Robert Howard Interview

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

 GEORGE STONEY: (inaudible)

ROBERT HOWARD: Well, with the beedo system, it was more or less an [incentive?]. Before, each person used to get just paid so much per hour or so much per day. But with this, you had these people go in and [check with different operators?] to see how much they did do and how much they didn't do. And then they set a standard, and by that standard, you -- if you went over that, you were paid extra. And of course that was a very good incentive to some of them. And they just work themselves to death and never know when to quit. And each time they did [back then?] when they were checked, it just ran the production up. It hurt 1:00them. They could not realize that they were -- were doing an injustice. 'Cause they -- as you know, most every person's different and some could do so much more than others. And in one particular case, we had a lady down there, I'm just not exaggerating, she weighed three-hundred pounds. She was a big woman, she wasn't just a fat woman. And they called one of these bee-do men in to check her one day to see what the standard would be. He told me he wasn't going to check her. She couldn't do nothing. But they made him check her, and she [inaudible] worked him to death him to death. He says, "I will never check her again." And 2:00they said, "yes." And he had to come over about three times (inaudible) straight running. And she was smart, she was just flat moving, but she moved faster than normal because he was there. And I was interested. I said, I wished she realized what she was doing was hurting herself. And in hurting herself she was hurting people on -- there that wasn't capable of doing it. And if you didn't make a certain standard, that's a long time you was taking off of the plant. (inaudible) you were let go. You had a certain length of time before you made standard. As long as you kept making standard you were alright, but if you went down (inaudible). But then on our job, we only had one time keeper, as I understand, per shift. And we had the nicest boss about that. When someone quit, 3:00in the office or (inaudible), he promoted someone there in the office and then as they got up, the rest of us was brought forward to the next [shift?]. And I loved my third [shift?]. He told me one day that I had to come in on the second. I didn't want to. He said, "Well, you'll always work a third cause you'll never get to the first and you'll never get to the office. 'Cause you going through all the shifts before you get (inaudible)." And then I went on and I stayed with him until I was drafted, of course, in forty-two. And then, it was after that, I came back and [opening came?] and I was payroll supervisor. And had these girls 4:00working under us and they didn't know what what was, like us that had gone to work when the bee-do system first came in, and you just couldn't get them to cooperate and do like [they?] to keep [their?] jobs up. But they finally learned and then, of course, in about 1946, I decided I could do something else. So I left [Calloway?] Mills and went to -- well, I didn’t do anything for a little while, then I was hired by the railroad as a (inaudible) bureau clerk. And I worked on that a while. I loved that. But after --

GEORGE STONEY: Could you go back now and tell us when the bee-do system was introduced and why?

HOWARD: Well, it was introduced in about --

GEORGE STONEY: Sorry, start off by saying "the bee-do system."


HOWARD: The bee-do system was introduced, I would say, about 1934. And it was just to get more production, as I said. It was [an incentive?] and by giving them this [incentive?] they got more production out, of course, and it made things run smoother.

GEORGE STONEY: Can you describe what a bee-do man did, just as though I'd never seen it?

HOWARD: Well, the first thing he did was -- he was sent it from another office. And the -- our supervisors, where we were, would suggest to him who to study and what to study. Then he'd go out there and he'd get the person's name and all that information and he had to know the machines and what worked and how they -- 6:00what they were required to do. And they got to put down frequency on the -- jobs that was [happening?]. (inaudible) the number of times they put on a tube to start up yarn the number of times they took it off and if they had to put it in a certain box, keep it separated from another one, they had to creel in particular, they had to take these bobbins of yarn that was brought in there and run them off on the tubes to make packages. And that's where our jobs came in. We had to measure those packages and be sure they were [ringing?] the correct packages that we reported to them. And we also had to go -around with hand?] clocks to tell them how much production they was doing and read those and watch them and see that we were reading the right clocks and reading them at the right 7:00time and giving them [credit?] for the creels and doffs and what have you.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, some -- did the -- did the bee-do man go around with stop watches?


GEORGE STONEY: Just describe -- say " bee-do man went around with stop watches."

HOWARD: Well, while the bee-do man was checking each operator, whatever operator, he had a stop watch to see, with every frequency that happened, how long it took them to do each [frequency?]. And of course as he moved from putting tubes on the winder to running it, and then tying -- any breaks, and things like that, he was standing there with a stop watch to get all that recorded so they'd be sure to know exactly how long a person and how much a person could do. And then after that, they were just on their own until it come 8:00time for him to get another operator to make a comparison with the checks. And it's -- he just went from one department to the other.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, I ran across a story about a bee-do man getting run out of town. Where would that happen?

HOWARD: (laughs) I don't know (inaudible) or not, but -- there was one down at [spinning?] mill that was run out, because --

GEORGE STONEY: Just start it, there was a man -- a bee-do man down at [spinning?] mill who got run out of town.

HOWARD: Well, there was a bee-do man down at [spinning?] mill that got run out of town, because he had been a bee-do man and had gotten promoted and later 9:00supervisor. But he knew what to do and he was making production, but he wasn't making under the right terms that he was supposed to make it. And [they?] found out, they just -- he left --

GEORGE STONEY: It wasn't --

HOWARD: -- by request.

GEORGE STONEY: It wasn't the workers that ran him out then?

HOWARD: Uh-uh. No, it was his own behavior that did it.

GEORGE STONEY: This story just led me to think that the workers got mad at him and ran him out of town.

HOWARD: Uh-uh.

GEORGE STONEY: So that didn't happen here?

JAMIE STONEY: He was just -- he was just not following established procedure.



HOWARD: That’s right. Cause, well he just knew – (inaudible) he had been a veto man himself and he -- then he got to be a supervisor and he just knew how to make production harder on the people.

GEORGE STONEY: Well, now I was talking about this with a fellow up in 10:00Kannapolis. And he was -- he said, "Oh, there's not much to that, when they (inaudible), we learned how to (inaudible)."


GEORGE STONEY: Did that ever happen?

HOWARD: Surely did.

GEORGE STONEY: Tell us about that.

HOWARD: I -- one night in particular, there -- there was a third shift operator in the twisting room. And he was supposed to be a number one. And my supervisor told that me that night, when he met me at the office at ten o’clock to go in. He says, "Now you will be checking every hour on the hour the clocks on this set of twisters." Says, "You're not supposed to go in the same order every time. You're not supposed to let them know what you're doing. You're just supposed -- ". So I went on and that night and (inaudible) about it was ten o'clock when we 11:00went in, about twelve. He ran his [pick?] clocks up to where he already had production for the eight hours. Well they didn't know that I was reading. And so the next morning I fixed my (inaudible) and turned it in to my boss's desk and went home and went to bed. My boss called up Momma he had to talk to me. I got up and went down there. He says, " Are you sure that you read those clocks right?" I said, "I'm absolutely positive." I said, "All you got to do is get the shift before that's production and [just sees?] it was there." And he said, "Would you face the man face to face?" I said, "Yeah, I will." I said, "Cause I read it. I'm not afraid of it." And he called him, and that boy was real upset 12:00because he and I had been to school together. I said, "Well, that (inaudible) 'cause I was [running?] my job. I said, "Wasn’t down here to humor other people I was down here to run my job." Course, needless to say, it cost him his job. And there was about three cases of that in less than two weeks. And I was the one that turned in all three of them. The other times checks on the other shifts, instead of giving it to them, they just switched me to the other shift for special assignment. I thought I was going to be the only one going to get killed. They never bothered me because they knew that I wasn't afraid to tell the truth with the boss 'cause I had a boss that would stand right there with you.

GEORGE STONEY: Now, could you go back, when you were in high school, when this 13:00big strike happened in thirty-four, do you recall it?

HOWARD: Well, I don't remember all of it, but I do know there was families divided, 'cause some people in each family wanted to work and others didn't. And it caused a lot of confusion in the families and among friends 'cause those who didn't want to work didn't want anybody else to work and they had a lot of disturbance. It was -- people got hurt through it and finally they gave them a certain length of time to settle it down. And all those that didn't had to vacate 'cause houses belonged to Callaway. And a lot of them had to move out. They could not move into a house with their relatives. They couldn't stay on the village. They had to get out. And it made it real rough on that. And it's like, 14:00then there was people there about our age now that was too old to get another job and they were trying to stay on. 'Cause there wasn't no such thing as retiring. You just had to work it. It made it rough 'cause just -- lost a lot of good friends and kin people and what have you, and they went places and stayed and then finally came back and wanted a job and had to beg almost just to get one because they were so ugly when they struck.

JAMIE STONEY: (inaudible)

[break in video]

JAMIE STONEY: Okay, we're rolling.

GEORGE STONEY: Okay. Explain that just and then we'll go to the other.

HOWARD: Well, these bee-do men would have to come in and check at each out point in each department was checked. And they take their information and sum it and 15:00post it to sheets and post each study to the same sheet in the same department and then figure out the average there and see what would come up for our average of doing. And -- and that way then when they went back to check for review to see if the people improved, and they did that a lot of times on people, especially, they did not make the grade to see if they had improved.

GEORGE STONEY: Okay, could you go back now and tell us where you lived in the early thirties and then about the effect of the strike on your neighbors.

HOWARD: Let me think which one-- we lived in so few houses but they're all in the same place.

GEORGE STONEY: In the mill village?

HOWARD: Yeah, in the mill village.

GEORGE STONEY: Just say, "I lived in the mill village."


HOWARD: I lived in the mill village and one of the houses where we were when the strike came off. We lost people right around us and they were -- well they were just hostile. They was terrible. And it was kind of dangerous to get out when you were young like that. But then as they -- these people struck had to move out, then the other people would move into different sections of the communities because they had several different mills and each mill had their own division to live in. And if somebody moved out of house if you wanted it you had to go down and sign up for it. And you'd just be surprised how different things was there for about four, five years even after they was supposed to be over with the 17:00strike. Those people just -- well they just wasn't human with you, like very unfriendly with those people who worked on. But of course if you was going to eat, you had to work. And --

GEORGE STONEY: Why do you think those people took such risks to do that?

HOWARD: Well, that was because of the union that came in here, and forced them into -- trying to get all of them to [inaudible] so they could get a raise see they weren't paying them a whole lot. And that union was telling them how much they were guaranteed if they worked, and they got strike and then won it, how much more they would make. And all they made was worse, 'cause they didn't have 18:00what they did have to start with. 'Cause Callaway rented the house is very reasonable. In fact, we lived there a long time and paid no rent at all. We didn't pay any rent until after the strike. No rent was ever paid until after the strike. And the houses was not the best it could be, but they were kept up to a certain degree. And they painted them in the summer. And I remember one particular summer that this man came in and was going to paint one of our rooms and put a bucket of paint up on his ladder and Mamma said, "Now that is going to turn over." And says, "You are going to have a mess. Oh no." He picked his ladder up and paint just poured everywhere. And this was red, brick red paint. 19:00Mamma says, "You're cleaning that up." Says, "'Cause I'm fixing to go (inaudible)" -- wasn't no such thing as calling, there wasn't no phones. She says, "I'm just fixing to send down to the office to tell your boss what you have just done.” That man, I never will forget that guy, he was one of the head painters. He said that's the first time he'd ever had to clean up a mess like that. Mamma said, "You ought not have made it in my house." But he had that -- he had to paint the floor red.

GEORGE STONEY: Sounds to me like you had a terrific Mamma.

HOWARD: She was (inaudible). She was good as gold, but she (inaudible) hands.

GEORGE STONEY: Let's start it -- say, "My Mamma was good as gold, but -- "

HOWARD: My Mamma was good as gold, but she (inaudible) hands, you didn't -- not even her kids when she was raising them got by and -- her grandkids either. Now they say parents are -- grandparents are more lenient with their grandkids. Not 20:00my Mamma. There were some that was -- I was the youngest and there was some about four years and six years younger. They come to Mamma's house, [they done?] like we did. She took care of them.

GEORGE STONEY: Did your mother ever work in the mills?

HOWARD: No. She didn't work but about -- well she did work about three weeks I think, and one of my brothers went through and saw her. He didn't know she was working, he was married and wasn't living at home. And he threw a fit, (told the man) he'd have to fire her. He says, "I'm not firing her." So my brother rasied so much muck with the supervisors till he got her fired. Said Mamma had enough to do at home take care of what was going there. But Mamma was a good seamstress though. And she could help out there and still do -- stay there with the kids too.


GEORGE STONEY: Well now, one thing we noticed in all of the writings about the textiles in the early thirties is that, although most of -- more than half of the operatives were women --


GEORGE STONEY: -- there's almost no mention of women in the supervisor jobs or anything else. Could you talk about that?

HOWARD: Well, I just took for granted the -- men were supposed to be supervisor and there wasn't supposed to be any women supervisors. Later, much later, they began to put a few in and they had a lot of difficult times, 'cause the people that they were supervising was people they had worked with. And they resented a woman because they said that she didn't know what she was doing. But we have had 22:00some real nice -- real supervisors out of some of these women in the last several years that I worked. In fact, I worked for some that I'd rather work for than a lot of men that I worked for, but they were --

GEORGE STONEY: Could you talk about the colored -- what the -- when you first started working in the mills and then later.

HOWARD: Well (inaudible), when I first started work, the colored people were only allowed to clean the restrooms and floors and machinery. They got only the dirty work. They were not – no matter how good they were they was promoted up above that. And, 'course they had to stay in their place at the same time. And they had different restrooms for them and different drinking fountains, all 23:00that. But in later years, I had worked where the blacks and whites all worked together. And it still had some resentment, it soon got where it was, they both realized that they had to give, because usually when something happened between them that both of them went out. They didn't let one go and keep the other one. And I thought that was good, and we had some real good lady supervisors in our later years with the companies.

GEORGE STONEY: Now when I was talking with Bill about that, about the racial pattern, he gave Mr. Callaway a lot of credit for that. Somehow he seemed to suggest that the workers would have resisted that except that Callaway came in. If you saw that, could you tell us how that was done.


HOWARD: Well, the biggest thing I remember about Mr. Callaway was when he came through the plant he spoke to everybody. Black or white or what have you. And he -- you wouldn't have thought that it was Mr. Callaway. 'Cause some of the supervisors that we were working for wouldn't speak to people. But I know one time in particular, I was working on the third shift and that Saturday morning, they told us the first of the week, that that Saturday morning we had to go directly from work to a meeting. ‘Cause I was sleepy. And it was very easy to go to sleep. We went to this meeting and I was sitting right in front of the -- some men from the office and I went to sleep. And they woke me up. I went to sleep again, one man says, "He's going to fire you." I said, "Not till he 25:00catches me." But he never did catch me 'cause I -- if he had asked me any questions, I wouldn't have been able to answer them when I got back to the office. I said, "(inaudible) expect a person to stay up all night on third shift and then come to something like this." It didn't bother me, I wasn't afraid, I just didn't feel like -- well, I really felt that Mr. Callaway wouldn't have been that type of a person. That he would've given you your own [take there?]. 'Cause -- I never did find him and one day I was in the barber shop up town and I thought that everybody had to go clean to go to the barber shop. Here come this farmer in -- with his boots on, [his hair's nasty?], his pants was rolled 26:00up, and hat on. I said, "He looks familiar, but I don't know who he is." The man over there said, "You do know." I said, "No." He said, "That's (inaudible) Callaway himself. He's just come from the farm up here," he says, "He comes up here anytime at any day." And says, "Whatever he's doing when he when he takes a notion to come, he just comes on as-is." Well I just couldn't believe he came up town, especially to a barber shop. He was one of the -- I still think we had the best set up with -- because he was part of the thing. We had some grand supervisors under him too. They -- I got a lot of breaks. Sometimes I didn't think I was getting them, but after you stop study about them, I found out there was a lot of breaks. And a lot of different things that -- but back to the 27:00bee-do system, that was merely to use as an incentive to get the people to work harder to get out more with it.

GEORGE STONEY: We'll be comparing it with -- what the [inaudible] system, for example, told us, when they first started working in the mills, how they played around.


GEORGE STONEY: And it must have made a big difference.

HOWARD: Well, see, years before I went to work, people worked twelve hours a day. They went in at six and worked till six. And they did that on the third shift, then [they'd?] be on the next shift, they worked twelve. But if someone in their family wanted to come down there on that first shift and come in and help them, it was alright. They just come on in and went to work, nobody said nothing. And that's where a lot of people learned to work in the mill was going down there while mamma and daddy, and brothers and sisters, was down there. And 28:00they'd just climb in the window. There didn't -- weren't no gates there then. Everything was honest, and they'd just climb [over?] in the window and go to work. And they said they'd fine kids in there, ten to eleven years old, working. So of course they wasn't getting paid for it because they weren't on the payroll. And I've heard a lot of people talk about how many times they're kids have slipped in or didn't slip in either, 'cause nobody cared. They just crawled up in the window and went on where mommy and daddy was, and went to work. You'd be surprised how many people learned the work that they didn't get paid for. It was just amazing to watch them.


GEORGE STONEY: Now we've heard that children would bring their baby brother down to get nursed.

HOWARD: Mmhm. I didn't actually see that here, never. But I had a sister-in-law whose sister worked at [Roanoke?]. And she told about them bringing them down. And they had a place there in the plant for the women to go and nurse them. And then they'd bring them back to the people that brought them. And they'd go home.