine months and maintenance job come open at the hospital at Galax and my brother told me about it, he was director of the lab over there at that time. The maintenance director called me and wanted to know if I'd be interested in the job. I said, well, I might be. He said, well could you come and talk. So I met him on a Saturday morning, talked to him and he took me 38:00through, and he told me what they'd pay me. I took a pay cut from the state, I got state may does. But the thing about it was working the state, it was temporary and it's still that way.

Kevin: Really?

Willie: Yeah, you postal workers is temporary. Well some of those are permanent, but I didn't have no insurance at Wytheville College, so me and my wife talked it over and I said, well, I was gonna take it. So I did. I toughed it out for all eleven years. It wasn't the best job, that up 'ere is the best job.


Kevin: At the mill?

Willie: I make more money in the mill up here. I got paid more per hour than I got paid in the hospital.

Kevin: Really, wow.

Willie: But the benefits of the hospital is all I want.

Kevin: Yeah. At the mill, how many days off did you get a year?

Willie: Well, with Washington Mills you had to be there a pretty good while to get two weeks. But, Riegel, I think the most they let you have was five weeks.

Kevin: Oh, really? Wow.

Willie: But you, lotta people had, I didn't. I think the most I had was three weeks.


Kevin: The mill shut down at Christmas in the summer, didn't it. For a week, or did it?

Willie: No, it shut down at 4th of July, and the reason it shut down the 4th of July most of the time was to clean the canal out there and work on the generators, things like that. Things that needed to be done. They put in a new roof on that mill up 'ere. There's a group out of Asheville, North Carolina doing that.

Kevin: And cleaning the canal out, was the cleaning the sand out?

Willie: Yeah, get the sand and mud out of the canal.

Kevin: Did you ever do that?

Willie: No I never did do it, I never did want to get into that.

Kevin: [Laughter] That sounds pretty rough.

Willie: Yeah I never did want to get into that. 4th of July I generally done 41:00things around home. My wife and kids would go somewhere, picnics, things like that, well we did go to the Smokies one time. But as far as vacation, that's the only vacation we ever took. To the Smokies. First she didn't want to go, then I didn't want to go. Well, everything revolved around Fries. I've got a Fries telephone number, local Providence district, got a Elk Creek address. I don't contribute nothing to Elk Creek. I just never had much to do with Elk Creek. 42:00Just different type of people up 'ere.

Kevin: So, even though you live probably closer to Elk Creek, don't you? Then you do Fries--

Willie: Oh yeah.

Kevin: But you consider yourself a Fries person.

Willie: It takes me ten minutes to get to Elk Creek.

Kevin: And what does it take to drive to Fries? About fifteen, twenty minutes?

Willie: About fifteen minutes. About fifteen minutes. That mill, all mine, the children graduated down here, all my children graduated here. I never did have to go to Independence. They all graduated down here.

Kevin: The mill did a lot for this area.

Willie: Oh this mill, this mill during the war was the only place that worked. 43:00Kept on working. The mill kept on going and people come from everywhere to get a job here. Henry Thornton, I don't know if you knew him or not, he heard about it and he lived in Kentucky. He come here from Kentucky and married Betty, his wife, and she's still living. Pete Williams, you ever know Pete?

Kevin: No.

Willie: He had a daughter named Carolyn. Pete Williams married his daughter, lived out in front of Joe Vaughans' where his garage used to be by the mill. Yeah he come here to get a summer job, and he stayed. He stayed. Just different people moved in here, some of 'em come from Danville up here. But, you know, 44:00when Riegel bought the mill out, Burlington Mill shut down. And they brought all of Burlington Mills' help that wanted a job, the mill give 'em a job up here and they started running instead of three shifts, they run four shifts.

Kevin: Wow. Oh my.

Willie: They running round the clock, never did shut down. It was rough on us rowing looms off and rowing over head, we had to do it in sections. Some of the help they got over there was real good, some of 'em wasn't. Well same way here.

Kevin: What would you do about meals while you were working.

Willie: What?

Kevin: Meals. Did you carry your meals in or?

Willie: Yeah, well they had vending machines then Riegel took it over and they put break rooms in and they had machines in there and you could get sandwiches, 45:00canned stuff, whatever. But most everybody brought their lunch. Well I had never been a big eater, but I could make it on a coca cola and a pack of naps. But, yeah people most of the time brought their own food in. I know Raymond Dowling, all the Dowling boys worked in the mill, and Raymond never was married. Him and his sister lived together and she fixed him big dinners, suppers. He wouldn't 46:00eat any of it if it was leftover from the night before, he wouldn't eat it the next day. And Wiley Roop would always eat it and Raymond would get something out of the machine.

Kevin: [Laughs]

Willie: Everybody thought that was awfully funny.

Kevin: Yeah. Is there anything else you'd like to share about working in the mill?

Willie: Lord if I can think of it, I can think of it later, but now-- Now one time, I believe Riegel done that, they had a restaurant out here in the blue building, right up here Burkeladec, in the top part. And you could go out 'ere, sit out 'ere and get breakfast, dinner, supper, whatever you wanted. That was when Riegel had it. Riegel was a real fine company to work for.

Kevin: What would have that blue building have been built for originally?


Willie: Well, the bottom part there was a Vaughan had a garage on the bottom 'ere. And I really don't know. They had offices in it, the mill did at one time. But what it was originally for, I just really don't know. I know it's three stories. Might have to do some checking on that. I don't know anybody that's, that would know about--

Kevin: When the plant manager's house burnt down, how did the employees react to that?


Willie: I don't know.

Kevin: I guess-- oh that was before you went to work there, wasn't it?

Willie: Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah that's right.

Willie: My granny went up to work for the mill up there, she was thirteen years old, she babysit.

Kevin: Huh. In the mill?

Willie: Yeah, women that didn't have babysitters, they brought their children there and they had young girls, I forget how much they got, I heard granny said she got seven, I believe it's seven cents a hour.

Kevin: [Laughter] Wow.

Willie: Well she's thirteen years old. They had to look after the babies, well a lot of the women that worked there breastfed their babies, they take time off from their job they's doing to go feed their babies. That wouldn't happen this day.


Kevin: No, no it wouldn't.

Willie: And my grandmother, and after she got up in years, she run the old hotel down here, she cooked there for the people, and I got the whole pie safe on my back porch that wasn't but three of 'em made. There's one there one there at Foster Falls and one at Cripple Creek. I got the one here, when she left there, she took the pie safe with her. And I got it at the house now, Lord these antique pies, and there ain't a nail in it. Probably from that door over to the corner and tall. It's got three shelves in it, I got it full of junk. It's put 50:00together with pegs. Everything.

Kevin: So you're saying it's about fifteen feet?

Willie: It's big. It's heavy. And it's cucumber wood.

Kevin: Cucumber wood, huh.

Willie: Cucumber wood. Lord, there's a man from Virginia Beach, Eleven Smith, his antique mart. He come 'ere, try to buy it from my mother, eight hundred dollars. She said, it ain't for sale. I remember that. 'Fore he left, he got up to twelve hundred dollars for it.

Kevin: Wow, and when was that?

Willie: Oh that was back in the [19]70s.

Kevin: So it'd be a lot more nowadays. Worth a lot more.

Willie: Eddy Vaughan, he just went crazy over it. He said, if you ever get rid 51:00of that, I want it. He says, I'll give you what you ask. I said, it will never leave this house for my oldest son, he's got everything there now. He did everything to my kids, split it up, and they got what they wanted. I told 'em, there it is, y'all divide it up. I didn't want it, that way you won't be a fussing and fighting after I'm gone.

Kevin: That's smart, that's a good idea.

Willie: And to another thing, I'm getting old. You never know when you're gonna go to the nursing home. If you go to the nursing home, and you ain't got your business, I've seen two or three lose everything they had. They will take it. 52:00All that land at the Providence school, going out there where the carrot goes on, Sejury is the last of the surviving family. When he's gone, the nursing home was all that. It's growing up.

Kevin: What would you tell people about the mill that you want the public or generations down to know about it?

Willie: Well, that's hard to say. I really don't know. All I can say is, it was at one time the best place in Grayson County to work. Lord I can remember when 53:00people, in fact, my mom and dad never did do it, but Mr. Lemmie Robinson, Reid Robinson's daddy, and Reid was in on that. The team of horses every Saturday, in town here selling milk, butter, eggs, produce and stuff. And there's quite a few families that done it, come from Brush Creek, Cripple Creek and do it. Them was good days. But I remember riding down here--I was small, God I remember just getting to go somewhere--but the people would be out on the streets here. They had the regular customers too, they take 'em potatoes, people in town didn't 54:00have no place for a garden. They buy potatoes, tomatoes, corn, whatever. Turnips, lord have mercy, they bring turnips down here by the wagon-loads. Didn't take long to get rid of 'em either.

Kevin: What was it like coming into town living out in the country.

Willie: Oh, it was exciting. It was exciting, the first elephant I ever seen was right down here in the bottom. They had a carnival down there. I know my dad probably sit down there at the carnival, and I was fascinated with that elephant. That all other kind of stuff 'ere. But the only thing that I can remember is that elephant. I remember the wholesale. You don't remember the wholesale?

Kevin: Yeah I can remember when it was still there.

Willie: Well you're getting on up in years too now.

Kevin: Yeah [Laughter].

Willie: How old are you?

Kevin: Sixty-three.

Willie: Sixty-three. Well, my grandson, the hardware, I bought a freezer about 55:00the size of [gestures on table] 960 pound capacity. And I bought it and paid for it, took it out of my check, I think they took two dollars a week, the mill did. I've still got that freezer. It come out of the company store down there.

Kevin: And it's running?

Willie: It's still running. AJ's got it, my grandson, lives up on Buck Mountain, still got it. It was big I didn't need it, I got me a smaller one and give it to him. He's got it full too.

Kevin: So two dollars a week, do you remember how much it cost originally? Or how many weeks you had to work?

Willie: I think it was about eighty dollars that I paid. I think it's about 56:00eighty dollars. I bought a lot of guns down there too. Still got them, well I don't have them. I give all my guns away. I've got my son, I gave him one, but he won't take it to Richmond, for he said he didn't need it. Said he had a handgun, so I still got his shotgun there. In fact I loaded it with buckshot yesterday. But, Jeff's got two of the guns, I don't know where they're all at. Well, when school would start, my wife would go down here to [car passing] Ms. Virginia Vaughan worked there.

Kevin: Who was it?

Willie: Ms. Virginia Vaughan--

Kevin: Virginia Vaughan? Oh Charlie Vaughan's wife.

Willie: Charlie Vaughan's wife. She used to be a Rhudy, she worked down there. But we bought everything--we didn't go to Galax for nothing. All the kids clothing was bought right down here in order to go to school. Buy a lot of 57:00groceries down here, we bought more groceries at Charlie Vaughan's though, Bob Wilsons. But we didn't go to Galax for nothing. And I try to make it habit not to go there now. I just don't care that much about Galax.

Kevin: Do you remember the first time you saw the train here in Fries?

Willie: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That was, lord help me. I was just small. Probably ten year old. If I was that old. One time daddy brought us down here to see the train come in-- that was something else. And the old train station there. Why 58:00they tore that out after, it was over look ahead, I never will forget. I'd come down and eat breakfast down here and that morning. Met Sanford Byrd coming out of the post office, he said, we got the best news last night here that we've had. I said, what's that? He said, well they give us the mill, give the mill back to the town. Sit there and talked a minute, I said, I-- I don't know if that's such a good idea or not. He says, why? He says, we're gonna market it, 59:00we're gonna get something in there. I know that never happened. I said, well one thing about it, you lost all of the tax by doing that that they was paying the town. [Coughs] excuse me. He got real quiet, he says, you know you're right. If they kept that mill this would've been a boom town down here. They could've took it. It would have been a lot of companies could've come in and they could've had department stores and they could've put Walmart outta business. But it's water over the dam. I was in one down made in North Carolina, man it is fantastic. 60:00They had, well anything you wanted to get there. I think there was two restaurants. I know there's one, I think there's two. They had hardware, they had clothing store, just different things. [Coughs] I'm gonna have to get a breathing treatment here pretty quick. But, they ain't no use--old saying--crying over spilt milk.

Kevin: That's true-- Well, I'll let you go, I'd love to sit and talk with you longer. But I'll see you again.

Willie: [Coughing] It's been a long-- I try to keep up with the breathing treatments [coughing]. Get my pocket here.


[End of interview]